The Agora
Bible Commentary
1 Thessalonians

1 2 3 4 5

1 Thessalonians 1

1Th 1:1

See Lesson, Paul the man.

See Lesson, Paul's ecclesial letters.

V 1: Greeting.

SILAS: The Greek equivalent of the Hebrew "Saul." ("Silvanus" -- AV and NIV mg -- is the Latin equivalent.) Silas was a prominent member of the Jerusalem ecclesia, and was chosen as a messenger (along with Judas Barsabbas) to deliver the apostolic decree to Antioch (Acts 15:22,27,32). When Paul fell out with Barnabas, he chose Silas to accompany him on his second missionary journey; thus Silas was closely associated with Paul in Philippi (Acts 16), Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9) and Corinth (Acts 18:5). Along with Paul, Silas was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37) -- which would account for his second, Latinized name. In later years, Silas was Peter's assistant (1Pe 5:12).

TIMOTHY: Timothy is one of the best known and closest of Paul's fellow-laborers. He was converted by Paul and is referred to as Paul's "own son in the faith" (1Ti 1:2). He joined Paul's company on his second journey, and worked with him thereafter till the end of Paul's life.

His father was a Gentile (Acts 16:1), and Timothy was not circumcised although he knew the Holy Scriptures from childhood (2Ti 3:15). His mother Eunice and grandmother Lois were faithful believers (2Ti 1:5), but his father and grandfather were not so mentioned. It would appear from this that faithfulness was on the female side of the family and probably in the face of difficulties.

Paul's choice of Timothy to accompany him, as well as Timothy's subsequent field of labor, was apparently indicated by the Holy Spirit (1Ti 1:18).

Timothy lived at Lystra (Acts 16:2), in eastern Asia Minor. When Paul arrived there on his second journey, Timothy joined him and traveled eastward with him through Asia Minor to Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea.

Some have assumed, from Paul's exhortations to him to "endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" and to "let no man despise thy youth", that Timothy was timid and lacking in missionary fervor for the work of the Truth. But surely the picture we get of him in this his earliest appearance in the work, where the brethren were experiencing persecutions, shows him to be exceptionally faithful, zealous, courageous, and devoted.

From Thessalonica, Timothy rejoined Paul at Corinth and stayed with him for the rest of the second journey. He accompanied Paul on his third journey (which ended with Paul's arrest and transferal to Rome), three years of which were spent in Ephesus. He was with Paul on the return trip to Jerusalem, at the end of which a riot occurred in Jerusalem and Paul was imprisoned.

We have no record of Timothy while Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea, nor on the journey to Rome. He appears again with Paul in Rome -- part of the time, at least, a prisoner himself -- for Heb 13:23 records that Timothy had been "set at liberty", as Paul himself was then expecting to be.

IN GOD THE FATHER: The relationship which believers have with God the Father is not biological; it is mental and moral, a matter of enlightened choice and intelligent obedience. This "Fatherhood" is restricted to those who are born anew, in faith (Gal 3:26; John 3:1; 5:4) through baptism (Rom 6:3; 8:10), which constitutes "adoption" ("huiothesis": placing in the position of a son; sonship) (Rom 8:16,17; Gal 4:5).

GRACE: The Greek word is "charis" -- a gift, or favor -- any and all of God's blessings and gifts of the Holy Spirit; but it certainly signifies much more as well.

Grace is the favorable attention, and love, and care, and comfort and guidance from God the Father toward us. To receive grace from God is to come within the scope of His glorious light, and to be accepted as part of His chosen family, constantly overshadowed by His angelic protection.

This grace is extended without partiality to all who, in Truth, yield themselves entirely to Him: this means placing ourselves in His hands and allowing His Word to work in us. We must allow the Truth as it is in Jesus to dominate all aspects of our lives -- endeavoring to give our all to him, holding nothing back, in hope of the day when we will be "filled with all the fulness of God". Just holding certain beliefs, and attending the meetings of believers, will not guarantee God's grace upon us. We must also be receptive to Him; we must be moved to activity according to His purpose. Then and only then may we enter into the glory of the grace of God.

PEACE: To the Greeks and Romans, as to the western mind today, "peace" means simply the absence or cessation of war and external strife. But the Hebrew "Shalom" carries the deeper spiritual sense of unity of mind and purpose, of mental harmony and tranquillity.

