1:1 From Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace and peace to you!

Paul, Silas and Timothy – Fee tells us that it was unusual for the author of a letter to include the names of his present companions in the salutation.  As noted in the introduction, we should regard Paul as the principal author: the two Thessalonian letters contain several 1st-person singulars, and so the 1st-person plurals should probably be regarded as ‘editorial plurals’.

Aside from any hand that Silas and Timothy may have had in the composition of this letter, we may assume that they are mentioned by name not only because they were with Paul at the time of writing, but also because they had been with him when he was in Thessalonica.

Silas was a Roman citizen and a member of the Jerusalem church.  He had replaced Barnabas as Paul’s companion on the second missionary journey (Acts 15:40).

Timothy had joined Paul at Lystra, Acts 16:1.

Team player

‘Paul writes in the first-person plural as a member of a team, exhorts his congregation to a life that is shared, and lifts up this life to God. Paul does not seem to feel slighted by the church’s activity and evangelism, nor does he feel the need to be at the center of it. His words are suffused with energy, agency, power, initiative, and vision.’  (Nathan Eddy, Feasting on the Word, Vol 4).

To the church of the Thessalonians – as 1 Thess 5:27, Paul wants his letter to be read out to ‘all the brothers’.

As for the word translated ‘church’ – ekklesia – it was widely used for various kinds of gathering or assembly.  It is a mistake to press its ‘literal’ meaning and claim that it defines the church as ‘the called-out ones’.

In God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ – See how naturally Paul links these two members of the Godhead together.  ‘Already within twenty years of the death and resurrection of Jesus the coupling of the Father and the Son as equal is the universal faith of the church. (Stott).

These two divine persons (as later theology would express it) are similarly linked together in 1 Thess 3:11; 2 Thess 2:16; 3:5; 3:16.

Paul often writes of believers being ‘in Christ’.  But what is the meaning of them being ‘in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’?  Stott notes, and rejects, various attempts to clarify: ‘It is certainly not spatial, as if the church were somehow ‘inside’ God. Nor does it seem to mean that the church is ‘founded on’ God (JBP) or that its members ‘belong to’ God (REB) or simply that they ‘have God as Father and Jesus Christ as Lord’, true as all these statements are. Nor does it seem natural to take ‘in’ as instrumental and translate the phrase ‘brought into being by’ God.’  Stott suggests that ‘we should paraphrase the preposition “in” as meaning “living in”, “rooted in” or “drawing its life from”.’

For the church to be ‘in’ God and Christ means that it participates in the life of God and receives its life from God.  ‘The church of the Thessalonians finds its unique identity in its union or relationship with God the Father and the exalted Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Green)

The church’s two environments

Paul might have written of ‘the church of God in Thessalonica’ (cf. 1 Thess 2:4).  Instead, he writes of ‘the church of the Thessalonians in God’ (as also in 2 Thess 1:1).  ‘Both accounts of the church are true. For God’s church was living in Thessalonica, and the Thessalonians’ church was living in God…Nevertheless, it is still correct to say that every church has two homes, two environments, two habitats. It lives in God and it lives in the world.’ (Stott)

The church’s horizontal and vertical dimensions

Green notes the social, or horizontal, dimension (the church, the gathered community) and the vertical dimension (in God and Christ).  ‘The importance of this dual relationship is highlighted by their alienation from their contemporaries in the city (1 Thess 2:14) and the abandonment of their ancestral and civic deities (1 Thess 1:9).’

Grace and peace – LIt. ‘grace to you – and peace’.  Fee thinks that there is probably significance in this word order: ‘Grace’ is what we receive from God, and ‘peace’ is what we experience as a result.

‘Peace’ (reflecting ‘shalom’ in Hebrew) is not so much a wish for inner calmness as that they might enter yet more fully into the saving benefits of the gospel of God (described as ‘peace with God’ in Rom 5:1).  ‘God’s ‘peace’ is not just the absence of conflict, but the fullness of health and harmony through reconciliation with him and with each other.’ (Stott)

‘Far from being a mere formality, in Paul’s hands the common letter greeting becomes a blessing that embraces the totality of the divine benefits he and his associates desire for the Christians in Thessalonica.’ (Green)

Fee comments that Paul has a habit of turning everything he writes into gospel.  ‘The traditional greeting in the Hellenistic world was chairein—the infinitive of the verb “to rejoice,” but in salutations meaning simply “Greetings!” (see Acts 15:23; Jas 1:1). In Paul’s hands this now becomes charis (“grace”), to which he adds the traditional Jewish greeting shalom (“peace,” in the sense of “wholeness” or “well-being”).’

‘Grace is the love of God, spontaneous, beautiful, unearned, at work in Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinful men; peace is the effect and fruit in man of the reception of grace.’ (Denney)

Christian peace is not the world’s peace

‘In 1 Thess 5:3 he refers to peace in the phrase “peace and security,” which is clearly a political slogan and best ascribed to the realm of the Roman Empire. Paul points to the coming of the day of the Lord as an event that will shatter the false peace and security of the Roman Empire. When Paul prefixes grace to it, the peace becomes uniquely Christian: “grace and peace” is the Pauline answer to “peace and security.”’ (Annette Weissenreider, Feasting on the Word, Vol 4)

A personal bond

‘Often overlooked is the relational texture of Paul’s writings. Paul wrote letters, distinct forms of communication intended to encourage, teach, and sometimes reprimand particular congregations where he was deemed pastoral leader. Paul did not imagine a twenty-first-century readership. First Thessalonians was crafted for people with whom Paul had a personal bond.’ (Jill Y. Crainshaw, Feasting on the Word, Vol 4)

Thanksgiving for Response to the Gospel

1:2 We thank God always for all of you as we mention you constantly in our prayers, 1:3 because we recall in the presence of our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

‘It sounds,’ writes John Stott, ‘as if he had some kind of list.  It is, without doubt, the regular mentioning of people’s names in prayer which – more surely and quickly than by any other means – fixes them in our mind and memory.  To forget someone’s name is, as likely as not, a token of our pastoral prayerlessness’. (The Contemporary Christians, p282)

‘Undoubtedly Paul and his companions could remember both the faces and the names of the members of this church whom they had to abandon just a short time previously (1 Thess 2:17).’ (Green)

As Stott remarks, the Thessalonian church was only a few months old, and was experiencing severe persecution.  We would expect it to show marks of immaturity and insecurity.  But Paul expresses nothing but thankfulness to God for what they are.

