The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
(Corinth, a.d. 52)
[Note.—"This Epistle is rather practical than doctrinal. It was suggested rather by personal feeling, than by any urgent need, which might have formed a centre of unity, and impressed a distinct character on the whole. Under these circumstances we need not expect to trace unity of purpose, or a continuous argument, and any analysis must be more or less artificial. The body of the Epistle, however, may conveniently be divided into two parts, the former of which, extending over the first three chapters, is chiefly taken up with a retrospect of the Apostle's relation to his Thessalonian converts, and an explanation of his present circumstances and feelings, while the latter, comprising the 4th and 5th chapters, contains some seasonable exhortations. At the close of each of these divisions is a prayer, commencing with the same words, 'May God himself,' etc., and expressed in somewhat similar language.
"The following is a table of contents:—"Salutation (1Thessalonians 1:1).
11Thessalonians 1:2-10. The Apostle gratefully records their conversion to the Gospel and progress in the faith.
21Thessalonians 2:1-12. He reminds them how pure and blameless his life and ministry among them had been.
31Thessalonians 2:13-16. He repeats his thanksgiving for their conversion, dwelling especially on the persecutions which they had endured.
51Thessalonians 3:11-13. The Apostle's prayer for the Thessalonians.
11Thessalonians 4:1-8. Warning against impurity.
21Thessalonians 4:9-12. Exhortation to brotherly love and sobriety of conduct.
a.The dead shall have their place in the resurrection, 1Thessalonians 4:13-18.
b.The time, however, is uncertain, 1Thessalonians 5:1-3.
c.Therefore all must be watchful, 1Thessalonians 5:4-11.
41Thessalonians 5:12-15. Exhortation to orderly living and the due performance of social duties.
51Thessalonians 5:16-22. Injunctions relating to prayer and spiritual matters generally.
"The Epistle closes with personal injunctions and a benediction (1Thessalonians 5:25-28)."—Smith's Dictionary of the Bible.]
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 Pauline Spirit
1 Thessalonians 1
"Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians" (1Thessalonians 1:1). Who were Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus? They do not say. In writing to other churches, Paul puts in generally a descriptive clause. "Paul, called to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ," he writes in his first letter to the Corinthians; "Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God," in his second letter; "Paul, an Apostle (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead)," he says to the Galatians; and now, writing to the Thessalonians, he says, "Paul, and Silvanus and Timotheus"—they are nobodies, so far as that descriptive clause is concerned—"unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ." Why did he not say "Paul, an Apostle)"? Some say, because speaking in the threefold name, he omitted his own designation, out of courtesy to his two colleagues in the letter. But that cannot be so. Paul was an Apostle even when he did not openly and avowedly testify to his official status. There comes a time in a great man's life when he need not tell who he is or what he is; his look is his commendation, his voice is an unquestioned certificate in music. Who knows how much of the letter Paul wrote or dictated himself? This Epistle has luckily escaped a great deal of hostile criticism. It has been almost universally, if not wholly, avowed to be the letter of Paul. But in Paul's day letters were curiously written; if they were written thus in our day they would be called forgeries. We must go back to the atmosphere if we would understand the incidental circumstance. If you or I now wrote a letter and said it was by Lord Tennyson, we should be charged with lying: it would not be so in the olden times. If ever anything was written in the Pauline spirit and with the Pauline purpose, the writer would not hesitate to call it an epistle of Paul; if any man could write in Tennyson's music, he would not be afraid to write openly upon his page that the poetry was by the great poet himself. The morality of one age is absolutely unknown in another age. We must not condemn men, therefore, by our parochial standards; there may be men quite as true and simple-hearted as ourselves, who are doing things in their own age and their own country, that would absolutely shock our modern and moderate piety.
