The Agora
Waiting For His Son - Thessalonians

Previous Index Next

II. Thanksgiving For The Thessalonians (1:2-10)

A. Paul's Thanksgiving (1:2-4)

v. 2
"We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;
v. 3
"remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;
v. 4
"knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God."


v. 2 "We": "We" is much more common in this letter than "I" -- see the notes on "Authorship" in the Introduction, suggesting that Paul and Silvanus were joint authors.

"Always": As the importunate widow (Luke 18:1).

v. 3. "Without ceasing": "Adialeiptos" occurs three other times in the New Testament: 1Th 2:13; 5:17; Rom 1:9. All references have to do with prayer. For Paul, true prayer was constantly recurring. For Paul, the only proper attitude of life was a continual attitude of prayer.

"Your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope": "Your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope" (NIV). Besides the "endurance" of the NIV, "hupermene" is translated "fortitude" (NEB) and "steadfastness" (RSV). The thought of the verse is beautifully expressed in the old paraphrase: "that obedience which your faith, that industry which your love, that enduring constancy which your hope in Christ hath wrought in you."

The idea behind the rather vague "of" in all three phrases seems to be "the result of." That is, faith leads to work, etc.

"Work" ("ergon") and "labor" ("kopos") are scarcely distinguishable. "Labor" is perhaps an intensification of "work", laying stress not just on the job done, but the effort and sacrifice necessary in the labor.

"In the sight of God": "Before God", "in His presence." Prayer is the means by which we come into the presence of God (1Th 3:9; Acts 10:4).

v. 4 "Brethren": The word "adelphos" signifies male children of the same parents (Mat 1:2; 13:55), people of the same nationality (Acts 3:17-22), or persons united by common interests (Mat 5:47; Rev 22:9). Spiritually, it signifies believers in Christ whether men or women (Acts 1:15; Rom 1:13; Rev 19:10).

"Election": "Ekloge." That God had chosen them was confirmed by their splendid response (vv 5-10), for which Paul thanks God. Notice the order: the brethren were first loved by God, and only then chosen by Him.


Characteristically, Paul thanks God for their conversion to Christ and for their lives of faith and zeal (v 2). Then his praise becomes even more expansive, as he enumerates the separate components of their dedication, which derived from their faith, love, and hope (v 3). He sees in them all that is to be desired in a Christian ecclesia, and the exuberance of his words reveals the great joy he feels in their maturing faith.

Paul give thanks for the brethren in almost all of his letters, a notable exception being that to the Galatians -- for whom he has no special praise either.

* * *

It is sobering (and challenging) to consider all those for whom Paul constantly prayed:

  1. Believers in Rome, regarding their mutual faith and Paul's desire to return to them (Rom 1:9-12).
  2. Believers in Corinth, regarding the "grace" (gifts?) given them, and that they may be blameless when Christ returns (1Co 1:4-8).
  3. Believers in Ephesus, regarding their growth in knowledge and wisdom (Eph 1:15-18), and that they might be filled with Christ and his love (3:14-19).
  4. Believers in Philippi, regarding their fellowship in the gospel, and that their love may abound (Phi 1:3-9).
  5. Believers in Colosse, that they might be filled with knowledge and walk worthy of the Lord (Col 1:3-6,9,10). (Epaphras, "who is one of you", likewise prayed -- 4:12.)
  6. Believers in Thessalonica, giving thanks for their faith (1Th 1:3-8), that it was growing (2Th 1:3); that they might glorify Christ (v 11), and that they might be comforted and established (2:16,17).
  7. Timothy, that he might see him and be filled with joy (2Ti 1:3,4).
  8. Philemon, giving thanks for his love and faith (Phm 1:4,5).
And these are merely the prayers that the apostle saw fit to tell about!

