Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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.
THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS Commentary by A. R. Faussett
The AUTHENTICITY of this Epistle is attested by Irenæus [Against Heresies, 5.6.1], quoting 1Th 5:23; Clement of Alexandria [The Instructor, 1.88], quoting 1Th 2:7; Tertullian [On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 24], quoting 1Th 5:1; Caius in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History [6.20]; Origen [Against Celsus, 3].
The OBJECT OF THE EPISTLE.—Thessalonica was at this time capital of the Roman second district of Macedonia [Livy, Histories, 45.29]. It lay on the bay of Therme, and has always been, and still is, under its modern name Saloniki, a place of considerable commerce. After his imprisonment and scourging at Philippi, Paul (1Th 2:2) passed on to Thessalonica; and in company with Silas (Ac 17:1-9) and Timotheus (Ac 16:3; 17:14, compare with 1Th 1:1; 3:1-6; 2Th 1:1) founded the Church there. The Jews, as a body, rejected the Gospel when preached for three successive sabbaths (Ac 17:2); but some few "believed and consorted with Paul and Silas, and of the devout (that is, proselytes to Judaism) Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few." The believers received the word joyfully, notwithstanding trials and persecutions (1Th 1:6; 2:13) from their own countrymen and from the Jews (1Th 2:14-16). His stay at Thessalonica was doubtless not limited to the three weeks in which were the three sabbaths specified in Ac 17:2; for his laboring there with his hands for his support (1Th 2:9; 2Th 3:8), his receiving supplies there more than once from Philippi (Php 4:16), his making many converts from the Gentiles (1Th 1:9; and as two oldest manuscripts read, Ac 17:4, "of the devout and of the Greeks a great multitude," Ac 17:4), and his appointing ministers—all imply a longer residence. Probably as at Pisidian Antioch (Ac 13:46), at Corinth (Ac 18:6, 7), and at Ephesus (Ac 19:8, 9), having preached the Gospel to the Jews, when they rejected it, he turned to the Gentiles. He probably thenceforth held the Christian meetings in the house of Jason (Ac 17:5), perhaps "the kinsman" of Paul mentioned in Ro 16:21. His great subject of teaching to them seems to have been the coming and kingdom of Christ, as we may infer from 1Th 1:10; 2:12, 19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-11, 23, 24; and that they should walk worthy of it (1Th 2:12; 4:1). And it is an undesigned coincidence between the two Epistles and Ac 17:5, 9, that the very charge which the assailants of Jason's house brought against him and other brethren was, "These do contrary to the decrees of Cæsar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus." As in the case of the Lord Jesus Himself (Joh 18:33-37; 19:12; compare Mt 26:64), they perverted the doctrine of the coming kingdom of Christ into a ground for the charge of treason against Cæsar. The result was, Paul and Silas were obliged to flee under the cover of night to Berea; Timothy had probably preceded him (Ac 17:10, 14). But the Church had been planted, and ministers appointed; nay, more, they virtually became missionaries themselves for which they possessed facilities in the extensive commerce of their city, and both by word and example were extending the Gospel in Macedonia, Achaia, and elsewhere (1Th 1:7, 8). From Berea, also. Paul, after having planted a Scripture-loving Church, was obliged to flee by the Thessalonian Jews who followed him thither. Timothy (who seems to have come to Berea separately from Paul and Silas, compare Ac 17:10, with Ac 17:14) and Silas remained there still, when Paul proceeded by sea to Athens. While there he more than once longed to visit the Thessalonians again, and see personally their spiritual state, and "perfect that which was lacking in their faith" (1Th 3:10); but (probably using the Thessalonian Jews as his instruments, Joh 13:27) "Satan hindered" him (1Th 2:18; compare Ac 17:13). He therefore sent Timotheus, who seems to have followed him to Athens from Berea (Ac 17:15), immediately on his arrival to Thessalonica (1Th 3:1); glad as he would have been of Timothy's help in the midst of the cavils of Athenian opponents, he felt he must forego that help for the sake of the Thessalonian Church. Silas does not seem to have come to Paul at Athens at all, though Paul had desired him and Timothy to "come to him with all speed" (Ac 17:15); but seems with Timothy (who from Thessalonica called for him at Berea) to have joined Paul at Corinth first; compare Ac 18:1, 5, "When Silas and Timothy were come from Macedonia." The Epistle makes no mention of Silas at Athens, as it does of Timothy (1Th 3:1).
