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Chapter 1. Paul Rejoices in the Remarkable Work of God Revealed in the Thessalonians.
‘Paul and Silvanus and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be to you, and peace.’
This was a typical form of greeting by a letter writer of the day, indicating the author’s name, the recipient’s name, a reference to a deity and a hope for their well-being. It is noteworthy that Paul does not see it as necessary to refer here to his Apostleship (contrast Galatians 1:1. He does mention it in passing in 1 Thessalonians 2:6). Instead he wrote confident of a warm reception from the church because of what he had heard about them.
He included Silas (his Latin name Silvanus) and Timothy in his greeting. Silas they knew from his being a companion of Paul in the founding of the church (Acts 17:1-10 compare Acts 15:40). Timothy also was clearly known to them, and had probably been with Silas and Paul in their ministry there, but not prominent.
‘The church of the Thessalonians.’ Compare ‘the churches of Galatia’ (Galatians 1:2) and contrast ‘the church of God which is at Corinth’ (1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1), and the later ‘to the saints at --’ (Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1. See also Romans 1:1). In this there is a growing awareness of the universal church as seen as one whole, composed of all those set apart for Himself (‘saints’) by God.
The difference in the use of ‘church’ is one of emphasis only. Each church in a city (Romans 16:4; Romans 16:16; Romans 16:23; 1 Corinthians 1:2 and often), and the local branches within that church (Philemon 1:2; 1 Corinthians 11:18), as well as the universal church (1 Corinthians 10:32; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 3:21; Ephesians 5:23-32), can be called ‘the church’. Thus reference can be made to ‘the churches’ and to ‘the church’, and the latter often wider in meaning than the former. In all cases it refers to a group of believers, whether local, city-wide or worldwide.
‘Church’ (ekklesia) was used in LXX to translate ‘the assembly’ of Israel, the gathering together of His people to Sinai to receive the covenant (Deuteronomy 4:10; Deuteronomy 18:16) and to the Tabernacle (Deuteronomy 9:10; Deuteronomy 23:1-3; Deuteronomy 23:8; Deuteronomy 31:30) and the Temple ( 1Ki 8:14 ; 1 Kings 8:22; 1 Kings 8:55; 1 Kings 8:65) and in response to the covenant (Judges 20:2; Judges 21:5; Judges 21:8; 1 Samuel 17:47). In a religious context it thus indicated ‘the people of God gathered for worship and response to the covenant’. This was the sense in which Jesus used it (Matthew 16:18). The more general ‘congregation’ of Israel was translated as ‘synagogue’.
‘In God the Father.’ Every Christian dwells ‘in God’ (1 John 4:15), and our lives are ‘hid with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3:3). The thought is of being enveloped in the love, mercy and care of a gracious God, and of seeking to walk as those who are His, and is in contrast with those who are ‘in the world’ (Ephesians 2:12; 2 Peter 1:4; compare 1 John 2:15-16; 1 John 4:3-4), who walk as the world walks.
Christians are ‘in the world’ (John 17:11-12) but only as strangers and pilgrims (Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 2:13). They are not ‘of the world’ (John 15:19). And this is because they are now ‘in God the Father’.
There is in this phrase a recognition of ‘the Father’, in contrast with ‘our Father’, which is more personal (2 Thessalonians 1:1). Jesus constantly spoke of ‘the Father’ in this distinctive way (Matthew 28:19; Mark 13:32; Luke 10:22; John 4:21; John 4:23; John 5:19-45; John 6:27-57; John 8:16-29; John 10:15; John 10:36-38 constantly). He is the prototype and perfect exemplar of all fatherhoods (Ephesians 3:14-15), the one ‘of Whom are all things’ (1 Corinthians 8:6), the One Who raised Christ from the dead, and is thus the Source of all future life (Galatians 1:1), the One whose foreknowing results in the gathering of His elect (1 Peter 1:2), the source of all Light (James 1:17). And His people are ‘in Him’.
‘And the Lord Jesus Christ.’ This linking of our Lord Jesus Christ with ‘the Father’ using a single preposition, as being the One in Whom we are, (‘in God -- and the Lord’ and not ‘in God -- and in the Lord’) is a clear declaration of His equality with the Father. No other could have been so combined. It indicates that we must give full significance to the title ‘the Lord’ as meaning ‘Yahweh’ (the name of God in the Old Testament), which to the Jew was the name above every name, which is represented in LXX (the Greek Old Testament) as ‘Lord’ (kurios). Compare Philippians 2:11 where this is clearly indicated, and see Matthew 28:19.
