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Bible Commentaries

Contending for the Faith

1 Thessalonians 1

Verse 1

Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians: The writers follow the customary form for a first century letter, identifying at the beginning both the authors and the recipients and then making a statement of good wishes or a prayer. The need for this format is explained by Coffman in his commentary on Romans:

All letters and other written communications, in NT times, were written upon parchments and conveyed to their recipients in rolled-up form; and that ancient style of letter required, as a practical consideration, that the signature of the writer be at the beginning. Otherwise, it would have been necessary to unroll the entire scroll to find the name of the sender. Therefore, Paul followed the custom of the times in placing his name along with the salutation in the beginning of the epistle (1).

Paul: In the letter to the Thessalonians, Paul does not, as in some of his letters, immediately identify himself as an apostle. "He does not add ’an apostle,’ &c., because in their case, as in that of the Philippians (Philippians 1:1), his apostolic authority needs not any substantiation" (Jamieson, Faucet, and Brown 384). Noting that Paul’s official title "Apostle" is omitted in the introduction to both Thessalonian letters, Vincent adds: "The title appears in all the other Epistles except Philippians and Philemon. The reason for its omission in every case appears to have been the intimate and affectionate character of his relations with the parties addressed, which rendered an appeal to his apostolic authority unnecessary" (Vol. IV 9). The appeal to apostolic authority in Paul’s later letters becomes necessary as his enemies increasingly call it in question. While Paul’s name is joined with those of Silvanus and Timotheus in the salutation, it is clear that Paul is the principal author of this letter.

and Silvanus: "A ’chief man among the brethren’ (Acts 15:22), and a ’prophet’ (v. 32), and one of the deputies who carried the decree of the Jerusalem council to Antioch. His age and position cause him to be placed before Timothy, then a youth (Acts 16:1; 1 Timothy 4:12)" (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown 384). Silvanus is always called Silas in the book of Acts.

and Timotheus: Better known as Timothy, this brother becomes Paul’s traveling companion during the apostle’s second missionary journey (Acts 16:1-4) and remains a loyal and trusted confidante until the end of Paul’s life (2 Timothy 1:2-5; 2 Timothy 4:9).

unto the church of the Thessalonians: This letter is addressed to "not merely isolated believers, but to a corporate body" (Jamieson, Faucet, and Brown 384). "Wherever there were believers there was a church" (Hogg and Vine 19).

which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Each congregation has a spiritual as well as a geographical address. The geographical address for this group is Thessalonica (see the Introduction). Its spiritual address is "in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ." Commenting on this verse, Wuest says this church "is in the sphere of God, circumscribed by God, surrounded by Him" (Nuggets 15). The preposition in "is frequently used by Paul to express intimacy of union" (Hogg and Vine 21).

The Greeks used the term "church" to refer to any "called-out assembly," whether political or civil. Paul gives the term a specialized meaning. The addressees are clearly not a pagan assembly, although many of them have previously been pagans (verse 9), for they are "in God the Father." Nor are they Jewish because they are "in the Lord Jesus Christ," although some of the first converts in Thessalonica came from the synagogue (Acts 17:4).

The fact that they were in God the Father made them separate from the idolatrous Gentiles. The fact that they were in the Lord Jesus Christ separated them from the unbelieving Jews (Fields 28-29).

"In God" and "in Christ" are favorite expressions of the Apostle Paul, occurring some 263 times in his writings. The apostle expresses the divine intimacy existing between the Father and the Son by constantly linking them together.

Paul could never think of God without seeing the face of Jesus, and he could never commune with Jesus without feeling the presence of God (Stewart 307).

This church is "in God" because He is the source of its life, and it is "in Thessalonica" because that is the sphere of its activity.

Grace be unto you, and peace: Paul combines both the Greek and Jewish forms of greeting. A Greek would normally include "grace" (that which causes joy) in the salutation of his letter. The Hebrew would normally include "peace" ("wholeness, soundness, and signifies prosperity in the widest sense, especially prosperity in spiritual things," (Morris 41). The order of these words should also be noted, first grace, then peace. There can be no genuine peace until we have been saved by grace.

Grace is God’s favour toward man, free and unmerited; peace is the result to all who receive that favour in Christ. Thus these two words sum up the gospel, its cause and its effect, cp. Romans 3:24 with 5:1" (Hogg and Vine 29).

