1 Thessalonians 1 – Receivers and Responders
“This letter is full of interest because it is certainly among the first of those which have been preserved for us from the pen of Paul. It was the first he wrote to European Christians, and in it the fundamental things of the Christian life are very clearly set forth.” (G. Campbell Morgan)
A. Greeting and thanksgiving.
1. (1) Paul greets the Thessalonian Christians.
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
a. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy: Paul was an amazing man and apostle of God, but he usually did not work all by himself. Whenever he could, Paul worked with a team. Here Paul mentioned the men he worked with.
i. Silvanus (also known as Silas) was a long and experienced companion of Paul. He traveled with Paul on his second missionary journey and was imprisoned and set free with Paul in the Philippian jail (Acts 16:19-30). When Paul first came to Thessalonica, Silas came with him (Acts 17:1-9). Therefore, the Thessalonians knew Silvanus well.
ii. Timothy was a resident of Lystra, a city in the province of Galatia (Acts 16:1-3). He was the son of a Greek father (Acts 16:1) and a Jewish mother named Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5). From his youth learned the Scriptures from his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15). Timothy was a trusted companion and associate of Paul, and he accompanied Paul on many of his missionary journeys. Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians on a previous occasion (1 Thessalonians 3:2).
b. To the church of the Thessalonians: Paul himself founded the church in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey (Acts 17:1-9). He was only in the city a short time because he was forced out by enemies of the Gospel. Yet the church of the Thessalonians continued alive and active. Though Paul had to suddenly leave this young church, his deep concern for them promted this letter.
i. On Paul’s second missionary journey, he was imprisoned in Philippi and then miraculously freed from jail – only to be kicked out of the city. Then he came to Thessalonica, the prosperous capital of the province of Macedonia (northern Greece), located on the famous Egnatian Way.
ii. After only three weekends of prosperous ministry (Acts 17:2), he had to flee from an angry mob. He moved on to Berea – again enjoying several weeks of ministry, but soon driven out by the same Thessalonian mob.
iii. His next stop was Athens where he preached a good sermon but had mixed results. By the time he came to Corinth, he was in weakness, in fear and in much trembling (1 Corinthians 2:3). At this point of the second missionary journey, it seemed that Paul was a very discouraged missionary.
iv. While in Corinth, it is likely that Paul was greatly concerned about the churches he had just founded, and he wondered about their state. While at Corinth, Silas and Timothy came to him from Thessalonica with great news: the church there was strong. Paul became so excited that he dashed off this letter to the Thessalonians, probably his first letter to any church. He wrote it just a few months after he had first established the church in Thessalonica. After writing and sending this letter, Paul enjoyed a sustained and fruitful ministry in Corinth – and eventually returned to the Thessalonians.
v. This letter presupposes a basic truth: Paul thought it important, (even essential) to organize these young converts into a community of mutual interest, care, and fellowship. Paul “knew better than to leave his young societies with nothing more than the vague memory of pious preaching. The local organization was, as yet, primitive, but evidently it was sufficient to maintain itself and carry on the business of the church, when the guiding hand of the missionary was removed.” (Moffatt)
c. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Paul brought this customary greeting to the Thessalonian Christians, hailing them in the grace and peace of God the Father.
i. Morris on grace to you: “The change in the Greek form though slight in sound [chairein to charis], is great in sense. It is a big step from ‘greeting’ to ‘grace.’ Grace fundamentally means ‘that which causes joy,’ a shade of meaning we may still discern when we speak of a graceful action or the social graces. It comes to mean ‘favor,’ ‘kindness,’ and then especially God’s kindness to man in providing for his spiritual needs in Christ.”
ii. Hiebert on God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: “Paul’s construction, which unites the two under the government of the one preposition in (en), places the two names side by side on a basis of equality. It is a clear witness to his conviction concerning the deity of Jesus Christ.”
iii. “It is important to notice that the first words of 1 Thessalonians are in the form usual at the beginning of a letter of this period. What follows is not a theological treatise, but a real letter arising out of the situation in which the Apostle and his friends find themselves.” (Morris)
2. (2) Paul’s gratitude to God.
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers,
a. We give thanks to God always for you all: When Paul thought of the Christians in Thessalonica, his heart filled with gratitude. Paul started the church there in less than ideal circumstances, being run out of town after only three weekends with them (Acts 17:1-10). Yet the church was strong and full of life. Paul knew that this work was beyond him and his abilities and that it was the work of God.
i. “The regularly recurring nature of the thanksgiving is also implied in the use of the present tense of the verb. It is their practice to give thanks to God ‘continually, never skipping a single day.'” (Hiebert)
b. Making mention of you in our prayers: When Paul prayed for people and churches, it wasn’t necessarily a long time of intercession. He often simply made mention of a church or a person in prayer (Romans 1:9, Ephesians 1:16, Philemon 1:4).
i. “And not Paul alone. The plural implies that all three missionaries prayed together.” (Moffatt)
3. (3-4) Why Paul gave thanks to God for the Thessalonian Christians.
