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St. Paul begins this epistle, as he does the rest, with a very kind and gracious salutation; in which we have observable, the persons saluting, the parties saluted, and the salutation itself.
Note, 1. The persons saluting, Paul, Silvanus and Timotheus: Paul only was the inspired writer of this epistle, the other two were his associates and assistants, instruments with him in converting the Thessalonians to Christianity, and whom they had a deservedly great affection for: he joins them therefore with himself, as asserters and approvers of the truth contained in this his epistle, that so he might procure the greater respect to the doctrines it contained ; he therefore names them with himself, Paul, Silvanus, or Silas, as he is called, Acts 17, and Timotheus:
But why not Paul an apostle, or Paul a servant of Jesus Christ, as in other epistles, but bare Paul only?
Ans. Because his apostleship was not at all questioned by them; the Thessalonians had a seal of it in their hearts; and there were no false apostles among them to deny his apostleship, as the Galatians and other churches had.
The prudent and faithful ministers of Christ know both how and when to use those titles of honour and respect which God hath given them, and also when it is convenient to forbear the assuming of them.
Note, 2. The persons saluted, The church of the Thessalonians. Thessalonica was the metropolis, or mother city of Macedonia, where a Christian church was planted by the ministry of St. Paul and Silas, but with great opposition from the Jews, who forced Paul to fly to Berea for his own safety, Acts 17, and Jason, with others that entertained him, had like to have been sacrificed in their own houses; yet there, in despite of the devil's rage, and persecutor's malice, doth God erect a glorious church, a Christian church, in honour of his son, who purchased it with his blood.
Learn hence, that when and where God will gather to himself a church, no opposition, either of men or devils, shall be sufficient to hinder it; as Rome itself, nay, in the court of Nero, under the very nose of that bloody tyrant, was a church collected, Php_4:22 . No wonder the devil struggles, when his kingdom totters; it follows, which (church) is in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, established in the knowledge, faith, worship, and obedience of God the Father; they were Gentiles, called off from their dumb idols, to serve the living and true God, and were distinguished from all other societies and communions whatsoever; they were in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, they enjoyed a blessed union with Jesus Christ by faith, and a sweet communion and fellowship both with Father and Son, by the bond of the Spirit.
Behold the high dignity and glorious privilege of the Christian church, to be thus knit and united both to the Father and the Son, by the agency of the Holy Spirit! To the church of the Thessalonians, which is in God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Note, 3. The salutation itself, Grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Where observe, 1. The option signifies, first, the gracious favour of God towards us; and, next, all the gifts of grace, all benefits and blessings issuing forth and flowing from thence: peace, usually signifies in the scripture language, all manner of outward prosperity and happiness.
2. The author and fountain from whence these blessings flow.
1. From God the Father:
2. From the Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ; intimating, that whatever spiritual grace or temporal blessing we now receive from God, is from him, not barely as a Creator, but as a Father, a gracious Father in Christ, in whom he pours out the immensity of his love upon us, and through whom he conveys all kinds of blessings unto us.
Note here, 1. The holy wisdom of our apostle, who being about to magnify and extol the graces of the Spirit wrought in the Thessalonians, particularly their faith, their love, their patience and hope, instead of commending them for these graces, he breaks forth into thanksgiving unto God for them; We give thanks to God always for your work of faith and labour of love, and patience of hope: His business was not to celebrate and commend them, but to admire the special grace of God conferred upon them, and conspicuous in them.
Learn hence, that it is our duty, and will be our great wisdom, so to speak of the grace of God, which we see and observe in others, as that they may not be puffed up with any conceit of their own excellencies, but see matter of praise and thanksgiving due unto God, only, and nothing to themselves.
Note, 2. The special and particular graces which St. Paul observed in the Thessalonians, their faith, their love, their hope, together with the evidence of the sincerity of those graces, their faith was a working faith, that is, fruitful in good works; their love was a laborious love, promoting the good of all the saints; and their hope in the Lord Jesus, rendered them patient in and under all tribulations for his sake. There is no such way to judge of the truth of the inward habits of grace in the heart, as by observing the effects and fruits of that grace in the life; The apostle concluded they had true faith, because a fruitful faith; true love, because a laborious love; a good hope in Christ, because accompanied with patience under the cross of Christ.
Note, 3. St. Paul's offices and acts of love performed on the Thessalonians behalf, namely, thanksgiving and prayer.