‘In Christ’ is one of Paul’s favourite descriptions. Christ is the body and we are members of that body (1 Corinthians 12:12-14), Christ is the vine and we are the branches of the vine (John 15:1-6), because we are in Him we are declared righteous in God’s sight (Romans 3:24), in Christ we are accepted as holy in God’s sight (1 Corinthians 1:2), in Christ the veil on our hearts is done away (2 Corinthians 3:14), in Him we are created unto good works (Ephesians 2:10), in Him we have been made alive, and raised and seated with Him in the spiritual realm (Ephesians 2:5-6), there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1). Thus when we enter into Christ He is made to us wisdom from God, even righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). How much more the blessing then to be both ‘in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’.
‘The Lord Jesus Christ.’ The title ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’ contains three elements. Firstly He is Lord (kurios), the One Whose Name is above every name, Yahweh Himself (Philippians 2:9). To the Jew and to Paul the Name above every name was Yahweh and in the Greek Old Testament Yahweh is represented by kurios. He is also elsewhere the great ‘I am’ (John 8:58, compare Exodus 3:14), another name for Yahweh (which means ‘the One Who is’), and thus ‘the Word’, Who existed in the beginning, through Whom God created the worlds (John 1:1-3; Hebrews 1:1-3; Psalms 33:6; Psalms 33:9), the Lord of all.
Secondly He is ‘Jesus’. He became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). He was truly man and yet in His manhood epitomised all that man was meant to be. He hungered as a man (Matthew 4:2). He grew thirsty as a man (John 4:7; John 19:28). He suffered as a man. And His death was the death of a man, and yet it was of more than a man, for He was ‘the Lord’. He was ‘the Christ (Messiah)’. And the name Jesus means ‘Yahweh is salvation’.
Thirdly He is ‘the Christ, the Messiah.’ By His death and resurrection He is declared to be ‘both Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2:36). He is the expected King Messiah, the One appointed to eternal Rule (2 Peter 1:11; compare Psalms 145:13; Daniel 4:3; Daniel 4:34; Daniel 7:14), the One Who both sits on His own throne and also uniquely shares His Father’s throne (Revelation 3:21), the One before Whom every knee shall bow (Philippians 2:10).
And because of this He is the powerful One (Romans 1:4). He is the One worthy of worship and honour. He is the Lord of glory.
‘Grace to you, and peace.’ ‘Grace to you.’ Nothing can be more desirable than to have God looking on us in active love and favour without our deserving, and this is what is signified by grace. Thus Paul wants the Thessalonians to know that he desires for them only that they enjoy the experience of the grace of God.
‘And peace.’ Peace results from grace, but this kind of peace is also God’s gift, flowing from Him to us. Once we know that we are right with God, and experience His graciousness towards us, we have peace with God (Romans 5:1) and enjoy such peace, prosperity and success of spirit that our hearts can only overflow. For however things may seem to smile on us, if God is not pleased with us, we cannot fully know peace. The very foundation then of peace in our hearts is the favour of God, by which we enjoy true and genuine prosperity of spirit through the work of His Spirit, and find the peace of God which passes all understanding guarding our thoughts and hearts (Philippians 4:7). And this is what Paul wished for, and prayed for, for the Thessalonians.
‘Grace to you’ represented a general greeting in the Gentile world, and ‘peace to you’ in the Jewish world. The combination thus emphasised the unity of the church, both Jew and Gentile, as one. It was seemingly a regular combination in the Christian church ( 2Pe 1:2 ; 2 John 1:3; Revelation 1:4).
‘We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patient endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ before our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved, your election.’
We have here a threefold pattern revealing the completeness of Paul’s concern for the Thessalonians. ‘Making mention -- remembering -- knowing’, resulting from and the result of his gratitude to God for their faithfulness. He mentions them in his prayers, he remembers them in his heart continually, he knows in his heart that they are truly Christ’s, truly God’s ‘elect’.
‘We give thanks to God always for you all.’ Note that he includes his fellow-workers in his declaration. They give thanks together as they pray together, and it goes on continually, ‘always’, and it excludes none, ‘for you all’. The giving of thanks is in Scripture an important part of prayer, possibly the most important. It expresses confidence in God’s working, and gratitude for it, puts the onus on Him and leaves Him to sort out the details. Paul constantly speaks of expressing gratitude to God (1 Corinthians 15:57; 2 Corinthians 2:14; 2Co 8:16 ; 2 Corinthians 9:15; Ephesians 1:16; Ephesians 5:4; Ephesians 5:20; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 1:3; Colossians 1:12; Colossians 2:7; Colossians 3:17; Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:9; 1Th 5:18 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Timothy 2:1). He lived and breathed such gratitude.
