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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
1 Thessalonians 1

 

 

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Verse 1

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

1Th . Paul, and Sylvanus, and Timotheus.—As to Paul, it may be noted that he does not mention his office. It was largely owing to the aspersions of others that he came, later, to magnify his office. Silvanus is the "fellow-helper" and fellow-sufferer of the apostle, better known to New Testament readers by the shortened form of his name—Silas. That he was a Jew appears from Acts 15, but, like Paul, able to claim the privilege of Roman citizenship (Acts 16). Timotheus is the valuable and dear companion of St. Paul. Twelve or fourteen years later he is said to be still young (1Ti 4:12). He, too, is only partly a Jew (Act 16:3). Grace be unto you, and peace.—The men who are by birth and training divided between Jew and Gentile, salute both. It is not less true of the gospel than the law that it speaks the language of the children of men. All that grace could mean to the Greek, or peace to the Hebrew, met in Him whose title was written above the cross in Hebrew and Greek and Latin.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF 1Th

Phases of Apostolic Greeting.

There is an interest about this epistle as the first in the magnificent series of inspired writings which bear the name of Paul. This was "the beginning of his strength, the excellency of dignity and power." The labours of the apostle and his co-helpers in the enterprising and populous city of Thessalonica, notwithstanding the angriest opposition, were crowned with success. The stern prejudice of the Jew was assailed and conquered, the subtle philosophising of the Grecian tracked and exposed. The truth was eagerly embraced; and as sunbeams streaming through mist render it transparent, so did the light of the gospel bring out in clearness and beauty the character of the Thessalonian citizens, which had been hitherto shrouded in the dark shadows of superstition.

I. This greeting is harmonious in its outflow.—Paul, though the only apostle of the three, did not in this instance assume the title or display any superiority either of office or power. Silvanus and Timotheus had been owned of God, equally with himself, in planting the Thessalonian Church, and were held in high esteem among the converts. Each man had his distinctive individuality, varied talents, and special mode of working; but there was an emphatic unity of purpose in bringing about results. They rejoiced together in witnessing the inception, confirmation, and prosperity of the Church, and when absent united in sending a fervent, harmonious greeting. This harmony of feeling is traceable throughout both epistles in the prevalent use of the first person plural. The association of Silvanus and Timotheus with the apostle in this greeting also indicated their perfect accord with him in the divine character of the doctrines he declared. As men dowered with the miraculous faculty of spiritual discernment, they could testify that everything contained in the epistle was dictated by the Spirit of God and worthy of universal evidence. Not that the personal peculiarities of any man give additional value to the doctrine. Truth is vaster than the individual, whatever gifts he possesses or lacks. The water of life is as sweet and refreshing whether sipped from the rudest earthen vessel or from the goblet of richly embossed gold. What a suggestive lesson of confidence and unity was taught the Thessalonians by the harmonious example of their teachers!

II. This greeting recognises the Church's sublime origin.—It is addressed "unto the Church which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ."

1. The Church is divinely founded.—The preposition "in" denotes the most intimate union with God, and is of similar significance as in the comprehensive prayer of Jesus: "As Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us." The Church rests, not on any sacerdotal authority or human organisation, though many have laboured thus to narrow its limits and define its character; it depends for its origin, life, and perpetuity on union with the Deity. It is based on the divine love, fostered by the divine Spirit, shielded by Omnipotence, and illumined and adorned by the divine glory. It exists for purely spiritual purposes, is the depositary of the revealed word, the channel of divine communication to man, the sanctuary of salvation.

2. The Church is divinely sustained.—Founded in God, it is every moment sustained by Him. Thus the Church survives the mightiest opposition, the fret and wear of perpetual change. It is not wedded to any locality under heaven. Places once famous for the simplicity and power of their Church-life have become notoriously vile or sunk into utter obscurity. Bethel, once bearing the hallowed name House of God, under the idolatrous rule of Jeroboam became corrupted into Bethhaven, House of Iniquity. Jerusalem, the praise of the whole earth, was once the chosen habitation of Jehovah; now it is a heap of ruins, its temple and worship destroyed, and its people scattered, without king, prophet, or leader. The light that shone so full and clear from the seven celebrated Asiatic Churches grew dim and went out, and that region is now wrapped in the darkness of idolatry. And Thessalonica, renowned as a pattern of Christian purity and zeal, now languishes under its modern name of Saloniki, a victim of Turkish despotism, and professing a spurious religion the first founders of the Church there, could they revisit the spot, would certainly repudiate. But the true Church lives, grows, and triumphs.

