Bible Study - 1 Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians 1  •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Edward Cross and Others
Comments preceded by the letter (R.) are communicated by our readers; those furnished by the contributors mainly responsible for this series of papers are preceded in each instance by their initials; whilst editorial comments are distinguished thus — (ED.).
1 Thessalonians 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.
(ED.) — Of the three here mentioned the writer of the epistle is Paul. This is evidenced by verse 18 of chapter 2., where he says “Even I, Paul,” and by what follows; but, rendering honor to whom honor is due, Paul associates with himself, in the letter, the two who had been associated with him in the actual preaching of Christ which had brought these Thessalonians into blessing (see Acts 17, where Silas is evidently the person Paul speaks of as Silvanus), and in later service towards them (see Chapter 3:2 and compare 1 Corinthians 1:1919For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. (1 Corinthians 1:19), “The Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus”).
(E. C.) — It is significant that here there is no mention of Paul’s apostleship, which is so distinctly asserted in the opening verses of other epistles, such as those, to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians, etc. Inquiry as to the reason for this leads us to note, briefly, the purpose of this epistle, and the state of those addressed.
The occasion for the writing of the epistle was the good tidings brought by Timothy, whom Paul had sent to inquire as to their state, knowing the affliction they were called upon to endure for the gospel’s sake (ch. 3:6). He was greatly comforted by what he heard, and out of a full heart he writes to encourage them, as well as also to perfect that which was still lacking in their faith (ch. 3:10), — though this he does rather from a moral and practical point of view than from one doctrinal and instructional. Not that the great truths unfolded elsewhere in his later epistles are ignored here; but their discussion is not yet called for. The epistle is not marked so much by depth of thought, profound reasoning, defense of the truth questioned or attacked, or by the revelation of hidden heavenly and eternal mysteries; but rather by the warmth of affection, and the burning desire of laboring love, the simplicity and exuberance of expression proceeding from a heart overflowing with a fresh and fervid spirit towards his newly converted children in the faith. Soon he will have occasion for words of authority and rebuke; but here we have only words of comfort, exhortation, and instruction, opening out as they do with thankfulness and prayer, and sealed at the close with “an holy kiss.” Therefore we have no mention here of his apostleship. It is as unnecessary as it would be inappropriate. Elsewhere he will use the authority of that title. Here it would be out of place.
So, too, he does not speak of his apostleship to the Philippians, “Inasmuch as both in his bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel they were all participators of his grace”: nor again in writing to Philemon, his “dearly beloved brother and fellow-laborer without whose mind he would do nothing”: there too it would be out of place; and in this epistle the pressure of authority is not needed, but rather the consolation and exhortation of sympathetic love.
(E. C.) — His address is “to the assembly of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” They alone are so addressed. The Corinthians are addressed as “the assembly of God,” etc, It was intended to emphasize that fact in contrast to what was merely human, and the repetition of the word “God” is characteristic of 1 Corinthians “The assemblies of Galatia” are addressed as the aggregate of those so associated in that province. Elsewhere Paul writes “to the saints,” etc. thus giving them their personal calling and character. Here he writes “to the assembly of the Thessalonians,” which is distinguished from other assemblies in that place as being “in God the Father” in opposition to what was pagan, and “in the Lord Jesus Christ” in contrast to the unbelieving Jews. They are thus set at once in the fullest measure of revealed grace in God the Father and in the direct consciousness of individual responsibility to the Lord Jesus Christ (compare 1 John 2:2222Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:22)). This starts, if I may so say, their Christian career.
(ED.) — “In God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Here, in the first verse of the first apostolic letter to the youngest of the churches addressed in Scripture, is the full revelation of God in Christianity; and though those addressed were only babes in Christ, they were in the same glorious light as the most experienced saint of God. They needed, undoubtedly, to be instructed in the truth of these relationships in which the gospel had placed them, and this truth is most blessedly unfolded in John’s epistle, but they needed no further revelation, for they were in the full shining of “God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ;” all is wrapped up in this — the divine nature and eternal life, though these things are not the subject of the epistle.
(J.C.T.) — This is the only church spoken of as “in God the Father.”
(R.) — “Grace be unto you and peace.” The ordinary Greek salutation is almost equivalent to the word “grace,” while “peace” is the ordinary Hebrew greeting. Taken by the Holy Spirit into the service of God, the words are greatly enlarged and deepened in meaning. Grace expresses God’s attitude towards men: peace, the result to all who receive that grace in Christ. Thus they sum up the gospel, and are used by the apostle in all his epistles.
