Click to donate today!
Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
Bible Study Resources
Nave's Topical Bible - Assurance; Gospel; Holy Spirit; Minister, Christian; Power; Preaching; Word of God; Zeal, Religious; Scofield Reference Index - Assurance-Security; Gospel; Holy Spirit; Thompson Chain Reference - Assurance; Gospel; Holy Spirit; Power; Weakness-Power; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Assurance; Gospel, the; Power of the Holy Spirit, the; Witness of the Holy Spirit;
Verse 1 Thessalonians 1:5. For our Gospel — That is, the glad tidings of salvation by Jesus Christ, and of your being elected to enjoy all the privileges to which the Jews were called, without being obliged to submit to circumcision, or fulfil the rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic law.
Came not unto you in word only — It was not by simple teaching or mere reasoning that the doctrines which we preached recommended themselves to you, we did not insist on your using this or the other religious institution; we insisted on a change of heart and life, and we held out the energy which was able to effect it.
But also in power — εν δυναμει. With miraculous manifestations, to your eyes and to your hearts, which induced you to acknowledge that this Gospel was the power of God unto salvation.
And in the Holy Ghost — By his influence upon your hearts, in changing and renewing them; and by the testimony which ye received from him, that you were accepted through the Beloved, and become the adopted children of God.
And in much assurance — εν πληροφορια πολλη. The Holy Spirit which was given you left no doubt on your mind, either with respect to the general truth of the doctrine, or the safety of your own state. Ye had the fullest assurance that the Gospel was true, and the fullest assurance that ye had received the remission of sins through that Gospel; the Spirit himself bearing witness with your spirit, that you are the sons and daughters of God Almighty.
What manner of men we were — How we preached, and how we lived; our doctrines and our practices ever corresponding. And for your sakes we sustained difficulties, endured hardships, and were incessant in our labours.
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1:5". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/1-thessalonians-1.html. 1832.
1:1-3:13 RELATIONS WITH THE THESSALONIANS
Response to the gospel (1:1-10)
Paul gives thanks to God for the good news that Timothy brought back concerning the Christians in Thessalonica. Through their belief in Christ their lives have been changed, so that in everything they do their faith, love and endurance are clearly seen (1:1-3).
The Thessalonians have given proof that they are God’s people by the way they have believed and stood firm for the gospel. They had seen how Paul was persecuted in Thessalonica and they knew that believing the gospel would bring suffering. But they also knew that the gospel operated by the power of God and they gladly accepted it, confident of its power to save them (4-6). Their conduct amid persecution has been an example to Christians throughout Macedonia and Achaia (7).
Much of Macedonia and Achaia had been evangelized as a direct result of the Thessalonians’ zeal. Paul has no need to boast to others about this outstanding work, because Christians everywhere know about it already (8). Throughout the region people are talking about how readily the Thessalonians responded to the message Paul preached. No longer are they in bondage to lifeless idols. They have become servants of the living God, and they look forward to the climax of their salvation at the return of Jesus Christ (9-10).
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1:5". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/1-thessalonians-1.html. 2005.
how that our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance; even as ye know what manner of men we showed ourselves toward you for your sake.
See comment on preceding verse.
Our gospel ... Paul on occasion could say "my" gospel; and therefore the thought persists that the construction here is for the purpose of affirming the oneness of the gospel the Thessalonians had received with the same gospel taught by all of the apostles. Note that the acceptance of that gospel by the Thessalonians was one of the reasons that Paul spoke so confidently of their being the election of God. Those who accept the gospel in all generations are likewise of the elect.
What manner of men we showed ourselves ... It seems to this writer that commentators make too much of this and other passages in the letter which might be construed as Paul's defense against "charges." Barclay made a list of these, compiling them from references in 1 Thessalonians 2.
It was being said that Paul preached from sheer delusion (1 Thessalonians 2:3).
That his preaching sprang from impure motives (1 Thessalonians 2:3).
It was said his preaching aimed at deluding others (1 Thessalonians 2:3).
That he was seeking to please people, not God (1 Thessalonians 2:4).
That he was preaching for what he could get out of it (1 Thessalonians 2:5,9).
That he sought personal prestige (1 Thessalonians 2:6).
He was something of a dictator (1 Thessalonians 2:7).
A careful reading of the epistle fails to support the theoretical speculations of a savage campaign of slander as alleged by Barclay. It was the part of wisdom to place in the hands of churches the truth which could prevent such slanders from ever being propagated; and that is just as reasonable a supposition as the other. That Paul, knowing the ways of Satan, would have anticipated and frustrated such slanders in advance, wherever possible, would appear to be a certainty; and there must be some of that in evidence here.
Not in word only ... Paul's preaching was accompanied by the exhibition of miraculous apostolic powers (Romans 15:19) of "signs and wonders and mighty deeds in the Holy Spirit"; such things, of course, having been the Father's way of confirming the gospel he preached.
What manner of men we showed ourselves ... Paul worked with his own hands to support his preaching; his conduct was righteous and holy in their presence; and it was fitting indeed that he should remind them of the Christian character he had exhibited among them.Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1:5". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-thessalonians-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
For our gospel came not unto you - When first preached; Acts 17:1-3. Paul speaks of it as “our gospel,” because it was the gospel preached by him and Silas and Timothy; comp 2 Thessalonians 2:14; 2 Timothy 2:8. He did not mean to say that the gospel had been originated by him, but only that he had delivered the good news of salvation to them. He is here stating the evidence which had been given that they were a church “chosen by God.” He refers, first, to the manner in which the gospel was received by them 1 Thessalonians 1:5-7, and, secondly, to the spirit which they themselves manifested in sending it abroad; yet.1 Thessalonians 1:8.
In word only - Was not merely spoken; or was not merely heard. It produced a powerful effect on the heart and life. It was not a mere empty sound that produced no other effect than to entertain or amuse; compare Ezekiel 33:32.
But also in power - That is, in such power as to convert the soul. The apostle evidently refers not to any miracles that were performed there, but to the effect of the gospel on those who heard it. It is possible that there were miracles performed there, as there were in other places, but there is no mention of such a fact, and it is not necessary to suppose it, in order to see the full meaning of this language. There was great power manifested in the gospel in its leading them to break off from their sins, to abandon their idols, and to give their hearts to God; see this more fully explained in the notes on 1 Corinthians 2:4.
And in the Holy Ghost - Compare the notes on 1 Corinthians 2:4. It is there called the “demonstration of the Spirit.”
And in much assurance - That is, with firm conviction, or full persuasion of its truth. It was not embraced as a doubtful thing, and it did not produce the effect on the mind which is caused by anything that is uncertain in its character. Many seem to embrace the gospel as if they only half believed it, or as if it were a matter of very doubtful truth and importance; but this was not the case with the Thessalonians. There was the firmest conviction of its truth, and they embraced it “heart and soul;” compare Colossians 2:2; Hebrews 6:11. From all that is said in this verse, it is evident that the power of God was remarkably manifested in the conversion of the Thessalonians, and that they embraced the gospel with an uncommonly strong conviction of its truth and value. This fact will account for the subsequent zeal which the apostle so much commends in them - for it is usually true that the character of piety in a church, as it is in an individual, is determined by the views with which the gospel is first embraced, and the purposes which are formed at the beginning of the Christian life.
As ye know what manner of men, ... - Paul often appeals to those among whom he had labored as competent witnesses with respect to his own conduct and character; see 1 Thessalonians 2:9-10; Acts 20:33-35. He means here that he and his fellow-laborers had set them an example, or had shown what Christianity was by their manner of living, and that the Thessalonians had become convinced that the religion which they taught was real. The holy life of a preacher goes far to confirm the truth of the religion which he preaches, and is among the most efficacious means of inducing them to embrace the gospel.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1:5". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/1-thessalonians-1.html. 1870.
5 As ye know. Paul, as I have said before, has it as his aim, that the Thessalonians, influenced by the same considerations, may entertain no doubt that they were elected by God. For it had been the design of God, in honoring Paul’s ministry, that he might manifest to them their adoption. Accordingly, having said that they know what manner of persons they had been, (504) he immediately adds that he was such for their sake, by which he means that all this had been given them, in order that they might be fully persuaded that they were loved by God, and that their election was beyond all controversy.
(504) “ Quels auoyent este St. Paul et ses compagnons;” — “What manner of persons St. Paul and his associates had been.”
Calvin, John. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1:5". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/1-thessalonians-1.html. 1840-57.
Let's turn to first Thessalonians. Paul, the apostle, on his second missionary journey had taken Silas with him, who was commended by the church in Jerusalem as one of the leaders. When they got to Derbe, Timothy joined their evangelistic team. As they journeyed on, they came to Troas and Paul's desire was to go to Bithynia, but the spirit forbade him.
And there, in Troas, as Paul was sick, he had a vision. And there was a man of Macedonia calling him to come and help. And so Paul immediately got a ship, crossed the Aegean and came to Macedonian, the area of Philippi, at which point Luke joined Paul's team. Whether or not Luke was the man that Paul saw in his vision, we do not know. It is quite possible that it was Luke that Paul saw. Nonetheless, they came to Philippi and they began to share Jesus Christ there in Philippi by the river with ladies who would go there for prayer. And a lady who was a merchant, whose name was Lydia, was converted along with many others.