We thank God always for all of you – ‘The apostle begins with thanksgiving to God.  Being about to mention the things that were matter of joy to him, and praiseworthy in them, and greatly for their advantage, he chooses to do this by way of thanksgiving to God, who is the author of all that good that comes to us, or is done by us, at any time.  God is the object of all religious worship, of prayer and praise.  And thanksgiving to God is a great duty, to be performed always or constantly; even when we do not actually give thanks to God by our words, we should have a grateful sense of God’s goodness upon our minds.  Thanksgiving should be often repeated; and not only should we be thankful for the favors we ourselves receive, but for the benefits bestowed on others also, upon our fellow creatures and fellow Christians.  The apostle gave thanks not only for those who were his most intimate friends, or most eminently favored of God, but for them all.’ (MHC)

We continually remember before our God and Father – ‘The adverb “continually” expresses the thought that they were persistent in their prayers, as Jesus taught in Luke 18:1 when he told his disciples that “they should always pray and not give up” (cf. 1 Thess. 5:17).’ (Green)

Your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope – or, possibly, ‘your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have’. (NLT)

Faith…love…hope – This trinity of graces occurs also in 1 Thess 5:8; Rom. 5:1–5; 1 Cor. 13:13; Gal. 5:5–6; Col. 1:4–5; 1 Pet. 1:21–22; Heb. 10:22–24.

Your work produced by faith – Such work might include ministry activities, as in 1 Cor 3:13; 15:58), and doing good to others (Gal 6:9–10; Col 1:10; Eph 2:10).

While Paul will not allow works to usurp the place of faith as a means of salvation (Gal 2:16), nevertheless he insists that works can and must issue from true faith (Gal 5:6).

Faith works

As Green remarks, ‘Although the object of their faith was God (1 Thess 1:8), this faith was given active expression in their work. Paul states categorically that salvation is by faith and not by human works (Eph. 2:8–9), but he also interjects that faith has its fruit in good works (Eph. 2:10). The apostle speaks in one place of “every work of faith” (2 Thess. 1:11), and in another of “faith that works through love” (Gal. 5:6).’

Your labour prompted by love – While most interpreters assume that this refers to ‘labouring for the gospel’, Fee (in the light of 1 Thess 2:9ff; 4:9-12; 2 Thess 3:6-15) thinks that Paul is referring to manual work.  The apostle is thankful that many of his readers are engaged in loving labour, even though later he will need to urge others to follow suit.

Green: ‘The love of the Thessalonian believers expressed itself in hard, strenuous, and exhausting labor. Far from being simply an emotion, love sought the best for the other and labored for the other’s benefit (cf. Eph. 4:16; Heb. 6:10).’

Love transforms

As Morris says, divine agape has within it a transforming power: ‘When this love comes to us we are faced with a challenge we cannot ignore. Once we see that God is like that, that God loves as part of his very nature, that God loves in a way that means Calvary, we must make a decision. Either we yield to the divine agapē to be transformed by it, to be remade in the divine image, to see people in a measure as God sees them, or we do not. And if we do not, in that lies our condemnation. We have shut ourselves up to lovelessness. But those who yield themselves to God are transformed by the power of the divine agapē, so that they rejoice to give themselves in the service of others. Paul thanks God that this is what the Thessalonians have done.’

Endurance inspired by hope – This ‘endurance’ is not a mere gritting of the teeth.  It is ‘not the resignation of the passive sufferer, so much as the fortitude of the stout-hearted soldier’ (Findlay).  Nor does this hope consist in a vague wish that ‘everything will turn out all right in the end’. No: it entails eagerly waiting for God’s Son from heaven (v10).  Hope, in the NT is not wishful thinking, but rather eager expectation (cf. Phil 1:20).  Or, as Green puts it: ‘The hope they held was not some vague expectation about a better future but rather solid confidence rooted in the expectation of Christ’s coming.’

This triad of graces reorientates our lives

Stott remarks of this triad of graces that they all look away from the self: ‘Faith is directed towards God, love towards others…, and hope towards the future…Similarly, ‘faith rests on the past; love works in the present; hope looks to the future’ [Lightfoot]. Every Christian without exception is a believer, a lover and a hoper…Faith, hope and love are thus sure evidences of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Together they completely reorientate our lives, as we find ourselves being drawn up towards God in faith, out towards others in love and on towards the Parousia in hope. The new birth means little or nothing if it does not pull us out of our fallen introversion and redirect us towards God, Christ and our fellow human beings.

They are all practical graces

‘Faith, hope and love sound rather abstract qualities, but they have concrete, practical results. Faith works, love labours and hope endures. A true faith in God leads to good works, and without works faith is dead…A true love for people leads to labour for them; otherwise it degenerates into mere sentimentality. Moreover, this ‘labour’ is kopos, which denotes ‘either the fatiguing nature of what is done or the magnitude of the exertion required’ [Best]. And a true hope, which looks expectantly for the Lord’s return, leads to endurance (hypomonē), which is patient fortitude in the face of opposition.’ (Stott)

As Green remarks, ‘In spite of the disadvantages of being a young and persecuted congregation, these believers gave clear evidence of possessing genuine and recognizable Christian character.’