1. Thanksgiving, We give thanks unto God always for you all.
But why, O blessed apostle, art thou so thankful for the graces of God's holy Spirit wrought in these Thessalonians?
For thy own sake, no doubt, as well as theirs; he saw in them an eminent seal of his apostleship, the happy fruit and blessed effect of his ministry among them.
This, O! This it was that drew forth his very soul in thanksgivings to God. Learn, that the faithful ministers of Christ rejoice greatly at the sight and appearance of the grace of God in any person, but when they see it in their own people, as the seal of their ministry, and the blessed fruit of their own painful endeavours amongst them, this carries them out into transports of thankfulness; verily, the joy of their hearts is too big to come out at their mouths, they give thanks for such a mercy without ceasing.
Yet, 2. He subjoins prayers with his praises, adds, supplications to his thanksgivings, making mention of you always in my prayers; to let them know that there was still much grace wanting in them to keep them humble, as well as great grace in them to make him thankful: Our prayers for grace, must be thankful prayers, or accompanied with thanksgiving; when we pray to God for more grace, we must ever be thankful for what we have received; and when we return thanks for grace received, we must be earnest and instant with God for further and fresh supplies of grace wanted.
Note, 4. The frequency, yea, contancy of our apostle, in performing these duties of prayer and thanksgiving on the behalf of these Thessalonians, We give thanks to God always for you, remembering you without ceasing in the sight of God, and our Father: that is, as often as we appear before God our Father, we incessantly pray for you, and constantly praise God on your behalf.
Where observe, the comfortable relation in which the saints of God do approach and draw near unto God in prayer, they come to him as a Father, yea, as their Father; in the sight of God our Father. The Holy Spirit of God vouchsafed to believers under the gospel, enables them to come before him in prayer, with a full assurance of his fatherly affection towards them, as being the sons of God, through faith in Christ Jesus, and it enables them to cry, Abba, Father; and they are very careful to improve this their relation to God, and interest in him as a Father, in prayer, on behalf of themselves, and all their fellow brethren and members in Christ. Thus St. Paul here, We give thanks for you, and remember you without ceasing, in the sight of God and our Father.
Observe here, 1. One special ground and reason assigned, why the apostle's heart was thus extraordinarily carried out in praise and thanksgivings unto God, on the Thessalonians' behalf, and that was the knowledge of their election, knowing your election of God; that is, knowing cerainly and infallibly, by your proficiency in the forementioned Christian graces of faith, love, and hope, that God had certainly chosen you out of the Gentile world, to be a church and people to himself, and that it was the good pleasure of God to gather a Christian church at Thessalonica; and also he did know and believe, with a judgement of charity, that Almighty God had chosen them to eternal life also, to be a part of his church truimphant in heaven, as well as of his church militant upon earth; the preaching of the gospel having met with such visible success amongst them. It is our unquestionable duty, and we learn it from St. Paul's example, in charity to number them amongst God's chosen, in whom we see, as much as man may see, the fruits and signs of God's election.
Observe, 2. The ground which St. Paul had to build his confidence upon, that the Thessalonians were a people chosen of God, and that was rational evidence, knowing your election of God; for our gospel came to you not in word only, but in power.
Where note, the piety and prudence of St. Paul's charity, it was not weakly grounded or credulous, but guided by reasonable evidence; Charity hopeth all things, that is, all things that it hath good ground to hope, but nothing more than what probable evidence may induce it to hope. St. Paul, when he saw the apostasy of Hymenaeus and Alexander into error and vice, without censoriousness and uncharitableness, pronounces that they had made shipwreck of the faith, 1 Timothy 1:2. For he had sufficient reason to believe, there could be no faith where there was no holiness. There are a generation of men amongst us, who brand the ministers of God with censoriousness, and rash judging the present state of men, though they judge by their lives and actions; they would have us hope well concerning them, against hope, and judge quite contrary to rational evidence; we must believe them to have faith, when they have no knowledge; that they are right penitents, and sorrowful for their sins, when they make a sport of sin; that their hearts are chaste, when their mouths foam out nothing but filthiness; but let them know, we dare not bring a curse upon ourselves, by calling good evil, and evil good; our charity though not causelessly susupicious, yet neither is it foolishly blind.
