The apostle exhorts to be always ready for the coming of Christ to judgment, which will be with suddenness and surprise. (1-11) He directs to several particular duties. (12-22) And concludes with prayer, greetings, and a blessing. (23-28)
Verses 1-5 It is needless or useless to ask about the particular time of Christ's coming. Christ did not reveal this to the apostles. There are times and seasons for us to work in, and these are our duty and interest to know and observe; but as to the time when we must give up our account, we know it not, nor is it needful that we should. The coming of Christ will be a great surprise to men. Our Lord himself said so. As the hour of death is the same to each person that the judgment will be to mankind in general, so the same remarks answer for both. Christ's coming will be terrible to the ungodly. Their destruction will overtake them while they dream of happiness, and please themselves with vain amusements. There will be no means to escape the terror or the punishment of that day. This day will be a happy day to the righteous. They are not in darkness; they are the children of the light. It is the happy condition of all true Christians. But how many are speaking peace and safety to themselves, over whose heads utter destruction is hovering! Let us endeavour to awaken ourselves and each other, and guard against our spiritual enemies.
Verses 6-11 Most of mankind do not consider the things of another world at all, because they are asleep; or they do not consider them aright, because they sleep and dream. Our moderation as to all earthly things should be known to all men. Shall Christians, who have the light of the blessed gospel shining in their faces, be careless about their souls, and unmindful of another world? We need the spiritual armour, or the three Christian graces, faith, love, and hope. Faith; if we believe that the eye of God is always upon us, that there is another world to prepare for, we shall see reason to watch and be sober. True and fervent love to God, and the things of God, will keep us watchful and sober. If we have hope of salvation, let us take heed of any thing that would shake our trust in the Lord. We have ground on which to build unshaken hope, when we consider, that salvation is by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, to atone for our sins and to ransom our souls. We should join in prayer and praise one with another. We should set a good example one before another, and this is the best means to answer the end of society. Thus we shall learn how to live to Him, with whom we hope to live for ever.
Verses 12-15 The ministers of the gospel are described by the work of their office, which is to serve and honour the Lord. It is their duty not only to give good counsel, but also to warn the flock of dangers, and reprove for whatever may be amiss. The people should honour and love their ministers, because their business is the welfare of men's souls. And the people should be at peace among themselves, doing all they can to guard against any differences. But love of peace must not make us wink at sin. The fearful and sorrowful spirits, should be encouraged, and a kind word may do much good. We must bear and forbear. We must be long-suffering, and keep down anger, and this to all men. Whatever man do to us, we must do good to others.
Verses 16-22 We are to rejoice in creature-comforts, as if we rejoiced not, and must not expect to live many years, and rejoice in them all; but if we do rejoice in God, we may do that evermore. A truly religious life is a life of constant joy. And we should rejoice more, if we prayed more. Prayer will help forward all lawful business, and every good work. If we pray without ceasing, we shall not want matter for thanksgiving in every thing. We shall see cause to give thanks for sparing and preventing, for common and uncommon, past and present, temporal and spiritual mercies. Not only for prosperous and pleasing, but also for afflicting providences, for chastisements and corrections; for God designs all for our good, though we at present see not how they tend to it. Quench not the Spirit. Christians are said to be baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire. He worketh as fire, by enlightening, enlivening, and purifying the souls of men. As fire is put out by taking away fuel, and as it is quenched by pouring water, or putting a great deal of earth upon it; so we must be careful not to quench the Holy Spirit, by indulging carnal lusts and affections, minding only earthly things. Believers often hinder their growth in grace, by not giving themselves up to the spiritual affections raised in their hearts by the Holy Spirit. By prophesyings, here understand the preaching of the word, the interpreting and applying the Scriptures. We must not despise preaching, though it is plain, and we are told no more than what we knew before. We must search the Scriptures. And proving all things must be to hold fast that which is good. We should abstain from sin, and whatever looks like sin, leads to it, and borders upon it. He who is not shy of the appearances of sin, who shuns not the occasions of it, and who avoids not the temptations and approaches to it, will not long keep from doing sin.
