1 Thessalonians 1:1
Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, to the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ…
I. THE WRITER.
1. He uses no title. He does not style himself apostle. He asserted his apostolic authority when it was necessary to do so; for the sake of others, as in his Epistles to the Corinthians and Galatians. Now it was not necessary; the Macedonian Churches regarded him with affection and reverence. He simply gives his name, his new name - Paul. He had laid aside his old name with all its associations. It recalled the memory of the famous king, Saul the son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin. It recalled to the apostle the memories of his own old unconverted life, his self-satisfied Pharisaism, his persecution of the Church, especially that one saddest day of his life, when he consented to the death of the first martyr of the Lord, the holy Stephen. He had laid aside his old name, and with it his old modes of thought, his old life. Paul was, we may say, his Christian name; we do not read of it before the beginning of his first missionary journey; it was consecrated now by constant, untiring, self-sacrificing labor. It was known wherever Christ was preached as the name of the great missionary, the apostle of the Gentiles, the first of the noble band of Christian missionaries, who had left his home and all that once he loved to devote himself, heart and soul, to the mission work with all its hardships, all its dangers. Many holy men have trodden in his steps; but it was Paul who first set the high example, who kindled the sacred enthusiasm which has led so many saints in every age to fulfill the Lord's command, to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Paul is a Latin name; it means "little." St. Augustine in one place suggests that St. Paul may have chosen it to mark himself as "the least of the apostles." There are other possible reasons for the change, and it may be thought that St. Paul would have shrunk from what might seem almost like a parade of humility. But at least we may find a lesson here. God exalteth the humble. Paul is a famous name. Others have borne it - some distinguished Romans; but it was reserved for the apostle to make the name honored and beloved throughout the civilized world. The Paulus who conquered Macedonia for Rome is far less famous now than the Paul who won the Macedonian Churches for Christ.
2. He associates others with himself. Paul is the spiritual father of the Thessalonian Christians; he is the writer of the Epistle, not Silvanus or Timotheus (see 2 Thessalonians 3:17). But they had labored with him in Thessalonica; Silvanus certainly, Timotheus in all probability; they had shared his dangers there; they were well known to the Thessalonians. So he joins their names with his own, recognizing their brotherly fellowship, their faithful co-operation, and shrinking, it may be, kern putting himself into unnecessary prominence. He seeks not honor ion himself; he has no literary ambition; his one aim is the salvation of his converts, the glory of God.
(1) Silvanus, or, in the shortened form of the name, Silas. tic, like St. Paul, was a Roman citizen, and bore a Latin name. It was, in the Latin mythology, the name of the sylvan god, who was supposed to protect the sheep, and save them from wolves. When he became a Christian, that name might perhaps serve to remind him of the great duty of tending the flock for which the good Shepherd died. He had leech a leader in the Church at Jerusalem; he was a prophet (Acts 15:32), that is, he had the gift of spiritual, inspired eloquence; he used it to exhort and confirm the brethren. He accompanied St. Paul in his first missionary journey; he worked with him, he suffered with him. In the dungeon at Philippi, his feet made fast in the stocks, he prayed and sang praises unto God. His presence and sympathy had cheered St. Paul in his dangers. Companionship in affliction had bound them very close to one another. When working together at Thessalonica they must have still felt the effects of the many stripes which they had received at Philippi. It was natural that St. Paul should mention Silas in writing to the Thessalonians. We may notice here that he furnishes one of the links which couple together the two apostles whose differences (Galatians 2:11-21) have been so much magnified by heretics of old, by unbelievers now. St. Paul loved Silvanus; St. Peter counted him a faithful brother (l Peter 5:12).
(2) Timotheus, St. Paul's dearest companion, his own son in the faith, bound to him with the closest ties of tender, personal affection. He stands first among the noble company of holy, loving fellow-workers whom St. Paul had drawn around himself. He was known to the Thessalonians; his name, indeed, does not appear in the record of St. Paul's visit to Thessalonica in the Acts of the Apostles. But we know that he was sent there afterwards to establish and to comfort the Thessalonian Christians concerning their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:2). Doubtless he was chosen for that work because of the Christian zeal, the loving, gentle sympathy which marked his beautiful character. He fulfilled his mission, and brought back to the apostle good tidings of the faith and charity of the Thessalonians. He greets them now.
II. THE CHURCH.
1. The foundation of the Thessalonian Church. St. Paul had been shamefully treated at Philippi; he had not lost courage. He came to Thessalonica; he went, as he was wont, to the synagogue. There he preached for three sabbath days; he "reasoned with them out of the Scriptures." He showed (as our Lord himself had shown to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus) that it was necessary that the Messiah should suffer, and should rise again from the dead; he showed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ. All true preaching must be full of Scripture; all true preaching must be full of Christ. St. Paul's words were greatly blessed. Some Jews believed, a great multitude of Greek proselytes, many ladies of rank. Those three sabbaths had been wonderfully fruitful; a Church was formed at Thessalonica.