Wiersbe observes that the seed-thoughts of this verse will be developed in v9-10:-

your work of faith – you turned to God from idols
your labor of love – to serve the living and true God
and patience of hope – to wait for His Son from Heaven

A model church

  1. Election – ‘God…has chosen you’, v4.
  2. Conversion – ‘You turned to God from idols’, v9.
  3. Assurance – ‘Our gospel came to you…with deep conviction’, v5.
  4. Example – ‘You became a model to all the believers’, v7.
  5. Witness – ‘The Lord’s message rang out from you’, v8.
  6. Hope – ‘…to wait for his Son from heaven’, v10.

(Pickering, Subjects for Speakers and Students, adapted)

1:4 We know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 1:5 in that our gospel did not come to you merely in words, but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction (surely you recall the character we displayed when we came among you to help you).

We know – lit. ‘knowing’.

Brothers and sisters – Lit. ‘brothers’.  It is a mark of Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonians that he calls them ‘brothers and sisters’ over twenty times in the two letters.

‘This familial metaphor for the believing community can be traced back biblically to Exodus 2:11, where Moses goes out to visit his own “brothers” (= fellow Israelites) and sees an Egyptian beating one of his “brothers”—a usage that then carries throughout the Old Testament. Usage by early Christians, and especially the inclusion of Gentiles, can be traced back directly to Jesus himself, where in a strictly family-oriented context he deliberately throws the net wide to include all in God’s family who do God’s will (Mark 3:34–35 // Matt 12:49–50 // Luke 8:20).’ (Fee)


There are brotherhoods formed by ties of family or common interest.  But do we recognise as uniquely special that brotherhood which is derives from our fellowship in the love of God?

Loved by God – This is in the perfect tense, ‘signifying a love existing in the past and realised in the present’ (Findlay)

God loves; idols do not

Green remarks that people’s relationship with the gods of the ancient pantheon was not characterised by love.  A god could act for or against a person, and consequently the relationship was marked by attempts to placate the god.  The Christian God, in contrast, always acts for his people’s good (Rom 8:28).

He has chosen you – While it is possible that Paul simply means that they were chosen by God to uplift the name of Jesus in the city of Thessalonica, most interpreters take this as a reference to election to eternal life.  This latter view is supported both by the immediate context and by the broader teaching of Scripture.

Fee says that in the present context it should be thought of as an election of the whole body of believers, not of individuals.  ‘Moreover, for Paul “election” is always a referent to believers, and thus reflects a reality after the fact, not before.’

Looking more widely at Paul’s teaching, we find that it is ‘an eternal election (Eph 1:4; cf. 2 Thess 2:13) to final salvation (Eph 1:11), of a people whom he gave to Christ before times eternal (2 Tim 1:9; Jn 6:38f; 17:2-12), without respect to their foreseen faith (Rom 9:11), the grand purpose of which is to redound to the glory of his grace (Eph 1:6). (Wilson)

Many of Scriptures speak of God’s love as the cause of his election: Deut. 4:37; 7:7–8; 10:15; Pss. 47:4; 78:68; Isa. 42:1; Matt. 12:18; Rom. 11:28; Eph. 1:4; Col. 3:12.  Paul probably has in mind here the ‘foundational text’ of Deut 7:7f (Fee).

Election is not arbitrary

Divine election is not arbitrary; it is not without rationale. ‘The qualities of God that one finds related to election are his love, (Eph 1:4-5; 1 Thess 1:4) mercy, (Rom 9:16) grace, (Rom 11:5) and wisdom and knowledge. (Rom 11:33) For Paul it is the God of love and mercy, acting graciously and wisely, who is the electing God.’ (DPL)

Don’t be shy about election

Because of the almost casual way in which Paul drops the topic of divine election into his expression of thankfulness, it is reasonable to assume that he had already included it in his proclamation of the gospel in Thessalonica.  If so, this would be in stark contrast to those Christian teachers today who, while perhaps not denying the doctrine, hesitate to refer to it even to mature audiences.

It’s a practical doctrine

‘The topic of election is nearly always introduced for a practical purpose, in order to foster assurance (not presumption), holiness (not moral apathy), humility (not pride) and witness (not lazy selfishness).  But still no explanation of God’s election is given except God’s love. This is clear in Deut 7:7f. Similarly, Paul unites the love of God and the election of God. That is, he chose us because he loves us. He does not love us because we are lovable, but only because he is love. And with that mystery we must rest content.’ (Stott)

How did he know that they had been chosen?

‘We cannot know election as in God’s secret decree, but as made manifest in the fruits and effects of it. As there is a knowledge of things a priori, when we argue from the cause to the effect, so a posteriori, when we argue from the effects to the cause’ (Poole).  ‘It cannot be too strongly noted that the only evidence of a person’s being one of God’s elect is when he lives a godly life and so brings forth the fruits of righteousness.  Election makes men saints, not mere religious talkers, learned hypocrites, or adherents of some religious group.’ (Joel Beeke)

Encouragement in suffering

‘Almost certainly all the language of this opening clause (“elect, brothers [and sisters], loved by God”), as the first affirmation of what Paul “knows” about them, is in direct response to their present suffering at the hands of their fellow countrymen. The Thessalonian believers may be disdained and persecuted by their pagan neighbors, but they are assured at the outset that they are loved by God and therewith his “chosen ones” in Thessalonica—and “brothers and sisters” of Paul and his companions and to all others who belong to God’s newly formed people.’ (Fee)

As Fee observes, Paul introduces in verse 5 the two main concerns that he will develop forthwith: (a) how our gospel came to you (elaborated in vv6-10); (b) you know how we lived (expanded in 1 Thess 2:1-12).