There was a young girl in the area of Philippi who was possessed by evil spirits and Paul, through the power of Jesus Christ, freed her. And this caused a ruckus among those men that were controlling this young girl and actually profiting by her divination, a gift that she had through the demon powers. And so they created an uproar; they had Paul and his company arrested. They were beaten and thrown into the dungeon of the prison. At midnight, an earthquake opened the doors and the Philippine jailer, when he awoke finding the doors open, was ready to commit suicide when Paul stopped him and he came trembling and said, "What must I do to be saved?" And Paul shared the gospel with him. He took Paul home; Paul shared the gospel with his family.
And then the magistrates of the city found out that Paul was a Roman citizen, as was Silas, and so they said, "Hey, tell your friends to just get out of town." And Paul said, "Look, they beat us publicly, they made a big public display of the whole thing; let them come down themselves and deliver us." You know. So, Paul forced the issue and they came down, asked Paul to leave Philippi.
So, Paul with Silas, Timothy and Luke began to follow the Roman highway south from Philippi. They came through Amphipolis. They pass through Apollonia and they came to Thessalonica, which was a principle Roman city, and is an important city today. In modern Greece, Salonica is the same as the Thessalonica of the Bible. It was here where Paul went into the synagogue, and for three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures proving that Jesus was the Messiah. And many of the Jews believed; some of them did not.
Those who did not believe stirred up a ruckus against Paul, and Paul escaped from the city of Thessalonica and went on down to Berea. And there, they again shared until certain of Jews, who had created the problems of Thessalonica, came to Berea, and so Paul went on to Athens. Later, Luke and Silvanus, who is also Silas, and Timothy joined Paul and they journeyed to Corinth, but Paul was concerned about the believers in Thessalonica. So Paul asked Timothy to go back to Thessalonica to find out how the believers were doing.
Now, from the record it would appear that Paul's ministry in Thessalonica was a very short ministry, as short as possible, just four weeks. As they mentioned that three weeks ministering each Sabbath day, for three Sabbath days in the synagogue, and then the trouble that was created. And so it would appear that Paul's time there among them was extremely short. When Paul and his company came to them, they were probably still pretty-well blood . . . well, not bloody, but swollen and bruised from the beatings that they had received in Philippi. Their clothes probably ripped, they probably looked pretty much a mess, but yet, Paul speaks about its coming to them in afflictions. And so, the marks of the beatings still upon him, still very obvious there on his body when he first came to Thessalonica.
Timothy came back to Thessalonica to find the welfare of the church, found it in good health, found them really going on in the Lord, and returned to Corinth to share with Paul how that the church was prospering and going on in the Lord. And so Paul then wrote this letter, which is probably the first letter that Paul wrote to the churches. He wrote from Corinth back to Thessalonica this first epistle, as he seeks to correct some of the misconception that had arisen.
Now, the interesting thing to me is that from the gist of this letter of Paul, one of the most important truths that Paul had emphasized in that very short ministry was that of the coming again of Jesus Christ. And all the way through the first epistle, he is making mention of that hope of the coming of Jesus Christ. And of course, next week in our lesson, as we get to chapters four and five, we'll be dealing with Paul's teaching on the rapture of the church, and all, as he is writing to the Thessalonians concerning the things that he had been teaching them and some of the misunderstandings that had arisen from his teaching. But I am amazed at what a tremendous foundation Paul was able to lay in the word of God in the hearts of these people in such a short time, as is evidenced by this epistle.
So, with that kind of a background, the year's about fifty-three, fifty-four. Paul is on his second missionary journey; he's just arrived in Corinth, has begun his ministry there, which will continue for one year and six months, as the Lord spoke to him in Corinth and said, "Stick here, Paul. I've got a lot of people that are gonna believe on Me in this place." And so, he is sent back now to Thessalonica, he has heard from Timothy the welfare of the church, and he immediately writes them this letter.
Paul, and Silvanus, [another name for Silas] and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ ( 1 Thessalonians 1:1 ):
The church in God, the church in Jesus Christ. And presently Paul is going to be talking about the power of the Holy Spirit with which the message came to them in much assurance. So again, the Father, the Son, the Spirit in which the church was established.
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ ( 1 Thessalonians 1:1 ).
Notice how often Paul is relating God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ together. If Jesus was not God, such a relationship and relating their names together constantly would be blasphemy. Some people say, "But why doesn't he also include the Holy Spirit?" Well, you remember that Paul's epistles are actually inspired by the Holy Spirit and Jesus said, "When the Holy Spirit is come, He will not testify of Himself, but He will testify of Me." And so, it is sufficient that in the inspiring of this writing by the Holy Spirit that there is joined those two persons of the Godhead: the Father and the Son.
Paul's "grace and peace unto you" are typical Pauline greetings. The grace and peace, the Siamese twins of the New Testament, they're always coupled together; wherever you find one, you'll find the other. And they are always in that order: grace and peace, because you cannot experience the peace of God until you understand and have received the grace of God. The understanding of the grace of God is essential to knowing the peace of God in your heart and life.
For years I had peace with God, but I did not have the peace of God, because I did not know the grace of God. I related to God in a legal way. My righteousness was predicated upon my good efforts, my devotional time, my prayer life, and my study of the word. I had a legal relationship with God.
Then I came to an understanding of the grace of God, and I came into a loving relationship with God. And when I did, I suddenly experienced the peace of God, something I'd never known in my Christian life. And what a blessing it was to know the peace of God within my heart, as I now rest where God rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ. And so, the gospel came to me with much assurance, only after I experienced the grace of God. Up until that time, the gospel . . . I had no assurance in the gospel. I didn't really know if I was saved or not from one week to the next, but the much assurance came with the grace.
We give thanks unto God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers ( 1 Thessalonians 1:2 );
And again, how Paul does refer to his prayer life in each of his epistles. Paul was a man of prayer. As we look at the men that God has used in the New Testament, those men that were used mightily of God, we find that there are certain things that are endemic to all of them. And one is that they were men of prayer. If you want God to really use your life, it is necessary that you be in close communion with God. And prayer, of course, is that means by which we remain in close touch with him.
Prayer is not a monologue, though so often we make it such, but prayer should always be a dialogue. In fact, as the years have past, I have spent more time in the listening side of prayer than I have the talking side of prayer. When I first started my communication with God, I did all the talking, very little listening. But as years went by and my relationship with God grew, I did less talking and more listening, for I am convinced that what God has to say to me is much more important than anything I'd have to say to Him. And so I've learned to listen to God, and I've sought to listen before I speak, in order that God might speak to my heart what is His purpose, His will, His desire in a particular matter, so that I may make that my prayer. Paul, a man of prayer, and thus God used him; making mention of you in our prayers.
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labour of love, and patience of hope ( 1 Thessalonians 1:3 )
Again, as in Galatians, as in Ephesians, and as in the Corinthian epistles, Paul links these three: faith, hope, love. Remember in first Corinthians thirteen? "And now abide these three: faith, hope, love." And so, he is constantly relating these three things.
First of all, they had the work of faith. If you have true faith, there is that work that is the natural result of faith. And if the faith does not affect your actions, then it is not a true faith. A person with true faith, that faith will affect what they do. It has an effect upon their actions, upon their works; it is producing a work in their life. And so the work of faith. Faith is not a work, but faith does produce a certain result in us: the work of faith.
The labor of love. Now, the word labor, as we pointed out to you last Thursday night as we studied this word in the message of Jesus to the church of Ephesus in Revelation two, the word means to labor to the point of weariness or exhaustion. And only can bring that kind of labor.
And how many times do we see this exemplified in a mother going around the house laboring to the point of exhaustion, especially when the children are little and there are all those responsibilities? And yet, it's a labor of love, because you look at those beautiful little faces, and you don't really think, "Oh my, I'm so tired and all. That dirty little face, just throw it in bed, you know, and let it go." But you can't help but just go in and get the warm wash rag and the towel and come and wash the hands and wash the face and kiss the cheek, though you are as tired as can be because all that you've done all day long, but that's the labor of love.
And how glorious when our love for God is such that we don't really consider the weariness of our own bodies. But as Paul, the love of Christ just constrains me, and that labor of love . . . and again, that's the only motive that God will really accept. Remember, that was the problem of the church in Ephesus: they were laboring, but without love, and that's what the Lord really spoke to them about. And He said, "Unless you begin to love, unless you return to that first love, I'm gonna take the candlestick and move it out of its place." And so, the only labor that God really accepts from us is the labor of love. For though I give my body to be burned, sell all I have, and bestow on the poor, if I have not love . . . profits mean nothing. The labor of love.
And then the...
Patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father ( 1 Thessalonians 1:3 );
So that patience, learning to wait upon God. Boy, what a time I have with that. I don't know why that should be so difficult, and yet, to me, it's one of the most difficult things in my Christian experience, to wait upon God. I, so often, am giving God time limits. "Lord, I'll give you till Saturday to work this thing out, and if you don't do something by Saturday, then I'm gonna have to step in and do something myself." But to just wait upon God; you see, to wait upon God takes great faith. I have to believe that God is in control and that God is working, though I may not see it.
How many problems have been created because we didn't wait upon God? How many times with Abraham do we move to take things into our own hands, knowing what God has purposed, knowing what God has planned? God has not done it in the timeframe that I feel He ought to do it, and so Lord, we know you wanna do it, but obviously you can't do it without our help and so we're gonna help you out, Lord. And oh my, what problems we create when we step in to help God out. But that's been the problem, I think, through the century, is patience of hope; just waiting upon God, waiting upon His time, waiting on Him to work in His time, knowing that He is going to work, confident that God is gonna work.