Timothy's account of the Thessalonian Church was highly favorable. They abounded in faith and charity and reciprocated his desire to see them (1Th 3:6-10). Still, as nothing human on earth is perfect, there were some defects. Some had too exclusively dwelt on the doctrine of Christ's coming kingdom, so as to neglect the sober-minded discharge of present duties (1Th 4:11, 12). Some who had lost relatives by death, needed comfort and instruction in their doubts as to whether they who died before Christ's coming would have a share with those found alive in His kingdom then to be revealed. Moreover, also, there had been committed among them sins against chastity and sobriety (1Th 5:5-7), as also against charity (1Th 4:3-10; 5:13, 15). There were, too, symptoms in some of want of respectful love and subordination to their ministers; others treated slightingly the manifestations of the Spirit in those possessing His gifts (1Th 5:19). To give spiritual admonition on these subjects, and at the same time commend what deserved commendation, and to testify his love to them, was the object of the Epistle.
The PLACE OF WRITING IT was doubtless Corinth, where Timothy and Silas rejoined him (Ac 18:5) soon after he arrived there (compare 1Th 2:17) in the autumn of A.D. 52.
The TIME OF WRITING was evidently immediately after having received from Timothy the tidings of their state (1Th 3:6) in the winter of A.D. 52, or early in 53. For it was written not long after the conversion of the Thessalonians (1Th 1:8, 9), while Paul could speak of himself as only taken from them for a short season (1Th 2:17). Thus this Epistle was first in date of all Paul's extant Epistles. The Epistle is written in the joint names of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, the three founders of the Thessalonian Church. The plural first person "we," is used everywhere, except in 1Th 2:18; 3:5; 5:27. "We" is the true reading, 1Th 4:13. The English Version "I," in 1Th 4:9 1Th 5:1, 23, is not supported by the original [Edmunds].
The STYLE is calm and equable, in accordance with the subject matter, which deals only with Christian duties in general, taking for granted the great doctrinal truths which were not as yet disputed. There was no deadly error as yet to call forth his more vehement bursts of feeling and impassioned argument. The earlier Epistles, as we should expect, are moral and practical. It was not until Judaistic and legalizing errors arose at a later period that he wrote those Epistles (for example, Romans and Galatians) which unfold the cardinal doctrines of grace and justification by faith. Still, later the Epistles from his Roman prison confirm the same truths. And last of all, the Pastoral Epistles are suited to the more developed ecclesiastical constitution of the Church, and give directions as to bishops and deacons, and correct abuses and errors of later growth.
The prevalence of the Gentile element in this Church is shown by the fact that these two Epistles are among the very few of Paul's writings in which no quotation occurs from the Old Testament.
1Th 1:1-10. Address: Salutation: His Prayerful Thanksgiving for Their Faith, Hope, and Love. Their First Reception of the Gospel, and Their Good Influence on All Around.
1. Paul—He does not add "an apostle," because in their case, as in that of the Philippians (see on Php 1:1), his apostolic authority needs not any substantiation. He writes familiarly as to faithful friends, not but that his apostleship was recognized among them (1Th 2:6). On the other hand, in writing to the Galatians, among whom some had called in question his apostleship, he strongly asserts it in the superscription. An undesigned propriety in the Epistles, evincing genuineness.
Silvanus—a "chief man among the brethren" (Ac 15:22), and a "prophet" (Ac 15:32), and one of the deputies who carried the decree of the Jerusalem council to Antioch. His age and position cause him to be placed before "Timothy," then a youth (Ac 16:1; 1Ti 4:12). Silvanus (the Gentile expanded form of "Silas") is called in 1Pe 5:12, "a faithful brother" (compare 2Co 1:19). They both aided in planting the Thessalonian Church, and are therefore included in the address. This, the first of Paul's Epistles, as being written before various evils crept into the churches, is without the censures found in other Epistles. So realizing was their Christian faith, that they were able hourly to look for the Lord Jesus.
unto the church—not merely as in the Epistles to Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, "to the saints," or "the faithful at Thessalonica." Though as yet they do not seem to have had the final Church organization under permanent "bishops" and deacons, which appears in the later Epistles (See on Php 1:1; 1 and 2 Timothy). Yet he designates them by the honorable term "Church," implying their status as not merely isolated believers, but a corporate body with spiritual rulers (1Th 5:12; 2Co 1:1; Ga 1:2).
in—implying vital union.