Verses 23-28 The apostle prays that they might be sanctified more perfectly, for the best are sanctified but in part while in this world; therefore we should pray for, and press toward, complete holiness. And as we must fall, if God did not carry on his good work in the soul, we should pray to God to perfect his work, till we are presented faultless before the throne of his glory. We should pray for one another; and brethren should thus express brotherly love. This epistle was to be read to all the brethren. Not only are the common people allowed to read the Scriptures, but it is their duty, and what they should be persuaded to do. The word of God should not be kept in an unknown tongue, but transplanted, that as all men are concerned to know the Scriptures, so they all may be able to read them. The Scriptures should be read in all public congregations, for the benefit of the unlearned especially. We need no more to make us happy, than to know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is an ever-flowing and an over-flowing fountain of grace to supply all our wants.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-28 . THE SUDDENNESS OF CHRIST'S COMING A MOTIVE FOR WATCHFULNESS; VARIOUS PRECEPTS: PRAYER FOR THEIR BEING FOUND BLAMELESS, BODY, SOUL, AND SPIRIT, AT CHRIST'S COMING: CONCLUSION.
1. times--the general and indefinite term for chronological periods.
seasons--the opportune times ( Daniel 7:12 , Acts 1:7 ). Time denotes quantity; season, quality. Seasons are parts of times.
ye have no need--those who watch do not need to be told when the hour will come, for they are always ready [BENGEL].
cometh--present: expressing its speedy and awful certainty.
2. as a thief in the night--The apostles in this image follow the parable of their Lord, expressing how the Lord's coming shall take men by surprise ( Matthew 24:43 , 2 Peter 3:10 ). "The night is wherever there is quiet unconcern" [BENGEL]. "At midnight" (perhaps figurative: to some parts of the earth it will be literal night), Matthew 25:6 . The thief not only gives no notice of his approach but takes all precaution to prevent the household knowing of it. So the Lord ( Revelation 16:15 ). Signs will precede the coming, to confirm the patient hope of the watchful believer; but the coming itself shall be sudden at last ( Matthew 24:32-36 Luke 21:25-32 Luke 21:35 ).
3. they--the men of the world. 1 Thessalonians 5:5 1 Thessalonians 5:6 , 4:13 , "others," all the rest of the world save Christians.
Peace--( Judges 18:7 Judges 18:9 Judges 18:27 Judges 18:28 , Jeremiah 6:14 , Ezekiel 13:10 ).
then--at the very moment when they least expect it. Compare the case of Belshazzar, Daniel 5:1-5 Daniel 5:6 Daniel 5:9 Daniel 5:26-28 ; Herod, Acts 12:21-23 .
sudden--"unawares" ( Luke 21:34 ).
as travail--"As the labor pang" comes in an instant on the woman when otherwise engaged ( Psalms 48:6 , Isaiah 13:8 ).
shall not escape--Greek, "shall not at all escape." Another awful feature of their ruin: there shall be then no possibility of shunning it however they desire it ( Amos 9:2 Amos 9:3 , Revelation 6:15 Revelation 6:16 ).
4. not in darkness--not in darkness of understanding (that is, spiritual ignorance) or of the moral nature (that is, a state of sin), Ephesians 4:18 .
that--Greek, "in order that"; with God results are all purposed.
that day--Greek, "THE day"; the day of the Lord ( Hebrews 10:25 , "the day"), in contrast to "darkness."
overtake--unexpectedly (compare John 12:35 ).
as a thief--The two oldest manuscripts read, "as (the daylight overtakes) thieves" ( Job 24:17 ). Old manuscripts and Vulgate read as English Version.
5. The oldest manuscripts read, "FOR ye are all," &c. Ye have no reason for fear, or for being taken by surprise, by the coming of the day of the Lord: "For ye are all sons (so the Greek) of light and sons of day"; a Hebrew idiom, implying that as sons resemble their fathers, so you are in character light (intellectually and morally illuminated in a spiritual point of view), Luke 16:8 , John 12:36 .
are not of--that is, belong not to night nor darkness. The change of person from "ye" to "we" implies this: Ye are sons of light because ye are Christians; and we, Christians, are not of night nor darkness.
