|<< 1 Thessalonians 1 >>|
Barnes' Notes on the Bible
Introduction to 1Thessalonians
Section 1. The Situation of Thessalonica
Thessalonica was a city and sea-port of Macedonia. It was at the head of the bay Thermaicus, or the Gulf of Thessalonica, and was, therefore, favorably situated for commerce. It was on the great Egnatian Way; was possessed of an excellent harbor, and had great advantages for commerce through the Hellespont, and with Asia Minor and the adjacent countries. It was southwest of Philippi and Amphipolis, and a short distance northeast of Berea. Macedonia was an independent country until it was subdued by the Romans. The occasion of the wars which led to its conquest by the Romans was an alliance which was formed by Philip II. with Carthage, during the second Punic war. The Romans delayed their revenge for a season; but Philip having laid siege to Athens, the Athenians called the Romans to their aid, and they declared war against the Macedonians. Philip was compelled to sue for peace, to surrender his vessels, to reduce his army to 500 men, and to defray the expenses of the war.
Perseus, the successor of Philip, took up arms against the Romans, and was totally defeated at Pydna by Paulus Emilins, and the Romans took possession of the country. Indignant at their oppression, the Macedonian nobility and the whole nation rebelled under Andriscus; but after a long struggle they were overcome by Quintus Caecilius, surnamed, from his conquest, Macedonius, and the country became a Roman province, b.c. 148. It was divided into four districts, and the city of Thessalonica was made the capital of the second division, and was the station of a Roman governor and questor. At the time, therefore, that the gospel was preached there. this whole country was subject to Roman authority. The city, called, when Paul visited it, Thessalonica, was anciently called Therme, and by this name was known in the times of Herodotus, Thucydides, and Eschines. We are informed by Strabo that Cassander changed the name of Therme to Thessalonica, in honor of his wife, who was a daughter of Phil Others have said that the name was given to it by Philip himself, in memory of a victory which he obtained over the armies of Thessaly. In the time of Brutus and Cassius it was a city of so much importance that the promise of being permitted to plunder the city, as the reward of victory, infused new courage into their armies.
The city was inhabited by Greeks, Romans, and Jews. It adored many gods, but particularly Jupiter, as the father of Hercules, the alleged founder of its ancient royal family. It had a celebrated amphitheater, where gladiatorial shows were exhibited for the amusement of the citizens, and a circus for public games. The Roman part of the population was, of course, introduced after the conquest, and it is impossible now to estimate the relative number of the Greeks and the Romans in the time when the gospel was preached there. In common with most of the other cities of Greece, a considerable number of Jews resided there, who had a synagogue at the time when the city was visited by Paul; Acts 17:1. Little is known of the morals of the place, but there is reason to believe that it was somewhat distinguished for dissoluteness of manners. "The females, particularly, could claim little credit on the score of modest, retiring demeanour; for this virtue was in so low estimation in the city, that the place was selected as the scene of the wanton fancies of the satirist." (Lucian.) See Hug. Intro. The name of the place now is Saloniki. It is a Turkish commercial town, and contains about 70,000 inhabitants.
Its situation and appearance are thus described by Dr. Clarke: "The walls of Salonica give a very remarkable appearance to the town, and cause it to be seen at a great distance, being white-washed; and what is still more extraordinary, they are painted. They extend in a semi-circular manner from the sea, enclosing the whole of the buildings within a peribolus, whose circuit is five or six miles; but a great part of the space within the walls is void. It is one of the few remaining cities which has preserved the ancient form of its fortifications; the mural turrets yet standing, and the walls that support them, being entire. Their antiquity is perhaps, unknown, for, though they have been ascribed to the Greek emperors, it is very evident they were constructed in two distinct periods of time; the old Cyclopean masonry remaining in the lower parts of them, surmounted by an upper structure of brickwork.