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.
a. Remembering without ceasing your work of faith: There were things about the Christians in Thessalonica that Paul simply could not forget. He always remembered them. What he remembered about them, made him thankful.
i. Paul’s gratitude didn’t come because all the Christians in Thessalonica thought so highly of him. Later, Paul used a whole chapter defending himself and his ministry against slander and false accusations.
ii. Paul’s gratitude didn’t come because the Thessalonian Christians were morally impeccable. Later in the letter, Paul strongly warned them against the failings in regard to sexual impurity.
iii. Paul’s gratitude didn’t come because the Thessalonian Christians were completely accurate in all their doctrine. He had to correct some of their wrong ideas in that area also.
b. Your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ: Despite the problems, Paul was so grateful to God for the Thessalonians because there was an undeniable work of the Holy Spirit and a marvelous change in their lives. The three great Christian virtues were evident among them: faith, love, and hope.
i. “Here for the first time, chronologically, in Paul’s writings we have this famous triad: faith, love, hope. But Paul’s stress is not on these virtues alone, but rather upon what they produce.” (Hiebert)
· Therefore, their faith produced work – as is the nature of true faith.
· Their love produced labor. There are two different ancient Greek words for work: ergon and kopos. Ergon “may be pleasant and stimulating,” but kopos “implies toil that is strenuous and sweat-producing.” (Hiebert)
· Their hope produced patience, which is the long-suffering endurance needed to not only survive hard times, but to triumph through them.
c. Knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God: Paul reminded them that God loved them (beloved) and that He chose them (election). The two go together. When we love someone, we naturally choose them.
i. “The phrase beloved by God was a phrase which the Jews applied only to supremely great men like Moses and Solomon, and to the nation of Israel itself. Now the greatest privilege of the greatest men of God’s chosen people has been extended to the humblest of the Gentiles.” (Barclay)
ii. The following verses will explain why Paul was so confident in knowing their election by God. Paul saw definite signs that said, “These Thessalonians are God’s elect.” In a sermon on the following passage, Charles Spurgeon found four evidences of election:
· The Word of God coming home with power (our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power).
· The reception of God’s Word with much assurance (and in much assurance).
· The desire to be like Jesus (you became followers of us and of the Lord).
· The existence of spiritual joy in spiritual service (in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit).
B. The cause and effect of the changes in the lives of the Thessalonians.
1. (5) The gospel caused the changes in the Thessalonian Christians.
For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.
a. For our gospel did not come to you in word only: The gospel is not a matter of mere words. In modern culture there is an overflow of information or entertainment that often only amounts to mere words. Yet the Gospel is more that words, it also has power.
i. For our gospel did not come to you: Literally, Paul wrote “became to you – proved to be, in its approach to you.” (Alford)
b. Also in power: The message of Jesus Christ has power. It has power for miracles; power for wonderful signs from God; and best of all, it has the power to change minds, hearts, and lives.
i. Thomas on power: “Not to be confused with dynameis, the plural of dynamis, which means ‘miracles’ (1 Corinthians 12:10; Galatians 3:5), the singular does not specify supernatural manifestations but neither does it exclude them.”
ii. “Some take the word power to mean miracles. I extend the word to apply to the spiritual power of doctrine . . . It is the living voice of God, inseparable from its effect, as compared with the empty and lifeless eloquence of men.” (Calvin)
c. And in the Holy Spirit: It is a message by the Holy Spirit, a living Person, who works within the hearts of the hearers, to convict, to comfort, and to instruct. If the preacher only speaks, then it is a matter of word only, but when the Holy Spirit works through the Word, a great spiritual work is accomplished.
i. We sometimes think too little about the spiritual operations of the Word of God. There is a spiritual work of God’s Word that goes far beyond the basic educational value of learning the Bible.
d. And in much assurance: It is a message given in much assurance. This describes the preacher who really believes what he preaches. There is no substitute for that assurance, and if a preacher doesn’t have it, he should stay out of the pulpit.
2. (6) The Thessalonians responded to the gospel by becoming followers.