‘For you all.’ Paul had no favourites. He was concerned for, and grateful for, the wellbeing of every child of God.
Modern praying can so often tend to be selfish, concentrating on what we want, (consider your prayer list), but the Lord’s prayer concentrated on what God wants, the hallowing of His name by the bringing about of His purposes, the establishing of the Kingly Rule of God and the doing of His will on earth as in Heaven followed by the desire for the minimum necessary physical provision, daily forgiveness and deliverance from the machinations of the Evil One so that we may faithfully seek to achieve what we have prayed for. It lacks a thought of benefit for self and is full of desire for the fulfilment of God’s purposes. We need wider horizons.
‘Making mention of you in our prayers.’ His gratitude and praise to God was expressed in his prayers. His heart was full of thanksgiving. And he knew that so to give thanks for them was to bring blessing on them as they were remembered before God.
‘Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patient endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ before our God and Father.’ He gave thanks because he remembered continually what he had seen spring up in their lives. The genitive here probably indicates ‘which springs from’. They worked hard for God because they believed. They laboured hard for God because they loved Him. They patiently endured because of their future hope. And Paul remembered gladly how all three were revealed when he was among them.
What a contrast this was with the Ephesian church in Revelation 2:2. They too had works, and labour, and patient endurance, but they had lost their first love. There is no mention there of faith, love and hope, except for the loss of their first love. We must ever ensure that our service does not take our eyes off Christ. When His listeners asked what they should do to ‘work the works of God’, doing God’s work along with Him, eager to please, Jesus replied that the first work of God was to enable them to believe on Him Whom God had sent. They wanted some wonderful means of being enabled to live God-pleasing lives. His reply was that God’s first work was for their hearts to be rightly directed on Him (John 6:28-29). Then they would work the works of God truly.
This trilogy of faith, love and hope occurs regularly. See 1 Thessalonians 5:8; Rom 5:2-5 ; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 5:5-6; Colossians 1:4-5; Hebrews 6:10-12; 1 Peter 1:21-22. The early church recognised that they were the foundation of any Christian life. If one be missing that life will be severely impeded.
‘Your work of faith.’ True faith is not something that you do, it is a response which results from knowing God and Jesus Christ. As we see Him and know more of Him faith flows from our hearts, the natural response to His attraction and His truth. We cannot make ourselves believe. We respond because the Father draws us (John 6:44; John 12:32). Thus the faith that saves is not of our doing, it results from the work of God in our hearts as our eyes are opened to see Him (Acts 26:18). We can read His word, we can consider Him, but we cannot make ourselves believe. The faith that saves, while possibly resulting directly from so seeking Him, is His work not ours as our eyes are opened and we respond to Him. Thus the ‘work of faith’ is not that of producing faith but that work which results from the arousal of faith. Because we believe, we do, and so our faith is proved genuine (James 2:14-20). It is a faith that works by love (Galatians 5:6).
Jesus constantly told men to believe in Him, and so did Paul, but both did so in anticipation of the work of God in men’s hearts. For we cannot make ourselves truly believe in Christ. We cannot make ourselves truly believe anything. Such a worked up ‘faith’ would not last, and could only do us harm. Faith can only spring from recognition of truth (or what is conceived of as truth). It is a result, not a cause, although once faith has sprung up it then becomes the cause of our actions. Thus the Pharisees antagonistic to Jesus believed in God and in their own interpretation of the Jewish religion, but it was a faith that led them to demand the crucifixion of Christ, and to condemnation. As James tells us, ‘the devils also believe (in God) and tremble’ (James 2:1). They are aware of what He is and that what He is condemns them. But in neither case was it responsive faith.
It is not faith that saves, but the response of faith to the truth as it is revealed in the heart by God. Great faith, if it is in what is not true, can only finally lead to disaster. The truth about the state of a man’s heart is discovered by what he believes. The faith that saves is faith in Christ wrought in us by God. That is saving faith. (Although strictly speaking it is God Who saves, faith is only the channel). And it then results in service.
What then was their ‘work of faith’? That they turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God and to wait for His Son from Heaven (verse 9). This was the result of their faith, not the cause of it.