III. This greeting supplicates the bestowal of the highest blessings.—

1. Grace. The source of all temporal good—life, health, sustenance, prosperity, enjoyment; and of all spiritual benefits—pardon for the guilty, rest for the troubled spirit, guidance for the doubting and perplexed, strength for the feeble, deliverance for the tempted, purity for the polluted, victory and felicity for the faithful. The generosity of God knows no stint. A certain monarch once threw open his parks and gardens to the public during the summer months. The royal gardener, finding i troublesome, complained to his Majesty that the visitors plucked the flowers. "What," said the kind-hearted king, "are my people fond of flowers? Then plant some more!" So our heavenly King with lavish hand scatters on our daily path the flowers of blessing, and as fast as we can gather them, in spite of the grudging, churlish world, more are supplied.

2. Peace.—A blessing inclusive of all the happiness resulting from a participation in the divine favour. Peace with God, with whom sin has placed us in antagonism, and to whom we are reconciled in Christ Jesus, who hath "abolished in His flesh the enmity, so making peace." Peace of conscience, a personal blessing conferred on him who believes in Jesus. Peace one with another—peace in the Church. In the concluding counsels of this epistle the writer impressively insists, "Be at peace among yourselves." The value of this blessing to any Christian community cannot be exaggerated. A single false semitone converts the most exquisite music into discord.

3. The source of all the blessings desired.—"From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." The Jew in his most generous greeting could only say, "God be gracious unto you, and remember His covenant"; but the Christian "honours the Son even as he honours the Father." The Father's love and the Son's work are the sole source and cause of every Christian blessing.

Lessons.—

1. Learn the freeness and fulness of the gospel. It contains and offers all the blessings that can enrich and ennoble man. It needs but the willing heart to make them his own. He may gather wisdom from the Eastern proverb, and in a higher sense than first intended, "Hold all the skirts of thy mantle extended when heaven is raining gold."

2. Learn the spirit we should cultivate towards others.—A spirit of genuine Christian benevolence and sympathy. We can supplicate for others no higher good than grace and peace.

GERM NOTE ON THE VERSE

Apostolic Introduction to the Epistle.

I. The persons sending are mentioned.—"Paul, Silvanus, and Timotheus."

1. Paul is not here called an apostle, because his apostleship was granted.

2. Silvanus and Timotheus had assisted in planting and watering this Church.

II. The persons addressed are introduced and described.—

1. The epistle was addressed to believers.

2. The Church is presented in an interesting point of view (Joh ). The Father and the Mediator are one in redemption; into this union the Church is received.

1. The blessings desired are grace and peace. Sovereign mercy and favour and reconciliation.

2. These are mentioned in their proper order of time, of cause and effect.

3. These are traced to their proper source. The Father—the Godhead; the Son—all fulness.—Stewart.


Verses 2-4

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

1Th . Work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope.—The famous three sister-graces familiar to us from St. Paul's other letters. As Bengel says, they are Summa Christianismi. St. James, one thinks, would have liked the expression, "work of faith" (Jas 2:14-26). But if faith works, love cannot be outdone (1Co 13:13), and toils with strenuous endeavour; whilst hope—a faculty flighty enough with some—here patiently endures, "pressing on and bearing up."

1Th . Your election.—God is said to pick out, not for any inherent qualities, certain persons for purposes of His own. The same idea is in the word "saints," as those whom God has separated from a godless world and made them dear to Himself.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1Th

Ministerial Thanksgiving.

Gratitude for the healthy, flourishing state of the Thessalonian Church is a marked feature in both epistles, and is frequently expressed. The apostle left the young converts in a critical condition, and when he heard from Timothy a favourable account of their steadfastness and growth in grace, like a true minister of Christ he gave God thanks.

I. Ministerial thanksgiving is expansive in its character.—"We give thanks always for you all" (1Th ). It is our duty, and acceptable to God, to be grateful for personal benefits; but it displays a broader, nobler generosity when we express thanksgiving on behalf of others. It is Christ-like: He thanked God the Father for revealing the things of His kingdom unto babes. The apostle thanked God:—

1. Because of their work of faith.—"Remembering without ceasing your work of faith" (1Th ). Faith is itself a work. It is the eye and hand of the soul, by which the sinner sees and lays hold on Christ for salvation. Man meets with opposition in its exercise; he has to fight against the faith-stifling power of sin in himself and in the world. Faith is also the cause of work. It is the propelling and sustaining motive in all Christian toil. "Faith without works is dead."