‘In verses 5–10 the apostle outlines in three clear stages the progress of the gospel in Thessalonica. First, ‘our gospel came to you’ (5). Secondly, ‘you welcomed the message’ (6). Thirdly, ‘the Lord’s message rang out from you’ (8). Thus it came to you, you received it, and you passed it on. This sequence is God’s continuing purpose throughout the world.’ (Stott)

Because our gospel came to you…with power – We cannot enquire into the deep counsels of God to discover if we belong to the company of his elect: we make that discovery by receiving the gospel with power.

Morris quotes Nygren on Rom 1:16 – ‘The gospel is not the presentation of an idea, but the operation of a power.’

Green understands this ‘power’ as the ability to perform miracles.  Fee thinks that it probably includes accompanying signs and wonders.  Noting the singular, however, Wilson maintains that ‘charismatic manifestations are not in view’ here.  He thinks, rather that Paul’s thought is of ‘the clothing of the preacher’s words with that vital force which had brought salvation to the Thessalonians (cf. Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 2:4).

Stott agrees that Paul is probably not referring to miracles here, but ‘to the internal operation of the Holy Spirit’.  He adds: ‘It is only by his power that the Word can penetrate people’s mind, heart, conscience and will. Paul wrote the same thing to the Corinthian church, and it is from Corinth that he is writing to the Thessalonians. We must never divorce what God has married, namely his Word and his Spirit. The Word of God is the Spirit’s sword. The Spirit without the Word is weaponless; the Word without the Spirit is powerless.’

Not simply with words – ‘His preaching was in fact a matter of “word,” an oral communication of the truth of the gospel; his point is that it was not that only, since their conversion would then have been a matter of assent or persuasion alone’ (Fee).  Paul will develop this thought in chapter 2.

More than words

‘I heard two persons on the Wengen Alp talking by the hour together of the names of ferns; not a word about their characteristics, uses, or habits, but a medley of crack-jaw titles, and nothing more. They evidently felt that they were ventilating their botany, and kept each other in countenance by alternate volleys of nonsense. Well, they were about as sensible as those doctrinalists who forever talk over the technicalities of religion, but know nothing by experience of its spirit and power. Are we not all too apt to amuse ourselves after the same fashion? He who knows mere Linnaean names, but has never seen a flower, is as reliable in botany, as he is in theology who can descant upon supralapsarianism, but has never known the love of Christ in his heart. “True religion’s more than doctrine, Something must be known and felt.”‘ (C. H. Spurgeon.)

With the Holy Spirit – who is the source of the believer’s power (cf. 1 Cor 2:4).  ‘The truth of the Word, the conviction with which we speak it, and the power of its impact on others all come from the Holy Spirit. It is he who illumines our minds, so that we formulate our message with integrity and clarity. It is he whose inward witness assures us of its truth, so that we preach it with conviction. And it is he who carries it home with power, so that the hearers respond to it in penitence, faith and obedience.’ (Stott)

Deep conviction – the result of the Spirit’s powerful operation.  But is Paul thinking of the ‘deep conviction’ of the preachers, or of their hearers?  Morris understands this verse to teach that the Holy Spirit was powerfully active both in the apostles and their converts.  Green agrees that either may be the case.  But he notes that the underlying word – plērophoria – can also mean ‘complete fullness’ (i.e. the complete fullness of the divine work), and he thinks that is the meaning here.

Wilson thinks that the ‘deep conviction’ is that of Paul and his fellow-evangelists: ‘These preachers were so conscious of the assistance of the Holy Spirit in their ministry that they were fully convinced that God’s word would accomplish the work for which he sent it forth (cf. Isa 55:11)’

Stott is of the same view: ‘Paul’s preaching was not only powerful in its effect but confident in its presentation. He was sure of his message, of its truth and its relevance, and in consequence was bold in proclaiming it. Yet this confidence and this courage are precisely what many modern preachers seem to lack.’

You know how we lived among you for your sake – From the response of the recipients Paul turns to the character of the messengers.  He will treat this theme more fully in 1 Thess 2:1-12.

And all this was not at all for the personal gain of Paul and his companions but ‘for your sake’.

The message and the messenger must match

As Green asserts: ‘There was great harmony between the character of the missionaries and the message they preached, as the Thessalonians themselves could testify. They knew what kind of persons they were and not simply what manner of message they preached. The powerful presentation of the gospel was in no way contradicted by the conduct of its messengers, a point that should be taken to heart by ministers of all eras.’

1:6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, when you received the message with joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, despite great affliction.

Imitators of us and of the Lord – cf. 1 Cor 11:1.

Green notes that ‘the ancients deeply appreciated the value of imitating model lives as a means of moral education, whether those models were parents, heroes, or teachers…In the NT we find repeated exhortations to imitate the leaders of the church (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Gal. 4:12; Phil. 3:17; 4:9; 2 Thess. 3:7, 9; 1 Tim. 4:12; Titus 2:7; 1 Pet. 5:3), other members of the community of faith (Phil. 3:17; Heb. 6:12; 11; 13:7), and “what is good” (3 John 11), as well as God and Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:1; 1 Cor. 11:1).’

Severe suffering – This resulted from the intense opposition they faced from the Thessalonian populace (1 Thess 2:14; 3:3, 7; 2 Thess. 1:4, 6).

‘For Paul, suffering was an expected concomitant of discipleship (see 1 Thess 3:2–3); indeed, it is something believers “glory in” (Rom 5:3), not because they love to suffer, but because for Paul it is the mark of genuine discipleship.’ (Fee)

Suffering…joy – As Morris says, ‘just as it is true that the Christian will find trouble in the world, so it is true that he will have a joy that the world never gave and can never take away (John 16:22), a joy brought by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22).’