* * *

The combination of faith, hope, and love is a regular occurrence in the writings of Paul. Other than in v 3 here, it is found also in:

  1. Rom 5:2-5: "...we have access by faith into this grace... and rejoice in hope... because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts."
  2. 1Co 13:7,13: Love "hopeth all things... now abideth faith, hope, love, these three."
  3. Gal 5:5,6: "... we... wait for the hope of righteousness by faith... which worketh by love."
  4. Eph 4:2-5: "... forbearing one another in love... one hope... one faith"
  5. Col 1:4,5: "... your faith in Christ Jesus... the love... to all the saints, for your hope which is laid up for you."
  6. 1Th 5:8: "... putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation."
  7. Heb 6:10-12: "... your work and labor of love... the full assurance of hope... who through faith and patience inherit the promises."
  8. Heb 10:22-24: "... full assurance of faith... the profession of our hope (RV)... to provoke unto love..."
* * *

The Thessalonians' endurance was inspired by their hope; that is, their hope in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ (v 10; 1Th 2:19; 3:13; 4:14,16; 5:23). This expectation provided a firm grounding to their courage, and gave them a special strength to overcome the trials and even persecutions which threatened their faith. This hope is the same hope which all succeeding true believers have held.

The true hope of the Scriptures is defined variously as:

It follows, therefore, that any "hope" which cannot take all these aspects into account is a false and illusory and non-Biblical hope.

* * *

The "election" (which has today, unfortunately, a political connotation), or the "choice", of the brethren of Christ was made by God. In the Old Testament God chose Abraham and his offspring, the children of Israel, after him (Deu 4:37; Isa 41:8,9; 43:10; 44:1,2; 45:4; etc) with the purpose of making Himself known through them to the rest of mankind. But in the New Testament the "chosen" people are taken from no one nation; they are chosen out of all nations through their faith in Christ, which constitutes them a spiritual "seed" of Abraham (Gal 3:16,26-29). There is a humbling element in our recognition that He who spared not the natural olive branches, but broke them off because of their unbelief, may also not spare us, though we have been "chosen" and even "predestinated" to be sons (Eph 1:5).

B. The Thessalonians' Response (1:5-10)

v. 5
"For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
v. 6
"And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit:
v. 7
"so that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
v. 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; so that we need not speak any thing.
v. 9
"For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;
v. 10
"and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come."


v. 5 "For": That God chose ("elected") the Thessalonian believers (v 4) is proven by the way in which the gospel had been preached to them (v 5); the way in which they had received it (v 6); and the way in which others had learned of, and been influenced by, their faith (vv 7,8).

"Not... in word only": The gospel must be more than logical subtleties, more than clever arguments -- even if they are correct. It must be more than "enticing words of man's wisdom" (1Co 2:4; cp 1Co 4:20). Even though, unlike Paul, we do not have the Holy Spirit powers to substantiate our message, we must demonstrate power born of conviction and assurance and a changed life. In this sense, the gospel, sincerely believed, is still the greatest "power" in the world today (Rom 1:16).

"In power, and in the Holy Spirit": There is no definite article in this phrase, so that we may be free to understand it as "the power of a spirit, or mind, which is holy." But such is probably not the most reasonable way to read the passage; most likely the Holy Spirit is intended by Paul. The Greek "dunamis" (power) is nearly always associated with the Holy Spirit. In such a case the two ideas should be grouped together: "in the power of the Holy Spirit." (Cp Rom 1:4, where Jesus is declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness -- or the Holy Spirit -- by his resurrection from the dead).

"And in much assurance": "Plerophoria" means, literally, a "full carrying" or a full measure. To paraphrase: "The gospel we preached was not just a lot of words, but it was backed up by the power of the Holy Spirit, to fulfill ('fill full') our words, and produce in you a full measure of conviction."

