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The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle
To the Thessalonians I. So the title runs in the oldest copies. St Paul’s Epistles were at first gathered into a single volume by themselves, entitled “the Apostle.” Within this volume the Epistles were distinguished simply by the names of those to whom they were addressed. The order of this earliest collection was the same as appears in our English Bibles (except that the position of the Epistle to the Hebrews varied now fourth, now tenth, and then last of the fourteen). The Thessalonian letters came last in the second group, which consisted of five smaller Epistles addressed to Churches Ephesians to 2 Thessalonians . This was not the order of time (see Introd . p. 27), but of magnitude and supposed importance.
The Address and Salutation. Ch. 1:1
This being the earliest of St Paul’s extant letters, let us note with care the form of his address and introduction, for it is that from which he never departed. But his greetings were enlarged as time went on, and varied with every variation in the circumstances of his readers and in his relations to them.
The ordinary address of an ancient letter ran thus: “X. to Y. greeting.” The greeting was, in Latin, a wish of “Health”; in Greek, of “Joy”; in Hebrew, “Peace to thee!” The Apostle’s salutation, adopted by the Church, combined the Hebrew and Greek (Jewish and Gentile, Eastern and Western) forms of courtesy, transforming the latter by a verbal change ( chairein becoming charis ) slight indeed to the ear, but great in its significance into the devout and Christian “Grace to you!” On grace and peace see note below.
The Address is usually followed by an Act of Thanksgiving ( vv. 3 ff.)
1. Paul ] Here and in 2 Ep. St Paul introduces himself without the title Apostle , or any personal designation. Similarly in his much later Epistles to the Philippians, and to his friend Philemon. For in these cases he has no need to stand on his dignity. He is “gentle among them, as a nurse with her children” (ch. 2:6 8); and prefers, as in writing to Philemon (ver. 9), to merge the Apostle in the friend. For a further reason comp. note on Apostles , ch. 2:6.
Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus ] “Silvanus and Timotheus” had been Paul’s companions at Thessalonica, see Introd . chap. II. The Apostle was accustomed to associate with himself in writing to the Churches any of his helpers present with him and known to his readers. This was courteous, and promoted mutual sympathy.
Silvanus (so in 2 Ephesians 1:1 ; 2 Corinthians 1:19 ; 1 Peter 5:12 ) is the Silas of Acts 15 28; comp. Lucas (Luke) for Lucanus . The name (English, Sylvan : comp. our surname Wood , or Woods ) is Latin, like that of Paul himself ( Paulus ). Both were Roman citizens, as we learn from Acts 16:37 . Silas was notwithstanding a Jew a leading member of the Church at Jerusalem, and an inspired man (a “prophet”: Acts 15:22 , Acts 15:23 ). Silas shared with the Apostle Paul the honour of planting the gospel and first suffering for Christ in Europe; and his name worthily stands at the head of these earliest books of the N. T. The association of St Silas with St Paul terminated with the Second Missionary Journey of the Apostle. But he is probably the “Silvanus” of 1 Peter 5:12 , and his name is, along with that of Mark, a link between the Apostles Peter and Paul.
Timotheus (on whom see further ch. 3:1, 2) is our familiar Timothy , as the name is uniformly given in the R. V. He shares In the addresses of 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians; and St Paul toward the close of his life wrote two inspired letters to this most constant and beloved of his companions, his “dear child Timothy.” He joined the Apostle in the course of this Second Missionary Expedition (Acts 16:1-3 ), and remained in his service to the end of St Paul’s life. At this time Timothy must have been very young; for he is referred to as a “young man” in 1 Timothy 4:12 and 2 Timothy 2:22 , twelve years later. In the narrative of the Acts at this time he stands quite in the background; while Silas took a leading part in the common work, Timothy acted as their youthful attendant and apprentice, just as John Mark was “minister” (or “attendant,” R. V.) to Barnabas and Paul at an earlier period (Acts 13:5 ).
These three names paul, Silas, Timothy are typical of the mixed state of society in Apostolic times, and the varied material of which the Church was at first composed. It was built on a Jewish basis, with a Græco-Roman superstructure. Paul and Silvanus were Jews , with Roman name and citizenship. Timotheus had a Greek name and father, with a Jewish mother (Acts 16:1-3 ).
So much for the authors of the letter: the readers are designated the Church of Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (R. V.). This remarkable form of address, used in both Epistles, the Apostle does not employ again. We may expand it thus: “To the assembly of Thessalonians, gathered in the twofold Name, confessing God as Father and Jesus Christ as Lord.”
Observe the two parts of this description: (1) the local qualification, “church of Thessalonians .” Nearest to this is the phrase “churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:2 ), named however from the district, not the people. In 1 and 2 Corinthians the address runs, “To the church of God that is in Corinth”; afterwards, “To the saints that are in Ephesus, Philippi,” &c. The change from “church of Thessalonians” to “church in Corinth” is significant; it indicates an enlargement during the four years intervening of the conception of the Church, now no longer constituted by the local assembly, but thought of as one and the same Church here or there, in Corinth, Rome, or Jerusalem. Comp. note on ch. 2:14, “churches of God which are in Judæa.”
(2) The spiritual definition: “the assembly … in God the Father ,” &c. Church is in the N. T. ecclesia (French église ), the common Greek word for “assembly,” or legal meeting of citizens, “called out” by the herald; which in the LXX (the Greek rendering of the O. T.) is applied frequently to the solemn religious assemblies of the people of Israel. The Apostle distinguishes this “assembly of Thessalonians” from both those, gatherings. The Christian ecclesia is “in God the Father,” therefore a religions assembly marked off from all that is pagan, having “one God, the Father”; also “in the Lord Jesus Christ,” and thus distinguished from everything Jewish and Pagan alike, by its confession of “one Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:5 , 1 Corinthians 8:6 ). The creed of the Thessalonian Church is here contained in brief. Its members had been “baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son”; and all that they believed in and lived for as a Church centred in these two names two, yet one (“in God the Father and the Lord,” not “and in the Lord”). “In God as Father ,” they knew and owned themselves His children, “In the Lord ,” they discerned their Saviour’s Divine Sonship and glory (ver. 10); “in Jesus ,” His human birth and history (ch. 2:15; 4:14, &c.); and “in Christ ,” the living Head and Redeemer of His people. This is His full style and title, “The Lord Jesus Christ.”
Grace be unto you, and peace ] In this earliest Epistle the salutation has its shortest form. The qualifying words, “from God our Father,” &c. (see R. V.), are not authentic here; they first appear in 2 Ep. The usage of St Paul’s other Epistles naturally led copyists to make the addition here. But the “church” that is “in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” needs not to be told from Whom these gifts come.
Grace is the sum of all blessings that God bestows through Christ. Peace is the sum of all spiritual blessing that man receives and experiences; it is Grace in its fruit and realisation, In the wide sense of its Hebrew original ( Shalóm ), Peace is more than the absence of hostility and disorder; it denotes health and harmony of nature, inward tranquillity and wellbeing. And Grace, which in the first instance is God s love and favour to the undeserving, becomes also the inward possession of those who receive it, manifesting itself as the spirit and habit of their lives. The supreme exhibition of God’s grace is the death of Christ for sinful men, and the great instrument of peace is the sacrifice of the cross : Jesus “by God’s grace tasted death for every man,” “making peace through the blood of His cross” (Hebrews 2:9 ; Colossians 1:20 ; Ephesians 2:14-18 ; &c.).
St Paul’s whole gospel is in these two words. Grace is his watchword, as Love is that of St John. For his conversion and Apostolic call were, above everything, a revelation of Divine grace : see 1 Corinthians 15:9 , 1 Corinthians 15:10 , “By the grace of God I am what I am”; comp. Ephesians 2:7 ; Ephesians 3:2-8 ; 1 Timothy 1:12-15 . See additional note on grace , 2 Ephesians 1:12 .
Section I. The Thanksgiving and the Reasons for it. Ch. 1:2 10
In every Epistle, except Galatians , the Apostle’s first words are of thanks and praise to God for the fruits of God’s grace found in his readers, according to his own maxim (ch. 5:18), “In everything give thanks.” And his thanksgiving is expressed here in the fullest and warmest terms. Its special grounds and reasons lie (1) in the earnest Christian life of the Thessalonians, ver. 3; which gave assurance (2) of their Divine election , ver. 4; already manifest (3) in the signal character of their conversion , which took place under the most trying circumstances, vv. 5, 6; and which (4) had greatly furthered the progress of the gospel , vv. 7, 8; for (5) everywhere the story was told of how the Thessalonians had forsaken idolatry in order to serve the true God, and to await from heaven the return of Jesus, vv. 9, 10.
This long sentence is a good example of St Paul’s manner as a writer. His thought flows on in a single rapid stream, turning now hither, now thither, but always advancing towards its goal. His sentences are not built up in regular and distinct periods; but grow and extend themselves like living things under our eyes, “gaining force in each successive clause by the repetition and expansion of the preceding” (Jowett). See Introd . pp. 32, 33.
2. We give thanks to God always for you all ] “We,” i.e. the three above named. Here, as in Philippians 1:4 , he has thankfulness and joy over them “all;” no other Churches seem to have been so much to the Apostle’s mind as these two. And everything dear to him or useful to others in his friends moves him to gratitude toward God on their account. This St Paul felt that he “owed to God” (2 Ephesians 1:3 ), the Source of al goodness in men; and it was the best and safest way of commending them.
making mention of you in our prayers ] i.e. when engaged in prayer . As often as the Apostle and his companions prayed, the Thessalonian Church came to their mind; and with supplication praise on their behalf constantly mingled. For the connection of prayer and thanksgiving , see notes on ch. 5:17, 18.
3. remembering without ceasing … in the sight of God and our Father ] Standing ever in the presence of God, the witness of all his thoughts, St Paul bears with him unceasingly the remembrance of what he had beheld in the Christian life and spirit of his Thessalonian brethren. The adjunct comes in with solemn emphasis at the end of the verse. Comp. ch. 3:9: “What fitting thanks can we render for all the joy with which we rejoice over you before our God ?” and the frequency with which the writer appeals to “God” as “witness” of his feelings and his behaviour (ch. 2:4, 5, 10); similarly in Romans 1:9 , “God is my witness … how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers beseeching,” &c.; and in the thanksgiving of Philippians 1:8 , “God is my witness, how I long after you all!” We are reminded of Elijah’s protestation, “As the Lord liveth, before Whom I stand!” (1 Kings 17:1 , &c.)
He says before our God and Father (R.V.): for it is in the character of Father that St Paul approaches God in prayer (comp. ch. 3:11; 2 Ephesians 2:16 ; and the Lord’s prayer : “After this manner pray ye, Our Father”); and “in God” as “Father” (ver. 1) the Thessalonians became a “church,” and had received the blessings for which the Apostle now gives thanks.
remembering … your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ ] “Remembering,” i.e. “how active and fruitful your faith has shown itself to be, how devoted and unwearied your love, and what fortitude your hope in the Lord Jesus has inspired.” Faith, Love , and Hope are the essence of practical Christianity. Fides, amor, spes summa Christianismi (Bengel); comp. 1 Corinthians 13:13 . Work, Labour, Patience are their threefold expression; comp. the “works and labour and patience” of the Ephesian Church, in Revelation 2:2 , Revelation 2:3 .
There was a remarkable vigour, a moral courage and activity in the life of this Church, over which the Apostle rejoiced even more than he did in the eloquence and knowledge of the Church of Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:5 ). Warmth of heart and practical energy were the distinguishing features of Thessalonian Christianity (see Introduction , chap. IV.):
“Whose faith and work were bells of full accord.”
The work of faith includes the two expressions that follow. It embraces the whole practical issue of a Christian life, denoting that which faith effects , its outcome and result in the doings of life; expressed from the Divine side in “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22 ), and “fruit of the light” (Ephesians 5:9 , R. V.). This expression the Apostle uses once more, in 2 Ephesians 1:11 . This first appearance of the word “faith” in St Paul’s Epistles, conjoined with “work,” shows how far he was removed from antinomianism, from approving either a merely theoretical, or sentimental faith. In his later Epistles, especially in Galatians and Romans, we find “faith” contrasted with works,” i.e. Pharisaic “works of law,” supposed to be meritorious and to earn salvation by right and as matter of debt on God’s part (see Romans 4:1-4 , Romans 4:9 :32; Galatians 2:16 , Galatians 3:10-14 ). No such notions had as yet troubled the simple-minded Thessalonians. But in the later as in the earliest Epistles faith is always with St Paul an operative principle of life, a working power. He quite agreed with St James (ch. 2:17) that “faith, if it have not works, is dead.” Hence in Galatians 5:6 he writes of “faith working through love.”
The Thessalonians’ work of faith was manifest especially in the two forms of toil of love and endurance of hope . Similarly in 2 Ephesians 1:3 , Ephesians 1:4 , faith is joined with love (the “charity” of 1 Corinthians 13:0 ) on the one side, and with patience on the other. These are the two chief branches of Christian work loving service to the brethren and our fellow-men (comp. ch. 4:9, 10; 5:13), and fearless testimony for Christ before the world, with endurance of the loss and suffering this may entail ( vv. 6, 7; 2:13, 14; 3:2 4) “the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12 ). So we see the Christian life in its simplest elements: “a faith that had its out ward effect on your lives; a love that spent itself in the service of others; a hope that was no transient feeling, but was content to wait for the things unseen, when it should be revealed” (Jowett).
We must distinguish “work” from “labour” (or toil ). The former points to the thing done , as matter of achievement: the latter to the pains spent in doing it, as matter of exertion. Under this latter word the Apostle refers to his own manual labour (ch. 2:9; 2 Ephesians 3:8 ), also to his labours as a minister of Christ (ch. 3:5; 2 Corinthians 10:15 &c.; see besides 1 Corinthians 3:8 , “Each shall receive his reward according to his own toil”). Work may be easy and delightful: labour is toilsome; no selfish man will endure it for another’s good. Hence labour is the test of love . How will a mother toil and weary herself for her child! So St Paul, to whom with his many infirmities his work must often have been a heavy task.
“True love is humble, thereby it is known;
Girded for service, seeking not its own.”
“ Patience of hope” is not al the Apostle means. The Greek word implies active endurance perseverantia and tolerantia , as well as patientia or sustinentia (Vulgate); the constancy of Mind Milton, that both “bears up, and steers right onward.” It is not the resignation of the passive sufferer, so much as the fortitude of the stout-hearted soldier, which carries him in the hope of victory through the long day’s march and conflict. In Romans 2:7 the first and last of these expressions meet, and this word is rendered “ patient continuance in good work ” (see Trench’s N. T. Synonyms , on patientia ). Christian hope inspired this courage: “hope is the balm and life-blood of the soul.” So Jesus Himself “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2 ). And the Thessalonians were “imitators of the Lord” (ver. 6), following the patience of Christ (2 Ephesians 3:5 ). Being the embodiment of Hope, Patience takes its place in 2 Ephesians 1:4 ; and elsewhere.
This was the climax of Thessalonian virtue, tried from the first by fierce persecution (ver. 6; 3:2 6). For their “endurance” the Apostle gloried in this Church, and Christ was glorified in them (2 Ephesians 1:4-12 ); such conspicuous courage gave powerful testimony to the Gospel ( vv. 7, 8). Observe that here Hope inspires Patience: in Romans 5:4 , “Patience worketh hope.” Both are true.
