1 THESSALONIANS CHAPTER 1.
Introduction and Thanksgiving. 1 Thess. 1, 1-4.
V.1. Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians, which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. V.2. We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; v.3. remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; v.4. knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. In this, probably the first letter written by St. Paul to any congregation, we find all the characteristics which give to his epistles the vigor and the charm that unfailingly impress the reader. Since his apostolic authority at this time had in no way been questioned or assailed, he opens his letter with the simplest form of salutation: Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus to the congregation of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It was Paulís letter, dictated by him in his capacity as teacher of this second Macedonian congregation. And yet, so little of pride is found in him that he joins the names of Silvanus, or Silas, and Timothy, his two assistants in the work at Thessalonica, to his own, not as coauthors, but as fellow laborers. Silas was a Jewish Christian, originally one of the leaders and a prophet of the congregation at Jerusalem, Acts 15, 22. He had been one of the bearers of the resolutions which had been passed by the great church assembly in Jerusalem, to be delivered to the congregation at Antioch and to be brought to the attention of the Gentile Christians everywhere. After the altercation with Barnabas, Paul chose this man as his companion on the second missionary journey, Acts 15, 32. 34. 40. He was not bound by Judaistic scruples, but realized the necessity of entering upon the work among the Gentiles with all aggressiveness. He was at Paulís side in work and suffering, before magistrates, in prison, in prayer, in miraculous deliverance, in flight, Acts 16, 19. 25. 29; 17, 4. 10. 14; 18, 5. Later we find him mentioned as a faithful brother, 1 Pet. 5, 12, and an assistant of Peter in the work in Asia Minor. Timothy had been, ever since the second missionary journey, a faithful assistant and fellow-laborer of the apostle, whom the latter loved both as a brother and as a son in faith. No man was so near and dear to the great missionary of the Gentiles as Timothy.
Paul addressed his letter to the church, or congregation, of the Thessalonians, not merely to the officers, the presbyters and deacons, but to all the members. There were no hierarchical distinctions in those days, neither did men think of restricting the study of the Word of God to the preachers or priests. The entire congregation, all the true believers in Christ in the city, were in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This profound and stately expression does not denote merely a fellowship with God and the Savior Jesus Christ, but it emphasizes that the entire life of the believers is in God, that their entire sphere, their whole state of existence, is in the Lord, Rom. 16, 11; John 15, 4; 1 John 2, 5; 5, 20. The fact that the Christians are in Christ and in God, the two persons of the Godhead being one in essence, makes them new creatures, separates them from the world and consecrates them to the Lord. The apostolic salutation to this congregation of consecrated believers is brief, but comprehensive: Grace to you and peace. He wishes that the kindness, the favor, the mercy of God may be theirs for the sake of Christ, and that thus they might enter into the right relation with God once more, a relation which had been torn asunder by the Fall. He that is the possessor of the grace of God through Jesus Christ will also be sure of the peace with God in Jesus Christ.
The first thought which Paul voices, as in most of his other letters, is one of thanksgiving to God: We give thanks to God always on behalf of all of you, making mention of you in our prayers without ceasing. Cp. Phil. 1, 3. 4; Col. 1, 3. To the apostle the great works of God for manís salvation, as they appear in the church at Thessalonica, seem ever anew great and worthy of praise and adoration. At the same time he wants every single one of his readers to understand that he is included in this prayer of thanksgiving, that the spiritual welfare of every single Christian engages his attention. He remembers them all in his prayer of thanksgiving, and that without ceasing, regularly. It had become habitual with the apostle to recall the state of every congregation and to lay the needs of every congregation before the Lord in prayer, never omitting the words of thanksgiving for all the spiritual favors of the past and for the many which would surely come through the Gospel in the future.