The Thessalonians have a special need for both grace and peace because of the persecutions they are undergoing.

from God our Father: It is significant that God is identified as "Father." This is largely a New Testament concept. It is true that some of the Old Testament prophets used this descriptive term with reference to God, but it remained for the Lord Jesus Christ to develop the idea fully.

and the Lord: "Jesus" is joined with "God" in such a way as to suggest equality. The three words by which He is identified here are used elsewhere in various orders and combinations. They are employed together here to emphasize the greatness of man’s redeemer. "Lord" emphasizes the master/servant relationship. It tells us that He has the right to command, and we have the responsibility to obey. "Why call ye me Lord, Lord and do not the things which I command you?" (Luke 6:46). This word occurs in every New Testament book with the exception of Titus and the Epistles of John. Its various shades of meaning are summarized by Barclay as follows:

It is now plain to see what a man ought to mean when he calls Jesus Lord, or when he speaks of the Lord Jesus, or the Lord Jesus Christ. When I call Jesus Lord, I ought to mean that he is the absolute and undisputed owner and possessor of my life, and that he is the Master, whose servant and slave I must be all my life long. When I call Jesus Lord, it ought to mean that I think of him as the head of that great family in heaven and in earth of which God is the Father, and of which I through him have become a member. When I call Jesus Lord, it ought to mean that I think of him as the help of the helpless and the guardian of those who have no other to protect them. When I call Jesus Lord, it ought to mean that I look on him as having absolute authority over all of my life, all my thoughts, all my actions. When I call Jesus Lord, it ought to mean that he is the King and Emperor to whom I owe and give my constant homage, allegiance and loyalty. When I call Jesus Lord, it ought to mean that for me he is the Divine One whom I must for ever worship and adore (Barclay, The Mind of Christ 326).

Claudius and other Roman emperors appropriated this word for themselves to strengthen their claim to emperor-worship, but Jesus is the only legitimate claimant and the only one who can rightfully be called Lord.

Jesus: This is our Lord’s proper name, given to Him prior to His birth by the angel of the Lord (Matthew 1:21) and suggesting His mission to save people from their sins, a meaning which is inherent in the word.

Christ: "Christ" (from a Greek word meaning anointed) serves as a reminder of our Lord’s historical relationship to the Old Testament. It identifies Him as the Messiah (from a Hebrew word also meaning anointed), the fulfillment of prophecy. Anointing has historically been the initiatory rite that launched those chosen of God on their appointed missions as prophet (Isaiah 61:1), priest (Leviticus 4:3), or king (1 Samuel 2:10). Jesus, then, must be anointed of God (Acts 10:38) so that He might be prophet, priest, and king, and all at the same time. This is the first time in the annals of mankind that a servant of God has occupied all three positions simultaneously. That fact makes Jesus unique among all who have ever lived on earth.

Verse 2

We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;

We give thanks to God always: "Give thanks is in the present tense, which indicates continuous action....Paul considered giving thanks a privilege and duty that needed to be repeated often" (Fields 30).

Prayer may take many forms--intercession, petition, supplication. It would seem that Paul’s prayers are largely expressions of thanksgiving, and the thanksgiving is evoked by three qualities (work, labor, and patience) on the part of the Thessalonians. But it is work that springs from "faith," labor that comes from love, and patience (fortitude) whose origin is hope. This great triad is often linked together in scripture (1 Corinthians 13:13; Romans 5:2-5; Galatians 5:5-6; Colossians 1:4-5; Hebrews 6:10-12; Hebrews 10:22-24; 1 Peter 1:21-22). The use of the plural "we" may refer to those times when all three missionaries joined together in prayer as opposed to their times of individual and private prayer.

for you all: "Christians differ in attainment, but there is always something of Christ in each, and hence always something for which to thank God, since Christ is the oil that feeds the lamp of praise" (Hogg and Vine 30).

making mention of you in our prayers: Paul is the only New Testament writer to use the word "mention," sometimes translated remembrance and in each of the seven instances it is used in connection with prayer. The word suggests that Paul is in the habit of calling the individual names of those for whom he prays. Instead of a general request that the congregation as a whole would be blessed of God, Paul seems to address the individual needs of individual Christians in his petitions to the throne of grace.