Observe, 3. The particular and special evidence which the apostle had of the Thessalonians election, and that was the great and gracious success of this ministry amongst them. Our gospel came - But how our gospel? Not as if he were the author of it, but the dispenser only; not our gospel by original revelation, but by ministerial despensation only.
But how did the gospel come amongst the Thessalonians?
Not in word only, sounding in the ear, or to gaze upon; but in power, that is, accompanied then with the power of miracles, now with a convincing, terrifying, humbling, renewing, and reforming power.
It follows, and in the Holy Ghost; that is, the preaching of the word was at that time attended, as with a mighty power of miracles, so with an extraordinary effusion and pouring out the Holy Ghost upon them that heard it, prevailing upon them to embrace it, and to submit themselves unto it. With this miraculous power of the Holy Ghost was the preaching of the word accompanied then, with an enlightening, quickening, regenerating, and sanctifying power now; the ministry of the word is the great instrument in the hand of the Spirit, for the conversion of sinners, for the edification of saints, and for the salvation of both.
Again, the apostle's ministration came unto them in much assurance, that is, with a full conviction of the truth of his doctrine; and to him, it was a full persuasion, yea, a firm assurance, that God had chosen them to be a church and special people to himself.
And lastly, as to his own conduct and conversation amongst them, he appeals to them, and to their own knowledge, whether it was not answerable to the doctrine delivered by him; Ye know what manner of men we were amongst you for your sake.
Happy is it when the pious and prudent conversation of a minister amongst his people, is, and has been such, that upon a fit occasion, he can and dare appeal to God and them as witnesses and observers of it; Ye know what we were among you: ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily, and justly, and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you, 1 Thessalonians 2:10.
An heterodox conversation will carry an orthodox preacher to hell; there is a preaching life, as well as a preaching doctrine; if religion be taught by the first, and irreligion by the latter, we sadly disappoint the end of what is spoken; though, like a cracked bell, we may be instrumental to ring others to heaven, yet for ourselves there is no remedy, but to the fire we must go, either for our refining, or for our condemnation. The throne and the pulpit, above all places, call for holiness; the prince and the preacher, above all persons, are most accountable to God for their example; Ye know what manner of men we were among you.
In these words, our apostle gives us another probable evidence, that the Thessalonians were undoubtedly chosen of God, namely, because they were active and operative Christians; they did in their life and practice conform themselves to that excellent pattern and example held forth unto them by their preachers, Ye became followers of us.
Where note, that there ought to be something worthy of imitation in the lives of ministers, something which their people may safely follow; and it is the people's duty, not only to lend an ear to their doctrine, but an eye to their pious conversation. It is added, Followers of us, and of the Lord: Followers of Christ, absolutely, as an unerring pattern; of his ministers conditionally, so far as they followed Christ: But followers of the Lord here, seems to import their following of him in his sufferings and afflictions, as appears by the next words, Having received the word with much affliction. Such as are sincere and serious Christians, are followers of Christ in his sufferings, as well as in his example: they follow him in the sharp and thorny path of affliction, in which he went before them; they are willing to bear his cross, as well as to wear his crown; to suffer for them, as well as to be glorified with him.
Observe next, the particular instance wherein the Thessalonians became followers of the apostles; it was this, that they preached the word to them with great desire, delight, and joy, though at the same time they endured a great sight of afflictions, contending with the opposition both of men and devils, in preaching the word unto them: In like manner did they receive the word with much affliction, and adhere to it in the midst of persecution; and all this accompanied with such inward joy, as none but the Holy Ghost could be the author of in them: Ye received the word with much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.
Learn hence, that upon preaching of the word, to have a heart open to receive it, to receive it with affliction, with much affliciton, and yet with joy and rejoicing, with a cheerful spirit, and such a joy as the holy Spirit of God is the author and producer of, is a good evidence, that a person is chosen of God, and has a title to the everlasting inheritance.
Observe farther, Our apostle, in a just and deserved commendation of these Thessalonians, tells them to their great and singular honour, that as they were followers of them (the apostles) in sufferings, in patience, and cheerfulness; so they were themselves living patterns, and lively ensamples of courage and constancy under their sufferings, to all the neighbouring churches in Macedonia and Achaia. Then is the grace of God received by us, a mark and evidence of our election of God, when we have advanced to such a considerable proficiency and growth in it, as to become patterns and examples of piety to all that are round about us. Thus the Thessalonians here, Ye are become ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
Still our apostle proceeds in a copious commendation of these Thessalonians, or rather in a thankful admiration of the grace of God shining in them; he tells them, and that without flattery, that the fame and report of their graces was spread abroad far and near, insomuch that the foreign churches, amongst whom he conversed, were able to give him a perfect account how the aposles' entrance amongst them at Thessalonica was; though not pompous, yet very prosperous, strangely succeeded, and singularly blessed, to the turning of them from dead idols, to serve the living and true God.
Learn, that where true grace is rooted in the heart, though it be not immediately seen, yet it cannot long be hid, but it will discover itself in the genuine fruits and vital effects of it, to the deserved admiration, and wished for imitation of all beholders whatsoever: From you sounded forth the word of the Lord &c.
And how you turned from idols, that is, how readily and speedily, how sincerely and heartily you turned from idolatry, your former idolatry, in which you had been educated and brought up; yet upon the preaching of our gospel, ye left it, and turned with indignation from it, to serve God, the living God, so called in opposition to their dead and dumb idols; and the true God, in opposition to their false gods.
These words of the apostle teach us how to expound those words of our Saviour, This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God: John 17:3.
Teaching us, that the Father is called the only true God, not in opposition to Jesus Christ, as the Socinians would insinuate, but in opposition to idols and false gods only.
Now from this effect, which the gospel had upon the Thessalonians, to turn them from idols to serve the living God, we learn, that as every man naturally bears an idol in his heart, that is, sets up something there in God's stead, which attracts and draws off the chief of his affections from God; so wherever the gospel is heartily received and entertained, there will be an abandoning of, and turning from whatsoever did usurp God's throne in the soul, and the person hereafter, will only love and serve the living and true God: Ye turned from idols to serve the living and true God.
Here the apostle produces a further evidence of these Thessalonians' conversion, namely, that they did not only turn from idols to serve God the Father, but did also believe in Jesus Christ his only Son: this act of faith is expressed by waiting, they waited for his Son from heaven, that is, by faith, they expected that Christ, whom the apostle had preached to them, and was gone to heaven, would certainly come again from thence, to deliver his redeemed ones from the wrath to come, that is from the punishment and vengeance eternally due unto them for sin. And the ground of this their expectation was Christ's resurrection from the dead; to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead.
Note here, 1. A description, a heart-affecting, yea, a soul- affecting description of that wrath which doth await every wicked and impenitent sinner; it is a wrath to come; after thousands, yea millions of years, that sinners have lain under it; still it is a wrath to come; and they are as far from being delivered from it, as the first hour they fell under it.
Note, 2. That Jesus Christ delivered up himself to death, that he might be a Saviour and deliverer of his people from this wrath; let it break forth when it will, not a drop of it shall ever fall upon any one of them.
Note, 3. That believers may warrantably expect deliverance by Christ from this wrath, seeing God has raised him from the dead.
Note, 4. Therefore, may and ought they to wait and wish, to look and long, for his coming from heaven, when deliverance from wrath will be perfected and completed.
Here the apostle produces a further evidence of these Thessalonians' conversion, namely, that they did not only turn from idols to serve God the Father, but did also believe in Jesus Christ his only Son: this act of faith is expressed by waiting, they waited for his Son from heaven, that is, by faith, they expected that Christ, whom the apostle had preached to them, and was gone to heaven, would certainly come again from thence, to deliver his redeemed ones from the wrath to come, that is from the punishment and vengeance eternally due unto them for sin. And the ground of this their expectation was Christ's resurrection from the dead; to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead. Note here, 1. A description, a heart-affecting, yea, a soul-affecting description of that wrath which doth await every wicked and impenitent sinner; it is a wrath to come; after thousands, yea millions of years, that sinners have lain under it; still it is a wrath to come; and they are as far from being delivered from it, as the first hour they fell under it. Note, 2. That Jesus Christ delivered up himself to death, that he might be a Saviour and deliverer of his people from this wrath; let it break forth when it will, not a drop of it shall ever fall upon any one of them. Note, 3. That believers may warrantably expect deliverance by Christ from this wrath, seeing God has raised him from the dead. Note, 4. Therefore, may and ought they to wait and wish, to look and long, for his coming from heaven, when deliverance from wrath will be perfected and completed.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26