God the Father—This marks that they were no longer heathen.
the Lord Jesus Christ—This marks that they were not Jews, but Christians.
Grace be unto you, and peace—that ye may have in God that favor and peace which men withhold [Anselm]. This is the salutation in all the Epistles of Paul, except the three pastoral ones, which have "grace, mercy, and peace." Some of the oldest manuscripts support, others omit the clause following, "from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." It may have crept in from 1Co 1:3; 2Co 1:2.
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;
2. (Ro 1:9; 2Ti 1:3.) The structure of the sentences in this and the following verses, each successive sentence repeating with greater fulness the preceding, characteristically marks Paul's abounding love and thankfulness in respect to his converts, as if he were seeking by words heaped on words to convey some idea of his exuberant feelings towards them.
We—I, Silvanus, and Timotheus. Ro 1:9 supports Alford in translating, "making mention of you in our prayers without ceasing" (1Th 1:3). Thus, "without ceasing," in the second clause, answers in parallelism to "always," in the first.
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;
3. work of faith—the working reality of your faith; its alacrity in receiving the truth, and in evincing itself by its fruits. Not an otiose assent; but a realizing, working faith; not "in word only," but in one continuous chain of "work" (singular, not plural, works), 1Th 1:5-10; Jas 2:22. So "the work of faith" in 2Th 1:11 implies its perfect development (compare Jas 1:4). The other governing substantives similarly mark respectively the characteristic manifestation of the grace which follows each in the genitive. Faith, love, and hope, are the three great Christian graces (1Th 5:8; 1Co 13:13).
labour of love—The Greek implies toil, or troublesome labor, which we are stimulated by love to bear (1Th 2:9; Re 2:2). For instances of self-denying labors of love, see Ac 20:35; Ro 16:12. Not here ministerial labors. Those who shun trouble for others, love little (compare Heb 6:10).
patience—Translate, "endurance of hope"; the persevering endurance of trials which flows from "hope." Ro 15:4 shows that "patience" also nourishes "hope."
hope in our Lord Jesus—literally, "hope of our Lord Jesus," namely, of His coming (1Th 1:10): a hope that looked forward beyond all present things for the manifestation of Christ.
in the sight of God and our Father—Your "faith, hope, and love" were not merely such as would pass for genuine before men, but "in the sight of God," the Searcher of hearts [Gomarus]. Things are really what they are before God. Bengel takes this clause with "remembering." Whenever we pray, we remember before God your faith, hope, and love. But its separation from "remembering" in the order, and its connection with "your … faith," &c., make me to prefer the former view.
and, &c.—The Greek implies, "in the sight of Him who is [at once] God and our Father."
Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.
4. Knowing—Forasmuch as we know.
your election of God—The Greek is rather, "beloved by God"; so Ro 1:7; 2Th 2:13. "Your election" means that God has elected you as individual believers to eternal life (Ro 11:5, 7; Col 3:12; 2Th 2:13).
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.
5. our gospel—namely, the Gospel which we preached.
came—Greek, "was made," namely, by God, its Author and Sender. God's having made our preaching among you to be attended with such "power," is the proof that you are "elect of God" (1Th 1:4).
in power—in the efficacy of the Holy Spirit clothing us with power (see end of verse; Ac 1:8; 4:33; 6:5, 8) in preaching the Gospel, and making it in you the power of God unto salvation (Ro 1:16). As "power" produces faith; so "the Holy Ghost," love; and "much assurance" (Col 2:2, full persuasion), hope (Heb 6:11), resting on faith (Heb 10:22). So faith, love, and hope (1Th 1:3).
as ye know—answering to the "knowing," that is, as WE know (1Th 1:4) your character as the elect of God, so YE know ours as preachers.
for your sake—The purpose herein indicated is not so much that of the apostles, as that of God. "You know what God enabled us to be … how mighty in preaching the word … for your sakes … thereby proving that He had chosen (1Th 1:4) you for His own" [Alford]. I think, from 1Th 2:10-12, that, in "what manner of men we were among you," besides the power in preaching, there is included also Paul's and his fellow missionaries' whole conduct which confirmed their preaching; and in this sense, the "for your sake" will mean "in order to win you." This, though not the sole, yet would be a strong, motive to holy circumspection, namely, so as to win those without (Col 4:5; compare 1Co 9:19-23).