6. others--Greek, "the rest" of the world: the unconverted ( 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ). "Sleep" here is worldly apathy to spiritual things ( Romans 13:11 , Ephesians 5:14 ); in 1 Thessalonians 5:7 , ordinary sleep; in 1 Thessalonians 5:10 , death.
watch--for Christ's coming; literally, "be wakeful." The same Greek occurs in 1 Corinthians 15:34 , 2 Timothy 2:26 .
be sober--refraining from carnal indulgence, mental or sensual ( 1 Peter 5:8 ).
7. This verse is to be taken in the literal sense. Night is the time when sleepers sleep, and drinking men are drunk. To sleep by day would imply great indolence; to be drunken by day, great shamelessness. Now, in a spiritual sense, "we Christians profess to be day people, not night people; therefore our work ought to be day work, not night work; our conduct such as will bear the eye of day, and such has no need of the veil of night" [EDMUNDS], ( 1 Thessalonians 5:8 ).
8. Faith, hope, and love, are the three pre-eminent graces ( 1 Thessalonians 1:3 , 1 Corinthians 13:13 ). We must not only be awake and sober, but also armed; not only watchful, but also guarded. The armor here is only defensive; in Ephesians 6:13-17 , also offensive. Here, therefore, the reference is to the Christian means of being guarded against being surprised by the day of the Lord as a thief in the night. The helmet and breastplate defend the two vital parts, the head and the heart respectively. "With head and heart right, the whole man is right" [EDMUNDS]. The head needs to be kept from error, the heart from sin. For "the breastplate of righteousness," Ephesians 6:14 , we have here "the breastplate of faith and love"; for the righteousness which is imputed to man for justification, is "faith working by love" ( Romans 4:3 Romans 4:22-24 , Galatians 5:6 ). "Faith," as the motive within, and "love," exhibited in outward acts, constitute the perfection of righteousness. In Ephesians 6:17 the helmet is "salvation"; here, "the hope of salvation." In one aspect "salvation" is a present possession ( John 3:36 , 5:24 , 1 John 5:13 ); in another, it is a matter of "hope" ( Romans 8:24 Romans 8:25 ). Our Head primarily wore the "breastplate of righteousness" and "helmet of salvation," that we might, by union with Him, receive both.
9. For--assigning the ground of our "hopes" ( 1 Thessalonians 5:8 ).
appointed us--Translate, "set" ( Acts 13:47 ), in His everlasting purpose of love ( 1 Thessalonians 3:3 , 2 Timothy 1:9 ). Contrast Romans 9:22 , Jude 1:4 .
to--that is, unto wrath.
to obtain--Greek, "to the acquisition of salvation"; said, according to BENGEL, Of One saved out of a general wreck, when all things else have been lost: so of the elect saved out of the multitude of the lost ( 2 Thessalonians 2:13 2 Thessalonians 2:14 ). The fact of God's "appointment" of His grace "through Jesus Christ" ( Ephesians 1:5 ), takes away the notion of our being able to "acquire" salvation of ourselves. Christ "acquired (so the Greek for 'purchased') the Church (and its salvation) with His own blood" ( Acts 20:28 ); each member is said to be appointed by God to the "acquiring of salvation." In the primary sense, God does the work; in the secondary sense, man does it.
10. died for us--Greek, "in our behalf."
whether we wake or sleep--whether we be found at Christ's coming awake, that is, alive, or asleep, that is, in our graves.
together--all of us together; the living not preceding the dead in their glorification "with Him" at His coming ( 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ).
11. comfort yourselves--Greek, "one another." Here he reverts to the same consolatory strain as in 1 Thessalonians 4:18 .
edify one another--rather as Greek, "edify (ye) the one the other"; "edify," literally, "build up," namely, in faith, hope, and love, by discoursing together on such edifying topics as the Lord's coming, and the glory of the saints ( Malachi 3:16 ).