Verse 3

Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;

Remembering without ceasing your work of faith: A clear distinction is drawn in scripture between faith and meritorious work (Ephesians 2:8-9). However, work in the sense of activity (obedience) in response to a command of God is an expression of faith. It is faith in action. Hence, "By faith Noah...prepared an ark...." "By faith Abraham...obeyed; and he went out..." (Hebrews 11:7-8). No wonder James says that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:20). The author of this very letter says in another of his writings, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but a faith that worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6). Thus Vine concludes: "When a man obeys God, he gives the only possible evidence that in his heart he believes God" (Vol. III 124). Stewart thinks of faith as a life that "includes everything that enters into a vital personal relationship to Jesus--trusting His guidance, obeying His commandments, praying in His name, giving Him our love" (185). Bible faith is not passive assent, but purposeful action. Crouch links the work of faith here to the obedience of faith in Romans 1:5; Romans 16:26, noting the same grammatical construction is found in both (15). Hence, the "work" spoken of in this verse is "work which springs from faith, and is characteristic of faith" (Vincent, Vol. IV 15).

and labour of love: Paul also speaks of labor prompted by love. The Greek word here refers to laborious toil, unceasing hardship. Only such a spirit of beneficence could inspire such fatiguing, exhausting toil as characterizes the Thessalonians.

Love expresses itself in generosity regardless of the merit of the recipient or the cost to the exhibitor. "Love leads us to do good without having any feeling of superiority because we have done it, or resentment because it has been imposed upon us" (Fields 32).

and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ: The third praiseworthy attribute of the Thessalonians is "patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." Patience is not a passive resignation to whatever our lot may be. It is rather an active effort to make the best out of a bad situation. It is constancy in the midst of life’s vicissitudes; steadfastness in the face of life’s harsh realities. When battles with evil rage about us and the storms of life sweep over us, the patience of hope enables us to say, "I shall not be moved." It serves as an "anchor of the soul" (Hebrews 6:19). The ability to endure the persecution at Thessalonica derives from hope, but not just hope generally. It is "hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." Hope involves two elements--expectation and desire. It would be a misuse of the term to label as hope a thing expected but not desired or desired but not expected. The Christian’s desire and expectation converge in the promise of the Lord’s return and all that will accompany that grand event (4:13-18). As the apostle notes here, the only real hope in this world is that enjoyed by those who are "in Christ."

Coffman comments on the "double triad of work, labor and patience linked to faith, love and hope thus constituting a melding of faith, hope and love (1 Corinthians 13:13) with ’I know thy works, and thy toil, and thy patience’ (Revelation 2:2)" (11). Phillips captures the meaning of this verse in his translation: "Your faith has meant solid achievement, your love has meant hard work, and the hope that you have in the Lord Jesus Christ means sheer dogged endurance in the life that you live."

Paul’s prayers are addressed to God. They are constant (always) and inclusive (for you all). Jesus teaches that men "ought always to pray and not to faint" (Luke 18:1). Paul says in this very letter, "Pray without ceasing" (5:17). He does not ask of others what he is unwilling to do himself. As in so many areas of Christian deportment, Paul sets an example in prayer. Before he asks the Thessalonians to "pray without ceasing," he provides a model--"we give thanks to God always." The "you all" includes the wayward and weak as well as the faithful and strong. Nowhere is Paul’s magnanimity more greatly apparent than in these prayers.

in the sight of God and our Father: The virtues of the brethren have made a favorable impression on the apostle and upon all in every place who have heard about them. However, a favorable impression on men is all for naught unless God approves. Everything we do is open to His scrutiny and subject to His approval.

Verse 4

Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.

Knowing, brethren: "Brethren" is one of the key words in the Thessalonian epistles, occurring twenty-eight times in either the plural or singular form. The term not only describes the Thessalonians’ relationship to Paul but to each other as well. It also demonstrates the success of Christ in "having broken down the middle wall of partition" (Ephesians 2:14). Pagans and Jews have become one in Christ. Racial and religious diversity have yielded to brotherhood. Despised former idolaters and self-righteous Pharisees are bound together in brotherhood in a way that would have been unthinkable prior to the coming of Christ.