"As ye know what manner of men we were among you": "You know how we lived among you" (NIV). Paul is not reluctant to offer his own life as an example to the believers. He does this again in a very specific way in 2Th 3:7,8, when he points to his own heavy physical labor when among them -- as an example to those who were disorderly and parasites (v 11), that is, living off the labor of others while awaiting the return of Christ. And surely the most poignant instance of Paul using his own life as an example is in his address to the Ephesian elders:

"And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have shewed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said. It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:32-35).

v. 6 "And ye became followers of us": "Mimetai", from which is derived the English "mimic." Other versions have "imitators." The word suggests learning by observing closely and then copying precisely the actions of a model. It is always used in the New Testament in a good sense. Paul was not reluctant in the least to be such a model for new believers:

"Brethren, be followers ('imitators') together of me" (Phi 3:17; cp Phi 4:9).
"Of us, and of the Lord": The first "Bible" that any unbeliever "reads" and the first "Christ" that any unbeliever "sees" or "hears", are the lives and the words of some believer. This Paul understood very well. He knew that he must be the one to lead these Thessalonians to Christ. Instructions and theories, no matter how elaborate and detailed, would alone never lead them to Christ; it must be a human guide.

"Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers (imitators) of me" (1Co 4:16).

"Be ye followers (imitators) of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1Co 11:1).
"Having received the word": "You welcomed the message" (NIV). The word is that used for the reception of a guest (Luke 10:8,10; Heb 11:31). The message of the gospel is a living guest, because Christ is alive.

"I stand at the door, and knock..." (Rev 3:20).
"In much affliction": "Thlipsis" literally signifies "pressure" and is commonly used in the New Testament of the trials and sufferings faced by believers. There must have been more and greater persecutions of the new believers after Paul and his companions had left Thessalonica (2Th 1:4,5). The Jews who had stirred up a riot against Paul (Acts 17:5) and even followed him to Berea (v 13) would not have left the converts in Thessalonica unmolested. And there had been further opposition from the Gentiles in the city as well (1Th 2:14).

"With joy of the Holy Spirit": Joy is almost always associated with fellowship and/or the Holy Spirit. The word "joy" is associated in our minds with Paul and Silas singing hymns at midnight in the Philippian jail, their backs having been beaten raw and their feet in stocks (Acts 16:25). But they shared a fellowship of suffering and joy that can only be the privilege of those who know the gospel of Christ.

v. 7 "So that ye were ensamples": The "imitators" (v 6) were in turn imitated by others on a wide basis, and with this Paul is evidently quite pleased. The word "ensample" ("pattern" in NIV) is "tupos", from which we get the word "type." It first denoted the image left by a sharp blow, like a design stamped on a coin, giving an exact or nearly exact facsimile of the original. Then it came to mean, as several times in the New Testament, a pattern of behavior or conduct to be followed (Tit 2:7; 1Pe 5:3).

"All that believe in Macedonia and Achaia": The two names are those of the Roman provinces into which Greece was divided. Macedonia in the north (containing Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea) and Achaia in the south (with Athens and Corinth) had come into Roman possession in the middle of the second century BC, and were administered sometimes as one province and sometimes as two during the next 200 years.

v. 8 "For from you sounded out the word of the Lord": Having joyfully received the gospel, and despite the suffering that accompanied its preaching, the Thessalonian believers had no thought of keeping it to themselves. By word and by example they diligently made it known to others. From the beginning they functioned as a "missionary body." The verb "exechomen" -- found only here in the New Testament -- has a musical connotation, as the sounding out of a trumpet. It is a striking word in its imagery, urgent and exciting. The verb form denotes a continuous sounding forth, as though the initial trumpet blast is reverberating and echoing across the landscape. (Paul's quotation of Psa 19:4 in Rom 10:18 is applying the verse to the preaching of the gospel and uses the same vivid expression if not the same word.) Trumpets and horns were used in the Old Testament to call Israel to battle (Judges 3:27; 6:34: 1Sa 13:3); to sound the alarm to a city (Jer 6:1; Amos 3:6); and to announce the accession of a new king (2Sa 15:10; 1Ki 1:34), the year of freedom (Lev 25:9), and the dedication of the Temple (2Ch 5:12). At the blast of the priest's trumpets the walls of Jericho fell down (Josh 6:1-20). In the New Testament the trumpet will announce the coming of Christ (Mat 24:31; 1Th 4:16) and the resurrection of the dead (1Co 15:52). In Revelation, seven trumpets announce seven apocalyptic visions (Rev 8 to 11). All these images, immediate and thrilling, are included in the message that "rang out" (NIV) from the Thessalonian believers.