12. beseech--"Exhort" is the expression in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 ; here, "we beseech you," as if it were a personal favor (Paul making the cause of the Thessalonian presbyters, as it were, his own).
know--to have a regard and respect for. Recognize their office, and treat them accordingly (compare 1 Corinthians 16:18 ) with reverence and with liberality in supplying their needs ( 1 Timothy 5:17 ). The Thessalonian Church having been newly planted, the ministers were necessarily novices ( 1 Timothy 3:6 ), which may have been in part the cause of the people's treating them with less respect. Paul's practice seems to have been to ordain elders in every Church soon after its establishment ( Acts 14:23 ).
them which labour . . . are over . . . admonish you--not three classes of ministers, but one, as there is but one article common to the three in the Greek. "Labor" expresses their laborious life; "are over you," their pre-eminence as presidents or superintendents ("bishops," that is, overseers, Philippians 1:1 , "them that have rule over you," literally, leaders, Hebrews 13:17 ; "pastors," literally, shepherds, Ephesians 4:11 ); "admonish you," one of their leading functions; the Greek is "put in mind," implying not arbitrary authority, but gentle, though faithful, admonition ( 2 Timothy 2:14 2 Timothy 2:24 2 Timothy 2:25 , 1 Peter 5:3 ).
in the Lord--Their presidency over you is in divine things; not in worldly affairs, but in things appertaining to the Lord.
13. very highly--Greek, "exceeding abundantly."
for their work's sake--The high nature of their work alone, the furtherance of your salvation and of the kingdom of Christ, should be a sufficient motive to claim your reverential love. At the same time, the word "work," teaches ministers that, while claiming the reverence due to their office, it is not a sinecure, but a "work"; compare "labor" (even to weariness: so the Greek), 1 Thessalonians 5:12 .
be at peace among yourselves--The "and" is not in the original. Let there not only be peace between ministers and their flocks, but also no party rivalries among yourselves, one contending in behalf of some one favorite minister, another in behalf of another ( 9:50 , 1 Corinthians 1:12 , 4:6 ).
14. brethren--This exhortation to "warm (Greek, 'admonish,' as in 1 Thessalonians 5:12 ) the unruly (those 'disorderly' persons, 2 Thessalonians 3:6 2 Thessalonians 3:11 , who would not work, and yet expected to be maintained, literally, said of soldiers who will not remain in their ranks, compare 1 Thessalonians 4:11 ; also those insubordinate as to Church discipline, in relation to those 'over' the Church, 1 Thessalonians 5:12 ), comfort the feeble-minded (the faint-hearted, who are ready to sink 'without hope' in afflictions, 1 Thessalonians 4:13 , and temptations)," applies to all clergy and laity alike, though primarily the duty of the clergy (who are meant in 1 Thessalonians 5:12 )."
support--literally, "lay fast hold on so as to support."
the weak--spiritually. Paul practiced what he preached ( 1 Corinthians 9:22 ).
be patient toward all men--There is no believer who needs not the exercise of patience "toward" him; there is none to whom a believer ought not to show it; many show it more to strangers than to their own families, more to the great than to the humble; but we ought to show it "toward all men" [BENGEL]. Compare "the long-suffering of our Lord" ( 2 Corinthians 10:1 , 2 Peter 3:15 ).
15. ( Romans 12:17 , 1 Peter 3:9 .)
unto any man--whether unto a Christian, or a heathen, however great the provocation.
follow--as a matter of earnest pursuit.
16, 17. In order to "rejoice evermore," we must "pray without ceasing" ( 1 Thessalonians 5:17 ). He who is wont to thank God for all things as happening for the best, will have continuous joy [THEOPHYLACT]. Ephesians 6:18 , Philippians 4:4 Philippians 4:6 , "Rejoice in the Lord . . . by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving"; Romans 14:17 , "in the Holy Ghost"; Romans 12:12 , "in hope"; Acts 5:41 , "in being counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ's name"; James 1:2 , in falling "into divers temptations."
17. The Greek is, "Pray without intermission"; without allowing prayerless gaps to intervene between the times of prayer.
18. In every thing--even what seems adverse: for nothing is really so (compare Romans 8:28 , Ephesians 5:20 ). See Christ's example ( Matthew 15:36 , 26:27 , Luke 10:21 , John 11:41 ).
this--That ye should "rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, (and) in every thing give thanks," "is the will of God in Christ Jesus (as the Mediator and Revealer of that will, observed by those who are in Christ by faith, compare Philippians 3:14 ) concerning you." God's will is the believer's law. LACHMANN rightly reads commas at the end of the three precepts ( 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ), making "this" refer to all three.