Now, there are many exhortations to patience. "You have need of patience," we are told in Hebrews, "that after you have done the will of God you might obtain the promise." We are told that those of the Old Testament who through faith and patience inherited the promises of God. And then James exhorts us to patience into the coming . . . waiting for the coming of the Lord. Establish your souls, be patient, for the Lord is waiting for the complete fruit of harvest. So, they were patient in their hope, laboring in love. They were...had the works of faith. And all of this, after just one month of Paul's ministry to them.
Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God ( 1 Thessalonians 1:4 ).
Now, this is a doctrine that we usually don't teach new believers. We usually wait until a person is pretty-well founded in the scriptures before we broach this theological problem of divine election. But Paul saw it necessary to teach divine election unto these new believers in Thessalonica. He speaks of them knowing the fact that they were elected by God.
People have problems with divine election. They have a problem with God making choices. However, we surely do appreciate the fact that God has given to us the capacity of choice. I was glad that the Lord allowed me to choose the one I was to spend the rest of my live with as a companion. He just didn't throw anybody at me and say, "Here, take that." But He allowed me the choice, and He also allowed her the choice when I gave it to her. So that we're not forced into the company of someone with whom we might be completely incompatible or someone that we really have no real attraction to.
Now, if God has given to us the choice of those whom we are going to have as our companions or associates, why shouldn't God have the right to choose those He wanted to be with? And indeed He has. Now, that doesn't trouble me at all. It thrills me that He chose me. And so knowing that God has elected. Jesus said to his disciples, "You didn't choose me. I chose you and ordained that you should be my disciples, that you should bring forth fruit that your fruit should remain. That whatsoever you should ask the Father in my name He may give it to you" ( John 15:16 ). "I've chosen you," He said.
So the scripture does teach divine election. It never teaches divine election apart from the foreknowledge of God. Whom He did foreknow, He did also predestinate, that they shall be conformed in the image of His Son. And so Paul taught the doctrine of divine election to the church in just a month's time.
For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance ( 1 Thessalonians 1:5 );
I think that that's probably the weakness of the gospel today. Is that so many times we are proclaiming the gospel in word only, and it lacks the power and the work of the Holy Spirit and that assurance with it. Paul, you remember, went from here to Corinth. Later, when he wrote to the Corinthians, he said to them, "And my preaching was not with the enticing words of man's wisdom, but with the demonstration of the spirit and power." We need more of that kind of preaching which is a demonstration of the power of God.
[The word came] unto you not in the word only, the gospel came not in word only, but also in power, in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as you know what manner of men we were among you for your sake ( 1 Thessalonians 1:5 ).
So, what manner of men we were for your sakes, men ministering through the power of the Spirit.
And you became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit ( 1 Thessalonians 1:6 ):
And so, again Paul here makes mention of the fact of his probably physical appearance: the beating that he had received at Philippi, and yet they received the word in the joy of the Holy Spirit.
So that ye were examples to all that believe in Macedonia and in Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak anything ( 1 Thessalonians 1:7-8 ).
Marvelous. The church here could not be more than six months old and yet, from them already the word of the Lord was sounding out to all of the area around them. Their faith toward God was spread abroad, the reputation of their believers there.
For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you ( 1 Thessalonians 1:9 ),
So, just their . . . it shows with what power the Holy Spirit was working in Paul and those companions of Paul as they came to this church. It was really miraculous that this church should be so effective, and yet so young. And it can only be attributed to the fact of the power of the Holy Spirit in the church.
What a mistake we make today when we try to relegate this power of the spirit only to the Biblical days. What a mistake we make today when we place such and emphasis upon the enticing words of man's wisdom and seeking to establish people in the faith by just fancy speeches, clever talk. We need the dynamic of Spirit that the word of God might not come not just in word only, but in the power and the demonstration of the spirit of God. Because of that,
[they] turned to God from idols to serve the living and the true God ( 1 Thessalonians 1:9 );
In Greece, they had many idols. Paul, when he came to Athens, he'd found his spirit just torn as he looked at this metropolis and saw this city that was wholly given over to idolatry. It just really ripped him up inside to see the idolatry there in Athens. So he, though he was really trying to, you know, cool things down, he just had . . . I mean his reception in Europe wasn't with a lot of fanfare. They didn't have the band out to greet him and banners waving "welcome" you know. But in Philippi, he was beaten and kicked out of town. Came to Thessalonica where he had to leave town, and the people where he was staying got arrested and had to post bail, just because they kept Paul. Came to Berea and he had to leave Berea because of the riots that ensued in his ministry there. So they said, "Hey, look, we'll stay and help establish the church here in Berea. You, Paul, go on down and get an R&R in Athens, you know. Sort of lay low for a while. Tough sledding here in Greece."
So Paul went down to Athens, and seeing a city wholly given over to idolatry, he couldn't just kick back and lie still. His heart was burning, and so he started sharing with the Athenians. They said, "Come on up to Mars hill and we're gonna, you know, give ya your audience up there. You can speak to all of us and share this new religion." For the Athenians spent their whole lives just, you know, arguing and wanting to hear some new thing. So they gave Paul his day there on Mars hill. And as he begun his speech to them, he said, "I perceive that you are very religious people because as I've been going through your city down here I've noticed all of the gods that you have." And he said, "I came across one little altar and it was inscribed 'to the unknown god'. I'd like to tell you about that God."
In Greece, they had deified all of the emotions of man: the god of love, the god of hate, the god of fear, the god of peace, the god of joy. They deified everything. Some fella thought, "Well, we may have missed one and we don't want him to be angry with us so let's build an altar to the unknown god so he won't feel neglected, you know." But they worshipped Aphrodite, they worshipped Narcissus, they worshiped Bacus, they worshiped Zeus, all the various idols. But these people had turned from the idols to worship the true and the living God.
We usually think of idolatry as something of a past history of man or something that is only found in primitive cultures. Not so. We can even find idols in churches: images, statuaries, though it has been specifically forbidden in the scriptures, yet it does exist. When a person begins to worship an idol or a relic, it is a sign that that person has lost the consciousness of God and the presence of God. God, oftentimes, works through instruments. God worked through the cross to bring our salvation, but then to take splinters of the cross and begin to venerate splinters of the cross show that the people have lost the truth behind the cross.
God used the brass serpent in the wilderness to bring healing to Israel from the bites of these poisonous snakes. But there came a time in the history of Israel when Hezekiah was king that they were worshipping this brass snake. They had kept it. It had become a religious relic and people were coming and worshipping this brass snake. So that Hezekiah broke the thing and he said, "Nahushcan" It's just of a thing of brass; it's not God. But the worship of it indicated that loss of consciousness of God within their life, but also a deep desire to experience God again.
Now, the idols that they had made to these various passions, or the various emotions, or various concepts were more honest than people today. For we still have these as idols within our hearts, many times, though we may not have made some little form that we set on a table and put little flowers around and kneel before each morning and light candles before each night. But we can be burning incense in our hearts. There are those today who are worshipping Narcissus. There are those today who are worshipping Aphrodite, those today who are worshipping Bacus, Zeus; they just don't have idols, except within their heart.
Now they have turned from these idols to the true and the living God.
And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come ( 1 Thessalonians 1:10 ).
Now, it is interesting to me that at the end of each of the first four chapters Paul makes reference to the coming again of Jesus Christ; an important part to a person's faith and belief system. For it is really the hope that sustains us. And so, the patience of hope and here he broadens out of it, "as they were waiting for God's Son from heaven whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus which delivered us from the wrath to come."
How much doctrine is involved in that little statement right there? The central message of the New Testament, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead by God the Father, and the coming again of Jesus Christ to deliver us from the wrath to come. Now we are waiting for Jesus to deliver us from the wrath to come. That wrath to come could be a reference to the eternal punishment that God is going to visit upon those who have rejected Him, but it also could very well refer to the wrath to come during the great tribulation period. And as we go further in Thessalonians, we'll find that God has not appointed us unto wrath. Jesus is going to deliver us from the wrath to come.
During the period of the Great Tribulation when the sixth seal is opened and these cataclysmic judgments are taking place in the universe, awesome fearful things happening. "And the kings of the earth and the chief captains and all will be hiding, calling unto the rocks and unto the mountains, fall on us and hide us from the face of the Lamb, for the day of His wrath has come and who shall be able to stand?" ( Revelation 6:15-17 )
The wrath to come. There is coming the wrath of God upon this earth in the Great Tribulation, and I do not believe that it would be proper scriptural exposition to not include that in the deliverance of the Lord for His saints. I believe that it is an all-inclusive deliverance from the wrath to come, the Great Tribulation, as well as the future judgment of the unbeliever. More about that as we move into Revelation on Thursday nights, and more about that as we move into Thessalonians next Sunday night.
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1:5". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/1-thessalonians-1.html. 2014.
A. Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians 1:2-10
Paul began the first main section of his epistle by reviewing several aspects of the Thessalonians’ salvation and giving thanks to God for them to encourage his readers to persevere despite persecution.
". . . both letters name Paul, Silas, and Timothy as the authors of the letters. Yet the letters are traditionally ascribed to Paul alone. Is this fair? Many scholars answer no. They note the way the first-person plural dominates both letters, even in the thanksgiving section, which does not happen in most of the other Pauline letters, including three of them that name someone else in the salutation (1 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon). The inclusion of more than one person in the salutation of a letter was most unusual in antiquity; readers would probably have read the plural ’we’ as a genuine indication of authorship. However, there is reason to pause before drawing this conclusion. . . . Paul is the primary author [cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:17]." [Note: Carson and Moo, pp. 534-44.]