(R.) — What is very noticeable in this chapter is the number of couplets and triplets of words and expressions which occur there, and indeed throughout the epistle. This may possibly be in view of adequate testimony, which these young converts required to strengthen and support their faith, for “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established,” and “a threefold cord is not easily broken” (2 Cor. 13:11This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. (2 Corinthians 13:1); Matt. 18:1616But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. (Matthew 18:16); Eccl. 4:1212And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)). Thus, for example, notice verse: Paul, Silvanus and Timotheus; verse 3, work of faith, labor of love, patience of hope; verse 5, in power, in the Holy Spirit, in much assurance; verse 6, in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit; verse 8, Macedonia, Achaia, in every place; 2:3, not of deceit, uncleanness or guile; 2:10, holily, justly and unblameably; 2:11, exhorted, comforted, charged; 2:19, hope, joy, crown of rejoicing; 3:2, brother, minister of God, fellow-laborer; 4:16, shout, voice of archangel, trump of God; 5:23, spirit, soul and body; etc., etc.
“For you all, making mention of you in our prayers;”
(E.C.) — At once his heart bursts out in thanksgiving and in prayers for them all. Mark the fullness and overflowing of his spiritual affections on their behalf. How beautiful to contemplate! How lovely to dwell upon! Here is the thing as it ought to be. Here are the true pulsations of the Spirit of God.
Love, the great power that begets; love, the true nurse that cherishes the offspring that is begotten of it. And is it not the same Spirit in the gospel that begets today? Is it not the same Spirit in the assembly that cherishes that which is begotten? How earnestly therefore should we seek to cultivate this love, which is the greatest, the mightiest power of all.
(R.) — “For You All.” Christians differ in attainment, but there is always something of Christ in each, and hence always something for which to thank God.
“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;”
(E.C.) — Rightly too, as we can understand, the opening chapter of this prefatory epistle, if I may so call it, of Christian truth begins with the essential principles and characteristics of Christian life, the faith, hope, and love, which are its intrinsic qualities, the spring and power of the work, labor and patience in which it is expressed.
Christianity is not a pastime. The Son of God did not become incarnate merely to make us happy. He is our life, not merely a relief — a life energized by His own Spirit to the glory of God. We see it at once in these Thessalonian saints in its nature and in its fruit — the true expression of vital Christianity here on earth: — in faith that rises above the visible, and takes hold. of God, above all circumstances, and addresses itself to its allotted task with a single eye to His glory: — in hope that seizes the invisible, and realizes the promises, so that, with the future present to its view, it endures patiently the trials of the way, knowing that the exercise which is but for a moment will issue in eternal glory: — in love which is the potent spring of all blessedness, the very nature of God Himself, the almighty never-failing power of all good. This is the practical character of Christian life. This is the subject matter before us in the epistle. Other epistles will treat of the doctrines of Christianity; this treats of the characteristics of Christian life.
(ED.) — That faith, love and hope are the innermost springs of vital Christianity is evident from 1 Corinthians 13:1313And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (1 Corinthians 13:13), “Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
(E.C.) — Observe the contrast in Revelation 2, where the Lord speaks to the Ephesians, saying, “I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience... nevertheless I have against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent...” Work was there, labor was there, and patience was there — the outward form and habit abode, but the secret springs of life had failed — they had left their first love. Declension had set in, and declension of a most serious kind, involving, if not repented of, the removal of their candlestick as being no longer a proper testimony for God, and issuing in a long line of increasing corruption, until every vestige of Christianity is lost in the final apostasy, and the whole scene is swept by the devastating judgments of God. What a finale! And what a contrast to the freshness and beauty of this opening picture of Christian life at Thessalonica! How it should affect us! What serious reflections in us it should produce! And how earnestly should we seek grace and mercy from the Lord to enable us to walk humbly before Him, duly cultivating the springs of Christian life in our souls, so that we may escape the corruption that is in the world through lust! (Compare Psa. 1; 2 Pet. 1:1111For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:11)).
(R.) — Here we have that acceptable work which faith produces and prompts; labor which is the product of love, not of legal bondage; and patience born not of mere resignation to the inevitable, but of confidence in ultimate triumph.
“Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.”
(E.C.) These fruits of grace amongst them (verse 3) were an evident proof of their election of God.
(R.) — The word here used for “knowing” intimates that his knowledge came not by revelation, nor by intuition, but from observation; hence the rest of the chapter recounts what led Paul to conclude that these Thessalonians were among the elect of God.
“For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.”
(E.C.) — This tells not of the subject of the preaching, but of the manner of it, and the effect on them. Mark also the redundancy of expression in the threefold way in which it is expressed. In the exuberance of his feelings his language is molded in the same spirit. They received the Word of God objectively in power, instrumentally in the Holy Spirit, and subjectively in much assurance. Moreover, this testimony rendered to them in word was confirmed by the lives of those who had brought it to them in their midst.
“And ye became followers of us, and of I the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the holy ghost:”
(J.C.T.) They became followers of the apostles, and of the Lord. To the Corinthian believers the apostle wrote: — “be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:11Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)) we shall make no mistake if we follow the apostles as they followed Christ.
(R.) — The reception of the Word brought them into “much affliction” that was the outward result, but it also brought them into much “joy of the Holy Ghost”-that was the blessed inward result.