It should be noted, however, that this is not a universal brotherhood. The notion that all the earth’s inhabitants are brothers finds no warrant in scripture. The brotherhood of which Paul speaks is limited to those who are beloved and elected of God. They are, in fact, the obedient believers of the preceding verse and are "in Christ."

beloved, your election of God: The Thessalonian brethren are beloved. Having been loved in the past, they continue to be loved of God. They are elect; God has chosen them. If, as some suppose, election is an arbitrary choice in the mind of God, Paul could not have referred to the Thessalonians as elect because, not being privy to God’s thoughts, he could not possibly have known whether they were numbered among the elect. His knowledge of their divine election is based on empirical evidence. The evidence is manifested in the triad of virtues mentioned in the previous verse. The gospel produces results. The effect of the gospel upon them is proof of their election.

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 (Stott 31).

But neither here nor elsewhere in the N.T. is there any warrant for the revolting doctrine that God has predestined a definite number of mankind to eternal life, and the rest to eternal destruction. The sense in this passage appears to be defined by the succeeding context. The Thessalonians had been chosen to be members of the Christian church, and their conduct had justified the choice (Vincent, Vol. IV 16).

Crouch is evidently correct in stating, "God’s election of people always involves two things: (1) God’s revelation of His love, and (2) man’s willingness to respond to God’s gracious offer in His own way" (18).

Verse 5

For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.

For: The preferred translation here is because. Paul is explaining the reason for his incessant prayers on behalf of the Thessalonians. His constantly recurring prayers for them are made because they are beloved and elect of God. In other passages in these Thessalonian letters, he assigns other reasons for his thankfulness: their acceptance of the gospel (2:13), their abounding growth in the faith (2 Thessalonians 1:3), and God’s having chosen them (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

our gospel: Paul calls the message he proclaimed "our gospel." In the letter to the Romans, he used the singular pronoun "my gospel" (Romans 2:16). It is "our" or "my" gospel only in the sense that the writer has made it his own. He has embraced its teaching and appropriated its message. It is not the author’s intention to make any claim to authorship. The gospel does not originate with him. In point of origin it is "the word of the Lord" (1:8) and "the gospel of God" (2:2). "If any may think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 14:37).

Until the gospel is incorporated into a person’s character and conduct, it is nothing more than mere words. The blessings of the gospel come only to those who are "doers of the word and not hearers only" (James 1:22). Every such person may legitimately claim, "The gospel is mine."

The gospel is not theoretical, but practical. It must be lived. All who translate the gospel into life are, as Paul said of the Thessalonians, chosen or elect of God.

The gospel is grounded in history and focuses on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). There are several different designations for the gospel, but there is only one gospel (Galatians 1:6-9). "In its origin Paul’s gospel is of God (1 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:8-9), in its substance it is Christ’s (3:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:8), and Paul is only the bearer of it (1 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:14) as Milligan points out" (Robertson 10).

came not unto you in word only, but also in power: Words matter. They are the building blocks of sentences by which we communicate with one another. And the gospel has a specific content. That is why it must be articulated, verbalized (Stott 33).

But there is more to the gospel than just words. Vincent says, "The gospel did not appeal to them as mere eloquent and learned discourse" (Vol. IV ). That is why the apostle introduces the notion of power in connection with the gospel. It is unlikely that the word "power" refers to miracles. As Hogg and Vine point out, "no miracles are recorded in connection with the preaching of the gospel at Thessalonica" (35). It is more likely that Paul is emphasizing that the gospel came as a vital force, resulting in an election that consisted of obedience to that gospel. Their election consists of their obedience to that gospel. The gospel is not just an announcement of a plan of salvation but the application of the "power of God unto salvation" (Romans 1:16). In commenting on the words "in power," Vincent says, "Power of spiritual persuasion and conviction: not power as displayed in miracles, at least not principally, although miraculous demonstrations may be included" (Vol. IV 17).

and in the Holy Ghost: This is very likely a reference to the fact that Paul speaks by inspiration. "But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12).

and in much assurance: This phrase is further descriptive of Paul. As Vincent notes, it is "Assured persuasion of the preacher that the message was divine" (Vol. IV 17). The success of Paul’s preaching at Thessalonica may have been largely attributable to the confidence he exhibits in the message he proclaims.