And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit,
a. And you became followers of us and of the Lord: The Thessalonians stopped following other things, but followed after Paul and the Lord. Paul says that it was a good thing for the them to follow him, and he wasn’t shy about saying “follow me” because he knew where he was going.
i. This shows that Paul’s message included an element of personal discipleship. There was a sense in which Paul personally led these Thessalonian Christians in their spiritual life. They could see his life and were invited to learn from his example.
ii. Paul repeated this theme several times: Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. (Philippians 3:17) Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)
b. Having received the word in much affliction: The Thessalonian Christians distinguished themselves because they received the Word, even in much affliction. The message they heard came with adversity; yet they received it, and Paul thanked God because of it.
i. “The word for ‘affliction’ outside the Bible usually denotes literal pressure, and that of a severe kind. The corresponding verb, for example, was used of pressing the grapes in wine-making till they burst asunder, and so metaphorically came to mean very great trouble.” (Morris)
c. With joy of the Holy Spirit: When the Thessalonian Christians faced the affliction from receiving the Word, they didn’t just face it with a resigned fatalism. They faced it with joy of the Holy Spirit.
i. Not long before coming to Thessalonica, Paul and Silas personally experienced the principle of having the joy of the Holy Spirit even in the presence of much affliction – when they sang in the Philippian jail despite their chains and sufferings. They were examples of this same spirit to the Thessalonian Christians.
3. (7) The Thessalonians responded to the Gospel by becoming examples.
So that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe.
a. So that you became examples: First, Paul was an example to the Thessalonian Christians. Then theybecame examples to others. This is exactly how the work of God should happen.
b. To all in Macedonia and Achaia: The Christians in Macedonia and Achaia needed examples, and the Thessalonians supplied that need. This was true even though they had only been followers of Jesus a short time. As Christians, we always need others who will show us how to follow Jesus Christ, beyond the need of hearing about how to follow Him.
4. (8-10) The Thessalonians responded by sounding forth the Word of the Lord.
For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
a. From you the word of the Lord has sounded forth: This was part of the good example that the Thessalonian Christians provided. “Sounded forth” means “a loud ringing sound, as of a trumpet blast.” The good work the Lord did among the Thessalonians became known all over the region, and everyone talked about the changes.
i. In a cosmopolitan trading city like Thessalonica, the good news could sound forth in every place to all the earth.
b. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything: Paul said, “You Thessalonian Christians are sounding forth the Word of the Lord so effectively that you are putting me out of business! We do not need to say anything!”
i. Paul pairs two ideas. The word of the Lord sounded forth, and their faith toward God has gone out. Those two aspects are essential if a church will spread the Gospel. First, they need a message to spread, and that message first needs to impact their own lives. Second, they need the faith to go out, so that their faith toward God goes out to all the world.
ii. “The mere preaching of the Gospel has done much to convince and convert sinners; but the lives of the sincere followers of Christ, as illustrative of the truth of these doctrines, have done much more.” (Clarke)
iii. “Everybody asked, ‘Why, what has happened to these Thessalonians? These people have broken their idols: they worship the one God; they trust in Jesus. They are no longer drunken, dishonest, impure, contentious.’ Everybody talked of what had taken place among these converted people. Oh, for conversions, plentiful, clear, singular, and manifest; that so the word of God may sound out! Our converts are our best advertisements and arguments.” (Spurgeon)
c. How you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven: When the Thessalonians received the Word of God from Paul, they responded to it by leaving their idols, and they gave themselves to serve the living and true God. Their reception of the Word and their faith in God was shown as true because they did something with the Word of God.
i. To serve the living and true God: It seems that the verb douleuo (to serve) was apparently never used in a religious sense in pagan literature. Hiebert quotes Denney: “No Greek or Roman could take in the idea of ‘serving’ a God . . . There was no room for it in his religion; his conception of the gods did not admit of it. If life was to be a moral service rendered to God, it must be to a God quite different from any to whom he was introduced by his ancestral worship.”
ii. To wait for His Son from heaven: “Oh! This is a high mark of grace, when the Christian expects his Lord to come, and lives like one that expects him every moment. If you and I knew to-night that the Lord would come before this service was over, in what state of heart should we sit in these pews? In that state of heart we ought to be.” (Spurgeon)
d. Even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come: Paul pointed to the essence of salvation in saying Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come. We are saved from something, and that something is the righteous wrath of a holy God.
i. Later in this letter, Paul used the expression God did not appoint us to wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9) to refer to God’s deliverance of His people in the context of the wrath to come upon the world in the last days. He may have the same idea in mind here. “Used technically, as it so frequently is in the NT, ‘wrath’ (orges) is a title for the period just before Messiah’s kingdom on earth, when God will afflict earth’s inhabitants with an unparalleled series of physical torments because of their rejection of His will.” (Thomas)
ii. Whether he means the wrath of the Great Tribulation or the ultimate wrath of eternity, either must be urgently avoided. “A timorous man can fancy vast and terrible fears; fire, sword, racks, scalding lead, boiling pitch, running bell-metal. Yet all this is but as a painted fire to the wrath to come, that eternity of extremity, which graceless persons shall never be able to avoid or to abide.” (Trapp)
©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission