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Bible Commentaries
1 Thessalonians 1

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1

(1) “The founders of the Church of Thessalonica, who have so recently left it, greet the Church in the common Father in whom they are united.”

Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus.—There was no need to add “Apostle” to the name of Paul, in writing to a Church with which his relations were so familiar and so cordial: it is probably omitted for the same reason in the Epistle to the Philippians and in that to Philemon. Some see in the omission a mark of the early date of the letter, before St. Paul had assumed the title; others think he omits it in courtesy to his companions, to whom it could not be given. Both theories are disproved by 1 Thessalonians 2:6. Silas takes precedence of Timothy (comp. Acts 17:14-15; Acts 18:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:1) as a man of higher standing. (See Acts 15:22, and 1 Timothy 4:12.)

In God.—Other Thessalonians were “in the world,” “in darkness,” “in their sins.” The distinctive mark of these was that they were re-united to the Father of all men; and more, re-united in Christ. The words following “peace” should be struck out, not being found in the best text.

Verse 2

(2) “We never set ourselves to prayer without remembering your faithful activity, loving laboriousness, cheerful and persevering endurance, and thanking God for it.”

We.—All three are regarded as the writers, and no doubt the sentiments of all are expressed, though the letter is St. Paul’s own composition. In 1 Thessalonians 2:18 he corrects himself for using “we” where it was only true of himself. It may be noticed that St. Paul never speaks of himself alone in the plural in any of the other Epistles.

To God.—None of the success is due either to the preachers or to the converts.

Always.—Not as meaning “without ceasing,” but “on every occasion that reminds us of you;” the words “in our prayers” specify the nappy occasions. Christians like best to be remembered then.

For you all.—“There is not one of you that we know of for whom we cannot give thanks: the whole church is what it should be.”

Verse 3

(3) Faith . . . love . . . hope.—in this first of his writings, St. Paul has already fixed upon the three great abiding principles (1 Corinthians 13:13) of the Christian life, and the forms in which they mainly exhibit themselves. The genitive in such phrases as “work of faith,” etc., is almost equivalent to a very emphatic adjective—“faithful activity,” i.e., a work characterised by faith and prompted by faith, such as faith alone could have enabled you to accomplish; so “labour of love” is similarly equivalent to “loving labour,” laborious toil undertaken for love’s sake, and done in the spirit of love; and “patience of hope” to “hopeful endurance of trials,” a steadfast endurance which is grounded upon and cheered by hope.

In our Lord.—More correctly, of The words in the Greek go with all three clauses: He is the object of the faith and love, as well as of the hope. This “hope of our Lord” includes, but is not limited to, the hope of His second Advent.

In the sight of God goes closely with “remembering,” and is equivalent to “in prayer.”

Verse 4

(4) “The reason why the sight delights us is because it proves that God loves you, and has set His heart upon you.”

Beloved.—The proper translation is, knowing brethren who have been so beloved of God, your election, as in the margin: the Greek idiom cannot allow of the Authorised rendering. The tense of the word “beloved” represents not only God’s attitude to them in the present, but the long continuance of it in the past, especially as proved by His election of them. (Comp. Romans 8:28-30, and 2 Thessalonians 2:13.)

Election, in the language of (at any rate) St. Paul and St. Peter, seems primarily to refer to a gracious admission into religious privileges in this life. The word implies nothing as to the final condition of the person thus elected (see 2 Peter 1:10, and comp. Ephesians 1:4 with Ephesians 5:5-7). God elects us to become members of the Holy Church, and all baptised persons are elect, with heaven in reversion (1 Peter 1:2-5); but they may, according as they please, unsettle their election, or make it sure. St. Paul rejoices, because the continued possession of spiritual privileges, used or abused, is an assurance of God’s continued “favour and goodness towards us.” Of course, however, this observation does not much affect the mysterious doctrine of predestination. The question must still remain why God brings some in this life to the knowledge of His truth, and others not; but the observation, at any rate, destroys the notion of an arbitrary damnation and salvation.