Their hope was in our Lord Jesus Christ . This adjunct might, grammatically, be applied to the three foregoing phrases to faith, love , and hope alike; but less suitably, as we think. Faith and love are subsequently conceived in a wider sense: God is the Object of faith in ver. 8, and love embraces brotherly love in ch. 4:9, 5:13, &c.; whereas “our Lord Jesus Christ,” in His final coming, is frequently, and with concentrated emphasis, represented as the Object of the Thessalonians’ hope (see ver. 10; 2:12, 19; 3:13; 4:14 5:11; 2 Ephesians 1:7-10 ; Ephesians 2:1-8 . The Second Advent and the Last Judgement had been leading themes of St Paul’s preaching at Thessalonica, and had taken powerful hold of his hearers’ minds (see Introd. pp. 18 21). In this expectation lay the peculiar strength, and at the same time the danger and temptation of their faith, as we shall afterwards see. “If Joy is the key-note of the Epistle to the Philippians, Hope is that of the present Epistle” (Ellicott).
in the sight of God , &c.] Connected most suitably with “remembering” (see note above); though the clause might grammatically be attached to the “faith, hope, and love” just preceding, and would so give a good sense.
4. knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God ] Better, following the A. V. margin and R. V., knowing, brethren beloved by God, your election : comp. 2 Ephesians 2:13 , “brethren beloved by the Lord.”
The Apostle thinks of his readers as brethren , for he has just been carrying them in his thoughts in prayer “before our God and Father .” The knowledge that God their Father loves them and has chosen them for His own, gives confidence to the Apostle’s prayers for them and inexpressible joy to his thanksgivings. Comp. 2 Ephesians 2:13 : “We are bound to give thanks always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you,” &c.; and Ephesians 1:3-5 , “Blessed be God …, Who blessed us in every spiritual blessing, … according as He chose us in Christ,” &c.
The participle “beloved” is not however present in tense, as though the Thessalonians were simply loved now, in consequence of their newly-acquired Christian worth; it is in the Greek perfect tense, signifying a love existing in the past and realised in the present, the antecedent and foundation of their goodness. So in 1 John 3:1 : “Behold what manner of love the Father hath given us, that we should be called sons of God!”
The Christian excellence of the Thessalonians, therefore, moved the Apostle and his companions to thanksgiving ( vv. 2, 3), not simply on its own account, but because it marked them out as the objects of God’s loving choice . The word election , here occurring for the first time in St Paul’s Epistles, and expressing one of his most important doctrines, needs to be carefully studied. The N. T. use of the word originates in the O. T. idea of Israel as God’s “peculiar possession,” “the people whom He chose for His inheritance” (see Psalms 33:12 , 135:4; Deuteronomy 14:2 ; Isaiah 43:1-7 ; &c.). Such “election” implies two things (1) selection out of others , nations or men, who are not thus chosen “the rest” (ch. 4:13, 5:6); and (2) appropriation by God for His own love and service. Since Israel as a people now rejected Christ, St Paul was compelled to distinguish between national Israel and the true “election,” the spiritual kernel of the chosen people, who were the real objects of God’s favour: “the election obtained what Israel seeks after, but the rest were hardened” (Romans 11:7 ). With this true election, through Christ all believing Gentiles are identified “wild olive shoots, grafted into the good olive-tree” (Romans 11:17-24 ). So the national gives place to a spiritual election the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16 ); and the Apostle Paul applies the term, as in this place, to Jewish and Gentile members of the Church indiscriminately. This transference is strikingly expressed in 1 Peter 2:9 : “You (who believe in Christ) are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” God’s election no longer marks out a nation or body of men as such, but it concerns individuals , each believer in Christ being the personal object of this loving choice the “election of grace” (Romans 11:5 ). The end for which God in His grace so chooses men, appears in 2 Ephesians 2:13 , “God chose yon unto salvation,” i.e. final deliverance from death and all evil, to be brought about by the return of Christ from heaven (ver. 10): the same end is set forth in the words of 1 Ephesians 2:12 and 5:9, 10 “God calleth you to His own kingdom and glory;” He “appointed you not to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.” And the means toward this end are stated in 2 Ephesians 2:13 , “in sanctification of spirit and faith in the truth” (see note ad loc. ). Similarly in Ephesians 1:4 , “He chose us to be holy and without blemish before Him.” In later Epistles (Romans 8:28-30 ; Ephesians 1:4 , Ephesians 1:5 ) St Paul’s teaching on this subject receives two further extensions: (1) it is to sonship toward God that Christian believers are predestined; and (2) their election is carried back to eternity , “before the foundation of the world.” It is questionable whether “from the beginning” in 2 Ephesians 2:13 points back so far as this (see note ad loc. ) The “election” of Thessalonian believers goes back at any rate as far as the Divine love of which they are the objects “beloved by God.” But the Apostle’s mind is occupied with the event of the conversion of his readers, when God’s love to them and choice of them were practically manifest.
God’s choice of men for His purposes must, of course, precede their choice of Him and of His salvation; but it in no way precludes human choice and freedom of will nay rather anticipates and prepares for our free volition (comp. Romans 8:28-30 ), and invites us to be “workers together” with it for our salvation: “work out your own salvation, … for it is God that worketh in you” (Philippians 2:12 , Philippians 2:13 ). It rests on the Divine foreknowledge of men (“whom He foreknew, He foreordained”), and seeks from their coming into life its destined objects (see Galatians 1:15 , Galatians 1:16 ). But “Prescience, as prescience, hath in itself no causing efficacy” (Hooker). Observe that Scripture does not speak of any choice of men to believe in Christ , but of the choice of (assumed) believers to receive salvation . The consistency of man’s free-will with God’s sovereignty forms an insoluble mystery, which does not belong to the doctrine of election alone, but runs through the whole of life and religion.
The Apostle writes “ knowing your election,” not that he is absolutely sure of the final salvation of every one to whom he writes ch. 3:5 speaks otherwise; but from what he knows and remembers of them, he is practically certain that the circle of his readers belongs to God’s elect and that they will attain Christ’s heavenly kingdom (see ch. 2:12; 5:8 11, 24).
The evidence of this to his mind was twofold, lying (1) in the power given to himself and his companions in preaching at Thessalonica (ver. 5), and (2) in the zeal and devotion with which the Thessalonians had embraced the gospel (ver. 6).
5. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power ] The R. V. reads, how that our gospel , &c.; better perhaps, in that; the difference is slight: in any case the conversion of the Thessalonians, described in vv. 5, 6, was not that wherein their election consisted , but wherein it was evidenced . Paul and Silas were conscious in declaring their message of a power beyond all words attending it, which made them sure at the time that it would not be in vain. It was evident to them that God “had much people in this city.”
our gospel is God’s good news about Jesus Christ, proclaimed by His servants. See Romans 1:1-5 . Hence it is both God’s gospel (ch. 2:2, &c.), and “our” gospel.
and in the Holy Ghost ] The peculiar “power” in which St Paul and his helpers spoke at Thessalonica was not their own: their message came in the Holy Spirit , accompanied by the supernatural energy of the Spirit of God and of Christ. To this, as the N. T. teaches, the efficacy of the Gospel is always due. “He,” said Jesus, “the Spirit of truth, shall testify of Me; and ye also do testify” (John 15:26 , John 15:27 ). Power is an idea constantly associated with the Holy Spirit , according to the words of Christ in Acts 1:8 , “Ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;” so in 1 Corinthians 2:4 , “My message was not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” &c.,
“that mighty Breath
From heaven’s eternal shores.”
in the Holy Spirit, and, much fulness (R. V. margin ), or abundant fulfilment . The preposition “in” is not repeated in the Greek, so that the third adjunct is closely identified with the second (Holy Spirit).
The same Greek word is used in the phrase “ full-assurance of the understanding” in Colossians 2:2 ; “of hope,” “of faith” (Hebrews 6:11 ; Hebrews 10:22 ). But the “fulness” of this passage is ascribed to the “gospel” as it “came to” its Thessalonian hearers. It had its full effect upon them. Comp. 2 Timothy 4:17 , where the corresponding verb is used, “that through me the message might be fulfilled” (R. V.) fully proclaimed . This “fulfilment” has been shown in ver. 3; comp. ch. 2:13; 2 Ephesians 2:13 .
The power is in the gospel preached, the fulfilment in the hearers, and the Holy Spirit above and within them inspires both.
as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake ] The R.V., more accurately, even as ye know … we shewed ourselves toward you . The Apostle appeals to the knowledge of his readers to confirm what he has just said respecting the powerful effect of the Gospel upon them. This result in the experience of the Thessalonians accorded with the spirit and behaviour of the apostles towards them. “It was a mutual influence: so we preached, and so ye believed,” 1 Corinthians 15:11 (Jowett). In ch. 2:1 12 (see the remarks Introductory to ch. ii.) the Apostle draws a vivid portrait of himself and his colleagues as they were at Thessalonica.
They so lived and laboured on your account out of love to their Thessalonian hearers (comp. ch. 2:8), to those whom they felt sure God in His love had chosen for Himself (ver. 4) and was calling by their means “to His own kingdom and glory” (ch. 2:12). Comp. 2 Timothy 2:10 , “I endure all things because of the elect.”
“In the background,” behind “the purpose of the Apostle and his colleagues,” there was “the purpose of God,” Who for the Thessalonians’ sake gave this power to His servants (Alford).
6. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord ] imitators of us &c. (R.V.); comp. ch. 2:14; 2 Ephesians 3:9 , where the same correction is made. An “imitator” not only accepts the teaching of another, but copies his example. This imitation consisted (1) in the joyful endurance of suffering for the Gospel’s sake, as the following words show (comp. ch. 2:2, 14, 15, &c.); but (2) also in the vigour which marked the life of this Church, corresponding to that of the Apostle’s ministry amongst them (ver. 4). See note on “work of faith” (ver. 3).
Thus imitating their apostles, the Thessalonian believers were walking in the steps of the Lord , Who Himself “received” from the Father “the word in much affliction,” and “with joy of the Holy Spirit:” “The words that Thou gavest Me,” He said to the Father, “I have given them;” men “persecuted Me, and they will persecute you,” He promised His disciples; and He too “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” (John 17:8 ; John 15:20 ; Luke 10:21 ). Accordingly, in Colossians 1:24 the Apostle writes of himself as “filling up what is left behind of the afflictions of Christ.” Observe two things here: (1) How inspiring to the Thessalonians to be told they were walking in the very steps “of the Lord;” this makes toil welcome, and shame glorious. (2) How bold in the Apostle, and what a good conscience he kept, that he could identify following himself with following Christ . Comp. 1 Corinthians 11:1 , “Be imitators of me, even as I also of Christ.”
Ver. 6 is parallel to ver. 5, both serving to establish ver. 4. St Paul was satisfied that God had set His love upon these Thessalonians and chosen them to salvation, in the first instance by the extraordinary power and effect upon them of his preaching, as they will remember (ver. 5); and further by their joyous endurance of persecution, proving the thoroughness of their conversion, to which everyone is witness ( vv. 6 10). “We give thanks to God for you … being well assured of your Divine election, in that our message to you was attended with the manifest power of the Holy Spirit, and yon gladly consented to the sufferings that it brought upon you” ( vv. 3 6).
having received the word ] On “receive” see note to ch. 2:13.
“The word” ( par excellence ) stands alone for “the word of the Lord” (ver. 8), or “of God” (ch. 2:13), the same as “our gospel” (ver. 5).
in much affliction ] This great affliction (or tribulation : same Greek word, ch. 3:4; 2 Ephesians 1:4 , Ephesians 1:6 ) is described in Acts 17:5-9 , and referred to frequently in the Epistles: see Introd. pp. 15, 35. Persecution marked out the path in which the Thessalonians were called to follow Christ, and gave them an immediate opportunity of showing the genuineness of their faith. So with the kindred Philippian Church: “To you it was granted as a favour on Christ’s behalf, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29 ).
with joy of the Holy Ghost ] i.e. coming of (or inspired by ) the Holy Spirit . Joy constantly attends suffering for the truth’s sake, and for the word of God. Of this St Paul was an eminent example “sorrowing, yet alway rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10 , &c.); and Christ Himself, Who promises His disciples “My joy” amidst the sorrows of His passion (John 15:11 ); the Thessalonians were “imitators.” At a later time the Apostle notes in the Macedonian Churches, “in much proof of affliction, the abundance of their joy” (2 Corinthians 8:2 ). All such joy is from the Holy Spirit , and is a sign of His indwelling,
“Whose blessed unction from above
Is comfort, life, and fire of love!”
The same Spirit Who enabled the apostles to preach with power in spite of all opposition, enabled the Thessalonians to believe with joy in spite of all persecution.
The Apostle introduces the Holy Spirit in vv. 5 and 6 as One whose presence and attributes were well known to his readers. They had been “baptised into the name of the Holy Spirit,” as well as “of the Father and the Son:” see notes on ver. 1, “in God the Father &c.” In these first few verses the whole doctrine of the Trinity is implied.
7. so that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia ] Rather, ye became an ensample (R. V.), or example , or pattern (as the same word naturalized as “type” in English is rendered in Titus 2:7 , Hebrews 8:5 ). The Apostle applies this expression to himself in 2 Ephesians 3:9 ; also in Philippians 3:17 ; and to Timothy, in 1 Timothy 4:12 .
“Those that believe” (that is, “in God,” or “Christ”) equivalent to believers is a frequent designation of Christians with St Paul. See ch. 2:10, 13; 2 Ephesians 1:10 ; &c. Similarly, “they that are of faith” (Galatians 3:7 , Galatians 3:9 ), “him that is of faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26 ); for faith is the root and essence of all that makes a man a Christian.
The example of the Thessalonians affected all believers in Macedonia and in Achaia (according to the true reading). These were distinct provinces, and the influence of Thessalonian faith had extended from the one to the other. The Apostle was now in Corinth, the capital and centre of Achaia (a Roman province, covering nearly the area of the present Kingdom of Greece), and could judge of the effect of the conduct of the Thessalonian Church in that district. And Timothy, with Silas, had lately returned from the northern province, traversing various Macedonian towns on his way, and would be able to report of the influence of this example there (ch. 3:6; Acts 18:5 ). On the relation of Thessalonica to Macedonia , see Introd. pp. 9, 10, and the map . In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 St Paul brings these two provinces into competition, in a sort of generous rivalry.
St Paul imitated Christ, the Thessalonians him (ver. 6), and all neighbouring Christians took pattern by them. So good example spreads.
8. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord ] Better, hath sounded out , or resounded . The Greek word suggests a clear ringing note, “as of a trumpet” (Chrysostom); and the tense (perfect) implies no transient sound, but a continuing effect: see note on beloved , ver. 4.
“The word of the Lord” is the standing O. T. designation for God’s revealed will, all that, as the Lord , He says to men. But “the Lord” is now Christ in His Divine authority and glory; and this title of Christ is notably frequent in our two Epistles. Only in them is this expression applied by St Paul to the Gospel (comp. ch. 4:15; 2 Ephesians 3:1 ). Afterwards he calls it “the word of God” or “of Christ” “not men’s word, but as it is in truth, God’s word” (ch. 2:13). The fullest declaration of the authorship and purport of this “word” is from the lips of St Peter, in Acts 10:36 : “The word which God sent, in good tidings of peace through Jesus Christ: He is Lord of all.”
Ver. 8 gives proof of the earnestness with which the Thessalonians had embraced the Gospel, as set forth in vv. 6 and 7. For they had so received it as to echo it far and wide. The violent persecution directed against them, failing to shake their faith, had served to advertise it.
“Truth, like a torch, the more ’tis shaken shines.”
not only in Macedonia and Achaia ] Now the two provinces are united, in contrast with the rest of the world.
but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad ] Lit., hath gone out : the Apostle keeps up the metaphor with which he began the sentence. Psalms 19:4 , quoted also in Romans 10:18 , seems to be running in his mind: “Their sound went forth into all the earth” (LXX). For the tense , see note on “hath sounded out.”
The conversion of the Thessalonians, taking place under such remarkable circumstances, had made a great sensation, the news spreading even beyond the limits of Greece. [For a view of the importance of Thessalonica and its commanding geographical position, see Introd. Ch. 1.] Aquila had lately come to Corinth from Rome (Acts 18:2 ), and may have brought word that the news was current there. The charge of treason against Cæsar recorded in Acts 17:6 , Acts 17:7 , would almost certainly be reported in Rome. “In every place” is a natural hyperbolé, used like our everywhere, everybody and the French tout le monde , of that which is widely and generally current. The Thessalonian believers in Christ were
“bravely furnished all abroad to fling
The wingèd shafts of truth.”
With “in every place” the sentence of ver. 8 is complete; but as the writer extends his statement, it alters its shape in his mind, and the assertion with which he set out ( the word … hath sounded forth ) is now repeated in another way: your faith that is unto ( is directed to ) God, hath gone out . This mobility is characteristic of St Paul’s style (see Introd. Ch. VI.). The same thing appears in a double aspect: the fame of the gospel spread by the Thessalonians and the fame of their faith in it travelled together.
“Faith toward God” is a rare and distinct expression. It indicates the new direction , or attitude of the heart and life, which the next verse vividly depicts. Comp. 2 Corinthians 3:4 and Philemon 1:5 : “toward the Lord Jesus.”
so that we need not to speak any thing] Lit., have no need , a phrase used three times in this Epistle (ch. 4:9, 5:1), and nowhere else by St Paul.
Read this in close connection with the next verse. It is as much as to say, “No need for us to tell the story. We hear of it from all sides; everywhere people are talking about your conversion and your brave testimony for Christ.”
9. For they themselves shew of us ] Rather, report concerning us (R.V.) “They” points to “those in Macedonia and Achaia” and “in every place,” any whom the Apostle visited, or to whom he had thought of sending the news. “Instead of waiting to be told by us, we find them spreading the joyful news already!” And this self-diffusing report concerned not the Thessalonians alone, but Paul and his colleagues . It published their success at this great city, and helped their further progress: they report … what kind of an entrance we had unto you .
The “manner” of this “entering in” is not to be found in the kind of reception given to the evangelists at Thessalonica, but in the way in which they presented themselves and entered on their ministry here: comp. ver. 5, and ch. 2:1, 2. The reports that told of the heroic faith of the Thessalonians, told also of the wonderful energy and success with which Paul and Silas had preached to them.
and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God ] Lit., from the idols, to be bondmen to a God living and true . This explains the “faith toward God” of ver. 8. “How” implies not the fact alone, but the manner of their conversion “with what decision and gladness” ( vv. 3, 6), parallel to “what manner of entrance.” The Thessalonian Christians had been mainly Gentiles and heathen; comp. ch. 2:14, also Acts 17:4 , Acts 17:5 , from which it appears, however, that there was a sprinkling of Jews among them, and “a great multitude” of proselytes, already more or less weaned from idolatry.
The “faith toward God” defined in this verse, is the faith of the whole Bible, in which from first to last God asserts Himself as “the Living and True,” against the ten thousand forms of human idolatry. The word idol (Greek eidôlon ) means properly an appearance , a mere image , or phantom . Homer, e.g., applies the term to the phantasms of distant persons by which his gods sometimes impose on men ( Iliad , V. 449; Odyssey , IV. 796). Comp. Lord Bacon’s idola tribus, specus, fori, theatri , in the Novum Organum . This word is the equivalent in the Septuagint Version of Hebrew designations for heathen gods and their images of like significance vapours, vanities, nothings . To all these the Name of the God of Israel Who “is the true God, and the living God” (Jeremiah 10:10 ) is the constant, tacit antithesis: “I am Jehovah” (more strictly Jahveh , or Yahweh , commonly “the Lord” in the English O. T.) the HE IS (see Exodus 3:13 , Exodus 3:14 for its interpretation; and for its use in argument against idolatry, such passages as Isaiah 42:8 ; Isaiah 45:5 , Isaiah 45:6 , Isaiah 45:18 , Isaiah 45:21 , Isaiah 45:22 ). Like the Prophets and Psalmists (e.g. in Psalms 115:4-8 ; Isaiah 44:9-20 ; Jeremiah 10:1-10 ), St Paul was powerfully impressed with the illusion and unreality of heathen religions. He defines idolatry in two passages, 1 Corinthians 8:4 and 10:19, 20, as being half lies, half devilry ; and in the horrible immorality then existing in the Gentile world he saw its natural consequence and judicial punishment (Romans 1:18-25 ).
“True” signifies truth of fact , not word: “true God” is the “very God” of the Nicene Creed, the real God : comp. John 17:3 , “that they should know Thee, the only true God;” and 1 John 5:20 , “This is the true God, and life eternal.”
The service to this “living and true God” which the Thessalonians had embraced, was that of bondmen , acknowledging themselves His property and at His absolute disposal. St Paul habitually calls himself “Christ’s” (once “God’s,” Titus 1:1 ) “bondman.” In Galatians 4:8 he speaks of heathenism as bondage to false gods ; in Romans 6:15-23 he shows that to become a Christian is to exchange the bondage of sin for bondage to righteousness and to God, bondage under grace . The full conception of the Christian relationship to God is formed by the combination of the idea of sonship (in respect of affection and privilege) with that of bond-service (in respect of duty and submission), to Him “Whose service is perfect freedom.”
On the relation of this passage to St Paul’s general teaching see Introd. pp. 17, 18. So far, in vv. 8, 9, St Paul has related the conversion of the Thessalonians in the language and spirit of the O. T., and as an acceptance of Hebrew faith. In the next verse he advances to that which was distinctively Christian in their new creed:
10. and to wait for his Son from heaven … even Jesus ] Lit., from the heavens : comp. 2 Corinthians 12:2 , “the third heaven;” and Hebrews 4:14 , “Jesus, … Who (in ascending) hath passed through the heavens.” Heaven is a plural word in Hebrew, and its conception was manifold, implying the existence of successive regions and stages, like the Courts and Chambers of the Tabernacle, leading up to the innermost, immediate presence-chamber of the Most High.
This expectation separated the Church of Thessalonians from the Synagogue. It involved the belief in Jesus as the Christ (Acts 17:3 ); and if Christ, then Son of God and King of His kingdom amongst men. “The kingdom and glory of God to” which “He is calling” the Thessalonians (ch. 2:12), will be inaugurated by the return of their Deliverer from heaven; and this they are awaiting. Jesus, God’s Son, had come already, to suffer affliction and to die for men’s salvation (ver. 6; ch. 2:15; 5:9). He had gone to heaven, “that He might receive His kingdom and return” (Luke 19:12 ; comp. Acts 3:21 ), return as Judge to reward God’s faithful servants and to render to oppressors and persecutors their due (2 Ephesians 1:5-10 ). Such, we gather, had been the line of Paul and Silas’ teaching at Thessalonica: see Introd. Ch. III. Hence their readers were possessed with the idea of the parousia , or second advent of Christ. This formed a chief part of their religion. They were in truth “like men looking for their Lord, when He should return from the wedding” (Luke 12:36 ). Comp. note on “patience of hope,” ver. 3; also ch. 4:13, 17, 5:1; 2 Ephesians 2:1 , Ephesians 2:2 , Ephesians 2:16 .
From vv. 9 and 10 we may draw a definition of religion, as consisting of two things serving and waiting , seen in its present and future, its practical and its ideal aspect; the first springing out of faith , the second out of hope , while both gain through love their Christian character and spirit.
his Son … whom he raised from the dead ] “The palmary argument in proof of the Divine sonship of Jesus” (Bengel): comp. Romans 1:4 , “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead.” And Christ’s resurrection was equally the warrant of faith in His future kingdom and judgeship, “whereof God hath given assurance, in that He hath raised Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31 ). Indeed it was the seal of the whole Apostolic message (read 1 Corinthians 15:3 , 1 Corinthians 15:14 ; 1 Peter 1:3-5 , 1 Peter 1:21 ; Acts 2:32-36 ; Acts 3:13-21 ). Raised from the dead, Jesus was exalted as God’s Son, and man’s Saviour, and Lord of all things, to the highest heaven (Ephesians 1:20-22 ); and in this character He will return, as He said, “with His Fathers glory and with the holy angels,” to “render to every man according to his deeds” (Matthew 16:27 ; Mark 8:38 ). The Resurrection was the first step in Christ’s glorification, the pledge of all the rest.
even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come ] delivered should be delivereth (R.V.). The Greek participle is present (“the One delivering”); and such a participle, with the definite article, approaches the force of a substantive (see note on “all that believe,” ver. 7), denoting a continued work, or perpetual office. Reference to 2 Corinthians 1:10 , or 2 Timothy 4:17 , 2 Timothy 4:18 , where the same verb is used, will show that it signifies rescue rather than redemption , indicating the greatness of the peril, and the sympathy and power of the Deliverer.
This deliverance is not yet complete: see Romans 5:9 , Romans 5:10 , “having been justified by His blood, reconciled to God through the death of His Son, we shall be saved from God’s wrath, saved in His life.” It is a rescue “from the wrath to come ” (comp. Matthew 3:7 ), more strictly, the wrath that is coming ; as in Ephesians 5:6 ; Colossians 3:6 . For God’s anger against sin is never quiet; it is on the way , like a tide that rises till it reach its full height. Comp. 2 Ephesians 2:11 , Ephesians 2:12 ; Romans 1:18 , Romans 1:28 . As against the Jewish nation, the Apostle sees that its term is now reached: “His wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” (ch. 2:16). For others its recompenses are preparing, who “in their hardness and impenitence of heart” are “laying up for themselves a store of wrath” (Romans 2:4-6 ), comp. 2 Ephesians 1:7-10 and notes.
How Jesus “delivers us” from the wrath impending over sinful men, St Paul does not tell us here; he had certainly taught the Thessalonians. In ch. 5:8 10 he opposes to God’s “wrath” “ salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us;” and this shows that he had proclaimed at Thessalonica the same doctrine of reconciliation through the Cross which he expounds in the next group of his Epistles, and which was the core of his gospel from the beginning. On this most important point, see once more Introd. pp. 16, 17.
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the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29