2. Because of their labour of love.—The strength of love is tested by its labour; we show our love to Christ by what we do for Him. Love intensifies every faculty, moves to benevolent exertion, and makes even drudgery an enjoyment. Love leads us to attempt work from which we would once have shrunk in dismay.

3. Because of their patient hope.—Their hope of salvation in Christ was severely tried by affliction, persecutions, and numberless temptations, but was not quenched. It is hard to hope on in the midst of discouragement. It was so with Joseph in prison, with David in the mountains of Judah, with the Jews in Chaldea. But the grace of patience gives constancy and perseverance to our hope. The apostle rejoiced in the marked sincerity of their faith, love, and hope, which he acknowledged to be "in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father." These virtues are derived alone from Christ, and their exercise God witnesses and approves. Things are in reality what they are in God's sight. His estimate is infallible.

4. Because assured of their election.—"Knowing, brethren beloved of God, your election" (1Th ). St. Paul here means only to show how he, from the way in which the Spirit operated in him at a certain place, drew a conclusion as to the disposition of the persons there. Where it manifested itself powerfully, argued he, there must be elect; where the contrary was the case, he concluded the contrary (Olshausen). Election is the judgment of divine grace, exempting in Christ from the common destruction of men those who accept their calling by faith. Every one who is called is elected from the first moment of his faith, and so long as he continues in his calling and faith he continues to be elected; if at any time he loses calling and faith he ceases to be elected (Bengel). Observe the constancy of this thanksgiving spirit—"We give thanks always for you all." As they remembered without ceasing the genuine evidences of their conversion, so did they assiduously thank God. There is always something to thank God for if we will but see it.

II. Ministerial thanksgiving evokes a spirit of practical devotion.—"Making mention of you in our prayers" (1Th ). The interest in his converts of the successful worker is keenly aroused; he is anxious the work should be permanent, and resorts to prayer as the effectual means. Prayer for others benefits the suppliant. When the Church prayed, not only was Peter liberated from prison, but the faith of the members was emboldened. Gratitude is ever a powerful incentive to prayer. It penetrates the soul with a conscious dependence on God, and prompts the cry for necessary help. There is no true prayer without thanksgiving.

III. Ministerial thanksgiving is rendered to the great Giver of all good.—"We give thanks to God" (1Th ). God is the Author of true success. In vain we labour where His blessing is withheld. Paul was not equally successful in other places as in Thessalonica. In Damascus, where he first bore testimony for Christ, the governor under King Aretas planned his capture, and he but narrowly escaped. At Lystra the apostle was violently stoned and dragged out of the town as one dead. But at Thessalonica, notwithstanding opposition, the gospel laid firm hold of the hearts of men, and believers were multiplied. The highest kind of success in spiritual work must ever come from above. Like Paul, we should be careful constantly to acknowledge and thank God as the active source of all prosperity.

Lessons.—

1. There is much in the work of the minister to test his patience and faith.

2. The true minister gratefully traces all success directly to God.

3. A thankful spirit prompts the minister to increased Christian enterprise.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

1Th . Thanksgiving and Prayer.

I. The apostle had the burden of all the Churches and their individual members.

II. The effect of the remembrance on himself.—

1. He gives thanks. They were the seals of his ministry, the recipients of the grace of God, the earnest of a more abundant harvest.

2. He prays.—They had not fully attained. They were in danger. None trusts less to human means than the most richly qualified.—Stewart.

1Th . Grace and Good Works.

I. All inward graces ought to bloom into active goodness.—

1. Faith is to work.

2. Love is to labour.

3. Hope is to endure.

II. All active goodness must be rooted in some inward grace.—

1. The root of work is faith.

2. The spring of labour is in love.

3. We need to refresh ourselves by a perpetual onward glance, a confident anticipation of the coming triumph.—Local Preacher's Treasury.

1Th . Election of God.