In this attitude Paul was strengthened by his knowledge of the spiritual condition of the brethren at Thessalonica: Remembering your work of faith and your labor of love and your patience of the hope of our Lord Jesus Christ before God and our Father. Neither distance nor new interests made any difference in the love of the apostle, because he could not forget the faith, the love, and the hope of the Thessalonians, the three cardinal Christian virtues. Their faith in Jesus Christ, by which they had themselves firmly grasped their redemption, did not remain idle and dead, but became manifest in a course of action with all vigor and strength, as should ever be the case. Genuine faith always gives evidence of its existence in good works. Paul remembers also their toil of love, their strenuous, devoted, fatiguing labor. Faith has laid hold of the grace of God in Christ and breaks forth in action: love guides this action in the paths of unselfishness, it seeks ways and opportunities of serving the neighbor, of coming to his assistance, even if that course should demand some measure of real sacrifice. And so, finally, Paul can speak of their patience of hope, their unwearied constancy in suffering and affliction. Patience is the inseparable companion of hope, for it is only in view of the future glory that we Christians are able to bear the suffering of this present time, Rom. 8, 18; 2 Cor. 4, 17. 18; Heb. 11, 26. This hope is based upon Christ, who is its object. He has given to His Christians the promise of eternal salvation, and His return in glory will result in our entering upon the inheritance of the saints in glory. Therefore the hope of the Christians persists in spite of delay and discouraging hardships. They hold it before God and their Father; sure of their adoption, of their sonship in Jesus Christ, they are looking forward to the inheritance promised to them by the gracious will of the Father.
By the side of his remembrance of the Christian virtues as they were practiced in the midst of the Thessalonians, which prompted him to raise his voice in thanksgiving to God, the apostle places another reason: Knowing, brethren beloved of God, your election. He has the knowledge, the firm assurance, impressed upon him by the condition of affairs at Thessalonica, that these Christians, whom he designates as the beloved of God, are also the elect of God. Their faith and the evidences of their faith are to him a proof of their having been elected by God unto eternal salvation; the election of God has manifested itself in bringing about the change in their hearts which showed itself in their Christian virtues. That is the great comfort of every believer: the fact that he knows Jesus to be his Savior, the fact that God has wrought faith in his heart, is to him a guarantee of his election unto eternal life.
A Recommendation of the Congregationís Attitude. 1 Thess. 1, 5-10.
V.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. V.6. And ye became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the Word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost, v.7. so that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. V.8. For from you sounded out the Word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad, so that we need not to speak anything. V.9. For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; v.10. and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. The apostle here substantiates more fully the reason for his assurance of the election of the Thessalonian Christians: Because our Gospel came not to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and in full assurance, just as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sakes. This is Paulís reason, as far as he, as to his own person, is concerned, why he is so sure of their having been chosen by God unto salvation. He had not been preaching the Gospel to them in vain and empty phrases, cp. 1 Cor. 4, 20; he had not been hiding its glorious message by a false oratory; he had not embittered its sweetness by a doctrine of works. He had preached in power, the Word itself exerting its strength upon the hearts of his hearers. He had preached in the Holy Spirit, who works in and through the Word of the Gospel as His means of grace. And his preaching had received additional emphasis from the fact that he had preached with the full personal conviction, with the unfaltering confidence, that it was the divine truth which he was proclaiming. It is the fullness of assurance which gives to the simplest discourse of the Gospel-truth much of its force and persuasive power. If a man calling himself a minister of the Gospel himself has doubts as to the divinity of the Word, as to the certainty of salvation, his words will hardly carry the strength of conviction. Paulís readers knew his record.
The apostle also has a reason from their standpoint why he feels safe in concluding that they belong to the elect of the Lord: And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, accepting the Word in much tribulation with joy of the Holy Ghost. The Thessalonians had had ample opportunity of judging as to Paulís conviction in the matter of the Gospel which he preached; they knew how he had conducted himself in their midst and in their behalf. By the grace of God, through the work of the Spirit, they had received such a firm assurance of the truth that they imitated their teacher, believing as he believed. Incidentally, they became imitators of the Lord, they walked in the way prescribed by Him, by His gracious and good will, which points to salvation for all men. All this they did by accepting the Word, by receiving the Gospel-truth, by acknowledging Jesus Christ as their Savior. This attitude of the heart is always accompanied with the joy of the Holy Ghost, in the very midst of much affliction, No matter how much hostility and persecution the believers must contend with, no matter how seriously the wretchedness and misery of this present life seek to create doubt and unhappiness in their hearts, they have the assurance of the Holy Ghost in the Word, and therefore they are, in their heart of hearts, satisfied, joyful, happy.