The letter is interesting as showing the Pauline spirit. The letter is full of the shepherdly heart. Emerson has invented a word which expresses the enthusiasm of this noble Paul; he says that some men are charged with "over-soul," the word being a compound word, yet one. They have more soul than body, more spirit than flesh, more enthusiasm than cold logic; their soul flows over, they abound in soul. Other men have hardly any soul. Yet there is a notion that souls are like so many visible presences of equal stature and equal value, and are all spoken of as immortal souls. Ignorance is not discriminating. Ignorance can be dogmatic and positive, where large fine wisdom shades its eyes and says that it cannot see. It is a grand thing to be ignorant! it gives a man magnificent fearlessness, for he has taken no measure, formed no true conception; and, supposing himself to speak loudly enough, loudness is wisdom. This letter flows over with soul, with love, with tenderness; and it is wonderful how Paul every now and then stands right up above Silvanus and Timotheus, so that you need not ask which is which. It hardly suits Paul to write in the plural number; it holds him in too much. Paul never writes a letter of his own and calls himself "we." How shortsighted of the Apostle! He was no editor. Paul always called himself "I"; but his egotism was so rugged and noble, so massive and majestic, that nobody would care to criticise it in a hostile spirit. He had a right to do and to act in all things just as he did. Sometimes he separated himself from the others, as in chapter 1Thessalonians 2:18, "Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul." Mark how marvellously the plural and the singular are combined here, and how suddenly the Apostle remembers that the other two had nothing to do with it, that it was his own great lion heart that said he would go and see them; but the devil loomed upon him like an infinite cloud, and frightened him for a moment.
"Grace unto you, and peace." Have peace. It is more golden than gold. Do not live with wolves. If, in your business, you have worries and cares and bitings and devourings, get out of them. A crust with peace is better than a thousand chariots with the tooth of care gnawing the heart. Peace is heaven. Probably this was the very first apostolic letter Paul ever wrote; it is interesting therefore to see how he begins his correspondence.
It the third verse he uses words that cover all other words of beauty and music, and that make one of his chapters the brightest star in all the heaven of his eloquence:—"Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope." Pause there a moment; speak the main words slowly—"faith," "love," "hope." Why, he was as great at the beginning as he was at the end. If he was born out of due season, he was born all at once, the Minerva of the Church, fully clothed and armed at every point as he leaped forth to do God's will. "Now abideth faith, hope, love" (1Corinthians 13:13); these are the very terms we have in the first letter. Read the other words that qualify these—"work," "labour," "patience"; read them now as they would be uttered by Paul himself—your faithful work, your loving labour, your patient hope or hopeful patience. Not a word about propositions, dogmas, tenets, creeds; it is all working, labouring, suffering, waiting; all believing, loving, hoping. This Church is significantly described in the first verse as being "in God." There can be no Church out of God; there can be assembly, brotherhood, institutionalism, but not Church in the truest and deepest sense of the word: the relation of the godly is godly; the connection of the spiritual is spiritual: we are akin in heart more than we can ever be akin in blood. So out of this larger relation there shall come faith, hope, love; work, labour, patience; all the sweet retinue of virtue and grace.
"Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God." That word "election" has killed many souls. But the souls have been killed through ignorance. Paul does not use the term "election" in relation to the final state of the soul in this world or any other world. No man is elected to be destroyed. You take the fatherhood out of God, you take the crown off the majesty of God, when you suppose that he could fore-ordain or elect any soul to wander in darkness. If he did I should abandon his altar and hate him. This word "election" is always used in relation to the temporal, and the immediate, and the superficial, always in the sense of setting in a certain direction, investing with certain responsibilities, and giving chance of certain destinies. I will tell you what is elected to hell, and that is wickedness. Not personality, but character, is sentenced to everlasting burning. When you think that you are elected not to be saved, you are thinking far too much about yourself, you are in a morbid condition; you should get out into the fresh air, you should half-drown yourself in the salt sea, you should do anything that would shock you into a new consciousness. There is nothing more disagreeable and unprofitable than for a man to be continually considering whether he is elected or reprobated; he has nothing to do with such terms in the significance which he is then attaching to them. He has to put his confidence in the God of love, and rest there, and when the issue eventuates there will be no wilderness, no sea, no pain, no night, no death,—nothing but sweet, radiant, musical, immortal heaven.