I. There is an eternal election.

II. Which comes out in the election made in time.

III. Let us rejoice in it, for apart from it none would be saved.—Stewart.


Verse 5

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

1Th . Our gospel.—The good news which we proclaimed; so when St. Paul in Rom 2:16 calls it "my gospel." In word … in power.—The antithesis is sometimes between the word or declaration and the reality; here perhaps we have an advance on that. Not only was it a word the contents of which were really true, but efficacious too. In much assurance.—R.V. margin, "in much fulness." "The power is in the gospel preached, the fulfilment in the hearers, and the Holy Spirit above and within them inspires both" (Findlay).

MAIN HOMILETICS OF 1Th

The Gospel in Word and in Power.

You have passed through a bleak, barren moorland, where the soil seemed sown with stones and disfigured with stumps of trees, and the only signs of vegetable life were scattered patches of heather and flowerless lichen. After a while, you have again traversed the same region, and observed fields of grain ripening for the harvest, and budding saplings giving promise of the future forest. Whence this transformation? The cultivator has been at work. Not less apparent was the change effected in Thessalonica by the diligent toil and faithful preaching of the apostles. We have here two prominent features in the successful declaration of the gospel.

I. The gospel in word.—"Our gospel came unto you in word." In the history of the introduction of the gospel into Thessalonica (Acts 17) we learn the leading themes of apostolic preaching. "Paul … reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ" (1Th ). It is worthy of note that the inspired apostle grounded his discourse on the Holy Scriptures. Even he did not feel himself free from their sacred bonds. The apostle's preaching embraced three leading topics:—

1. He demonstrates that the promised Messiah was to be a suffering Messiah.—The mind of the Jewish people was so dazed with the splendid prophecies of the regal magnificence and dominion of Jesus, that they overlooked the painful steps by which alone He was to climb to this imperial greatness: the steps of suffering that bore melancholy evidence of the load of anguish under which the world's Redeemer staggered—steps crimsoned with the blood of the sacred victim. Out of their Scriptures he proved that the only Messiah referred to there was to be a "Man of sorrows."

2. He demonstrates that the Messiah who was thus to suffer and die was to rise again.—This declared the divine dignity of His person, and was the pledge of the future success and eternal stability of His redeeming work.

3. He insisted that the Jesus who thus suffered, died, and rose again was none other than the identical Messiah promised in their Scriptures.—The grand topic of apostolic preaching must be the staple theme of the pulpit to-day—JESUS CHRIST: Christ suffering, Christ crucified, Christ risen, Christ regnant and triumphant. When John Huss was in prison at Constance for the gospel's sake, he dreamt that his chapel at Prague was broken into and all the pictures of Christ on the walls destroyed. But immediately he beheld several painters in the chapel, who drew a greater number of pictures, and more exquisitely beautiful than those that had perished. While gazing on these with rapture, the sanctuary suddenly filled with his beloved congregation, and the painters, addressing them, said, "Now, let the bishops and priests come and destroy these pictures!" The people shouted for joy. Huss heartily joined them, and amid the acclamation awoke. So modern unbelievers may try to expunge the pictures of Christ familiar to the mind for generations, and to some extent they may succeed. But the divine Artist, with graving-tool of gospel word, will trace on the tablet of the soul an image more beautiful and enduring than that which has been destroyed; and by-and-by a universe of worshippers shall rejoice with thundering acclaim, while recognising in each other the reproduction of the image of Him whose visage was once marred more than any man's, but whose face now gleams with celestial beauty and is radiant with the lustre of many crowns.

II. The gospel in power.—"Not in word only, but also in power."

1. In the exercise of miraculous power.—The apostles were specially invested with this power, and used it in substantiating the great facts of the gospel.

2. In the Holy Ghost.—Not only in His miraculous manifestations necessary in that age, but in the ordinary exercise of His power, as continued down to the present day—enlightening, convincing, renewing.

3. With much assurance.—Literally, with full assurance, and much of it. πληροφορία—full conviction—is from a word that means to fill up, and is used to denote the hurrying a ship on her career, with all her sails spread and filled with the wind. So the soul, filled with the full conviction of truth, is urged to a course of conduct in harmony with that conviction.

4. An assurance enforced by high integrity of character.—"As ye know what manner of men we were among you, for your sake." Their earnest labours and upright lives showed they were men moved by profound conviction—a blending of evidence that is not less potent in these days.