"Paul, like a good psychologist, and with true Christian tact, begins with praise even when he meant to move on to rebuke." [Note: William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians, p. 217.]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Paul’s favorite appellation for the Thessalonians was "brothers." He used it 15 times in this epistle and seven times in 2 Thessalonians. It emphasizes the equality of Christians in the family of God, Jews and Gentiles alike, and it reveals Paul’s strong affection for his Thessalonian converts.
"The phrase beloved by God was a phrase which the Jews applied only to supremely great men like Moses and Solomon, and to the nation of Israel itself. Now the greatest privilege of the greatest men of God’s chosen people has been extended to the humblest of the Gentiles." [Note: Barclay, p. 218.]
Paul thanked God for choosing the Thessalonian believers for salvation. There are three participial clauses that modify the main verb eucharistoumen ("we give thanks," 1 Thessalonians 1:2). 1 Thessalonians 1:2 b gives the manner of giving thanks, 1 Thessalonians 1:3 the occasion, and 1 Thessalonians 1:4 the ultimate cause. Their response to the gospel proved God’s choice of them. Paul had not persuaded them by clever oratory, but the power (Gr. dynamei, dative case) of God through the Holy Spirit’s convicting work had brought them to faith in Christ (cf. Romans 1:16). This Greek word stresses inward power that possessed the missionaries, not necessarily that supernatural manifestations accompanied their preaching, which dynameis ("miracles," 1 Corinthians 12:10; Galatians 3:5) would have emphasized.
"The spiritual power and conviction with which the message was received matched the spiritual power and conviction with which it was delivered." [Note: Bruce, p. 15.]
The lives of the preachers who had behaved consistently with what they taught in Thessalonica had backed up their message.
"Conviction is invisible without action. Paul’s conviction as well as that of the Thessalonians (seen in their respective actions) testified to the genuine relationship that each had with the God who chose them . . ." [Note: Martin, p. 59.]
"Persons in both the religious and philosophical communities of the first century felt that the only teachers worth a moment’s attention were those who taught with their lives as well as with their words." [Note: Ibid. Cf. A. J. Malherbe, Moral Exhortation, A Greco-Roman Sourcebook, pp. 34-40.]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
2. Specific reasons 1:4-10
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
LOVE'S INTRODUCTION ( 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 )
1:1-10 Paul and Silas and Timothy send this letter to the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be to you and peace.
Always we thank God for you all and always we remember you in our prayers. We never cease to remember the work inspired by your faith, the labour prompted by your love and the endurance founded on your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, before God who is also our Father. For we know, brothers beloved by God, how you were chosen. We know that our good news did not come to you with words only, but with power and with the Holy Spirit and with much conviction, just as you know what we showed ourselves to be to you for your sakes. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for although you received the word in much affliction, yet you received it with the joy of the Holy Spirit so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaea. For the word of the Lord went forth from you like a trumpet, not only in Macedonia and Achaea, but the story of your faith towards God has gone forth in every place, so that we had no need to say anything about it. For the people amongst whom we were could tell us your story, and how we entered into you and how you turned from idols towards God, to serve the living and true God and to await the coming of his Son from heaven, even Jesus whom he raised from among the dead, and who rescues us from the coming wrath.
Paul sends this letter to the church of the Thessalonians which is in God and the Lord Jesus Christ. God was the very atmosphere in which the Church lived and moved and had its being. Just as the air is in us and we are in the air and cannot live without it, so the true Church is in God and God is in the true Church and there is no true life for the Church without God. Further, the God in whom the Church lives is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; and, therefore, the Church does not shiver in the icy fear of a God who is a tyrant but basks in the sunshine of a God who is love.
In this opening chapter we see Paul at his most winsome. In a short time he was going to deal out warning and rebuke; but he begins with unmixed praise. Even when he rebuked, it was never his aim to discourage but always to uplift. In every man there is something fine, and often the best way to rid him of the lower things is to praise the higher things. The best way to eradicate his faults is to praise his virtues so that they will flower all the more; every man reacts better to encouragement than he does to rebuke. It is told that once the Duke of Wellington's cook gave notice and left him. He was asked why he had left so honourable and well-paid a position. His answer was, "When the dinner is good, the Duke never praises me and when it is bad, he never blames me; it was just not worth while." Encouragement was lacking. Paul, like a good psychologist and with true Christian tact, begins with praise even when he means to move on to rebuke.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:3 Paul picks out three great ingredients of the Christian life.
(i) There is work which is inspired by faith. Nothing tells us more about a man than the way in which he works. He may work in fear of the whip; he may work for hope of gain; he may work from a grim sense of duty; or he may work inspired by faith. His faith is that this is his task given him by God and that he is working in the last analysis not for men but for God. Someone has said that the sign of true consecration is when a man can find glory in drudgery.
(ii) There is the labour which is prompted by love. Bernard Newman tells how once he stayed in a Bulgarian peasant's house. All the time he was there the daughter was stitching away at a dress. He said to her, "Don't you ever get tired of that eternal sewing?" "O no!" she said, "you see this is my wedding dress." Work done for love always has a glory.
(iii) There is the endurance which is founded on hope. When Alexander the Great was setting out on his campaigns, he divided all his possessions among his friends. Someone said, "But you are keeping nothing for yourself." "O yes, I am," he said. "I have kept my hopes." A man can endure anything so long as he has hope, for then he is walking not to the night, but to the dawn.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:4 Paul speaks of the Thessalonians as brothers beloved by God. The phrase beloved by God was a phrase which the Jews applied only to supremely great men like Moses and Solomon, and to the nation of Israel itself Now the greatest privilege of the greatest men of God's chosen people has been extended to the humblest of the Gentiles.
1 Thessalonians 1:8 speaks of the faith of the Thessalonians sounding forth like a trumpet; the word could also mean crashing out like a roll of thunder. There is something tremendous about the sheer defiance of early Christianity. When all prudence would have dictated a way of life that would escape notice and so avoid danger and persecution, the Christians blazoned forth their faith. They were never ashamed to show whose they were and whom they sought to serve.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 two words are used which are characteristic of the Christian life. The Thessalonians served God and waited on the coming of Christ. The Christian is called upon to serve in the world and to wait for glory. The loyal service and the patient waiting were the necessary preludes to the glory of heaven.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Barclay, William. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1:5". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/1-thessalonians-1.html. 1956-1959.
1 Thessalonians 1:5
Our gospel -- that preached by Paul and the apostles.
cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 2:4-5.
In power and in the Holy Ghost ..i.e. Paul’s preaching was accompanied by miraculous proof or evidence of the truthfulness of what he was preaching.
Power -- (Barnes thinks it refers to "the effect of the gospel on those who heard it"
Assurance -- Conviction, on the part of the preachers, not with guile or deceit. cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:3-5.
How the word came to them at Thessalonica:
1) not in word only, but
2) in power (miracles); and
3) in the Holy Spirit (by inspiration), and
4) with full conviction (Paul was persuaded and preached persuasively with demonstration of the truth in the way he lived.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Gann, Windell. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1:5". Gann's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gbc/1-thessalonians-1.html. 2021.
For our Gospel came not unto you,.... The apostle calls the Gospel "our Gospel", not because he and his fellow ministers were the authors of it; for in this respect it is solely of God, being the produce of his wisdom and grace, and by the revelation of Jesus Christ, hence he calls it the Gospel of God in 1 Thessalonians 2:2 nor because they were the subject of it, for they preached not themselves, but a crucified Christ, and him only, though it was a stumblingblock to some, and foolishness to others; but because it was committed to their trust, and they were the preachers of it, and agreed in the ministration of it; and it is opposed to, and is distinct from, that which was preached by the false teachers; and here intends not barely the Gospel itself, but chiefly their preaching of it: and this came unto them being sent of God, for wherever the Gospel comes, it comes with a mission and commission from God; and being brought unto them by the apostles, who were bringers and publishers of the good tidings of good things, it came unthought of, unsought and unasked for by them; and that not only externally, which to have is a great blessing, but internally,
εις υμας, "into you"; it came not barely into their ears vocally, and into their heads notionally; but into their hearts, and worked effectually there; it was mixed with faith, and was profitable; it became the ingrafted word, and dwelt richly in them: for it came to them not
in word only; it did come in word, it could not come without words, there is no interpreting of Scripture, no preaching of the Gospel, nor hearing of it without words, without articulate sounds; but not only with these, nor with wisdom of words, with enticing words of man's wisdom, with words which man's wisdom teacheth; as also not in the mere notion and letter of the Gospel, which when it comes in that manner is a dead letter, and the savour of death unto death:
but in power; not merely preached in a powerful way, or attended with miraculous operations, though doubtless both were true; for the apostle was a powerful preacher, and his ministry was confirmed by signs and wonders and mighty deeds; but from neither of these could he conclude the election of these people: but the preaching of the Gospel was accompanied with the powerful efficacy of the grace of God, working by it upon them; so that it became the power of God unto salvation to them; it came to them in the demonstration of the Spirit of God, and of power, quickening them who were dead in trespasses, and sin, enlightening their dark understandings, unstopping their deaf ears, softening their hard hearts, and delivering them from the slavery of sin and Satan; from whence it clearly appeared that they were the chosen of God, and precious:
and in the Holy Ghost; the Gospel was not only preached under the influence, and by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, and attended with his extraordinary gifts for the confirmation of it, which it might be, and be no proof of the election of these persons to eternal life; but it came by the power of the Holy Spirit to their souls, working and implanting his graces in them, as faith, hope, and love, and every other; and he himself was received along with it, as a spirit of illumination and conviction, of regeneration, conversion, and sanctification, and of faith and adoption; all which gave full evidence of their election:
and in much assurance; not on the preacher's side, as if the Gospel was preached by him with great assurance, boldness, and confidence; or with great strength of evidence, giving clear and full proof of what was delivered sufficient to ascertain it, and persuade anyone to the belief of it; or with "much fulness", as some render the words, that is, of the Gospel of Christ, and of the gifts of the Spirit, and to a multitude of persons; all which might be, and yet be no proof of the choice of these persons in Christ to eternal salvation; but the Gospel preached to them was blessed to produce in them much assurance, or a large assurance, if not a full one, of the grace of faith in Christ, and of hope of eternal life by him, and of understanding of the doctrines of the Gospel, and of interest in the blessings of grace held forth in them; and this being a fruit, was an evidence of electing grace:
as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. The apostle appeals to themselves for the truth of what he had said; who must have observed, and could not but remember, with what meanness they appeared, with what fear and trembling, with what plainness and simplicity, without the enticing words of man's wisdom; what a contemptible figure they made, how they wrought with their own hands, and endured reproach and persecution for their sakes, that they might obtain salvation by Christ with eternal glory; and had nothing to recommend them to them, to win upon them, and engage their attention, and strike their affection; or persuade them to receive their persons, and believe their doctrines; wherefore the effects their ministry had upon them were not owing to the charms of words, the force of language, and power of oratory; or to any external thing in them, or done by them; but must be ascribed to the Spirit of God, and to the power and efficacy of his grace.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1:5". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1-thessalonians-1.html. 1999.