"Also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad": Paul makes the same boast for the Thessalonians in 2Th 1:3,4. It is astonishing to realize how quickly the word of their faith had spread abroad. In a few months at most, communities everywhere (Philippi, Galatia, Antioch, Judea) were hearing the exciting story of the gospel's success in Thessalonica. Other examples of this highly efficient first-century "grapevine" are found in Rom 1:8 and Col 1:4,7,8. Peter could write, for another example, of possessing all Paul's epistles (2Pe 3:15,16), probably within a few months of their publication. Apparently in the peaceful conditions prevailing throughout the Roman Empire, communication by post was quite rapid, and well-utilized by the early ecclesias.

v. 9 "For they themselves shew of us": "For they themselves report" (NIV). Paul was receiving reports second-hand from other churches of what he had done in Thessalonica in the first place -- so well did their "grapevine" operate.

"What manner of entering in we had unto you": What kind of reception you gave us" (NIV).

"How ye turned to God from idols": Some of the Gentile converts in Thessalonica were "devout Greeks" (Acts 17:4), who had presumably already abandoned the idols of their fathers so as to worship, if only in a secondary way, the God of Israel. But many others must have had little or no connection with the synagogue, since only at the call of the gospel did they turn from their idols. That 1 Thessalonians is written to a predominantly Gentile group is suggested by:

  1. No direct references to the Law of Moses;
  2. A scarcity of direct references to other parts of the Old Testament;
  3. This v 9, regarding "turning from idols"; and
  4. The serious call to sexual purity which is reminiscent of the Jerusalem decree sent to Gentile believers (Acts 15:19,20,28,29), and which in any case should have been unnecessary for those brought up under the Law.
Paul's description of the Thessalonians' conversion echoes his preaching in Lystra ("ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God" -- Acts 14:15-17, and Athens "I perceive that in all things (their many idols) ye are too superstitious... the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent" -- Acts 17:22,30).

In Greek "idol" literally means a "shadow" or a "phantom." By Paul's preaching the "idols" were discredited as mere imaginations of enfeebled, philosophical minds. They were, in Paul's robust and blunt words, "nothing" -- or more literally, "no-gods" (1Co 8:4-6). They simply did not exist. The images of wood and stone had unseeing eyes and unhearing ears, and mouths out of which no speech would ever come (Psa 115:4-7). Some of the most exquisite irony and sarcasm in the Old Testament is reserved for the "no-gods" and those who trust in them (1Ki 18:27; Isa 44:9-20).

"The living and true God": In contrast to the lifeless and shadowy gods" of the nations. The word "true" here ("alethinos" rather than "alethes") means not so much true as opposed to false, but real as opposed to unreal.

v. 10 "And to wait for his Son from heaven": "Anemeno" is normally associated with patience or endurance. It seems clear that, at least at this early stage in New Testament times, Paul and his converts expected the return of Christ in their own lifetimes. (The prominence given in the New Testament to the second coming can hardly be overstated. It has been computed that on the average one out of every 13 New Testament verses contains a reference to it.) It is difficult to say precisely when the realization came to Paul (by revelation, perhaps?) that Christ's coming might, for himself and his contemporaries, be long deferred. He does take pains to point out to these same believers soon afterwards that Christ would not return until the "Man of Sin" had been manifested (2Th 2:1-3, etc) although there is some question whether even then Paul expected a wait of almost 2,000 years.

We must not think of waiting as a passive, disinterested exercise. This was the mistake of some in Thessalonica, who gave up their jobs, lost all concern for their future well-being, and lived off the goodwill of others. Scriptural "waiting" is an "occupying" -- a diligence in all one's duties -- the zest for the labor intensified by the expectation of the nearness of the Master's return to inspect and reward his household. (And, at any rate, that return is only as far away as the death of any individual believer.)