Lessons.—

1. To receive the gospel in word only is disastrous.—In a certain mountainous region under the tropics the stillness of night is sometimes broken by a loud, sharp report, like the crack of a rifle. What causes this strange, alarming sound? It is the splitting of rocks charged with the intense heat of the tropical sun. Day by day the sun throws down its red-hot rays of fire, and bit by bit the rock, as it cools, is riven and crumbles into ruin. So is it with the mere hearer of the word. The gospel pours upon him its light and heat, and his heart, hardened with long and repeated resistance, becomes damaged by that which is intended to better it.

2. The gospel must be received in power.—What is wanted is strong, deep, faith-compelling conviction—conviction of the awful truth and saving power of the gospel. To be a mighty force, man must have clear, solid, all-powerful convictions.

GERM NOTE ON THE VERSE

1Th . The Manner in which the Gospel comes to the Believing Soul.

I. The first is negative.—"The gospel came not in word only." This description embraces various classes of persons.

1. Such as hear the gospel habitually without understanding it.

2. Such as partially understand the gospel without feeling its sanctifying influence.

3. Such as are affected by it only for a limited time.

II. In contradistinction to such, the gospel came to the believing Thessalonians in power.—

1. Power over the understanding.

2. Power over the conscience.

3. Power over the heart.

4. Power over the life.

III. In the Holy Ghost.—Explains the former.

1. The message was that of the Spirit.

2. The apostles were filled with the Spirit.

3. Signs and miraculous proofs were furnished by the Spirit.

4. An entrance for the word was procured by the Spirit.

IV. In much assurance.—

1. Fulness of apprehension.

2. Fulness of belief—the result.

3. Fulness of consequent hope.—Stewart.


Verses 6-8

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

1Th . Followers of us and of the Lord.—R.V. "imitators." St. Paul begs his Corinthian readers to imitate him, even as he imitates Christ. The same thought is implied here: We are walking after Christ; walk after us, and you will follow Him. With joy of the Holy Ghost.—Not only was the word preached "in the Holy Ghost" (1Th 1:5), but it was eagerly welcomed by hearts made ready by the Holy Ghost—as St. Paul said to the Corinthians, "So we preach, so ye believed."

1Th . So that ye were ensamples.—R.V. follows the singular. The original word is that from which we get our "type." The image left on a coin by stamping is a type. Children are said to be types of their parents. So these Thessalonians were clearly stamped as children of God.

1Th . For from you sounded out the word of the Lord.—The word did not originate amongst the Thessalonians. They had but taken up the sound and sent it ringing on to others in the regions farther removed. They had echoed out the word, says St. Paul. In every place.—Or as we say, "Everybody is talking about the matter."

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1Th

The Practical Result of a True Reception of the Gospel.

Christianity transforms man, fills the mind with pure and lofty thoughts, turns the current of his feelings into the right channel, makes the soul luminous with ever-brightening hopes, and transfigures his sin-stricken nature into a semblance of the dignity, beauty, and perfection of the divine. Observe its influence on the mixed population of Thessalonica.

I. The true reception of the gospel.—"Having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost" (1Th ). The word may fall on the ear like a sweet strain of music, and charm the soul with temporary rapture, may enter the understanding as a clearly apprehended truth, may captivate the affections, and travel through the whole sphere of emotion on a thrill of ecstasy; but unless it be embraced by the heart and conscience, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, it is powerless in spiritual reformation. Two opposite, but often strangely blended, emotions—sorrow and joy—were exercised in the reception of the gospel by the Thessalonians.

1. They received the word in sorrow.—"In much affliction." Amid the tumult and persecution of the citizens (Act ). Principally, sorrow on account of sin, and because of their prolonged rejection of Christ and obstinate disobedience.

2. They received the word with joy.—"With joy of the Holy Ghost." They realised the joy of conscious forgiveness and acceptance with God. The sinless angels, placed beyond the necessity of pardon, are incapable of experiencing this joy. It belongs exclusively to the believing penitent. The joy of suffering for the truth. Cyprian, who suffered for the gospel, used to say, "It is not the pain but the cause that makes the martyr." That cause is the cause of truth. Suffering is limited, life itself is limited, but truth is eternal. To suffer for that truth is a privilege and a joy. The joy of triumph, over error, sin, Satan, persecution. This joy is the special product of the Holy Ghost. These twin feelings—sorrow and joy—are typical of the ever-alternating experience of the believer throughout his earthly career.