|Thanksgiving to God.||A. D. 51.|
2 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; 3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; 4 Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. 5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
I. The apostle begins with thanksgiving to God. Being about to mention the things that were matter of joy to him, and highly praiseworthy in them, and greatly for their advantage, he chooses to do this by way of thanksgiving to God, who is the author of all that good that comes to us, or is done by us, at any time. God is the object of all religious worship, of prayer and praise. And thanksgiving to God is a great duty, to be performed always or constantly; even when we do not actually give thanks to God by our words, we should have a grateful sense of God's goodness upon our minds. Thanksgiving should be often repeated; and not only should we be thankful for the favours we ourselves receive, but for the benefits bestowed on others also, upon our fellow-creatures and fellow-christians. The apostle gave thanks not only for those who were his most intimate friends, or most eminently favoured of God, but for them all.
II. He joined prayer with his praise or thanksgiving. When we in every thing by prayer and supplication make our requests known to God, we should join thanksgiving therewith, Philippians 4:6. So when we give thanks for any benefit we receive we should join prayer. We should pray always and without ceasing, and should pray not only for ourselves, but for others also, for our friends, and should make mention of them in our prayers. We may sometimes mention their names, and should make mention of their case and condition; at least, we should have their persons and circumstances in our minds, remembering them without ceasing. Note, As there is much that we ought to be thankful for on the behalf of ourselves and our friends, so there is much occasion of constant prayer for further supplies of good.
III. He mentions the particulars for which he was so thankful to God; namely,
1. The saving benefits bestowed on them. These were the grounds and reasons of his thanksgiving. (1.) Their faith and their work of faith. Their faith he tells them (1 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 1:8) was very famous, and spread abroad. This is the radical grace; and their faith was a true and living faith, because a working faith. Note, Wherever there is a true faith, it will work: it will have an influence upon heart and life; it will put us upon working for God and for our own salvation. We have comfort in our own faith and the faith of others when we perceive the work of faith. Show me thy faith by thy works,James 2:18. (2.) Their love and labour of love. Love is one of the cardinal graces; it is of great use to us in this life and will remain and be perfected in the life to come. Faith works by love; it shows itself in the exercise of love to God and love to our neighbour; as love will show itself by labour, it will put us upon taking pains in religion. (3.) Their hope and the patience of hope. We are saved by hope. This grace is compared to the soldier's helmet and sailor's anchor, and is of great use in times of danger. Wherever there is a well-grounded hope of eternal life, it will appear by the exercise of patience; in a patient bearing of the calamities of the present time and a patient waiting for the glory to be revealed. For, if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it,Romans 8:25.
2. The apostle not only mentions these three cardinal graces, faith, hope and love, but also takes notice, (1.) Of the object and efficient cause of these graces, namely, our Lord Jesus Christ. (2.) Of the sincerity of them: being in the sight of God even our Father. The great motive to sincerity is the apprehension of God's eye as always upon us; and it is a sign of sincerity when in all we do we endeavour to approve ourselves to God, and that is right which is so in the sight of God. Then is the work of faith, or labour of love, or patience of hope, sincere, when it is done under the eye of God. (3.) He mentions the fountain whence these graces flow, namely, God's electing love: Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God,1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:4. Thus he runs up these streams to the fountain, and that was God's eternal election. Some by their election of God would understand only the temporary separation of the Thessalonians from the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles in their conversion; but this was according to the eternal purpose of him who worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will,Ephesians 1:11. Speaking of their election, he calls them, brethren beloved; for the original of the brotherhood that is between Christians and the relation wherein they stand one to another is election. And it is a good reason why we should love one another, because we are all beloved of God, and were beloved of him in his counsels when there was not any thing in us to merit his love. The election of these Thessalonians was known to the apostles, and therefore might be known to themselves, and that by the fruits and effects thereof--their sincere faith, and hope, and love, by the successful preaching of the gospel among them. Observe, [1.] All those who in the fulness of time are effectually called and sanctified were from eternity elected and chosen to salvation. [2.] The election of God is of his own good pleasure and mere grace, not for the sake of any merit in those who are chosen. [3.] The election of God may be known by the fruits thereof. [4.] Whenever we are giving thanks to God for his grace either to ourselves or others, we should run up the streams to the fountain, and give thanks to God for his electing love, by which we are made to differ.
3. Another ground or reason of the apostle's thanksgiving is the success of his ministry among them. He was thankful on his own account as well as theirs, that he had not laboured in vain. He had the seal and evidence of his apostleship hereby, and great encouragement in his labours and sufferings. Their ready acceptance and entertainment of the gospel he preached to them were an evidence of their being elected and beloved of God. It was in this way that he knew their election. It is true he had been in the third heavens; but he had not searched the records of eternity, and found their election there, but knew this by the success of the gospel among them (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:5), and he takes notice with thankfulness, (1.) That the gospel came to them also not in word only, but in power; they not only heard the sound of it, but submitted to the power of it. It did not merely tickle the ear and please the fancy, not merely fill their heads with notions and amuse their minds for awhile, but it affected their hearts: a divine power went along with it for convincing their consciences and amending their lives. Note, By this we may know our election, if we not only speak of the things of God by rote as parrots, but feel the influence of these things in our hearts, mortifying our lusts, weaning us from the world, and raising us up to heavenly things. (2.) It came in the Holy Ghost, that is, with the powerful energy of the divine Spirit. Note, Wherever the gospel comes in power, it is to be attributed to the operation of the Holy Ghost; and unless the Spirit of God accompany the word of God, to render it effectual by his power, it will be to us but as a dead letter; and the letter killeth, it is the Spirit that giveth life. (3.) The gospel came to them in much assurance. Thus did they entertain it by the power of the Holy Ghost. They were fully convinced of the truth of it, so as not to be easily shaken in mind by objections and doubts; they were willing to leave all for Christ, and to venture their souls and everlasting condition upon the verity of the gospel revelation. The word was not to them, like the sentiments of some philosophers about matters of opinion and doubtful speculation, but the object of their faith and assurance. Their faith was the evidence of things not seen; and the Thessalonians thus knew what manner of men the apostle and his fellow-labourers were among them, and what they did for their sake, and with what good success.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1:5". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/1-thessalonians-1.html. 1706.
There is a special interest in examining the epistles to the Thessalonians, more particularly the first, because, in point of fact, it was the earliest of the letters of the apostles; and as the first on the part of Paul, so also to an assembly found in the freshness of its faith, and in the endurance of no small suffering for Jesus' sake. This has given a colour to the character of the epistle. Besides, the very truth which most strongly characterized the assembly there the habitual waiting for the Lord Jesus was that which the enemy perverted into a means of danger. It is always thus. Whatever God has specially given to the church, whatever He has caused to be brought out in any marked manner at any time, is that which we may expect Satan to sap and undermine with all diligence. We might have supposed, à priori, that any characteristic truth would be that in which the children of God would be more earnest, and strong, and united. Undoubtedly it is that for which they are specially responsible; but for this very reason they are the object of the continual and subtle attacks of Satan in respect of it.