"For our gospel came not unto you in word only "—which is a possibility. The gospel may be turned into a mere aspect of eloquence. There may be men so cunning and skilful in the use of words as to invest the gospel with peculiar charm as a rhetorical argument or conception of things. Even worship may be degraded into a kind of entertainment; even adoration may be lost in ritualism. So the gospel may be a word only, a form; and in this aspect it may be charged with peril to the soul. There are men who do not know the gospel except they hear a certain number of words. If they hear the same words in the same tone and at the same time by the same man, they think that they have heard the gospel. The gospel can go into all kinds of words; it has taken up all the languages of the earth. All lands in their own tongues have heard the wonderful works of God:—"Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene,"—all tongues, all men, may hear or have heard the gospel of God. There is a gospel of science, there is a gospel of rationalism, there is a gospel of Providence; all the minor gospels lead up to the major. Seize what gospel you can. If you can understand nobody but your mother, she shall be to you a priestess of God. Hold on somewhere.
How then did the Gospel come to the dwellers in Thessalonica? "in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance." We are not to understand by "the Holy Ghost" in this connection the third Person in the Trinity; in the Greek the article is omitted: we are to understand, "in" passion, enthusiasm, earnestness, over-soul, so that we bubbled and boiled up and were filled with holy frenzy as the sacred music poured its eloquence over our hearts. They were a mad Church, mad divinely. The Bereans were in a sense more respectable; they always went to church with a Bible in their hand. Some people go to church thus to-day. They think it would not be going to church if they did not take the Bible with them. The Bereans were "more noble" than those of Thessalonica, in the sense that they were more careful. They tested even the Apostles; they said to them, Stop: what is the chapter and what is the verse (as we should now say) you are quoting from? what is the name of the prophet you are now citing? They would go home and dig into this matter and compare passage with passage, and doctrine with doctrine, to find out for themselves what the gospel is, and what it means, and what it requires. You must provide for people of all sorts. There are people who must walk to every place: why should we oppose them? There are men who really could not go from one city to another except they went the way they always went and in the chariot they always did; or they must walk the whole distance, because they always walked it So be it. As long as they get there what does it matter? especially as nobody is waiting for them, either in one city or in another. Other persons must do everything enthusiastically. Paul praises the Thessalonians that they, received the word "in power" and in holy enthusiasm, so that every man burned, glowed, and spake with his tongue. There must be all sorts of men to make up humanity.
"Ye became followers of us," literally, Ye became imitators of us: you watched us, and what we did you did. This is called imitation. There is a base imitation, and there is an imitation that is worthy; there is an imitation in form, and there is an imitation in spirit. The Chinese labourer, or artisan, or mechanician copies the letter; if you were to write him a copy which he had to duplicate, and you put in a wrong letter and struck it out, he would put in that very letter and strike it out the same way. It would never occur to the Chinese genius to correct a mistake; whatever you do, the Chinese must do exactly as he has seen it done. That is a slavish imitation. But there is another imitation that takes its range from the spirit, and tone, and purpose of the life, and then comes that reduplication which is approved in heaven.
Did these people, then, live a merely excited life? Was it enthusiasm of the lowest kind? This question is answered definitely in 1Thessalonians 1:7—"So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia," They themselves were imitated. There is an imitation that terminates in itself, and there is an imitation that sets other people to work so that the imitation goes on and on unceasingly, and the whole world is doing the same thing to the same end. Did the Thessalonians keep the gospel to themselves as we do, making it quite a piece of synagogue property? Did they share their hymn-book with anybody? Or did they corner themselves in some sweet green place, and say, Other people may do and go as they please, this is our angle, and we mean to flatter one another into heaven? Certainly not: what they did is defined in 1Thessalonians 1:8—"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." They were an evangelising Church, they were a missionary Church; they said, What is good for us is good for everybody; we must not keep this music at home: commit it to the winds of heaven that everywhere this music may work its miracle of reconciliation. So that the apostles had no need to speak anything about the Thessalonians; wherever they went the Thessalonians were praised; people told the story to the apostles, instead of waiting for the apostles to tell the story to them. Over all Roman Greece these people made their influence felt. Where does our influence begin? how does it operate? where does it end? Does every man consider himself to be but a medium through which the gospel is to sound to some other man? If so, then every man in the Church will be a preacher, every woman will be an apostle of Jesus Christ, every child will tell in his own simplicity of the love of God.