Like all the ancient and modern cities of Greece, its wretched aspect within is forcibly contrasted with the beauty of its external appearance. The houses are generally built of unburnt bricks, and, for the most part, they are no better than so many hovels." It is, however, a flourishing commercial town, from which is exported the corn, cotton, wool, tobacco, bees-wax, and silk of Macedonia. It is the seat of a Pasha, and has still among its population a considerable proportion of Jews. rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, who visited it in a.d. 1160, describes it, under the name of Salunki, and says that it was built by Seleucus, one of the four Greek nobles who arose after Alexander, and that when, he visited it, it was "a large city containing about five hundred Jewish inhabitants." "The Jews," says he, "are much oppressed in this place, and live by the exercise of handicrafts." Itinerary, vol. 1:49, 50, Ed. 1840. He describes it as having at that time more Jewish inhabitants than any other town in Greece, Thebes alone excepted. It is said at present to contain about 20,000 Jewish inhabitants. Its favorable situation for commerce is probably the cause of the numerous assemblage of the Jews there. See Asher's Ed. of Benjamin of Tudela, vol. 2:p. 42.
Section 2. The Establishment of the Church in Thessalonica
The gospel was first preached in Thessalonica by Paul and Silas. After their release from imprisonment at Philippi, they passed through Amphipolls and Apollonia, and came to Thessalonica. For some cause they appear not to have paused to preach in either of the first two places, but went at once to the city of Thessalonica, That was a much more important place, and they may have been attracted there particularly because many Jews resided there. It was customary for the apostle Paul, when he came to a place where there were Jews, to preach the gospel first to them; and as there was a synagogue in Thessalonica, he entered it, and, for three Sabbath days, reasoned with the Jews in regard to the Messiah. The points on which he endeavored to convince them were, that, according to the Scriptures, it was necessary that the Messiah should be put to death, and that he would rise from the dead, and that all the predictions on these points were completely fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth; Acts 17:2-3.
A few of the Jews believed, and a much larger number of the "devout Greeks," and also a considerable number of females of the more elevated ranks. From these converts the church was organized, and the number at the organization would seem to have been large. It is not quite certain how long Paul and Silas remained at Thessalonica. It is known only that they preached in the synagogue for three sabbaths, and if that were all the time that they remained there, it could not have been more than about three weeks. But it is not certain that they did not remain in the city a longer time. It is possible that they may have been excluded from the synagogue, but still may have found some other place in which to preach. This would seem probable from one or two circumstances referred to in the history and in the Epistle. In the history Acts 17:5, it appears that Paul and Silas, for a time at least, made the house of Jason their home, and that so large numbers attended on their ministry as to give occasion to great excitement among the Jews. In the epistle 1 Thessalonians 2:9, Paul says that when he was among them, he "labored night and day, because he would not be chargeable unto any of them, and preached unto them the gospel of God" (compare 2 Thessalonians 3:8), which looks as if he had been with them a longer time than the "three sabbaths," and as if he had labored at his usual occupation for support, before he shared the hospitality of Jason. It appears also, from Philippians 4:16, that he was there long enough to receive repeated supplies from the church at Philippi. "For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity."
Paul and Silas were driven away from Thessalonica by the opposition of the Jews. A mob was created by them; the house of Jason was assailed; he and "certain brethren," who were supposed to have harbored and secreted Paul and Silas, were dragged before the magistrates and accused of receiving those who "had turned the world upside down," and who were guilty of treason against the Roman emperor; Acts 17:5-7 So great was the tumult, and such would be the danger of Paul and Silas if they remained there, that the members of the church judged it best that they should go to a place of safety, and they were conveyed by night to the neighboring city of Berea. There the gospel was received with more favor, and Paul preached without opposition, until the Jews from Thessalonica, hearing where he was, came thither and excited the people against him; Acts 17:13. It became necessary again that he should be removed to a place of safety, and he was conducted to Athens, while Silas and Timothy remained at Berea. Timothy, it appears, had accompanied Paul, and had been with him, as well as Luke, at Philippi and Thessalonica, though he is not mentioned as present with them until the arrival at Berea. When Paul went to Athens, he gave commandment to those who conducted him, that Silas and Timothy should come to him as soon as possible; and while he waited for them at Athens, he delivered the memorable speech on Mars' hill, recorded in Acts 17:Their actual arrival at Athens is not mentioned by Luke (Acts 17., but that Timothy came to him there appears from 1 Thessalonians 3:1, 1 Thessalonians 3:2, "Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone, and sent Timotheus our brother, etc., to comfort you concerning your faith." Timothy appears, therefore, to have been with Paul at Athens but a short time, for he sent him back to Thessalonica, and before his return, Paul had gone to Corinth, whither Timothy followed him; Acts 18:5.