2. The word "Church." This is the earliest of St. Paul's extant Epistles; it may be (possibly the Epistle of St. James was written earlier) the earliest of all the writings of the New Testament. Then, if we were to read the New Testament in chronological order, we should meet here with the word "Church" for the first time. St. James 2:2 uses the word "synagogue," not "Church." Our Lord, of course, used it earlier. He founded the Church. He had said, "On this rock wilt I build my Church;" and again, "Tell it to the Church." But the date of St. Matthew's Gospel is probably later than that of this Epistle. The Greek word means simply an assembly, a congregation, as the word "synagogue" means a meeting. It is derived from a verb which means to call out or summon, and is regularly used in classical Greek of the assemblies of citizens summoned by the magistrate in the Greek commonwealths for legislative or other political purposes (comp. Acts 19:39); sometimes of other assemblies, as of the crowd of artisans collected by Demetrius (Acts 19:32, 41). It is used of the congregation of Israel in Acts 7:38; Hebrews 2:12; and sometimes in the Septuagint. The New Testament has taken the word and filled it with a new and holy meaning. It is the assembly which Christ hath chosen to himself out of the world - the flock of Christ. The visible Church of Christ is "a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same." The great day of Pentecost was the true birthday of the Church; the gift of the Holy Ghost then sent down from heaven knit together the disciples into one body, the mystical body of Christ. St. Luke gives us, in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, a description of the Church at that time. "Then they that gladly received the Word were baptized... and they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." Thus the notes of the Church, according to Holy Scripture, are baptism, fellowship with the apostles, the doctrine of the apostles, the holy communion, public worship. The Church is also one, for it is one body in Christ, united into one fellowship by the indwelling of the one Spirit. It is holy, because it is being sanctified by the Holy Ghost; all its members are dedicated to God in holy baptism; they are all pledged by that dedication to follow after holiness of heart and life. It is catholic, because it is not confined to one nation, like the synagogue, but universal, world-wide, open to all who receive the Word of God. It is apostolic, because it is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief Corner-stone; and because it continues in the doctrine and fellowship of the apostles. It is the bride of Christ. "Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that he might present it unto himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish."
3. The Church of the Thessalonians. Now there was a branch of the one Church at Thessalonica.
(1) It was the second Church founded in Europe. The first was at Philippi, a small place, though a Roman colony. Thessalonica was a populous city, the metropolis of Macedonia. God plants his Church everywhere. It embraces all who will accept the gospel - poor and rich, ignorant and learned; it meets the deepest needs of all places alike - the quiet country and the stirring city.
(2) It was already organized. It had its ministers (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13), and its assemblies for public worship (1 Thessalonians 5:27). Short as St. Paul's visit was, he had, it seems, ordained elders there, as he was wont to do in every Church (Acts 14:23), and had provided for the regular meetings of the brethren.
(3) It was in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ. This was its essential characteristic. As Chrysostom says, "There were many ἐκκλησίαι, many assemblies both Jewish and Greek. St. Paul writes to that assembly, that congregation, which was in God. It is a high exaltation, above all other possible dignities, to be in God." Thessalonica formerly lay in wickedness, in the evil one (1 John 5:19), in the sphere of his activity. Now, the Church there was in God. The presence of God was the very atmosphere in which the Church lived and moved. It lay in the everlasting arms, encircled with his embrace, guarded by his love. The words imply a close intimate union, an exceeding great depth of love and tenderness, a very great and profound truth, which does not admit of formal definition, and cannot be adequately expressed in language; but it is realized, in a greater or less degree, in the inner life of those true members of the Church who abide in that invisible, but most holy and most blessed, union with the Lord. God had breathed into the Church of the Thessalonians the breath of life - that new life, that eternal life, which consists in the personal knowledge of God. That life is in his Son. Christ is the Life. "He that hath the Son hath life." The Thessalonian Church was in the Lord Jesus Christ, as it was in God. "We are in him that is true," says St. John, "even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life." The Church is in Christ, then surely Christ is God. The Church cannot be said to be in any creature; in St. Paul, for instance, or in any other of the holiest saints of God. Such an assertion would be unmeaning, blasphemous. Then in the first verse of the first of St. Paul's Epistles (the least dogmatic, some say, of all his Epistles, possibly the earliest of the New Testament writings), he distinctly teaches the great doctrine of the divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. "In Christ," "in the Lord," is a constant formula of St. Paul's; he is never weary of repeating it, never weary of enforcing the great truth that the Christian lives in Christ. Here he asserts the same thing of the Church as a whole. It is in Christ, living in his life, holy in his holiness, strong in his strength, glorious (John 17:22) in his glory; the glory of his presence now, the glory of eternal life with him henceforth in heaven. The Church is "in Christ;" its members must strive to realize the blessedness of that holy fellowship in their own individual souls. Outward membership will not avail for our salvation, unless we abide in living spiritual communion with the Lord.
III. THE SALUTATION.
1. Grace. It is one of those words which the Holy Spirit has taken from common use and filled with a sweet and sacred meaning.
(1) It is the gracious favor of God which rests upon all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. That favor is essentially free, spontaneous, flowing out of that eternal love which is intimately one with the very being of God. "God is love." It is given in and through the Lord Jesus; it is "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ."
(2) It is the gratitude, the spirit of joyful thankfulness, which should be the happy temper of those who believe in the grace of God.
(3) It sometimes (as in Colossians 4:6) expresses the sweetness, the winning beauty, the dignified gracefulness of the true Christian character. The grace of God produces thankfulness, and gives grace and beauty to the life.
2. Peace. It was the first greeting of the risen Lord to his apostles, "Peace be unto you." It became the apostolic greeting. The Macedonian Churches had little outward peace; they were early called to suffer. They needed that blessed peace which God alone can give. (See homiletics on Philippians 1:2 and Philippians 4:7.)
1. Imitate St. Paul in his humility. Notice every feature, every manifestation of that great grace; it is hard to learn.
2. The Church, as a whole, is in God; in his guardianship, in his encircling love. We must strive and pray to realize that loving presence individually, to be in God ourselves.
3. Pray that grace and peace may rest on all who bear the Name of Christ. - B.C.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.