II. The practical result of the true reception of the gospel.—

1. They became imitators of the highest patterns of excellence. "Ye became followers of us and of the Lord" (1Th ). The example of Christ is the absolute, all-perfect standard of moral excellence. But this does not supersede the use of inferior models. The planets have their season to guide and instruct us, as well as the sun, and we can better bear the moderated light of their borrowed splendour. The bravery of the common soldier, as well as the capacity and heroism of the most gifted officer, may stimulate a regiment to deeds of valour. So the apostles, in their patient endurance of suffering, their enterprising zeal and blameless integrity of life, became examples for their converts to imitate, while they pointed to the great infallible Pattern after which the noblest life must ever be moulded.

2. They became examples to others.—"So that ye were ensamples to all that believe" (1Th ). In the reality and power of their faith. They eagerly embraced the word preached, believing it to be not the word of men but of God. This gave a profound reality to their conceptions of the gospel and a strong impulse to their active religious life. In their zealous propagation of the truth. "For from you sounded out the word of the Lord" (1Th 1:8). Wherever they travelled they proclaimed the gospel. They imparted that which had enriched themselves, and which, in giving, left them still the richer. The influence of their example was extensive in its range. "Not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to Godward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak anything" (1Th 1:8). Macedonia and Achaia were two Roman provinces that comprised the territory known as ancient Greece. Thessalonica, the metropolis of Macedonia, was the chief station on the great Roman road—the Via Egnatia—which connected Rome with the whole region north of the Ægean Sea, and was an important centre both for commerce and the spread of intelligence. Wherever the trade of the merchant city extended, there the fame of the newly founded Church penetrated. Great was the renown of their own Alexander, the Macedonian monarch, and brilliant his victories; but the reputation of the Thessalonian Christians was of a higher order, and their achievements more enduring.

Lessons.—

1. The gospel that brings sorrow to the heart brings also joy.

2. A genuine reception of the truth changes the man and creates unquenchable aspirations after the highest good.

3. A living example is more potent than the most elaborate code of precepts.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

1Th . The Evidences and Effects of Revival.

I. Receivers.—With faith, with joy, not without trial.

II. Followers.—Apostolic piety. Christ-like spirit. Multiplication of Christ-like men.

III. Ensamples.—Centres of Christian influence.

IV. Dispensers.—Induced to diffuse the gospel by their gratitude for the special grace which had brought it to them with saving power, by their supreme attachment to its vital truths and their experience of the suitableness of these truths to their wants as sinners, by their commiseration for those who were yet in a state of nature, by their love to the Lord Jesus, by the express command of God, by the hope of reward.—G. Brooks.

1Th . The Power of Example—

I. In a faithful declaration of the gospel.

II. In its far-reaching influence on others.

III. Speaks for itself, rendering explanation unnecessary.


Verse 9-10

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

1Th . What manner of entering in.—In Acts 17 we have an account of how the Jews instigated men ever ready for a brawl to bring a charge of high treason—the most likely way of giving the quietus to the disturbers of ancient traditions, Paul and Silas. To serve the living and true God.—The Thessalonians had not been delivered from the bondage of fear that they might lead lives irresponsible. "Get a new master," then "be a new man."

1Th . And to wait for His Son.—The compound word for wait is only found here in the New Testament. The idea may be compared with our Lord's figure of the bondservants waiting with lights and ready for service on their Lord's return (Luk 12:35-40). Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.—R.V. "delivereth." The wrath to come "revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Rom 1:18) is the penalty threatened against sin persisted in.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1Th

Conversion and its Evidence.

A good work cannot be hid. Sooner or later it will manifest itself and become the general topic of a wide region. The successful worker meets with the fruit of his labours at times and places unexpected. Wherever the apostles went, the reputation of the newly founded Church had preceded them, and the varied features of the great change that had passed over the Thessalonians were eagerly discussed. We have here a description of conversion and its evidence.

I. The conversion of the Thessalonians.—"For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols" (1Th ). You have watched a vessel lying at anchor in a tidal river with her bowsprit pointing seaward. After a brief interval you have observed the force of the incoming tide swing the vessel completely round, so that her head points in an exactly opposite direction. Not less apparent was the change among the Thessalonians when the flood-tide of gospel blessing entered the city. Conversion is a turning about—a change from sin to holiness, from unbelief to faith, from darkness to light, from Satan to God.