‘Joy was one of the chief outcomes of people’s conversion to Christ, and the strength of this joy was such that the adversity they faced could not destroy it. What determined these Christians’ attitude in their persecutions was not their circumstances but rather their experience of the Holy Spirit.’ (Green)

‘It was never Paul’s practice to promise an easy road to heaven, for he knew that all who become imitators of the Lord are called to share in his rejection by an unbelieving world (Jn 16:33; Acts 14:22; Phil 1:29; 1 Thess 3:4; 2 Tim 1:8).  But if the early Christians not only expected persecution as the inevitable accompaniment of genuine discipleship, they also received it as a badge of honour with Spirit-inspired joy (Acts 5:41).’ (Wilson)

You welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit – Paul has already, in v5, spoken of the Godward side, saying that that it came with the Holy Spirit’s power.  Now he emphasises the human side: ‘You welcomed…you turned…’.  Both aspects are vital if we are to have a rounded scriptural understanding of the Gospel and its proclamation.

Unparalleled joy

The little phrase, “with the joy of the Holy Spirit,” probably tells us much about both the paganism from which they had come and the life of the Spirit into which they had entered. On the one hand, life as a pagan may have had its moments of happiness, as it does for humanity in general, but by and large it was for them a life of heaviness and toil, arid in religion and empty in personal fulfillment—especially for the slaves and poor freedmen who would have made up a large sector of the typical early Christian congregation (cf. 1 Cor 1:26). But in coming to Christ and thus receiving the Holy Spirit, they had been filled with such an unparalleled joy that even in the midst of genuine hardships related to their having become believers, this is the one characteristic of their life in the Spirit that Paul recalls for them as clear evidence of their conversion. This suggests in the strongest possible way that for Paul joy is one of the certain hallmarks of genuine spirituality (Spirituality?).’ (Fee)

Growth through suffering

‘Grief and suffering are very real to this group of people, as indicated in verse 6 and expanded on later in the letter. Paul does not elaborate on the nature of persecution or the cause of the deaths in the community noted in 4:13; but Paul is clear that the Spirit builds all, even (perhaps especially) those who know suffering and persecution, joyfully. That the Spirit works through suffering indicates that the church may have “targets” and indexes of success that are different from those of other institutions.’ (Nathan Eddy, Feasting on the Word, Vol 4)

True joy is fruitful and enduring

‘There is an important pastoral principle here. How does Paul (or any pastor) know that they aren’t just experiencing the initial high spirits that are present in fresh converts to any movement? For even the Lord warned that “the seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy [μετὰ χαρᾶς]. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble [θλίψις] or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away” (Matt 13:20–21; is this another case of Paul interacting with the Matthean tradition?). Apart from their “fruit” (behavior), there exists no method for divining that they are true believers; perhaps sufficient time has passed, and they are still rejoicing after an initial stretch of tribulation. In any case, time would bear out Paul’s assurance. The Macedonian churches still enjoyed a reputation for joy in tribulation some seven years later, providing Paul with a fulcrum for his appeal in 2 Cor 8:2: “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.”’ (Shogren)

How we begin will greatly influence how we continue

‘Commonly, the whole character of the religious life will be determined by the views with which the profession of religion is made. If there is a purpose to enjoy religion and the world too; to be the patron of fashion as well as a professed follower of Christ; to seek the flattery or the plaudits of man as well as the approbation of God, that purpose will render the whole religious life useless, vacillating, inconsistent, miserable. The individual will live without the enjoyment of religion, and will die leaving little evidence to his friends that he has gone to be with God. If, on the other hand, there be singleness of purpose, and entire dedication to God at the commencement of the Christian life, the religious career will be one of usefulness, respectability, and peace. The most important period in a man’s life, then, is that when he is pondering the question whether he shall make a profession of religion.’ (Barnes)

1:7 As a result you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

A model – ‘tupos‘, pattern.  Paul’s readers had first followed the pattern of the apostles and the Lord, and then had themselves become patterns for others to follow.  High praise indeed.

Macedonia was in the north, and Thessalonica itself was within this province.

Achaia was in the south, several weeks’ journey away by land or sea.  As Shogren remarks, Paul had left Thessalonica a matter of months earlier, and yet the reputation of the church there had already reached places such as Athens and Corinth.

The Gospel’s wholesome effects

‘Four new relationships seem to be implied—the opposition of the world, the joy of the Holy Spirit, the imitation of the Lord and his apostles, and being a model to the rest of the church. If the preachers were marked by truth, conviction and power, the converts were marked by joy, courage and obedience.’ (Stott)

Past, Present, Future

  1. Conversion – ‘turned to God from idols’, v9 – the sphere of faith.
  2. Consecration – ‘to serve the living and true God’, v9 – the domain of love.
  3. Contemplation – ‘to wait for his Son from heaven’, v10 – the place of hope.

(Pickering, Subjects for Speakers and Students)

1:8 For from you the message of the Lord has echoed forth not just in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place reports of your faith in God have spread, so that we do not need to say anything.

The Lord’s message – lit. ‘the word of the Lord’.  Although this precise phrase is rare, Paul uses several similar expressions (‘the word’, ‘the word of God’, the gospel of God’, etc.) and the idea is especially prominent in the first two chapters of the present letter.  ‘It emphasises the conviction of the early Christians that the message they proclaimed was not the product of human wisdom, but truly of divine origin.’ (Morris)

This message rang out from you – the beginning of the present verse is connected to the end of the previous one with a ‘gar’ (‘for’).  The Thessalonians, new and persecuted believers as they were, had set an example to other churches by their clear declaration of God’s word.  Among those sent out from Thessalonica to assist in Paul’s work of evangelism were Aristarchus and Secundus (Acts 20:4), with Aristarchus also accompanying Paul to Ephesus (Acts 19:29), and and then to Rome (Acts 27:2; Col. 4:10; cf. Phlm. 24). Then there was Jason, who supported the apostles during their time in the city, who traveled with Paul to Corinth (Acts 17:6–9; 18:1; Rom. 16:21).

