1 Thessalonians 1:4-6
Knowing, brothers beloved, your election of God.…
I. THE ELECTION "of God" is not connected with "knowing" nor "election." The meaning is that the Church was "beloved" of God, not merely of the missionaries. And the proof of their being the subject of the Divine love is their election. This election was their historical selection out of the Western World to be the earliest European recipients of the gospel. The narrative in Acts 16:6-10 is expository of it. The missionaries' course was narrowed off from this and that place until the vision of the man of Macedonia. Thessalonica being the chief city of Macedonia, the vision was a declaration of the election of its inhabitants. The term "election" is a rare one in Scripture, and is absent, except in this case, from all Paul's earlier Epistles. It had been used of Paul to Ananias in reference to his own similar selection: "He is a vessel of election unto Me." In both cases it means selection for privilege, and therefore for service. The same election is ceaselessly seen — one nation, city, family, individual, called before another. Many perplexities gather round the subject, and its ultimate solution is to be found in the Divine sovereignty alone. Often, however, the thing is clear. Here, e.g., there was a fitness in the choice of Thessalonica as a centre for Christian influence (ver. 8). Thessalonica was a great emporium of commerce by sea. It lay also on the line of one of the great Roman roads. Cicero describes it as "placed in the bosom of the Roman Empire."
II. THE GROUNDS OF THE APOSTLE'S KNOWLEDGE OF THIS ELECTION were —
1. Subjective — on his part.
(1) "Our gospel," a phrase implying —
(2) Heart possession of it. "I believed, therefore have I spoken." This is the first prerequisite of a faithful ministry. As Melanchthon used to say to his students, "It is the all thy house shall be saved." These words were proclaimed by the apostle's lips. Human instrumentality is employed in what is in the strictest sense God's work. But often it is in "word only." Even from the lips of Christ the message fell ineffectual, and Paul has his share in this. But it was far different here.
(3) This gospel came "in power" — not miraculously, but persuasively. It was no cold, formal performance of duty, but in a very exceptional degree heart work.
(4) It was therefore "in the Holy Ghost." The presence and energy of the Divine Spirit were recognized by Him. His utterances were more than the struggles of an earnest human spirit; they were the winged words of the Spirit of Truth.
(5) Hence it came "in much assurance," i.e., in the firm conviction that his message was from heaven, and that it was not in vain (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). So he knew from within himself that they were "appointed unto salvation." From this we may gather —
(a) Every minister feels sometimes powerless, unaided by the Spirit, and oppressed with doubt. In such a case he is bound to search for causes in his own heart. But he is also entitled to look without; to trace the cause of his own feebleness in the apathy of the people. He may even, after the example of Paul, conclude in some cases from this ineffective preaching that they are not the chosen people of God. Pulpit and pew react on each other. "Like people, like priest."(b) The apostle appeals to their knowledge of his bearing and conduct as well as his words. Personal influence is far more direct and effective than official. Truth must be taught by example as well as precept. An infidel once said to Fenelon, with whom he had been residing: "If I stay here any longer I shall become a Christian in spite of myself."(c) This bearing was not self-interested, but for their sakes, as every minister's should be.
2. Objective — the eager joyfulness with which the Thessalonians received Paul's preaching. The two grounds cannot be separated. The first could be no safe evidence without the second. Their having been chosen of God is shown by their having chosen God's gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:13). It became theirs as well as Paul's. They became followers, i.e., imitators, of Paul and Christ. How? Not in their reception of the truth. In this they might be imitators of Paul, but not of Christ, who was the Truth. The point of imitation is the joyful endurance of suffering. Paul preached the gospel "in much affliction with joy of the Holy Ghost," as Christ had wrought it out: "Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross." In this sphere of trial, and of spiritual joy in the midst of it, Christ and His apostles and people are at one. Embracing Christ entailed suffering; but sorrow from without could not destroy inward joy. Afflictions come from men, but joy from the Holy Ghost. The gospel cannot be received without joy. Paul, then, would encourage them to greater endurance still, by his grateful recognition of this evidence of their election.
(J. Hutchison, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.