19. Quench not--the Spirit being a holy fire: "where the Spirit is, He burns" [BENGEL] ( Matthew 3:11 , Acts 2:3;7:51 Acts 7:51 ). Do not throw cold water on those who, under extraordinary inspiration of the Spirit, stand up to speak with tongues, or reveal mysteries, or pray in the congregation. The enthusiastic exhibitions of some (perhaps as to the nearness of Christ's coming, exaggerating Paul's statement, 2 Thessalonians 2:2 , By spirit), led others (probably the presiding ministers, who had not always been treated with due respect by enthusiastic novices, 1 Thessalonians 5:12 ), from dread of enthusiasm, to discourage the free utterances of those really inspired, in the Church assembly. On the other hand, the caution ( 1 Thessalonians 5:21 ) was needed, not to receive "all" pretended revelations as divine, without "proving" them.
20. prophesyings--whether exercised in inspired teaching, or in predicting the future. "Despised" by some as beneath "tongues," which seemed most miraculous; therefore declared by Paul to be a greater gift than tongues, though the latter were more showy ( 1 Corinthians 14:5 ).
21, 22. Some of the oldest manuscripts insert "But." You ought indeed not to "quench" the manifestations of "the Spirit," nor "despise prophesyings"; "but," at the same time, do not take "all" as genuine which professes to be so; "prove (test) all" such manifestations. The means of testing them existed in the Church, in those who had the "discerning of spirits" ( 1 Corinthians 12:10 , 14:29 , 1 John 4:1 ). Another sure test, which we also have, is, to try the professed revelation whether it accords with Scripture, as the noble Bereans did ( Isaiah 8:20 , Acts 17:11 , Galatians 1:8 Galatians 1:9 ). This precept negatives the Romish priest's assumption of infallibly laying down the law, without the laity having the right, in the exercise of private judgment, to test it by Scripture. LOCKE says, Those who are for laying aside reason in matters of revelation, resemble one who would put out his eyes in order to use a telescope.
hold fast that which is good--Join this clause with the next clause ( 1 Thessalonians 5:22 ), not merely with the sentence preceding. As the result of your "proving all things," and especially all prophesyings, "hold fast ( Luke 8:15 , 1 Corinthians 11:2 , Hebrews 2:1 ) the good, and hold yourselves aloof from every appearance of evil" ("every evil species" [BENGEL and WAHL]). Do not accept even a professedly spirit-inspired communication, if it be at variance with the truth taught you ( 2 Thessalonians 2:2 ).
22. TITTMANN supports English Version, "from every evil appearance" or "semblance." The context, however, does not refer to evil appearances IN OURSELVES which we ought to abstain from, but to holding ourselves aloof from every evil appearance IN OTHERS; as for instance, in the pretenders to spirit-inspired prophesyings. In many cases the Christian should not abstain from what has the semblance ("appearance") of evil, though really good. Jesus healed on the sabbath, and ate with publicans and sinners, acts which wore the appearance of evil, but which were not to be abstained from on that account, being really good. I agree with TITTMANN rather than with BENGEL, whom ALFORD follows. The context favors this sense: However specious be the form or outward appearance of such would-be prophets and their prophesyings, hold yourselves aloof from every such form when it is evil, literally, "Hold yourselves aloof from every evil appearance" or "form."
23. the very God--rather as the Greek, "the God of peace Himself"; who can do for you by His own power what I cannot do by all my monitions, nor you by all your efforts ( Romans 16:20 , Hebrews 13:20 ), namely, keep you from all evil, and give you all that is good.
sanctify you--for holiness is the necessary condition of "peace" ( Philippians 4:6-9 ).
wholly--Greek, "(so that you should be) perfect in every respect" [TITTMANN].
and--that is, "and so (omit 'I pray God'; not in the Greek) may your . . . spirit and soul and body be preserved," &c.
whole--A different Greek word from "wholly." Translate, "entire"; with none of the integral parts wanting [TITTMANN]. It refers to man in his normal integrity, as originally designed; an ideal which shall be attained by the glorified believer. All three, spirit, soul, and body, each in its due place, constitute man "entire." The "spirit" links man with the higher intelligences of heaven, and is that highest part of man which is receptive of the quickening Holy Spirit ( 1 Corinthians 15:47 ). In the unspiritual, the spirit is so sunk under the lower animal soul (which it ought to keep under) that such are termed "animal" (English Version. "sensual," having merely the body of organized matter, and the soul the immaterial animating essence), having not the Spirit (compare 1 Corinthians 2:14 ; John 3:6 ). The unbeliever shall rise with an animal (soul-animated) body, but not like the believer with a spiritual (spirit-endued) body like Christ's ( Romans 8:11 ).