‘Your labour of love.’ Having believed, the Thessalonians were then filled with love for Christ and responded by hard work in His service. The word for ‘labour’ means hard toil and the willingness to endure much hardship. True love for Christ is all demanding and expresses itself in service, both in witnessing and praying, and in doing good and revealing concern for those in need. It is not without significance that the provision of hospitals and schools for the poor in Europe in centuries past originally arose from the activities of men and women of God, and that many of the great nineteenth century reformers were evangelical Christians. Jesus’ parables constantly stressed that we are ‘servants’ who are to go about our physical duties in readiness for His coming.
The word for love is agape. It was not a word in common use, as far as we know, in classical Greek, and when used tended to contain the meaning of the highest and noblest form of love, spiritual or rational love for what is noble. But especially in its verbal form it was regularly used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) to express covenant love, love between God and His people on the basis of His covenant, resulting in similar love between the covenanters. It was not emotional so much as responsive in action for the good of the object of that love, having a genuine desire to be pleasing and for the wellbeing of the one loved.
Analysis of human emotion is always tricky, the subject is so intricate, but agape in this sense must be distinguished from romantic love, sexual love and human affection, although it did come to be used more generally for the latter and agapao and phileo are sometimes used indistinguishably. But the general Christian thought behind the word was of a higher love, as described above. It is used of God’s love, a general benevolence that then results in activity for the wellbeing of its object, and is willing to do so at great cost. It is not a love only of the deserving, but also of the undeserving who are chosen out without merit for that purpose.
‘And patient endurance of hope.’ Becoming a Christian produces ‘hope’ for the future. It is a certain hope because of the One in Whom that hope is placed. In the final analysis it is the assured hope of eventually being a totally transformed being in the presence of God, often expressed in terms of Christ’s second coming which will bring that about. Indeed the thought of Christ’s return to raise the dead and take the living into His presence, while judging and destroying all that is evil, is central to the idea of hope. And because we have that hope it affects the whole of our lives, and results in patient endurance (see Luke 21:19; Romans 5:3-4; 2 Corinthians 6:4-10; Colossians 1:11; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; Hebrews 6:12). It is not the wistful hope of the dreamer, but the fortitude of the soldier who is confident of final victory. It enables us to ‘keep on going on’ whatever the circumstances.
Such patient endurance of hope is well illustrated in 2 Corinthians 4:14-18. ‘He Who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus --- wherefore we faint not --- for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us to a greater and greater extent an eternal weight of glory. While we do not look at the things that are seen, but the things that are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.’
‘In our Lord Jesus Christ before our God and Father.’ This must be attached to all three expressions ‘faith -- love -- and hope’, for without it they are incomplete. It is ‘faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, love for our Lord Jesus Christ and hope in our Lord Jesus Christ’ that is the essence of the Christian message. The Christian’s faith, love and hope are set on a Person, the One Who is Lord, the One Who saves, the One Who is God’s enthroned King. And it is response to Him, and to Him alone that is the test of the genuineness of our faith. It is not love for a church or love for a creed that finally proves our faith, but response of heart towards the One proclaimed by that church or creed if they are true to their responsibilities. Without that both church and creed are irrelevant for the purpose of salvation.
‘Before our God and Father’. Paul does not hesitate to exalt Christ in the presence of God, and what is more to turn all our thoughts on Christ while in that Presence. The Jew would argue for faith in God as being supreme, and that to put faith, love and hope on any other in His presence would be blasphemy. It would be to sideline God. And Paul agrees. And yet in the presence of our God and Father he centralises attention on the Lord Jesus Christ. This can only be because to love Christ is to love God, to believe in Christ is to believe in God, to hope in Christ is to hope in God. In this is clearly expressed that in Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form (Colossians 2:9). It confirms His co-equality with the Father. When we love Christ, serve Christ, worship Christ, it is always in the presence of our God and Father, and is worship too of Him. The Fatherhood of God results in response to the Son Who reveals Him (John 1:14; John 1:18; John 14:9).
‘Knowing, brothers beloved of God, your election, how that our Good News did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and much assurance, even as you know what manner of men we showed ourselves towards you for your sake, and you became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit.’
This was the third thing for which Paul gave thanks, that their election by God was clear from the power and response revealed in their lives, which he knew could only be the work of the Holy Spirit. He had no time for a Gospel that was not life transforming.