Now these epistles (for both in fact show us the same truth, but on different sides, guarding it against a different means used by the enemy to injure the saints) present on their very face, in great fulness of application, the hope of the Christian, and that which surrounds it and flows from it. At the same time, the Spirit of God in no way limits Himself to that one subject in all its parts; but as we receive the truth in its fulness in Christ, so we have the great elements of Christianity, as well as the attractive state of the believers in Thessalonica, formed by the hope which animated them, and by the truth in general seen in its light. The apostle writes to them in a manner to confirm their faith: "Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians, which is in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ." He does not mean by this to set forth any great advance, any high standing on the part of the believer, as has been sometimes drawn from these words, but rather the contrary. It was the infantine condition of the assembly of the Thessalonians which appears to have suggested this mode of address from the apostle. Just as the babe of the family would be an especial object of a father's concern more particularly if peril surrounded it, so does the apostle cheer the church of the Thessalonians, by speaking of their being in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ. (Compare John 10:28-29.) It is as children, not merely in the sense of being born of God, but as babes; and the Spirit of God views the assembly of the Thessalonians in this way. As a proof that this is correct, it may be noticed that there does not appear at this time to have been any regular oversight established in their midst. There is no hint of elders appointed here as yet, any more than at Corinth. There was no small vigour; but, at the same time, it had the stamp of youth. The fresh flow of affection filled their hearts, and the beauty of the truth had but just dawned, as it were, on their souls. This, and more of kindred character, may be traced very clearly. And we find here an instructive lesson how to deal with the entrance of error, and the dangers that threaten the children of God, more particularly such as may be comparatively unformed in the common faith.
After his salutation the apostle, as usual, gives thanks to God for them all, making mention of them in his prayers, as he says: "Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father." From the outset we find the eminently practical shape which the truth had taken; as indeed must always be the case where there is the care and activity of the Spirit of God. There is no truth that is not given both to form the heart, and to guide the steps of the saints, so that there may be a living and a fruitful service flowing to God from it. Such was the case with these Thessalonians; their work was the work of faith, and their labour had love for its spring; and more than that, their hope was one which had proved its divine strength by the power of endurance which it had given them in the midst of their afflictions. It was really the hope of Christ Himself, as it is said "patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father." Thus, we see, all was kept in conscience before God; for this is the meaning of the words "in the sight of God and our Father."
All this brings them before the soul of the apostle in confidence, as being simple-hearted witnesses, not only of the truth, but of Christ the Lord. "For our gospel," he says, "came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake." The apostle could unburden himself, and speak freely. With the Corinthians he could not so open his heart: there was such fleshly vaunting among them that the apostle speaks to them with no small reserve. But here it is otherwise; and as there was fervent love in their hearts and ways, so the apostle could speak out of the very same love; for assuredly love was not less on his part. Hence he could enlarge with joy on that which was before him the manner in which the gospel had come to them; and this is of no small consequence in the ways of God. We should by no means pass by a due consideration of the manner in which God deals either with individual souls, or with saints, in any special place. For all things are of God. The effect of a storm of persecution, accompanying the introduction of the gospel, could not have been without its weight in forming the character of the saints who received the truth; and, yet more, the way in which God had wrought particularly in him who was the bearer of His message at that time would not be without its modifying influence in giving such a direction to it as would be for the Lord's glory and praise. I doubt not, therefore, that the apostle's entrance among them, the notable accompanying circumstances of it, the faith and love that had been then tried of course, habitually there, but, nevertheless, put at that juncture to the proof to a remarkable degree at Thessalonica had all their source in God's good guidance; so that those that were to follow in the wake of the same faith, who would have to stand and suffer in the name of the same Lord Jesus at a later day, were thus strengthened and fitted, as no other way could have done so well, for what was to befall them.
The apostle, therefore, does not hesitate to say, "Ye became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: so that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia." And this was so true that the apostle did not need to say anything in proof of it. The very world wondered how the word wrought among these Thessalonians. Men were struck by it; and what impressed even people outside was this that they not only abandoned their idols, but henceforth were serving the one living and true God, and were waiting for His Son from heaven. Such was the testimony, and an uncommonly bright one it is. But, indeed, simplicity is the secret for enjoying the truth, as well as for receiving it; and we shall find always that it is the sure mark of God's power in the soul by His word and Spirit. For there are two things that characterize divine teaching: real simplicity, on the one hand, and, on the other, that definiteness which gives the inward conviction to the Christian that what he has is the truth of God. It might be too much to expect the development, or, at any rate, a large exercise of such precision as this among the Thessalonians as yet; but. one may be sure that if there was true simplicity at first, it would lead into distinctness of judgment ere long. We shall find some features of this kind for our guidance, and I hope to remark upon them as they come before me.
But, first of all, take notice that the first description which is given of them, in relation to the coming of the Lord, is simply awaiting the Son of God from heaven. We do not well to fasten upon this expression more than it was intended to convey. It does not appear to me to mean anything more than the general attitude of the Christian in relation to Him whom he expects from above. It is the simple fact of their looking for the same Saviour who had already come, whom they had known that Jesus who had died for them and was raised again from the dead, their Deliverer from the wrath to come. Thus they were waiting for this mighty and gracious Saviour to come from heaven. How He was coming they knew not; what would be the effects of His coming they knew little. They of course knew nothing about the time, no soul does; it is reserved in the hands of our God and Father; but they were, as became babes, waiting for Him according to His own word. Whether He would take them back into the heavens, or at once enter on the kingdom under the whole heaven, I am persuaded they did not know at this time.
It seems therefore a mistake to press this text, as if it necessarily taught Christ's coming in order to translate saints into heaven. It leaves the aim, mode, and result an entirely open matter. We may find ourselves sometimes forcing scripture in this way; but be assured, it is true wisdom to draw from scripture no more than it distinctly undertakes to convey. It is much better, if with fewer texts, to have them more to the purpose. We shall find ere long the importance of not multiplying proof-texts for any particular aim, but of seeking rather from God the definite use of each scripture. Now all that the apostle has here in view is to remind the Thessalonian saints that they were waiting for that same Deliverer, who was dead and risen, to come from heaven. It is likely that as His coming is presented in the character of Son of God, it may suggest more to the spiritual mind, and probably did suggest more to them at a later day. I am only speaking of what is important to bear in mind at their first conversion. It was the simple truth that the divine person, who loved them and died for them, was coming back from heaven. What would be the manner and the consequences they had yet to learn. They were waiting for Him who had proved His love for them deeper than death or judgment; and He was coming: how could they but love Him and wait for Him?
The second chapter pursues the subject of the apostle's ministry in connection with their conversion. He had not left them when they had been brought to the knowledge of Christ. He had laboured among them. "For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain: but even after we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention." The apostle had gone on in persevering faith, undisturbed by that which had followed. He was not to be turned aside from the gospel. It had brought trouble on him, but he persevered. "For our exhortation," he says, "was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: but as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness, God is witness: nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ."
Here we see how entirely his ministry had been above the ordinary motives of men. There was no self-seeking It was not a question of exalting himself, or of earthly personal gain; nor, on the other hand, was there the indulging of the passions, either gross or refined None of these things had a place in his heart, as he could appeal to God solemnly. Their own consciences were witnesses of it. But, more than that, love and tenderness of care had wrought toward them. "We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us." What a picture of gracious interest in souls, and of this, not in Him who has the full expression of divine love, but in a man of like passions with ourselves! For if we must ever look for the perfection of it in Christ alone, it is good for us to see the life and love of Christ in one who had to contend with the very same evils which we have in our nature.
Here, then, we have the lovely picture of the grace of the apostle in watching over these young Christians; and this he presents in a two-fold form. First, when in the most infantine condition, as a nurse he cherished them; but when they grew a little, he pursued his course, "labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, preaching unto you the gospel of God. As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children." As they advanced spiritually, so the character of ministering to their need was changed; but it was the very same love in exhorting them as a father, which had cared for them as a nurse. This may be the beau idéal of a true pastor; but it is the picture of a real apostle of Christ, of Paul among the Thessalonians, whose one desire was that they should walk worthy of God, who had called them to His kingdom and glory. "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe."
Then follows a sketch of that suffering which faith entails, as sooner or later it must come; and as he had charged them to walk worthy of God, who had cheered them with the prospect of the unseen and eternal things so he would have them to prove by their constancy and endurance that it was God's word which so powerfully wrought in them, spite of all man could do. "For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets" not exactly their own prophets, but the prophets "and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles." What a contrast with the grace of God! The people who had the prestige of religion could not endure that the gospel should go to the despised Gentiles, their enemies. Yet why should they have been so careful of it, since they did not believe in it themselves? How came to pass this their sudden interest in the spiritual welfare of the heathen? Whence originated this unwearied zeal to deprive others of the gospel they themselves scorned? If the gospel were such an irrational and immoral and trumpery matter as they professed to consider it, how was it that they spared no pains to prejudice men against it, and to persecute its preachers? Men do not usually feel thus do not set themselves so bitterly and continuously against that which does not prick their consciences. One can understand it where there is the sense of a good of which they are not prepared to avail themselves: the rebellious heart vents itself then in implacable hatred at seeing it go to others, who peradventure would receive it gladly. It is man always the enemy, the persistent antagonist of God, and more particularly of His grace. But it is religions man, as the Jew was, here and everywhere man with a measure of traditional truth, who feels thus sore at the operations of God in His mighty grace.
But the apostle as he had shown us men the objects of the gospel, and the constant interest of grace in Christians, contrasted with those who hindered because they hated the grace of God, so he also lets them know the affectionate desire that was not weakened by absence from it, but rather the contrary. "But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire." There is nothing so real upon earth as the love of Christ reproduced by the Spirit in the Christian. "Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us." There is a reality for evil in Satan, the great personal enemy, as much in a certain sense as there is in Christ for good. Let us not forget it.
On the other hand, what is the encouragement to suffering love and toil along the road? "What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing?" It matters little what the circumstances maybe in regard to true ministry in the grace of Christ. Trial shows how superior it is to circumstances. Bodily presence or absence only tests it. Afflictions only prove its strength. Distance only gives room to its expression to those who are absent. The unfailing and only adequate comfort is the certain re-union of those who minister, and those who are ministered to, in the day when all opposition will vanish, and around the board where all the fruits of true ministry, whether of a nurse or of a father that exhorts those who are growing up in the truth, will be tasted in the joy of our Lord. The apostles and their companions in labour were content to wait for the reward of loving oversight exercised among the saints of God.