However, ‘from you’ may mean ‘starting with you’ (rather than ‘by you’).  ‘Travelers usually carried news with them, and the other churches may have heard of the Thessalonians through the Philippian messengers, also from Macedonia, who brought Paul support (2 Cor 11:9; Phil 4:15–16), or through any other Jewish or Christian travelers.’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)

The expression ‘rang out from you’ suggests ‘the clarion call of a trumpet or the roll of thunder’ (Morris).  (Shogren rightly warns, however, that the expositor should avoid saying that such a word ‘literally’ means this or that, for to do so would be to commit ‘the fallacy of importing into one context all the significance that a word can take elsewhere.’)

Receive, transmit!

As Stott remarks: 'Nothing is more impressive in 1 Thessalonians 1 than the sequence ‘our gospel came to you—you welcomed it—it rang out from you’.'  Shogren argues from Paul's language that the Thessalonians engaged in active evangelism.  He quotes Ware: 'Paul was confident that his congregations would continue his missionary activity, as the power of God at work in his preaching of the gospel continued to be active in those who had believed the message.'  The evangelised become evangelists!

Evangelism is everyone’s business

‘It is the responsibility and privilege of each local church to share the message of salvation with the lost world. At the end of each of the four Gospels and at the beginning of the Book of Acts, there are commissions for the churches to obey (Matt. 28:18–20; Mark 16:15–16; Luke 24:46–49; John 20:21; Acts 1:8). Many congregations are content to pay a staff to do the witnessing and soul-winning. But in New Testament churches, the entire congregation was involved in sharing the Good News (Acts 2:44–47; 5:42).’ (Wiersbe)

Embodied evangelism

Stott observes that it was not only the word of God that went forth from Thessalonica, but also news of what God had done among them.  There was verbal evangelism, to be sure; but there was also news of how the Thessalonians had been changed for the better.  ‘Everybody heard about this new community which had come into being in Thessalonica, its bold rejection of idolatry, its joy in the midst of opposition, its transformed values, its faith and love.’  Do people not only hear the gospel from us, but also see its effects in us?

Macedonia and Achaia - the two provinces making up the whole of Greece.

Your faith in God has become known everywhere - The underlying expression might refer to the gospel itself has having been made known (Green inclines to this interpretation).  Most interpreters, however, think that Paul is referring to the Thessalonians' response to the gospel.

Stott remarks that in our own day we have many tools for disseminating a message far and near.  But there is a way of communicating which is, anything, even more effective, and which requires no modern gadgetry: and that is word of mouth.  The transmission of an exciting and life-changing method can effectively be achieved simply by one person talking to another person, and that person to another, and so on.

Therefore we do not need to say anything about it - If we follow Green (above), then Paul would be saying that he did not need to preach the gospel in certain places because the Thessalonians had already done this effectively.  Most, however, think that Paul's meaning is that he does not need to say anything about their faith because the results of their faith are apparent for all to see.

Think about your own local church.  For what is it best known, and how widely?

1:9 For people everywhere report how you welcomed us and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God 1:10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath.

They themselves report what kind of reception you gave us - The word translated 'reception' can mean 'entrance', and Green thinks that Paul is referring not, not to the Thessalonians' reception of the apostles, but of how the apostles entered the city (as in 1 Thess 2:1).  Their entrance was not with the pomp and self-importance with which a noted philosopher might enter a city, but with quiet effectiveness (v5b).

'What follows gives the substance of these reports in words that are evidently intended to remind them of the preaching through which they had been delivered from the power of darkness (Cf. 1 Cor 10:19f).' (Wilson)

Now follow three results of receiving the gospel: (a) they turned from idols; (b) they turned to God; (c) they look forward to the coming of Christ.  Because the wording is not typical of Paul, some scholars think they have found in this triad traces of an early Christian creed.  But, as Fee has pointed out, by making this statement at the end of the present section of his letter, it has been made Pauline by the apostle himself.

You turned to God from idols - Paul would probably not have said this of Jewish converts, but rather of the 'large number of God-fearing Greeks' (Acts 17:4).  We may conclude, therefore, that the Thessalonian church was mainly Gentile.

Note the negative - 'you turned...from idols', and the positive - 'to serve the living and true God'.  The description of God as 'the living and true' stands in contrast to the idols, who are lifeless and false.

Green notes that there would have been very few people in Paul's day who did not follow some god or gods.  Such idolatry was part of the social and political climate, and so abandonment of these gods would have occasioned much of the persecution that was targeted at the new believers.

Green adds: 'The first movement of this conversion was to God, and as a result they turned from idols. There was no syncretism between their new faith and old religious loyalties. Nor did they take half a step by adopting God into their pantheon, placing him alongside their other religious loyalties. They took the radical step of abandoning those gods that were part of the worship of their family and their community.'

Green again: 'The church resoundingly condemned the worship of idols and pointed people to the true God who created all things (Rom. 1:22–25; 1 Cor. 5:11; 6:9; 10:14–22; Gal. 5:20–21; Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5; 1 John 5:21; Rev. 21:8; 22:15). Conversion meant not only abandoning the idol cult but also forsaking the immoral practices associated with it (1 Pet. 4:3).'

Stott remarks on the idolatry that is present in the world today in the form of animism (or 'traditional religion'): 'A tribe’s traditional idols have a tremendous hold over the people’s minds, hearts and lives. For centuries they have lived in superstitious dread of them and in obsequious submission to them. The very thought of breaking away from them fills them with alarm, as they fear the spirits’ revenge.'