‘Brothers’. When used in general the word means ‘brothers and sisters’, fellow siblings. The thought ties in with the previous mention of ‘our God and Father’ and is that true Christians are all one family because they have one Father. Here it excludes the thought of the universal Fatherhood of God, and ‘Father’ is used in a personal sense. While the universal Fatherhood of God has some truth in that God is the Creator of all (a possible interpretation of Malachi 2:10, and even there His people were specifically in mind; compare 1 Corinthians 8:6, and His regular description as ‘the Father’), it must be distinguished from the central idea of His personal Fatherhood found in both the Old and the New Testament message.
Throughout Scripture the idea of the personal Fatherhood of God has special relationship with the idea of the sonship of His people. Israel was His son, His firstborn (Exodus 4:22) and this was indicating that they were unique and precious. They were chosen out to be uniquely His children (Deuteronomy 14:1-2 compare Isaiah 1:2). There was no thought of the Fatherhood of God before this. But from now on they saw Him as their Father by adoption and election (Deuteronomy 32:6; Isaiah 63:16; Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 3:4; Malachi 1:6; Malachi 2:10), and the idea of redemption is central to the thought (explicitly in Isaiah 63:16). He is their Father in a way that He is not to others.
When Jesus refers to ‘your Father’ He has this in mind. For by their lives His people were to reveal that they were true children of their Father (Matthew 5:45). Thus those who pray ‘our Father’ do so on the basis of Old Testament expectations (Matthew 6:9-10). It is the righteous who will shine forth in ‘their Father’s’ kingdom (Matthew 13:43). When the Pharisees claimed that God was their Father Jesus denied it. Had God been their Father they would have loved Jesus and believed in Him (John 8:41-42).
It should be noted that we should distinguish this personal use from the more austere ‘the Father’ where the idea is more of the Creator and sovereign of the Universe, the One Who is over all, and judge of all, and offers redemption to all. To all God is ‘the Father’, to His people only He is ‘our Father’.
This idea is confirmed in the rest of the New Testament. Those who believe in Jesus Christ become His children (John 1:12) and are ‘born -- of God’ (John 1:13). We can call God ‘Abba, Father’ when we have been adopted through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). To become His sons and daughters we must turn away from all that defiles, especially idolatry (2 Corinthians 6:16-18).
Thus when Paul says ‘brothers’ it has a very powerful significance. He is speaking to those whom he believes are true children of God, who can say ‘our Father’, as indeed his next words reveal.
‘Beloved of God.’ ‘Beloved’ is a perfect participle, ‘those who have become beloved by response to Christ and now are beloved’. And they are so beloved because of their election. They are beloved because they are ‘in Christ’. In the words of the hymnwriter, ‘the love wherewith He loves His Son, such is His love for me’.
‘Your election.’ The idea of God choosing out for Himself those who are His is constant throughout Scripture. He said of Abraham that He had ‘known’ him in order that he might fulfil His purposes (Genesis 18:19). This ‘knowing’ was a personal choosing out and calling, a ‘foreknowing’ resulting in Abraham’s final response. Thus His elect are chosen because He has set His love upon them (Deuteronomy 7:6-8) that they may be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). They are chosen to be His servant (Isaiah 41:8-9; Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 44:1-2; Isaiah 45:4; Isaiah 65:9). And being ‘known’ by Him in this way results in special responsibility (Amos 3:2).
It should be noted that while they have been chosen to be redeemed (Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 43:14) and to be filled with His Holy Spirit (Isaiah 44:1-5), that very election puts upon them a great responsibility. To be chosen involves great demands. A none active member of ‘the elect’ is a contradiction in terms. The work of faith, the labour of love, the patient endurance of hope are expected of them.
The same idea continues through the New Testament. We are elect through God’s ‘foreknowing’ (an active ‘knowing’ (pro-gnosis) as in Genesis 18:19 as opposed to intellectual knowledge) to obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1-2). We are called to full obedient response to God and to reconciliation and cleansing through the blood of Jesus. We put the latter first, God puts the former, although the one would not be possible without the other.
Thus Jesus speaks of the fact that men come to Him because the Father draws them (John 6:44), because it is given to them by the Father (John 6:65), because they are His sheep (John 10:26-27). That is why they respond and obey. The disciples were not those who had chosen Him, but those whom He had chosen to bear fruit, in other words both for salvation and for service (John 15:16; John 15:19 compare John 13:18). For He alone had the words of eternal life (John 6:68).