As ye know what manner of men we were among you: As powerful as preaching is, it is never quite enough if it stands alone. The preaching must always be backed by the life of the preacher. The preacher’s character and conduct may determine how effective the preaching of the gospel will be. What Paul says is reinforced by who he is and what he does.

for your sake: Such statements so frequently found in the New Testament should stand as a rebuke to those who "make merchandise of the gospel." "The demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit in the preaching was not given in the interests of the preachers but in the interests of the hearers" (Hogg and Vine 37). Faithful ministers of the gospel will always be motivated by what they can give, not what they can get.

Verse 6

And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:

And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord: Twice Paul describes Christians as followers or imitators. Here he states the fact. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, he issues a command. The responsibility could not be clearer. The ultimate exemplar is Christ himself. Preachers may serve as an example only to the extent that they follow Christ. In becoming "followers of us, and of the Lord," their lives were profoundly changed.

having received: This expression means to "welcome the message." "It is no mere intellectual acquiescence in the truth of the gospel; it is a complete transformation of behaviour through a close following of Christ and his apostles" (Stott 36). The Thessalonians do not just hear the word; they heed it.

the word: This is a reference to "the whole body of revealed truth" (Wuest, Riches 26). In commenting on Paul’s charge to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:2), Wuest says:

The preacher must present, not book reviews, not politics, not economics, not current topics of the day, not a philosophy of life denying the Bible and based upon unproven theories of science, but the Word. The preacher as a herald cannot choose his message. He is given a message to proclaim by his Sovereign. If he will not proclaim that, let him step down from his exalted position (Wuest, Riches 22).

The scope and content of the apostolic message can be determined by noting the various designations of it:

  • the word of this salvation (Acts 13:26)

  • the word of the gospel (Acts 15:7)

  • the word of the Lord (Acts 15:36)

  • the word of his grace (Acts 20:32)

  • the word of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18)

  • the word of God (2 Corinthians 4:2)

  • the word of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19)

  • the word of truth (2 Corinthians 6:7)

  • the word of life (Philippians 2:16)

  • the word of the truth of the gospel (Colossians 1:5)

  • the word...which ye heard (lit. the word of hearing) (2:13)

  • the word (2 Timothy 4:2)

  • the word of righteousness (Hebrews 5:13)

in much affliction: "Affliction" is a comprehensive term that can refer to a great variety of difficulties, "pressure, oppression, affliction, distress" (Thayer 291-1-2347). The song writer asks, "Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease? No, there’s a cross for everyone and there’s a cross for me." Jesus himself warns of the difficulties his disciples would encounter in the world: "In this world ye shall have tribulation..." (John 16:33). Suffering on the part of the saints is so pervasive that Paul says, "Yea and all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). It is all the more amazing that so many Thessalonians accepted the gospel, knowing that such acceptance would involve them in persecution, and, in many cases, untimely death.

with joy of the Holy Ghost: Joy is a product of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Hogg and Vine believe "in much affliction" describes the external effect of the gospel, while "with joy of the Holy Ghost" states the internal effect. "The Holy Spirit works in a sphere the violence of man can never reach" (39). "The same Spirit who gave power to those who preached the gospel gave joy to those who received it" (Stott 35).

Verse 7

So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.

The much maligned notion of pattern Christianity is clearly set forth here. The Thessalonians are a pattern for others. "Following the example of the Lord Jesus and of the missionaries, they in turn became examples to others" (Hogg and Vine 40). Their behavior has become the model and the standard by which others might measure their own fidelity to the cause of Christ. The Thessalonians have followed the pattern of the churches in Judea (2:14), particularly in the area of suffering for the faith, and then they in turn have become a pattern for others. This is the only New Testament church that is specifically called a pattern, but it is clear that each congregation is intended to fill this role. "No church can spread the gospel with any degree of integrity, let alone credibility, unless it has been visibly changed by the gospel it preaches. We need to look like what we are talking about" (Stott 44). Lending support to our view that the Thessalonian church is a pattern for other congregations is the fact that some of the oldest manuscripts have the singular ensample here, "the whole church being regarded as one" (Jamieson, Faucet, and Brown 385).

Verse 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 to speak any thing.

For from you sounded out the word: "Sounded out" literally means to herald or trumpet. "It means a loud, unmistakable proclamation" (Vincent, Vol. IV 17). Evangelistic activity is characteristic of this church. Having become the recipients of the word, these Christians feel an obligation to share it with others. The hearers have become heralds, and they are not content until everyone in the region has an opportunity to hear as well.