But, adds Stott, the modern city has its own set of idols (or God-substitutes): 'Some people are eaten up with a selfish ambition for money, power or fame. Others are obsessed with their work, or with sport or television, or are infatuated with a person, or addicted to food, alcohol, hard drugs or sex. Both immorality and greed are later pronounced by Paul to be forms of idolatry, because they demand an allegiance which is due to God alone. So every idolater is a prisoner, held in humiliating bondage.'

This breaking free from idolatry is sometimes referred to as a 'power encounter', 'for it is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ in which the spell of the idol is broken and the superior power of the living and true God is demonstrated.' (Stott)

They had turned to the one God (implied by use of the definite article) from the many idols.

We might ask what contemporary idols we have turned from.

To serve the true and living GodAs the prophets of the OT insist, idols are dead, false things; but God is living and true.  ('True' here means 'genuine', in contrast to the falseness of idols).  The entire passage is suffused with Jewish monotheism, making the exalted Christology (especially for such an early letter) yet more striking.  Jesus is not only spoken of in the same breath as 'the living and true God', but he is the One whom we wait for, whom God has raised from the dead, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

We turn to, as well as from

‘We must not think of conversion only in negative terms as a turning away from the old life, but also positively as the beginning of a new life of service. We could say that it is the exchange of one slavery for another, so long as we add that the new slavery is the real freedom. In this way authentic conversion involves a double liberation, both from the thraldom of the idols whose slaves we were and into the service of God whose children we become.’ (Stott)

Idols at every turn

Wright comments that this turning from idols ‘would be like asking people in a modern city to give up using motor cars, computers and telephones. The gods of Greek and Roman paganism were everywhere. If you were going to plant a tree, you would pray to the relevant god. If you were going on a business trip, a quick visit to the appropriate shrine was in order. If you or your son or daughter was getting married, serious and costly worship of the relevant deity was expected. At every turn in the road the gods were there: unpredictable, possibly malevolent, sometimes at war among themselves, so that you could never do too much in the way of placating them, making sure you’d got them on your side.’

Persons can be idolised too

Wright comments that a relatively new kind of ‘god’ had emerged.  ‘When Augustus defeated his rivals and became emperor of Rome and its enormous subject lands, he declared that his adopted father, Julius Caesar, had become a god. When Augustus himself died in AD 14, his successor, Tiberius, did the same for him. Augustus during his lifetime, and Tiberius during his, were thus styled ‘son of the god’.  And so people became quite used to venerating important and powerful people as gods (or ‘idols’, as Paul would have put it).  Annette Weissenreider (Feasting on the Word, Vol 4) says that there was in Thessalonica ‘a distinctive emperor cult, where the emperor was honored in temples like a god.’

To wait for his Son from heaven - lit. 'the heavens'.  The idea is of waiting patiently and expectantly.  However, it is not a passive waiting: it is linked to their moral life (1 Thess 3:13; 5:6–8, 23) and to their behaviour in the face of persecution (cf. 1 Thess 1:3; 3:8).

Much is implied in this statement.  Jesus is God's Son (cf. Rom. 5:10; 8:3, 29, 32; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor. 1:19; Gal. 1:16; 4:4, 6).  His coming from heaven confirms his previous ascension to heaven (Acts 1:11; 2:34; Eph. 1:20; 2:6; Heb. 4:14; 9:24; 1 Pet. 3:22).  His coming from heaven is elsewhere referred to as his parousia, his royal coming (parousia; 1 Thess 2:19; 3:13; 4:15).

Are we waiting?

Morris remarks that for Paul the parousia was very important, and that its neglect in our own day is a great loss.  Do we share Paul’s vivid hope in, and patient waiting for, the return of God’s Son from heaven?  This is, perhaps, the earliest reference to the parousia in Paul’s writings.  But the idea is not new to Paul: it is found in the Gospels and in the earliest parts of Acts (Acts 1:11; 3:20–21; 10:42).  Given Paul’s wording here (God’s Son will come from heaven), it is inadequate to ‘spiritualise’ his teaching to mean that Jesus ‘comes to us’ moment by moment as we pray etc.

This hope is an integral part of the gospel

Morris quotes Neil: ‘This Act of God must reach its climax in Judgment, in the vindication of the just, and in the supreme, and final, and visible Victory of the Lord.’  Again, we can assume that Paul is re-iterating truths that had been a part of his original proclamation of the gospel.  The hope of Christ’s return is an essential part of our faith.

How did they know that Christ will return?

‘They believed that he was gone to heaven, and would come again, which are two great articles of the Christian faith. And though there was nothing in sense or reason, or any tradition, to persuade them of it, yet they believed it upon the apostle’s preaching it. And though the time of his coming was unknown to them, yet their faith presently put them upon waiting for it. And the certain time of his coming is kept secret, that the saints in every age may wait for it. Though he will not come till the end of the world, yet the saints ought to be influenced with the expectation of it in all generations that do precede it.’ (Poole)

An expectant church is a vibrant church

‘A local church that truly lives in the expectation of seeing Jesus Christ at any time will be a vibrant and victorious group of people. Expecting the Lord’s return is a great motivation for soul-winning (1 Thes. 2:19–20) and Christian stability (1 Thes. 3:11–13). It is a wonderful comfort in sorrow (1 Thes. 4:13–18) and a great encouragement for godly living (1 Thes. 5:23–24). It is tragic when churches forget this wonderful doctrine. It is even more tragic when churches believe it and preach it—but do not practice it.’ (Wiersbe)

Whom he raised from the dead - Fee observes that this is the first known reference to the resurrection of Jesus in Christian literature.  He adds that Paul's statement - like every other statement about the resurrection in the NT - is mentioned in an 'absolutely presuppositional' way.  'This primary Christian assumption thus especially lies behind several items that follow: the prayer directed to him in 1 Thess 3:12–13; the mention of his Parousia in 1 Thess 3:13; and the whole argument about the resurrection of believers in 1 Thess 4:13–18 (esp. v. 16).'