Paul also speaks of Christians as those ‘called according to His purpose’ (Romans 8:28). They are called in the will and purpose of God. Then he describes the grand eternal process through which that calling was and will be accomplished (Romans 8:29-30), ‘personally known beforehand by God, foreordained to be made Christlike, called, declared righteous in Him, and finally glorified’. Notice that all this results from God’s purpose and will, and that the purpose is not solely that we should be forgiven, that is only a part, albeit an important part, of the route, but that we should be made Christlike, fit for companionship with Him, and glorified.
Then Paul follows this up in Romans 9:0 by making quite clear that this election is of God. It is not something deserved but given before a man is born (Romans 9:11). It is a matter of God’s free choice (Romans 9:15-16). The Potter has a right to do what He will with the clay (Romans 9:21-23), and there are those whom he has prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:23). Nevertheless ‘whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Romans 10:13). The doctrine of election does not prevent anyone from coming to Him, only unbelief does that.
But did not God ‘foreknow’ His people in Old Testament days? Has He then now cast off those whom He foreknew? Paul’s reply is ‘never!’. (Romans 11:1-2). The fact is that those truly foreknown have always been a remnant, as Scripture clearly indicates. He has already pointed out that God’s election was restricted. God ‘foreknew’ Abraham (Genesis 18:19). But only one of Abraham’s sons was certainly elect (Romans 9:7) and only one of Isaac’s (Romans 9:11-13). Then he points out that in Elijah’s time there were only seven thousand who were elect and chosen by God (Romans 11:4). And this was demonstrated by belief and faithfulness (Romans 11:4), in contrast with unbelief (Romans 11:20). Yet if the latter respond in faith they too will be restored (Romans 11:23). Thus God’s saving purpose has not been thwarted. For ‘the gifts and calling of God are not subject to a change of mind’ (Romans 11:29). God will never cast off those whom He has ‘foreknown’.
These ‘elect ones’ have been chosen by God (Mark 13:20) and will be preserved throughout all that comes (Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:20), will by implication not be deceived by false prophets (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22), and will be gathered up to Christ in the final day (Matthew 24:31; Mark 13:27). Injustice wrought upon them will be noted and avenged (Luke 18:7) and no charge can be laid on them before God because God has declared them righteous in Christ (Romans 8:33). The Gospel is ‘the faith of God’s elect’ (Titus 1:1), thus those who truly hold that faith are the elect and they must demonstrate their election by adherence to their faith and by their lives (Colossians 3:12; 2 Peter 1:10). They have been ‘chosen in Him before the foundation of the world that they may be holy and without blemish before Him in love,’ being ‘foreordained -- to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will’ (Ephesians 1:4-5). His purpose is their true holiness and their spiritual sonship, first reckoned to them in Christ, then wrought by the Holy Spirit.
So he can tell the Thessalonians, ‘God chose you from the beginning to salvation, in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, to which He called you through our Good News to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Thessalonians 2:13). Notice the stress on ‘from the beginning’. Here the idea is of the beginning of all things (John 1:1; Genesis 1:1; Ephesians 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9). Our salvation was determined in the mind of God from the beginning, and is wrought by the separating, purifying power of the Holy Spirit which is manifested by our belief of the truth and will result in our obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is no wonder that Paul gives thanks when he thinks of their ‘election’.
And how does he know that they are ‘elect’? Because they not only received the word but they experienced power, they experienced the Holy Spirit, they experienced a deep assurance of faith, in the same way as Paul and his companions had experienced them. And this resulted in their emulation of Paul and of Christ Himself. In other words their lives and their way of living were transformed.
‘ Our Good News.’ The Good News that Paul and his associates had brought was a Good News that they had made personally their own. It had been experienced by them before they had brought it to the Thessalonians. And it had so thrilled them that they had had to pass it on. Alternately the ‘our’ might be contrasting their Good News with other Gospels which were not Gospels (Galatians 1:7). In 1 Thessalonians 2:2 he describes it as ‘the Good News of God’.
‘Came to you not in words only but in power and in the Holy Spirit and much assurance.’ The question must be asked, does this refer to the preachers or to the recipients? Our answer is that it must be seen as to both. When men preach in power and the Holy Spirit and in assurance that is how the recipients receive and experience it. This word coming ‘in power in the Holy Spirit and much assurance’ is related both to their ‘election’ (1 Thessalonians 1:4) which resulted in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, and to ‘what manner of men we showed ourselves to be’ (1 Thessalonians 1:5). God’s powerful word was going out to accomplish His purpose (Isaiah 55:11). We have only to read Acts to discover that in the early church ‘power’ was constantly experienced and revealed (Acts 4:33; Acts 6:8) and received. And this power was closely tied in with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31; Acts 6:5). The early church expected the power of God at work among them, with signs and miracles and most importantly with the dynamic transformation of lives.