1. They turned from idols.—For generations the majority of the members of this Church, with their forefathers, had been idolaters, "walking as other Gentiles walked in the vanity of their mind," etc. (Eph ; Eph 2:12). Any creature, real or imaginary, invested with divine properties is an idol. An angel, a saint, wealth, an idea, or any object to which we ascribe the omnipotence that belongs to God, becomes to us an idol—a false deity. An idol is also the true God falsely conceived. The Pantheist, mistaking the effect for the cause, regards the vast fabric of created things as God, and Nature, with her grand, silent motions, is the object of his idolatry. The sensualist, reluctant to believe in punishment for sin, exalts the boundlessness of divine mercy, and ignores the other perfections, without which there could be no true God. Idolatry is a sin against which the most faithful warnings have been uttered in all ages, and on account of which the most terrible judgments have been inflicted, yet it is the worship to which man is most prone.

2. They turned to God.—The one God whom Paul preached as "the God that made the world and all things therein"; the living God, having life in Himself, and "giving to all life and breath and all things"; the true God, having in Himself the truth and substance of essential deity, in extreme contrast with an "idol, which is nothing in the world." With shame and confusion of face as they thought of the past, with penitential sorrow, with confidence and hope, they turned to God from idols.

II. The evidence of their conversion.—Seen:

1. In the object of their service. They "serve the living and true God," serve Him in faithful obedience to every command, serve Him in the face of opposition and persecution—with every faculty of soul, body, and estate—in life, in suffering, in death. This is a free, loving service. The idolater is enslaved by his own passions and the iron bands of custom. His worship is mechanical, without heart and without intelligence. The service acceptable to God is the full, spontaneous, pure outflow of a loving and believing heart. It is an ennobling service. Man becomes like what he worships; and as the object of his worship is often the creation of his own depraved mind, he is debased to the level of his own gross, polluted ideas. Idolatry is the corrupt human heart feeding upon and propagating its own ever-growing corruptions. The service of God lifts man to the loftiest moral pinnacle and transfigures him with the resplendent qualities of the Being he adores and serves. It is a rewardable service. It brings rest to the world-troubled spirit, fills with abiding happiness in the present life, and provides endless felicity in the future—results idolatry can never produce.

2. Seen in the subject of their hope.—"And to wait for His Son" (1Th ).

(1) Their hope was fixed on Christ as a Saviour. "Even Jesus, who delivereth us from the coming wrath." Terrible will be the revelation of that wrath to the impenitent and unbelieving. As soon as one wave of vengeance breaks another will follow, and behind that another and another interminably, so that it will ever be the wrath to come! From this Jesus delivers even now.

(2) Their hope was fixed on Christ as risen. "Whom He raised from the dead." They waited for and trusted in no dead Saviour, but One who, by His resurrection from the dead, was powerfully declared to be indeed the Son of God.

(3) Their hope was fixed on Christ as coming again. "To wait for His Son from heaven." There is a confusing variety of opinions as to the character of Christ's second advent; as to the certainty of it nothing is more plainly revealed. The exact period of the second coming is veiled in obscurity and uncertainty; but it is an evidence of conversion to be ever waiting for and preparing for that coming as if there were a perpetual possibility of an immediate manifestation. The uncertainty of the time has its use in fostering a spirit of earnest and reverential inquiry, of watchfulness, of hope, of fidelity.

Lessons.—

1. Conversion is a radical change.

2. Conversion is a change conscious to the individual and evident to others.

3. The gospel is the divinely appointed agency in conversion.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

1Th . The Change effected by the Gospel—

I. In religious belief.

II. In corresponding conduct.

III. In the hope cherished.—

1. Of the second coming of Christ.

2. Proved by His resurrection from the dead.

3. The object of His second coming to deliver from wrath.

4. The spirit of earnest but patient waiting induced.

1Th . The Christian waiting for his Deliverer—

I. Implies a firm belief in Christ's second coming.

II. Habitually endeavouring to be prepared for His second coming.

III. Earnestly desiring it.

IV. Patiently waiting for it.—Bradley.

The Wrath to come.

I. It is divine wrath.

II. Unmingled wrath.—Judgment without mercy; justice without the least mixture of goodness.

III. Provoked wrath.

IV. Accumulated wrath.—A wrath we have inflamed and increased by every act of sin we have committed.

V. Future wrath.—The wrath to come; lasting as the holiness of the Being who inflicts and the guilt of the sinners who endure it.

VI. Deliverance from wrath.—

1. Undeserved.

2. Complete.

3. Eternal.—Ibid.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/1-thessalonians-1.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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