But this did not in the slightest degree hinder the apostle's tender sympathy with those who were pressed down by any special sufferings. For Christianity is not dreamy or sentimental, but most real in its power of adapting itself to every need. It is the true deliverance from all that is fictitious, whether on the side of reason or of imagination in the things of God. Superstition has its perils; but quite as much has the dogmatism of mere intellect. Scripture raises the believer above both; yet the apostle shows what anxiety of feeling was his about the Thessalonians. He did not doubt the Lord's watchful eye. Nevertheless all his heart was in movement about them. He had sent Timotheus when he could not go himself; and he was rejoiced to hear the good account which he thus gleaned through him, for he dreaded lest they might be shaken by the great wave of trouble that was sweeping over them. No doubt they had been prepared for this in a measure; for he had told them, when with them, that they were appointed thereunto.
But now, how cheered was his spirit to find that the tempter had been foiled! Timotheus had come with good tidings of their faith and love. Spite of all, they had "good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you." Love was still fervent, as in him so in them. "Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith: for now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord." But in the midst of thanksgiving he prays for them.
We may notice two prayers particularly in this. epistle. The first occurs at the end of 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13, and the second at the end of the last chapter. The first is more particularly a review of the entrance of the gospel among the Thessalonian saints and of his own ministry, which was no doubt meant to be suggestive to them of the true character and method of serving the Lord in dealing with all men. He winds it up with prayer to the effect: "Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. And the Lord make you to increase and abound one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: to the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints."
Here at once we come to very distinct guidance for our thoughts; and this in more ways than one. He prays not that they may be established in holiness, in order that they might love one another, but that they might abound in love, in order that they might be established in holiness. Love always precedes holiness. It is true from conversion from the beginning of the work in the soul and it is also true to the last. What first raises the heart to God is some faint sense of His love in Christ. I do not say anything at all like the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit given us. There may then be no power to rest on divine love; there can be no abounding in love in such a state. But, for all that, there is a hope of love if it be the feeblest thought; if it be only that "there is bread enough and to spare" for the merest prodigal that betakes himself to the father's house. If we look at God and Christ, and at the grace that suits the Father's counsels and the Son's work, I admit all this is a scanty measure a poor thing on their part, to give a servant's portion in such a house. But it was no small prize for the heart of a sinner, darkened and narrowed by selfishness, and the indulgence of lust and passion. And what is sin in every form but selfishness? We know how this shuts up the heart, and how it destroys every expectation of goodness in others. The grace of God, contrariwise, works and kindles, it may be, a very little spark at first, but still a beginning of what is truly great, good, and eternal. Accordingly, as we read, the prodigal starts from the far country, and cannot rest though there was incomparably more earnestness on the part of the father to meet him, as well we know; for it was not the prodigal that ran to the father, but the father to the prodigal. And thus it is always. The same true working of love, however at first dimly seen, that wakes the sinner from his wretched bed of sin for rest it cannot be called this rouses him from the guilty dreams of death. On the other hand, it is the fulness of love which gives the heart to enter into the riches of grace towards us, shedding abroad, not an earnest of it, but itself in the heart. And this holiness, not in desire only, but real and deep, keeps pace with love.
It is not, of course, my present task to unfold the wonderful way in which that love has been proved to us. It does not come before me now, nor is it for me to leave my theme even to speak of its display in Christ, by whom God commends His own love to us, in that, while yet sinners, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, till we can joy in Himself through our Lord Jesus Christ. But I affirm that all practical holiness is the fruit of the love to which the heart has surrendered, and which it receives simply and enjoys fully. This, then, is true of the soul that is only seeking to know the grace of God.
But here he earnestly desires their growth in holiness, and prays for them that they might "increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: to the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness." And the manner in which this is connected with the coming of Christ here is very noticeable. He supposes it to be flowing out of love, and going on in holiness, proceeding unbroken, until the saint finds himself at last in the display of glory; not when Christ comes to take us up, but when God brings us with Him. Why (let me ask) is there not presented His coming to receive the saints in this chapter, as in the next? Because our walking in love and holiness is the question in the hand of the Holy Spirit; and this has the most intimate connection with Christ's appearing, when we come with Him. And for this there is a simple reason. Where the walk comes in, we have clearly responsibility before the saints. Now the appearing of the Lord Jesus is that which will manifest us in the results of responsibility. Then we shall each see, when self-love can no longer darken our judgment of ourselves, or our estimate of others, when nothing but the truth shall remain and be displayed of all that his been wrought in us, or done by us. For the Lord will assuredly come to translate us to His presence; but He will also cause us, to appear with Him in glory, when He appears; and when this moment arrives, it will be made manifest how far we have been faithful, and how far faithless. All will be turned to His own glory. Accordingly then here in1 Thessalonians 3:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13 we see the reason why, as it appears to. me, the Spirit directs attention to His coming with all His saints, not for them.
The next portion, or second half of the epistle, opens with practical exhortation. The early part insists on purity; then follow a few words on love. It might seem strange that it should be needful to guard these saints, walking as we have seen so simply and delightfully, against unclean offences even in the closest relations of life that Christian men should be warned against fornication and adultery; but we know that so desperate is the evil of the flesh, that no circumstances nor position can secure, yea, even the joy of the blessing of God's grace, without * exercise of conscience and self-judgment; and hence these solemn admonitions from the Lord. It was particularly needed at that time and in Greece, because such sins were rather sanctioned than judged in the heathen world. Even mankind in later days have profited enormously by the change. They can now no doubt enrich themselves with truth, and talk largely about holiness; but how little they knew of either before they borrowed from Scripture! it is all stolen goods, every bit of real value. The men of whom they are the successors were unclean to the last degree. The Aristotles and Platos were really not fit for decent company. I admit our Grecians would scowl at such an estimate, or scorn it; but they lack the elements for forming an adequate moral appraisal, or they do not look the facts in the face, plain enough as they are. If knowingly they endorse or make light of such morals as Plato counted desirable for his republic, it cannot be doubted where they themselves are. Undoubtedly there were some fine speculations, but nothing more; for men thought that talking about morality would do as well as the thing itself. It is Christ, and Christ alone, that has brought in the very truth of God in word and deed. It was unknown to man before: still more the ultimate proof in the cross that He is love. Christ first displayed absolute purity in the very nature which had revelled in lust and passion heretofore.
But the Thessalonians in general might not mated its importance fully, being young in the truth. There was doubtless good reason why the apostle in writing to them had to lay great stress on moral purity. The fact is, that it was a matter of course then for men to live just as they listed. There was no restriction, except so far as mere human vengeance or punishments of the law might deter them. Men indulged themselves in anything they could do safely. And so indeed it is to this day, except so far as Christianity or the profession of it prevents them.
After speaking of purity, the apostle treats of loving one another, and adds that there was no need to say much about it. They themselves were taught of God; they knew what they were called to in brotherly love. But he does exhort them to be quiet and to mind their own business, working with their own hands, as he not only commanded them when in their midst, but exemplified it from day to day himself. He had it deeply at heart that they should walk reputably toward those without, and have need of no one or thing.
But we come in the next place to a main topic of the epistle. They had fallen into a serious mistake as to some of the brethren that had fallen asleep. They feared that these departed saints would miss much at the coming of the Lord in fact, that they would lose their part in the joyful meeting between the Lord Jesus and His saints. This at once shows us that we must not estimate the Thessalonian believers according to that standard which these mistakes helped to elicit from the Holy Ghost. We have the advantage of the entire development of the truth, much of which was the inspired correction of evils and errors. The New Testament, you must remember, was not then written; a very small part one gospel, or at most perhaps two, and not one of the epistles. Thus, except the teaching that they had received from the apostle during his comparatively short stay in Thessalonica, they had little, or no means of further instruction in the truth, and we know how easily that which is only heard passes away. We may learn from this the invaluable blessing we have, not merely in the word, but in the written word of God scripture. However, at this time, for the most part, the New Testament books were not yet written. It was that part of scripture which most of all concerned these saints. We must not, therefore, wonder that they were ignorant of what had regard to their brethren who had fallen asleep. On the other hand, it is not meant that they entertained any fears of their being lost. This could not arise in the minds of souls grounded in what the apostle calls our gospel; and no charge is so much as hinted of any failure in this respect. Still a delay might have been conceived before they entered into full blessedness. One can understand their perplexity for want of light on what the Lord would do with them. They did not know whether they would then enter the kingdom, or how, or when. These were questions unsolved.
The Holy Ghost meets their difficulties now, and tells them to this effect: "I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him." Clearly we hear again of the Lord coming, and bringing these saints with Him. It is not the Lord, however, receiving them to Himself, but bringing them with Him. That is, we have once more the Lord coining in glory with His saints already glorified. When that moment comes, at any rate, they will be with Him. Such is the first statement of the apostle. But this very truth, which made part of their old difficulty, raises another difficulty. How could the saints that had fallen asleep come with Him now? How could all the saints appear in glory with Christ? They seem to have understood that when the Lord came, there would be saints here below waiting for Christ; and that these would somehow be with Him in glory. But they were utterly perplexed as to the saints that had fallen asleep. They did not know what to make of the interim if indeed they suspected an interim. They did not know the process by which the Lord would deal with those that had died; and it is now explained.