And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:
6. And ye—answering to "For our Gospel," 1Th 1:5.
followers—Greek, "imitators." The Thessalonians in their turn became "ensamples" (1Th 1:7) for others to imitate.
of the Lord—who was the apostle of the Father, and taught the word, which He brought from heaven, under adversities [Bengel]. This was the point in which they imitated Him and His apostles, joyful witness for the word in much affliction: the second proof of their election of God (1Th 1:4); 1Th 1:5 is the first (see on 1Th 1:5).
received the word in much affliction—(1Th 2:14; 3:2-5; Ac 17:5-10).
joy of—that is, wrought by "the Holy Ghost." "The oil of gladness" wherewith the Son of God was "anointed above His fellows" (Ps 45:7), is the same oil with which He, by the Spirit, anoints His fellows too (Isa 61:1, 3; Ro 14:17; 1Jo 2:20, 27).
So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
7. ensamples—So some of the oldest manuscripts read. Others, "ensample" (singular), the whole Church being regarded as one. The Macedonian Church of Philippi was the only one in Europe converted before the Thessalonians. Therefore he means their past conduct is an ensample to all believers now; of whom he specifies those "in Macedonia" because he had been there since the conversion of the Thessalonians, and had left Silvanus and Timotheus there; and those in "Achaia," because he was now at Corinth in 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 any thing.
8. from you sounded … the word of the Lord—not that they actually became missionaries: but they, by the report which spread abroad of their "faith" (compare Ro 1:8), and by Christian merchants of Thessalonica who travelled in various directions, bearing "the word of the Lord" with them, were virtually missionaries, recommending the Gospel to all within reach of their influence by word and by example (1Th 1:7). In "sounded," the image is that of a trumpet filling with its clear-sounding echo all the surrounding places.
to God-ward—no longer directed to idols.
so that we need not to speak any thing—to them in praise of your faith; "for (1Th 1:9) they themselves" (the people in Macedonia, Achaia, and in every place) know it already.
For they themselves shew 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;
9. Strictly there should follow, "For they themselves show of you," &c.; but, instead, he substitutes that which was the instrumental cause of the Thessalonians' conversion and faith, "for they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you"; compare 1Th 1:5, which corresponds to this former clause, as 1Th 1:6 corresponds to the latter clause. "And how ye turned from idols to serve the living … God," &c. Instead of our having "to speak any thing" to them (in Macedonia and Achaia) in your praise (1Th 1:8), "they themselves (have the start of us in speaking of you, and) announce concerning (so the Greek of 'show of' means) us, what manner of (how effectual an) entrance we had unto you" (1Th 1:5; 2:1).
the living and true God—as opposed to the dead and false gods from which they had "turned." In the English Version reading, Ac 17:4, "of the devout Greeks a great multitude," no mention is made, as here, of the conversion of idolatrous Gentiles at Thessalonica; but the reading of some of the oldest manuscripts and Vulgate singularly coincides with the statement here: "Of the devout AND of Greeks (namely, idolaters) a great multitude"; so in Ac 17:17, "the devout persons," that is, Gentile proselytes to Judaism, form a separate class. Paley and Lachmann, by distinct lines of argument, support the "AND."
And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
10. This verse distinguishes them from the Jews, as 1Th 1:9 from the idolatrous Gentiles. To wait for the Lord's coming is a sure characteristic of a true believer, and was prominent amidst the graces of the Thessalonians (1Co 1:7, 8). His coming is seldom called his return (Joh 14:3); because the two advents are regarded as different phases of the same coming; and the second coming shall have features altogether new connected with it, so that it will not be a mere repetition of the first, or a mere coming back again.
his Son … raised from the dead—the grand proof of His divine Sonship (Ro 1:4).
delivered—rather as Greek, "who delivereth us." Christ has once for all redeemed us; He is our Deliverer ALWAYS.
wrath to come—(1Th 5:9; Col 3:6).