Were the Thessalonians really converted? Apparently so, according to 1Thessalonians 1:9, in which the Apostle describes them as "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." There is hope of people who worship idols: there is no hope of people who worship themselves. Only get a man anywhere, whether he be black, white, red, yellow, what colour you please, if he is only looking to something outside of him you may convert him; he has got the right idea, he is looking beyond; that is evangelical, that is the beginning of the kingdom of heaven in the man's soul: but find a man who is turning within himself, and writing highly paid leading articles from out of his own consciousness, and you will never convert him. It must be difficult to convert any man who is a writer of leading articles; he worships within the sanctuary of his own consciousness, he says, How great I am! what a wonderful being is this! what would the universe be and do without me? I wonder that the universe can get through one night whilst I am sleeping! That man can never be converted; there is nothing to convert. The Thessalonians were worshipping idols, and who ever worships stock or stone, bird of the air, or star of heaven, has something in him that the missionary can appeal to; he says, I know what you are seeking, this is the Christ of God.
"Your faith to God-ward is spread abroad." The word "faith" in this connection does not mean creed; it means trust, confidence, their outgoing after God; they lived, and moved, and had their being in God: they would be content with nothing less, they would not have God shut up in words or creeds, or forms; he was larger than heaven, because he made the heavens. They served the living and true God, and they waited for God's Son from heaven. Observe these words—to "serve," to "wait." Is there anything more in Christian philosophy and Christian action? He waits best who serves best. When a man is serving the living and true God, he is not calculating on a slate when the Lord Jesus may possibly come according to the arithmetic of the prophet Daniel. Once let a man get a slate, and begin to calculate what he finds in Daniel, and he will break all his appointments, he will forget all his arrangements, he will lose all control over his own affairs, and he will go steadily down into bankruptcy. Let a man keep working, and Christ will keep coming. To work!—there is no time, no tediousness. Let the soul burn with a purpose, and, oh, stop the clock! it is flying; the man is busy, and time seems to mock his poor slow action. Give a man nothing to do, and he says, I am puzzled; it is only so much after twelve; I thought it must have been nearer one. The clock is hard upon laziness. Approach a company of men who are supposed to be working on a building or in a field, and in proportion as they are interested in their work they will let you pass; but in proportion as they are lazy, and want to get out of it, they will trouble you to tell them what time it is. What have they to do with the clock? The workman has nothing to do with the clock; the shepherd has nothing to do with the watch, let him watch by the sun; the preacher has nothing to do with the clock, let him serve until real hunger tells him that nature, too, has her necessity. Thus we are to live—serving, waiting; waiting, serving: but in all things having faith, hope, love; these are the boundaries of the Christian universe.
1 Saint Paul certifieth them of the good opinion which he had of their faith, love, and patience: 11 and therewithal useth divers reasons for the comforting of them in persecution, whereof the chiefest is taken from the righteous judgment of God.
1. Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus [there is no Apostolic title given in this salutation, which would certainly have been assumed by a forger] unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
2. Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. We are bound [morally obliged] to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;
4. So that we ourselves [spontaneously, on our own account (cf. 1Thessalonians 1:9.)] glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:
5. Which is a manifest token [in apposition with what precedes. Their faith and patience was the token] of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:
6. Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you:
7. And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels [Gr. "the Angels of his power"],
8. In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
9. Who ["inasmuch as they"] shall be punished with everlasting destruction [shall suffer as punishment eternal destruction] from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
10. When he shall come to be glorified in his saints [all them that believe], and to be admired [the word is used in the archaic sense of being "wondered at"; not as the feeling of joyful appreciation with which we contemplate beautiful objects] in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day [the day referred to in "when he shall come" at the beginning of the verse].
11. Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would [vouchsafe] count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power ["that our God may count you worthy of the calling, and fulfil all good pleasure of Divine goodness, and faith's work in power."]
12. That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Note.—The annotations are taken from The Speaker's Commentary. (London: John Murray.)