Their words were not just words, they were words of power, for they were ‘the living and powerful -- word of God’ (Hebrews 4:12). The word for power is ‘dunamis’ from which we get the word dynamite. It was active, explosive power. As Paul says elsewhere ‘the Good News -- is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes’ (Romans 1:16). ‘For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:18). It has a power that seizes men and takes them out from under the power of darkness and translates them into the Kingly Rule of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). They are made fit and suitable to become inheritors of ‘the inheritance of the saints in light’ (Colossians 1:12). So that power then works within the hearer, changing and transforming. They are the recipients of transfiguring power.
‘In the Holy Spirit and much assurance.’ The preachers spoke ‘in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance’. But that same Holy Spirit worked within the hearers so that they believed and responded fully to the call of Christ, being born of, and transformed by, the Spirit, and receiving a full assurance of salvation. They too experienced ‘the Holy Spirit and much assurance’. The idea of a powerful, good and holy Spirit Who was over all and all triumphant was indeed also Good News to the Gentiles who lived in a world of fear of malevolent spirits.
Here this work of the Spirit is linked closely with ‘much assurance’. This is part of the work of the Spirit. He brings men peace and certainty in a world of doubt, bolstering their faith and making the Good News real in their hearts, as the Thessalonians had themselves experienced.
‘Even as you know what manner of men we showed ourselves towards you for your sakes, and you became emulators of us and of the Lord.’ This confirms the dual meaning. On the one hand the Thessalonians saw in the preachers power and the Holy Spirit and much assurance, and then they became ‘emulators’, experiencing and revealing it within themselves. The word mimeomai means to emulate, follow the example of, imitate, do as others do. So having witnessed the purity of the lives of Paul and his companions, having witnessed their fearlessness in the face of adversity (Acts 17:4-9 - which demonstrates that their period of preaching was accompanied by continuing and growing opposition from outsiders which finally resulted in an attempt to have them imprisoned) and having witnessed the power that they had manifested through the same Holy Spirit, they became powerfully enabled to reveal the same.
‘And of the Lord.’ Paul not only preached the Gospel, he was also one of its greatest ornaments. But he pointed not so much to himself as the One Who was at work through him. That was finally what mattered, that they became emulators of the Lord (compare 1 Corinthians 11:1). When Christians are new born they need an immediate example to follow, and that should be found in their godly teachers, but once they have become founded in the word and see Jesus more clearly, He is the final example that we should encourage them to follow.
‘And you became imitators of us and of the Lord having received the word in much affliction.’ Facing up to affliction was one way in which they emulated Him. These new Christians too had had to face up to adversity on becoming Christians and they faced it bravely as Paul and his companions had, and indeed as the Lord Himself had, following the example of both their teachers and their Lord. They ‘followed in His steps’ (1 Peter 2:21). For ‘all who will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution’ in one way or another (2 Timothy 3:12; John 15:18-21; John 16:2-3; John 16:33).
‘With joy of the Holy Spirit.’ But even more their response to affliction had been with fullness of joy because of, and as a result of, the work of the Holy Spirit within them (compare Acts 13:52; John 16:22). Their affliction had not resulted in a gritting of the teeth (although that is sometimes necessary) but in a time of rejoicing in that they could suffer for Christ’s sake. Joy is one aspect of the fruit which the Holy Spirit produces within (Galatians 5:22), especially in the face of adversity, which is to the Christian a cause for rejoicing because of its effectiveness in making him more Christ-like (Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 4:12-13; James 1:2).
Joy is different from happiness. The latter comes when things ‘hap’ our way, when all is going well. But joy is something deep within that survives even when the going is hard and life is tough and we are being fully tested. It comes from knowing God and being indwelt by His Spirit and being confident that we are in His hand.
‘So that you became an example to all who believe in Macedonia and Achaia, for from you has sounded out the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith towards God has gone out so that we need not speak anything.’
The word tupos (example) meant originally the mark made by a blow (see John 20:25), then an impression made by a seal or die, and then an image generally (Acts 7:43) and then a pattern (Hebrews 8:5). Here the activity of Paul and his companions through the Holy Spirit had so wrought in the Thessalonians that they themselves became ‘images’ of Paul, doing his work for him and proclaiming Christ in such a way that Paul’s preaching was made unnecessary.