"For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [shall in no wise anticipate] them which are asleep." If they had remained alive, no difficulty had been felt in the case. Some in our day seem to feel a good deal surprised at such a difficulty as this; but the truth is that the sorrow of the Thessalonians arose from the simplicity of their faith, and men's feeling no difficulty now is partly owing to their lack of any genuine faith in it. Had they more faith, they might have their perplexities too, not at the end, but, as usual, at the beginning. It was certainly so with the Thessalonians at this time. It is always the effect of faith at first. Newly-entered light gives occasion to the perception of much which we cannot solve at once. But God comes in to the aid of the believer, and in His own grace and time solves one difficulty after another. Then the apostle clears it up thus: "We which are alive and remain unto the coming [or presence] of the Lord," etc. The word "coming" means the fact of being present in contrast with absence. "We which are alive and remain unto the presence of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep." I take the liberty of changing the word "prevent," which is old English, into a phrase which gives the same meaning as "prevent" when the translation was made.
We "shall not precede them which are asleep." Thus, suppose we are waiting for Christ to come, and that He comes, we shall not be before those saints that have departed previously. How can this be? It is answered in the next verse. "For the Lord himself," says he, "shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together. with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." Thus it is evident that, if there be a moment of difference, it is in favour of the sleepers, and not of those which remain alive. Those that are asleep are first wakened up. Bear in mind, sleep is for the body; the soul is never said or supposed in scripture to be asleep. But those who are asleep in their graves will be wakened up by the shout ( κέλευσμα ) of the Lord Jesus; for the word means the call of a commander to his men that follow, or of an admiral to his sailors. It is from one who has a relation to others under his authority; it is not a vague call to those that may not own his command, but to his own people.
It is evident, therefore, that the notion entertained by some, that this shout must be heard by men in general, is refuted by these words, as well as other facts. Men in general have no such relation to the Lord. It is a shout that is heard by those to whom it appertains. Not a word, therefore, includes but, rather the contrary, shuts out those to whom Christ stands in no such connection. In other words, it is the Lord's call to His own, and accordingly the dead in Christ rise first, as the immediate fruit of it. "Then we, the living that remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." This at once dispels the difficulty as to those who were asleep. So far from missing the moment of meeting between the Lord and His own, they rise first; we immediately join them; and thus both together are caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with Him.
Then the apostle, having left with the Thessalonians the comfort of this about their brethren, turns to the day of the Lord, or His appearing. "But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night." "The day of the Lord" is invariably in Scripture that period when the Lord will come in manifest and awful judgment of sinful men. It is never applied to any dealing with the Christian as on the earth. We find a very particular application of it, which seems connected with the saints. This is not exactly called the day of the Lord, but "the day of Christ." Confessedly there is a connection between the two. The day of Christ means that aspect of the day of the Lord, in which those who are in Christ will have their special place in the kingdom assigned. Consequently, where it is a question of the fruit of labour in the service of Christ, reward of faithfulness, or anything of the kind, "the day of Christ" is mentioned.
But "the day of the Lord," as such, is invariably the day of the Lord's dealing in judgment with man as such on the earth. Of that day, then, the apostle felt no need to write. It was already known perfectly that the day of the Lord is coming as a thief in the night. This was a matter of Old Testament statement and phraseology. All the prophets speak of it. If you search from Isaiah to Malachi, you will find that the day of Jehovah is that moment of divine intervention when man is no longer allowed to pursue his own path, when the Lord God will deal with the world's system in all its parts, when the idols of the nations all perish together with their benighted votaries. But the Lord Himself shall be exalted in that day, and His people shall be brought into their true place, and the Gentiles shall accept theirs. This will be the time of displayed divine government. Jehovah will take Zion as the central seat of His earthly throne, and all peoples shall submit to His authority in the person of Christ.
Hence, therefore, the apostle, when he speaks of the day of the Lord, alludes to it as already too notorious to need fresh words about it. The Thessalonians did not require to be instructed as to that. But this makes most plain the distinction of the manner in which the saints and mankind will be dealt with. When he treats of the Lord's coming, they require to be instructed; where he speaks about the day of Jehovah, they do not. The day of Jehovah was matter of common knowledge from the Old Testament. To a scribe instructed thus, there was no doubt about its bearing. Not even a Jew disputed about it, and of course a Christian would be subject to the testimony of God in the Old Testament. But a Christian might not know that which most of all it was desirable for him to understand, the manner in which his own proper hopes would link themselves with the day of Jehovah.
It is exactly there many make such utter confusion; for they do not distinguish between the hope of the Christian and "the day" for the world. And this lets out a great secret the heart's desire to think of the two things together. We can all understand that people would like to have the best of both. But it cannot be done. Hence in speaking of the day of the Lord (and I draw your attention to it, because we shall find its importance in the next epistle) he says, "When they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child." He does not say "you," but "they." Why this difference? When he is speaking about the presence of the Lord, he says "you," "we;" but when treating of the day of Jehovah, he says "they."
Indeed, the apostle excludes the believer; for he says, "Ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief." Besides, he gives a moral reason, "Ye are children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ." Salvation here means complete deliverance not yet come the redemption of the 'body and not that of the soul alone. For Christ "died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him."
Carefully remember that waking or sleeping here has reference to the body; it has no reference at all to anything of moral state. It is impossible that the Spirit of God should say that, whether in a right state or wrong we should live together with Him. The Holy Spirit never makes light of the condition of sin. Nor is there anything more foreign to the tone of scripture, than that the Spirit of God should treat with indifference the question whether a saint was in a good or a bad state. He had no doubt just used the words "wake or sleep" in another sense; but he seems to me to assume the impossibility of a saint applying them in a moral sense when he pursues the subject farther. In verse 6, for instance, the sleeping and watching are moral states; but when we come down to verse 10, they refer to the question of life or death in the body, and not to the saints' ways. In fact this manner of taking up words, and applying them in another sense, will be found to be one of the characteristics of the abrupt, animated, and forcible style of the apostle.
I should not make the remark if I had not known excellent men sometimes in considerable danger from overlooking this, and taking scripture in a narrow and pseudo-literal sense. But this is not the way to understand the Bible. It is one of the great misuses to which a concordance exposes those who are caught by verbal analogies, instead of entering into the scope of thought real meaning.
We shall live with Him then. "Wherefore," he says, comfort yourselves to ether, and edify one another." Then he gives them certain instructions; and I add this observation, which is one of practical importance. He calls upon these young believers to know those who laboured among them, and were over them, or took the lead in the Lord, and admonished them. They were to esteem them very highly in love for their work, being at peace at the same time among themselves.
This exhortation, always right, has, to my own mind, great wisdom and worth for us now; for the simple reason that, so far, we stand in a measure, as to circumstances though not from the same cause with these Thessalonian saints. Assuredly they were in a comparatively infantine condition, quite as much or more than those I am now addressing. Yet if saints, no matter how informed, then had among them those that laboured and were over them in the Lord, surely the same Lord gives still the same helps and governments. He raises up and sends His workmen in the world, and those who bring in that moral power and wisdom which enable some to take the lead. Hence it is beyond just controversy from the case of the Thessalonians (and it is not alone) that for some to be over others in the Lord did not depend on apostolical appointment. It is a defective and even mistaken idea to restrict it to this, though it is admitted that the apostles used to appoint such elders. But the essence , of what we find here is, that in that appointment spiritual power and might did show itself in this way; and that the greatest of the apostles exhorts the saints to acknowledge those who were thus and only thus over them in the Lord, altogether independently of any apostolic act. No doubt the due external appointment was desirable and important in its place. But what of places (and I would add, what of times) where it could not be had?
These are our circumstances now; for no matter how much we might welcome and value such outward appointment, we cannot have it. Without the proper scriptural authority, who is to appoint? Any body unquestionably, and leaders especially, might imitate Paul and Barnabas, or Titus. But, assuredly, mere imitation is nothing, or worse; and those that take the lead, or are qualified to do so, are the persons to be appointed not to appoint, if we really bow to the Lord. More than this direct authority from the Lord for the purpose was needed. Where is it now? The moment you make an appointing power of your own, it is evident that its authority cannot rise above its source. If it is only a humanly given authority, it can exercise no more than a human power. But the apostle or rather the prescient Spirit of God meets various contingencies in the exhortation, and shows that a company of believers, even though not long gathered, might have more than one in their midst qualified to lead the rest, and entitled to respect and love on the score of their work, as thus labouring. If there be such now, (and who will deny it?) are the saints not called on to know them? Are there none who labour among them none that take the lead among them in the Lord? It is evident that there ought to be no flinching from such a truth as this. For the present and long-existing confusion of Christendom in no way neutralizes it, but rather creates a fresh reason for adhering to it, as to all scripture. No doubt it may not be always pleasant to high-minded men; but be assured, it is a thing of no small moment in its place.
Again, under the circumstances of Thessalonica, as there must have been danger of headiness, the apostle calls on the brethren to watch against unruly ways. The two things would be likely to go together: peace promotes love and respect. Disorderly folk are apt to know nobody over them in the Lord. Hence he calls on all to admonish them, to comfort the fainthearted, to support the weak, to be patient toward all. Then follows a cluster of other exhortations on which I need not dwell now. My object is not so much to insist on the exhortatory part of the epistle, as to present the general thread of design that runs though each, so as to give a comprehensive view of its structure.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1:5". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/1-thessalonians-1.html. 1860-1890.
the Fifth Week after Easter