"Jesus, which delivered us": "Who is delivering us." "The Deliverer" is one of the titles of Jesus (Rom 11:26, citing Isa 59:20, LXX). In the context of Isaiah, the Deliverer is the "arm of salvation" for Israel (v 10), who also brings vengeance upon Israel's enemies (vv 17-19). (This may be compounded with "the wrath to come" introduced now in v 10.)

"The wrath to come": "The coming wrath" (NIV): cp 1Th 2:26; Mat 3:7. The present continuous verb form stresses the inevitability of the wrath of God; it is already coming and cannot be recalled. "The wrath" ("orge") is practically a technical designation of the period just before Christ's kingdom on the earth, when God will bring upon the world a series of unprecedented distresses and calamities (Mat 24:21; Luke 21:23; Rev 6:16,17).


When Jesus said to his disciples, "Ye are the light of the world", he was not talking about preaching in the ordinary sense. He was telling his followers that they were to proclaim God to the world by their own godly characters:

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Mat 5:14-16).
At first glance these words seem to contradict the Lord's words just a bit further on, when he says:

"Take heed that ye do not your alms before men" (Mat 6:1-4).
But of course there is no real contradiction. In the first passage the Lord is telling us that by our good works we must glorify God; in the second passage he is telling us that by those same good works we must not glorify ourselves. What matters is our motive in doing them, and the effect they have on those who see them. If we deliberately parade our virtues before men, and wait until someone is looking before doing the helpful thing, and talk about those same acts to make sure they were noticed, then we are glorifying ourselves.

Yet men are to see our good works; how else can they glorify God? The Lord's words imply a level of living that cannot be concealed. A true disciple does not need to parade his virtues; the quality of his life as a whole will make its own impact without a publicity agent. His conduct, his modesty (if it is real!), his conversation, his guileless concern for the welfare of others: these attributes will shine through and proclaim more eloquently than any words that he has been with Jesus. We must make no mistake: direct preaching is very important too. But preaching by example is far more important: if the quality of a man's living does not match his message, then all his preaching is in vain.

1Th 1:5-10 shows us how this preaching by example (as well as word) works. The perfect example of Jesus himself impresses Paul to such an extent that he, in turn, becomes an example to the Thessalonians. They then undergo such a dramatic change that their pattern of life, and love and faith, stir up those in Macedonia and Achaia -- who now become preachers by their example. And so this great chain of transformed people is extended, link by link, from place to place and age to age, reaching at last to us! Now it is our turn, by our exemplary lives, by our burning zeal that Christ be magnified in us, to proclaim to others what the Lord is like.

* * *

A comparison of v 3 with vv 9,10:

Verse 3
Verses 9,10
1. work of faith
1. "Ye turned..."
2. labor of love
2. "to serve..."
3. patience of hope
3. " to wait..."

* * *

The twin concepts of joy and suffering are deeply etched into the fabric of the early experience of the ecclesia. The height of joy can be experienced only in the context of suffering, and it enables the believer to bear suffering and not to be overcome by it (1Th 3:7; 1Pe 1:6; 4.13; 2Co 8:2; Phi 2.17; Col 1:24). The joy which comes from the absolute acceptance of the gospel and its hope is -- or should be -- of such intensity that a believer is prepared to put up with what are by comparison minor trials. He sees them now from a new perspective:

"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2Co 4:17).
In 1Th 1:6 Paul equates the experience of joy with the experience of persecution. But the general principle may reasonably be applied to all the other pains and irritations of life that can dominate the attention of the unbeliever, but which are of trivial importance to the true believer.

In this matter of rejoicing in suffering, the believer is only following the example set for him by Christ, "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame" (Heb 12:2). Indeed, the Lord directly taught this to his disciples:

"Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets" (Luke 6:22,23).
* * *

What has Paul achieved in this section of his letter? He has congratulated his readers on their steadfast faith. He has encouraged them by the observation that their lives are becoming examples for others, even far away. All this will certainly strengthen them further to carry on as they have begun, despite opposition from their neighbors in Thessalonica. And (the best reason of all to persevere) Paul reminds them that Jesus is coming again.

Previous Index Next