What a scintillating picture this is. A new born church so filled with zeal that they could not keep silent, and spreading throughout their locality and beyond, in spite of persecution, boldly and effectively proclaiming ‘the word of the Lord’, and thus becoming an example not only to the world, but to many of their fellow Christians as well. Not all were preachers, but all spoke about Him wherever they went.
‘Sounded out.’ The word could be used of a trumpet call or a roll of thunder. It emphasises the resounding nature of their witness. Note that the verb is in the perfect, ‘sounded out and are still sounding out’.
‘The word of the Lord.’ A well known Old Testament description speaking of a God-given word coming directly from Him. And that was how they saw the words and work of Christ which they proclaimed.
‘In every place.’ Not only in their own region or their neighbouring region, but far afield because they could not keep silent wherever they went.
‘Your faith towards God has gone out.’ These men were living testimonies to the grace and power of God, revealed not only in their words but in their lives. Their faith towards the one living God was made abundantly apparent to all in their lives and witness.
‘For they themselves report concerning us what manner of entering in we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the coming wrath.’
Everywhere Christians were talking about what had happened to the Thessalonians through the preaching of Paul and Silas, and with what powerful effect (in power and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance) they had proclaimed the Good News in Thessalonika. For they saw these Thessalonians transformed. They had become completely different people. They no longer partook in idolatrous worship but looked only to the living God, and were now totally involved in serving Him and looking for the return of Christ, the deliverer from coming judgment and wrath.
Note the threefold picture. ‘Turned to God from idols (a work of faith), to serve the living and true God (a labour of love) and to wait for His Son from the heavens (the patient endurance of hope).’ Note also that the turning was immediate and once for all (aorist tense) but the serving and the waiting was continual (present tense).
The picture is vibrant. This was no passive conversion but an active turning to God. Idols were thrust aside in their positive turning to God. All that had previously controlled their lives was done away with. The fact that they did this demonstrates that the converts were far more than the Jews and God-fearers mentioned in Acts. These were men who had still been deeply involved in idolatry, but on hearing the message of the Gospel had ‘seen’ the living and true God and had thrust their idols aside so that they might serve Him and wait for His Son from Heaven. The contrast is clear. Their new faith was in a living God, not in lifeless idols, it was in One Who was true rather than in mythological beings who themselves told lies, it resulted in active service on His behalf and it involved a positive expectancy of a face to face encounter with the coming One, Who had Himself conquered death and would deliver them from coming judgment.
‘To wait for His Son from heaven (the heavens, a plural of intensity), Whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus Who delivers us from the wrath to come.’ This emphasis on the eschatological return of Christ will be amplified later in the letter. Paul had taught the Thessalonians that He Who had been raised from the dead according to his Gospel (2 Timothy 2:8 compare 1 Corinthians 15:0) was coming again as the heavenly Deliverer from coming judgment. Thus they now awaited His coming with joyful anticipation.
The expectation of Christ’s return is especially prominent in this letter, see 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1Th 3:13 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:23. It was an especially important doctrine when tribulation and persecution was rife as the Book of Revelation indicates.
‘Whom He raised from the dead.’ This coming One was a proof of the new life that was available to those who believed, for He Himself had been raised from the dead and would come in that resurrected life. He was the guarantee of their future resurrected life (1 Thessalonians 4:14; 1 Corinthians 15:20-24). This positive view of life beyond death was in direct contrast to the gloomy views held by many of some kind of amorphous life beyond the grave.
‘Even Jesus Who delivers us (is delivering us) from the coming wrath.’ The process of deliverance has already begun and will find itself completed at His coming (Ephesians 5:27). He is delivering from ‘the coming wrath’, a phrase that covers all views and aspects of the coming judgment of men revealed in the Old Testament. The present tense forbids us seeing this as simply referring to some particular aspect of the wrath of God. He is the One who delivers from wrath in all its aspects. This ‘wrath’ is not some anger of a God unable to control His feelings, but the deserved and controlled judgmental attitude of a righteous and holy God when faced with man’s sinfulness. For right to prevail sin must be fully punished, and all that is sinful done away with. This dealing with sin is not optional but demanded. Impenitent sinners cannot be forgiven for they would simply go on in their sins, and the whole sad story of history would begin again.
Notice the active involvement of God in all this. He is the living God, He raised Jesus, His Son, from the dead, His Son will come from Heaven, He will one day deal with impenitent man in wrath, and through His Son is delivering those who are penitent. All is in His hands. No greater contrast with idolatry can be found.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28