(J.C.T.) — Peter and John “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His Name.” There, too, we see joy and affliction going together.
(R.) — Contrast with this Matthew 13:20-2120But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; 21Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. (Matthew 13:20‑21), where again we have the same three things associated, viz., the “reception of the word,” “joy,” and “affliction.” There the “word” is not really received in faith, so the “joy” is only superficial, and “affliction” is not patiently endured, but overwhelms.
“So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.”
“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.”
(ED.) — Connect this with the last clause of the preceding verse. A joyful Christian is a good example.
(R.) — The word “ensamples” may be better translated “models.” These Thessalonians were “models to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.” No other company of saints is thus spoken of in Scripture. To the Philippians, Paul and Timothy were models (ch. 3:17); Timothy was exhorted to be a model of the believers (1 Tim. 4:1212Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12); see also Titus 2:77In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, (Titus 2:7), model of good works); the elders were to be models to the flock (1 Peter 5:33Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:3)); but the Thessalonians alone, simply as saints, are spoken of as models to all around.
(E.C.) — These Thessalonian believers had become witnesses themselves, in their own lives and conduct, of the emancipating and uplifting power of the gospel in such wise that there was no further need for others to speak anything. And this is as it should be. Here is the true and visible effect of the gospel, bringing the saving light of God to souls, and enabling them, as saved and in the liberty and power of salvation known and enjoyed, to serve Him gladly in word and work. Here was the effect of the word of life seen in the Christian lives of those who had received it. Would that it were so seen amongst believers today. Let us pray earnestly that it be so.
(J.C.T.) — First, the practical life — “ensamples to all that believe,” then, “sounded out the word of the Lord.” It is a great thing when testimony flows out of the practical life.
(R.) — “The word of the Lord” is the message from the Lord, which is delivered with His authority, and made effective by His power.
(ED.) — Macedonia (now part of Turkey) was their own province, — there first is their witness rendered; then Achaia (the adjoining province, corresponding approximately to Greece); then more widely still. This is ever the order in Scripture, we must first be faithful in that which lies nearest at hand, then widen out. It is thus in the words of the risen Lord to His disciples, “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me both (1) in Jerusalem, (2) and in all Judea, (3) and in Samaria, (4) and unto the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:1818Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. (Acts 1:18)). The sphere of witness ever widens, but it begins at home.
“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;”
(R.) — The first clause of this verse shows that not only had the remarkable religious movement at Thessalonica influenced believers elsewhere (1 Thessalonians 1:77So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. (1 Thessalonians 1:7)), but it had become a matter of general report, “a new thing” (Acts 17:2121(For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.) (Acts 17:21)), of sufficient interest to give a zest to conversation even among men for whom the story had little significance.
Then is stated their deliberate turn to God from idols. Note the order, it is to God from idols; the motive in this conversion was not that they were repelled by the grossness of their idols, but that they were attracted by the grace and character of God.
(J.C.T.) — The order is important. Having got God, they could afford to drop idols. We must have the good, to enable us to drop the evil.
(E.) — “Living and true” is in contrast to “idols,” which are both dead and false.
(E.C.) — The power of idolatry was broken — the world worship of false gods, dead images of its own passions and fears.
(R.) — The word used for “to serve” signifies to discharge the duties of the purchased slave, to which there were no limitations either in the kind of service, or in the time of its performance. The whole life of the Christian is to be lived in obedience to the will of 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.”
(ED.) — The second advent of the Lord Jesus occupies a prominent place in this epistle, and is mentioned in every chapter. It is to be the bright hope of the Christian, whether newly converted as were the Thessalonian believers, or long on the way as were the assemblies addressed in the last chapter of Revelation (verses 16-20).
(ED.) — “Raised.” Here is the cardinal truth of the gospel, and the demonstration of the mighty power of God.
“From the Dead.” In these words is enshrined the wondrous story of Calvary, where shines in all its splendor, its infinite depths and heights, the love of God, which, known and enjoyed, forms the hidden spring of the Christian’s glad service of the living and true God.
(J.C.T.). — Mark then what lay before them, and filled up their future: “Wrath.” The coming wrath I But what a contrast now. They were waiting not, for wrath, but for God’s Son from heaven, even Jesus; Who, having borne all the judgment Himself in His own body on the cross, had taken out of their future all wrath, and filled it instead with Himself! Blessed exchange! And this He has done for us. We wait not for death, or judgment, but for Him!
Their Past — Idolatry.
Their Present — Serving the living and true God.
Their Future — The coming of God’s Son from Heaven — Jesus, their hope and ours!
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EDITORS’ NOTE: Readers are invited to send us, in the FIRST week of each month, BRIEF expository comments on any or all of the separate verses contained in the portion to be considered the following month. Comments considered helpful, will be published, as far as space permits. Questions are also invited as to the meaning of any verse or part of a verse, on which special comment is desired. The portion to be considered in the March issue is Chapter 2 of the epistle.