Such a condition, however, will have its effect also upon others, as in the case of the Thessalonian Christians: So that you became an example to all those that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. The true believers, exhibiting the firm and happy conviction of faith which the Lord desires, become a pattern or type for others; they become an example for others to model their spiritual life after. Since this fact may, in turn, redound to the further confirmation of the faith of the Thessalonians, to the further conviction of its reality, St. Paul freely commends them in this respect: For from you has been sounded forth the Word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that there is no need for us to say anything. The geographical and commercial position of Thessalonica aided greatly in the rapid spread of the news concerning the acceptance of the Gospel in that city, making it incidentally an excellent basis for missionary work. Throughout Macedonia and Achaia, the ancient Grecian country, the larger part of what is now the Balkan Peninsula, the Gospel had been disseminated, people had gone forth, even in this brief space of time since Paul first preached there, endeavoring to spread the seed of the Gospel doctrine throughout the country. Surely a splendid example of interest and zeal for all Christians to imitate. By thus taking advantage of their opportunities, the Thessalonians had caused their faith to be known, to be spoken of everywhere. Cp. Rom. 1, 8; Col. 1, 6. 23. The rapid, powerfully spreading conversion was exciting attention everywhere, so that there was nothing for Paul to add; the facts spoke more loudly than his words.
So great was the sensation which the faith of the Thessalonians had caused in all the cities along the trade routes of the Eastern Mediterranean that, as the apostle writes: For of their own accord people make mention concerning us what manner of entrance we had toward you, and how you turned to God from the idols to serve the living and true God. This was surely a novel experience for the apostle. Before he so much as had an opportunity to refer to the willing acceptance which the Thessalonians gave to the Gospel, in order to incite others to emulation and to open a way for the preaching of the Gospel, people told him of their own accord what they knew of the situation in Thessalonica, of the willingness with which the Thessalonians had received the Gospel-message. It was known everywhere how they had turned away from the worship of idols with the express intention of serving only the living, the true God. The God of the Gospel-preaching is the living God, as opposed to all dead idol-images; He is the true, the real God, as opposed to the imaginary, lying idols. To serve this true God in faith and love, that is the life of the believers, therein they find true and lasting happiness. The service of all false gods and imaginary deities is a slavery which the conscience of the idolaters denounces, which they themselves abhor; the service of the true God is the outflow of the relation of love which obtains between the heavenly Father and His children.
And the best is yet to be: And to wait for the coming of His Son from the heavens, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus, the Deliverer from the wrath to come. While the believers lead their lives of faith and love, serving God and their fellow-men in the simplicity of their hearts, their minds are looking forward to, they are eagerly expecting, they are anxiously awaiting, the coming of the Son of God, who will return from heaven in the fullness of His divine glory, Matt. 25, 31. It was this Son whom God raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of His power. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the great fact by which He has definitely and incontrovertibly been proved to be the Son of God with power, Rom. 1, 4. This Jesus, who earned salvation for all men, will, on the last day, bring the final deliverance to His believers; He will show before the whole world that He has delivered us, torn us away, from the wrath to come, from the punishment of hell, which would have been our rightful and well-earned condemnation but for His glorious redemption. This wrath of God would surely have struck us also if Jesus had not borne its curse and punishment in our stead, including that of eternal damnation. But now, since in Jesus Christ judgment has already been passed upon the world, therefore, whosoever believeth in Him is no longer judged, John 3, 14-18, but is the happy possessor of full deliverance, of the inheritance of eternal life.
Summary. After the opening salutation the apostle assures the Thessalonians of his grateful prayer in their behalf and of his remembrance of their Christian virtues, due to his own preaching and their cheerful acceptance of his message, the news of which has gone forth throughout Macedonia and Achaia.