It was by this very act that God declared Jesus to be his Son, Acts 17:31; Rom 1:3f.

Obviously, this implies Jesus' death on the cross, which was also central in apostolic proclamation (1 Thess 2:15; 4:14; 5:9f).

Morris: 'It is a mark of the centrality of this event that even when Paul is thinking of the second coming he refers to Christ as the One whom he raised from the dead. The New Testament writers, of course, habitually ascribe the work of the resurrection to the Father. It is the mark of his vindication and approval of the atoning work of the Son.'

Who rescues us - Stott thinks that this is 'surely' a play on the name 'Jesus', which means 'saviour', Mt 1:21.  See also 1 Thess 5:9; Rom 5:9.

Stott remarks that v10 refers to ‘Jesus’, ‘God’s Son’, and 'Saviour'. Vv 1 and 3 refer to 'the Christ'. 'Putting these four epithets together, we have ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God and Saviour’ or (in the Greek acrostic) ICHTHUS, the word for fish which the early Christians chose as their secret symbol.'

The coming wrathAs with salvation itself, the NT teaches an 'inaugurated eschatology' concerning the wrath of God.  It is a 'coming wrath' (this verse, and also 1 Thess. 5:9; 2 Thess. 1:6–10; Rom. 5:9).  But it has already begun (1 Thess. 2:16; Rom. 1:18).

This wrath 'is something from which people must be “saved” (1 Thess 1:10; 5:9), it is “unexpected destruction” (1 Thess 5:3), “tribulation,” “blazing fire,” “retaliation,” “eternal destruction,” “separated from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thess 1:6–9), and “perishing” (2 Thess 2:10).' (Shogron)

Fee emphasises that the NT distinguishes sharply between 'wrath' (referring to final judgement on the wicked) and suffering (the present lot of believers).  Paul will turn later to the future that is promised for God's people; 'the focus here is not on the Thessalonian believers’ final glory, but on their opponents’ final destruction.'

C.H. Dodd famously depersonalised the concept of 'wrath', considering it to be the inevitable outcome of sin, rather than an attitude of God himself.  'But,' (asks Leon Morris) 'can it be seriously argued that Paul is thinking here of a wrath that is not God’s? In any case wrath is explicitly linked with God in a number of passages (e.g. John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 9:22; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6; Rev. 11:18; 14:10, 19; 19:15), and the idea is often present when the word ‘wrath’ is not used (e.g. 2 Thess. 1:7–9). Further, the New Testament writers always regard the universe as God’s universe. If retribution follows upon sin, then it seems impossible to hold that this takes place independently of God. If we were to maintain this, we would be building up a picture of a God who is personally indifferent to sin. The concept of the wrath of God is a healthy corrective to such unmoral views of the Deity, and it stands as a striking reminder that God is totally opposed to every form of evil.'

'People sometimes ask how a loving God can also be angry. Looking back at the inhumane and brutal twentieth century, one has to say that a good and loving God must be angry when faced with such wickedness.' (Wright)

Stott summarises: 'God’s wrath is neither an impersonal process of cause and effect (as some scholars have tried to argue), nor a passionate, arbitrary or vindictive outburst of temper, but his holy and uncompromising antagonism to evil, with which he refuses to negotiate. One day his judgment will fall. It is from this terrible event that Jesus is our deliverer.'

What we should be

According to Paul’s teaching in this chapter, we should all be ‘elect (born again), exemplary (imitating the right people), enthusiastic (sharing the Gospel with others), and expectant (daily looking for Jesus Christ to return).’ (Wiersbe)

A practical theology of prayer

Shogren recalls the words of D.A. Carson: ‘by and large, our thanksgiving seems to be tied rather tightly to our material well-being and comfort.’  Christians – pastors, especially, but I would include all Christian leaders, including parents – can learn much from Paul’s example as recorded in the Thessalonian correspondence.  Suggests Shogren:-

  1. Pray and give thanks for all your people, by name, continually.
  2. Pray and give thanks in the “gaps.” As well as carving out periods of time when you can pray uninterrupted and with full attention, use incidental moments, waiting times and ‘in-between times’ to offer prayer for what is happening near and far.
  3. Pray and give thanks with an eye on God and his word.  Ease out any resentful attitude towards members of your flock by offering gospel thanks and asking for gospel benefits for them.
  4. Let people know that you have been praying and giving thanks for them.  Paul allowed his churches to eavesdrop on his prayers.  There is an infectious joy in being able to say to your people: ‘You know that I have been praying for you.’
You are being watched

Christian leaders of all kinds should realise that who that are and what they do shouts more loudly than anything they say.  The importance of setting an example that is worth following is stressed in 1 Thess 1:7 and is echoed in scriptures such as 3 Jn 9-12.  Of course, the ultimate example is our Lord Jesus Christ, but others should be able to follow us just as we follow the Saviour (1 Cor 11:1; 1 Tim 4:12; Tit 2:7).  People will observe your character and behaviour.  But you can also teach vital skill by example,  As Shogren says: ‘Today mimesis has largely fallen out of favor in Western education…Nevertheless, imitation of a “master” is widely used to teach such divergent skills as cooking, art, gardening, home renovation, tennis, the martial arts, golf, aerobics, and even surgery. The church often overlooks this potent method, which can be employed to teach the basic skills of prayer, Bible study, teaching methods, and others.