blameless unto--rather as Greek, "blamelessly (so as to be in a blameless state) at the coming of Christ." In Hebrew, "peace" and "wholly" (perfect in every respect) are kindred terms; so that the prayer shows what the title "God of peace" implies. BENGEL takes "wholly" as collectively, all the Thessalonians without exception, so that no one should fail. And "whole (entire)," individually, each one of them entire, with "spirit, soul, and body." The mention of the preservation of the body accords with the subject ( 1 Thessalonians 4:16 ). TRENCH better regards "wholly" as meaning, "having perfectly attained the moral end," namely, to be a full-grown man in Christ. "Whole," complete, with no grace which ought to be wanting in a Christian.
24. Faithful--to His covenant promises ( John 10:27-29 , 1 Corinthians 1:9 , 10:23 , Philippians 1:6 ).
he that calleth you--God, the caller of His people, will cause His calling not to fall short of its designed end.
do it--preserve and present you blameless at the coming of Christ ( 1 Thessalonians 5:23 , Romans 8:30 , 1 Peter 5:10 ). You must not look at the foes before and behind, on the right hand and on the left, but to God's faithfulness to His promises, God's zeal for His honor, and God's love for those whom He calls.
25. Some oldest manuscripts read, "Pray ye also for (literally, 'concerning') us"; make us and our work the subject of your prayers, even as we have been just praying for you ( 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ). Others omit the "also." The clergy need much the prayers of their flocks. Paul makes the same request in the Epistles to Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, and in Second Corinthians; not so in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus, whose intercessions, as his spiritual sons, he was already sure of; nor in the Epistles, I Corinthians, and Galatians, as these Epistles abound in rebuke.
26. Hence it appears this Epistle was first handed to the elders, who communicated it to "the brethren."
holy kiss--pure and chaste. "A kiss of charity" ( 1 Peter 5:14 ). A token of Christian fellowship in those days (compare Luke 7:45 , Acts 20:37 ), as it is a common mode of salutation in many countries. The custom hence arose in the early Church of passing the kiss through the congregation at the. holy communion [JUSTIN MARTYR, Apology, 1.65; Apostolic Constitutions, 2.57], the men kissing the men, and the women the women, in the Lord. So in the Syrian Church each takes his neighbor's right hand and gives the salutation, "Peace."
27. I charge--Greek, "I adjure you."
read unto all--namely, publicly in the congregation at a particular time. The Greek aorist tense implies a single act done at a particular time. The earnestness of his adjuration implies how solemnly important he felt this divinely inspired message to be. Also, as this was the FIRST of the Epistles of the New Testament, he makes this the occasion of a solemn charge, that so its being publicly read should be a sample of what should be done in the case of the others, just as the Pentateuch and the Prophets were publicly read under the Old Testament, and are still read in the synagogue. Compare the same injunction as to the public reading of the Apocalypse, the LAST of the New Testament canon ( Revelation 1:3 ). The "all" includes women and children, and especially those who could not read it themselves ( Deuteronomy 31:12 , Joshua 8:33-35 ). What Paul commands with an adjuration, Rome forbids under a curse [BENGEL]. Though these Epistles had difficulties, the laity were all to hear them read ( 1 Peter 4:11 , 2 Peter 3:10 ; even the very young, 2 Timothy 1:5 , 3:15 ). "Holy" is omitted before "brethren" in most of the oldest manuscripts, though some of them support it.
28. ends as he began ( 1 Thessalonians 1:1 ), with "grace." The oldest manuscripts omit "Amen," which probably was the response of the Church after the public reading of the Epistle.
The subscription is a comparatively modern addition. The Epistle was not, as it states, written from Athens, but from Corinth; for it is written in the names of Silas and Timothy (besides Paul), who did not join the apostle before he reached the latter city ( Acts 18:5 ).