The message rings out so that it could not be ignored, and Paul’s use of the perfect tense suggests the ringing out of the gospel is ongoing. It would continue as long as there are lost souls who have not heard it. "Thus the gospel creates the church, which spreads the gospel, which creates more churches, which in their turn spread the gospel further ad infinitum. This is God’s plan for ongoing evangelism through local churches" (Stott 26). Noting the modern penchant for using the mass media (print, audio and video tape, radio and TV), Stott makes another comment worthy of serious consideration.

We should harness to the service of the gospel every modern medium of communication which is available to us. Nevertheless there is another way, which (if we must compare them) is still more effective. It requires no complicated electronic gadgetry; it is very simple. It is neither organized nor computerized; it is spontaneous. And it is not expensive; it costs precisely nothing. We might call it ’holy gossip’. It is the excited transmission from mouth to mouth of the impact which the good news is making on people (38).

the word of the Lord: "The word of the Lord is the message from the Lord which is delivered with His authority and made effective by His power" (Hogg and Vine 42).

not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing: The light of the gospel is not put "under a basket" at Thessalonica. The changes wrought in the populace there became common knowledge throughout the Greek provinces of Macedonia and Achaia and beyond. The language employed suggests that those in the church and outside, as well, have heard of the impact of the gospel upon the lives of the Thessalonians. This congregation fully exploits its opportunities in a large commercial center. Traders from throughout the civilized world frequent this city and whether they come by boat into the Thermaic Gulf or by caravan along the Via Egnatia, they are sought out by the Thessalonian disciples who are zealous to share their faith. Many who come with spices and purple on their boats and camels return home with a new found faith in their hearts that they spread like a contagion in every place.

Verse 9

For they themselves show 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;

For they themselves show: The expression "they themselves" likely encompasses both believers and unbelievers. Believers would have known of and would have been discussing the conversion of the Thessalonians inasmuch as the Thessalonians have "sounded out" the gospel to them. Those outside the church were undoubtedly aware of the remarkable change (verse 9) in the lives of the Thessalonians. The events at Thessalonica were "not done in a corner" nor hidden "under a bushel." Nothing more greatly impressed the heathen than the changed lives of these new converts. As Peter declares, "Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you" (1 Peter 4:4). In this instance, the changed lives evoked blasphemous criticism. In the case of the Thessalonians, the speech was neutral, being in the form of a report or announcement. But the fact is everybody was taking notice. As Coffman says, "Here is a glimpse of what an impression the Christian religion was making on the ancient Greek culture" (17). Lipscomb says, "The loudest and clearest and most eloquent and most unanswerable proclamation of the gospel is the unconscious testimony of Christian living" (20).

of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God: Crouch notes that the word "turned" "is the normal word for conversion to Christianity (Acts 14:15; Acts 9:35; Acts 11:21; Acts 15:19; Acts 26:18)" (23).The preposition "to" is the same as "with" in John 1:1-2. "In the beginning was the word and the word was with God." It speaks of the closest kind of intimacy, fellowship at the highest level. By abandoning their past idolatry and turning to God, the Thessalonians have come to enjoy fellowship with God such as their Lord has enjoyed from all eternity. "The motive in this conversion was not that they were repelled by the grossness of their idols, but that they were attracted by the character of God" (Hogg and Vine 44). The statement about turning to God from idols would not have applied to every convert in Thessalonica. Some of the converts are Jews (Acts 17:1-4), and they would have turned from the law to the gospel. However, a majority of the converts are apparently Gentiles as this comment about the turn from idolatry would seem to indicate. "The prevalence of the Gentile element in this church is shown by the fact that these two Epistles are among the very few of St. Paul’s writings in which no quotation occurs from the Old Testament" (Jamieson, Faucet, and Brown 384).

from idols: "The verb ’turned’ is in the aorist tense, indicating completed, punctilliar, point action. They did not half turn. They turned once for all from idols" (Fields 40). The revolutionary change in the Thessalonians is not some spur of the moment emotional response. It is, as Paul explains here, "a change immediately consequent upon a deliberate choice" (Hogg and Vine 43).

It would be difficult to exaggerate how radical is the change of allegiance which is implied by the turn from idols to the living and true God. For idols are dead; God is living. Idols are false; God is true. Idols are many; God is one. Idols are visible and tangible; God is invisible and intangible, beyond the reach of sight and touch. Idols are creatures, the work of human hands; God is the Creator of the universe and of all humankind (Stott 39).

The modern mind may find little relevance in this statement. Since we have never worshiped images or fallen down before idols, we may think ourselves not guilty of this sin. However, Paul says in Ephesians 5:5, "For ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." To worship a graven image is idolatry but so is immorality and covetousness. That realization makes this passage highly relevant to persons living in the modern world. One other comment from Hogg and Vine is worthy of note here: "But in no case is God, or Christ, or the Holy Spirit, said to turn, or convert, anyone. Conversion is always the voluntary act of the individual in response to the presentation of truth" (44).

to serve: This word means to serve as a slave and "emphasizes the completeness of the surrender to God (Crouch 23). Paul reminds us that "to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey..." (Romans 6:16). The first consequence of the Thessalonians turning to God was the severance of their relationship with idols and becoming obedient servants of God.

Conversion is a turning from something and a turning to something. In this case it is a turning from idols and a turning to God that results in a life of service. "To serve," as Hogg and Vine see it, means:

to discharge the duties of the purchased slave, to which there were no limitations either in the kind of service or in the time of its performance. The whole life of the Christian is to be lived in obedience to the will of God, an absolute law to which the gospel of the grace of God admits of no exceptions (45).

Obedience to god’s will causes changes in a person’s life. Stott says:

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....In this way authentic conversion involves a double liberation, both from the thraldom of the idols whose slaves we were into the service of God whose children we become (41).

the living and true God: Idols are both false and lifeless, but the God whom we serve is genuine, alive, and active in the affairs of His children. The One Whom we serve is identified as the true God "in opposition to the whole system of idolatry, which was false in the objects of its adoration, false in it pretensions, false in its promises, and false in all its prospects" (Clarke, Vol. VI 541).

Verse 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.

And to wait for his Son from heaven: The second consequence of conversion is waiting for the second coming of Christ. The waiting is not passive but active. They wait expectantly, on tiptoes. The second coming of Christ is one of the major themes of the New Testament. Christ himself promised, "I will come again" (John 14:1-3). The angels make the same promise to the apostles: "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (Hebrews 9:28).

Although we must look expectantly for the coming of Christ, we have no liberty to wait in idleness, with arms folded and eyes closed, indifferent to the needs of the world around us. Instead, we must work even while we wait, for we are called to serve the living and true God. Thus working and waiting belong together. In combination they will deliver us both from the presumption which thinks we can do everything and from the pessimism which thinks we can do nothing (Stott 42).

whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus: The resurrection of Christ is one of the cardinal facts set forth in the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:4). Apostolic discourses always centered around this theme (Acts 2:24-32; Acts 17:30-31). If every reference to the resurrection of Christ were deleted from the New Covenant scriptures, there would be little left.

which delivered us from the wrath: "Delivered" speaks of rescue and reminds us of how great is the peril from which we are delivered (the wrath or judgment to come) and how great is the power of Him who rescues us. "Delivered" is in the present tense and may be the apostle’s way of saying that deliverance is continuous. "He delivers us from evil each day (Matthew 6:13) and will complete the deliverance at the end of time" (Crouch 25). Jesus is even now delivering us from future wrath as the divine enabling helps us overcome sin in our lives. Stott says, "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" (42). Vincent suggests that wrath sometimes stands "for the punishment which wrath inflicts" (Vol. IV 20).

Most commentators and translators render this expression "Jesus, our Deliverer" (Weymouth) or "Jesus who delivers us" (RSV). The King James translators may have used "which" as a relative pronoun to convey their understanding that the emphasis is on the means of our deliverance (the death and resurrection of Jesus) rather than the person (Jesus) who delivers us.

There is a noticeable shift in pronouns in these last two verses. As Paul relates what has been reported to him about the conversion of the Thessalonians, he uses the pronoun "you": "They show what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned..." (verse 9). However, his conversion experience was different (Acts 9).

But when he speaks of deliverance from the wrath to come, he reverts to the pronoun "us." He expects to share in that final emancipation along with the Thessalonians just as by his use of "we" in the fourth chapter he expects to share with them in being caught up together (13-17).

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Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1". "Contending for the Faith". 1993-2022.