Verse 5

(5) “If God had not set His heart upon you, we never could have been as successful among you as we were.”

Our gospel came not unto you.—Or rather, the glad tidings which we brought did not prove among you, in its action upon you.

In word only.—Comp. 1 Corinthians 2:4; 1 Corinthians 4:20. “It did not consist merely of so much eloquent instruction, but also we found we were speaking with a conscious power—indeed with all the force of the Holy Ghost—and with an overmastering conviction that we were right and should prevail.” That by the “power,” “assurance,” etc., are meant the preachers’ own, and not the people’s, is proved by the next clause, “as ye know.”

In the Holy Ghost.—The Greek here omits the definite article. In such cases attention is not so much called to the Blessed Person Himself, as to the exalted, inspired enthusiasm with which He fills us. The union of the divine and human spirit is so close (see 1 Corinthians 6:17) that it is often hard in the New Testament to distinguish which is meant.

As ye know sums up with an appeal to their memory: “In fact, you recollect what God made us like among you.”

For your sake gives not their own purpose, but God’s, carrying on the thought of the “election.”

Verse 6

(6) And ye became followers.—Not so much a separate reason for believing them elected of God, because of their receptiveness, but an evidence of the power given by God to the preachers for the winning of them. “So much so, that, in spite of persecution, you became Christians with enthusiasm.”

Followers.—Not “disciples,” but imitators. The three points in which the Lord and His Apostles were imitated are then expressed—(1) meek reception (Psalms 40:6; Isaiah 1:5); (2) cost what it might; (3) rejoicing all the while (Psalms 22:22; Psalms 45:7).

In much affliction.—For examples of troubles in the early days of the Thessalonian Church, see Acts 17:5; Acts 17:8.

Holy Ghost is used in the same way as it is in 1 Thessalonians 1:5. “Joy which is the natural outcome of a spirit united with the Holy Spirit.”

Verse 7

(7) “Your zeal was so great and sincere that you, in your turn, became a model: for even in far-away countries the tale of your conversion is told with wonder.”

Ensamples.—Probably the singular should be read: the whole church became a model church.

To all that believei.e., now; not to those that then believed; Philippi was the only such church.

Macedonia and Achaia.—These two provinces comprised all Roman Greece. The influence of the Thessalonians spreads far beyond their own country.

Verse 8

(8) For.—“For, in fact,” (supporting and exceeding the statement of 1 Thessalonians 1:7 about Greece) “you form the centre from which the doctrine of Christ has rung (not rang) out like a trumpet through those countries; and even beyond, your faith is well known.” The clauses are not quite logically balanced.

Your faith does not mean “your creed,” but “the report of your extraordinary faith.”

To say anythingi.e., about our success at Thessalonica.

Verse 9

(9) They themselvesi.e., the inhabitants of those countries. “Wherever we go we find our own story told us.”

Shew.—Rather, announce. Both sides of the story are told: (1) of us—what kind of entry we made among you, explained in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 to mean with “the word of truth, of meekness, and righteousness” (Psalms 45:5); (2) of you—how truly converted you were, as he proceeds to show further in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 to 1 Thessalonians 3:13.

Living and true God.—In contrast to the lifeless and false idols. The Thessalonians had been Gentiles, Perhaps St. Paul was thinking of his own speech on Mars Hill, which had been recently uttered.

Verse 10

(10) And to wait.—The idea of the Advent is that which both here and throughout the Epistle occupies the foreground in the minds of St. Paul and his friends. These two infinitives, “to serve” and “to wait,” express not so much the intention of the Thessalonians in turning, as the condition into which they came by turning.

Whom he raised.—Not only proves His Sonship (Romans 1:4), but also gives a kind of explanation of the “awaiting Him from heaven.”

Delivered.—Better, delivereth.

To come.—Better, which is already coming. The wrath is on its way to the world, to appear with Christ from heaven (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8), and He is day by day working to save us from it (Hebrews 7:25).

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/1-thessalonians-1.html. 1905.
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