This "peace" is the blessing we all need most. It only comes through the grace of God. This peace is an impervious mental shield against all fears and anxieties. It is not freedom from external conflict: that is not important. It is freedom from internal conflict, which is everything.

Jesus said, just before the terrible suffering of his crucifixion: "Peace I leave with you: my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid... These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 14:27; 16:33).

And Paul, beaten sorely and chained in the Philippian prison for the sake of the glorious gospel he preached, sang hymns of praise at midnight (Acts 16:25). Later he assures the brethren in Philippi, who had been so moved by his earlier witness, that the "peace" he had experienced and revealed to others could be their "peace" as well: "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phi 4:7).

1Th 1:2

Vv 2-10: Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians.

Vv 2-4: Paul's thanksgiving.

WE: "We" is much more common in this letter than "I" -- suggesting that Paul and Silas were joint authors.

ALWAYS: As the importunate widow (Luke 18:1).

1Th 1:3

CONTINUALLY: "Adialeiptos" occurs three other times in the NT: 1Th 2:13; 5:17; Rom 1:9. All refs 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.

BEFORE OUR GOD: Prayer is the means by which we come into the presence of God (1Th 3:9; Acts 10:4).

ENDURANCE: "Patience" in KJV. 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."

HOPE IN OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST: 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: (1) the hope of the promise unto the fathers (Acts 26:6,7); (2) the hope of the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:6); (3) the hope of righteousness (Gal 5:5); (4) the hope of the gospel (Col 1:23); (5) the hope of the glory of God (Tit 2:13); (6) the hope of Israel (Acts 28:20); (7) the hope of eternal life (Tit 1:2; 3:7); and (8) the blessed hope of the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ (Tit 2:13).

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

1Th 1:4

BROTHERS: 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).

CHOSEN: "Election" in AV; Gr "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.

The "choice" of the brethren of Christ was made by God. In the OT 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 NT 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).

1Th 1:5

Vv 5-10: The Thessalonians' response: These verses 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.

BECAUSE...: 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 SIMPLY WITH WORDS: 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).

WITH POWER, WITH 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).

WITH DEEP CONVICTION: "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."

YOU KNOW HOW WE LIVED AMONG YOU: 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).

1Th 1:6

IMITATORS: "Mimetai", from which is derived the English "mimic." The word suggests learning by observing closely and then copying precisely the actions of a model. It is always used in the NT 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).

IN SPITE OF SEVERE SUFFERING: "Thlipsis" literally signifies "pressure" and is commonly used in the NT 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).

YOU WELCOMED THE MESSAGE: 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.

WITH THE JOY GIVEN BY 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.

1Th 1:7

AND SO YOU BECAME A MODEL: The "imitators" (v 6) were in turn imitated by others on a wide basis, and with this Paul is evidently quite pleased. The word "model" 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 NT, a pattern of behavior or conduct to be followed (Tit 2:7; 1Pe 5:3).

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.

1Th 1:8

THE LORD'S MESSAGE RANG OUT FROM YOU: 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 NT -- 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 OT 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 from the Thessalonian believers.

YOUR FAITH IN GOD HAS BECOME KNOWN EVERYWHERE: 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.

1Th 1:9

FOR THEY THEMSELVES REPORT WHAT KIND OF RECEPTION YOU GAVE US: 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.

HOW YOU 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 1Th 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 OT; (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).

IDOLS: 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 OT is reserved for the "no-gods" and those who trust in them (1Ki 18:27; Isa 44:9-20).

TO SERVE 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.

"The greatest blessing possible is to be used by God in His service -- used as part of the glorious Divine Plan of Salvation -- 'workers together with God.' We shall be used if we are useful Our life's ambition should be to make ourselves useful and suitable. By nature and natural condition, we are absolutely useless; and there must be a very great change to become useful. There is a way to become useful: by constant application of the mind to the Word of God and the Spirit of Christ. The 'wise' of the world tell us man's greatest need is to be needed. There is considerable truth in this, though it's not the whole truth. For God's eternal purpose, He 'needs' a certain kind of people. He searches for them, as for rare living jewels in the vast dead stone pile of humanity. What a glorious ambition to give our lives to preparing, with His help, to fill that need!" (GVG).

1Th 1:10

See VL, Christ's resurrection, reality.

WAIT: "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.)

WHO RESCUES 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).

THE COMING WRATH: 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).

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