Section 3. The Time and Place of Writing the Epistle
The subscription at the close of this epistle affirms that it was written at Athens. But these subscriptions are of no authority whatever (see notes at the close of 1 Corinthians), and in this case, as in several others, the subscription is false. Paul remained but a short time at Athens, and there is internal evidence that the epistle was not written there. In 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2, Paul says that, such was his anxiety for them, that he had concluded to remain at Athens alone, and that he had sent Timothy to them from that place to impart to them consolation. In the same epistle 1 Thessalonians 3:6, he speaks of Timothy's return to him before the epistle was written. But from Acts 17 and Acts 18:5, it is evident that Timothy did not return to Paul at Athens, but that he and Silas came to him after he had left Athens and had gone to Corinth. To that place Paul had gone after his short visit to Athens, and there he remained a year and a half; Acts 18:11.
It is further evident that the epistle was not written to the Thessalonians so soon as it would be necessary to suppose, if it were written from Athens. In 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18, the author says, "But we, brethren, being taken from you a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us." From this it is evident that the apostle had repeatedly endeavored to visit them, but had been hindered. But it is not reasonable to suppose that he had attempted this during the short time that he was in Athens, and so soon after having been driven away from Berea. It is more probable that this had occurred during his residence at Corinth, and it would seem also from this, that the epistle was written toward the close of his residence there. At the time of writing the epistle, Silas and Timothy were with the apostle 1 Thessalonians 1:1, and we know that they were with him when he was at Corinth; Acts 18:5.
If this epistle was written at the time supposed, at Corinth, it must have been about the 13th year of the reign of Claudius, and about a.d. 52. That this was the time in which it was written, is the opinion of Mill, of Lardner, of Hug, and is indeed generally admitted. It was the first epistle written by the apostle Paul, and, in some respects, may be allowed to excite a deeper interest on that account than any others of his. The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians is supposed to have been written at the same place, and probably in the same year; see Lardner, vol. Acts 6:4-6. Grotius, indeed, supposes that the order of the epistles has been inverted, and that that which is now called the "Second Epistle to the Thessalonians" was in fact first sent. But there is no evidence of this.
Section 4. The Character of the Church at Thessalonica, and the Design of the Epistle
The church at Thessalonica, at first, was composed of the following classes of persons:
(1) Jews. To them Paul preached first, and though the mass of them opposed him, and rejected his message, yet some of them believed; Acts 17:4,
(2) Greeks who had been proselyted to the Jewish faith, and who seem to have been in attendance on the synagogue; Acts 17:4. They are called "devout Greeks" - σεβομένοι Ἑλλήνοι sebomenoi Hellēnoi - that is, religious Greeks, or those who had renounced the worship of idols, and who attended on the worship of the synagogue. They were probably what the Jews called "Proselytes of the Gate;" persons who were admitted to many privileges, but who were not proselytes in the fullest sense. There were many such persons usually where a synagogue was established among the Gentiles.
(3) females of the more elevated rank and standing in the community; Acts 17:4. They were women of influence, and were connected with distinguished families. Possibly they also may have been of the number of the proselytes.
(4) not a few members of the church appear to have been converted from idolatry by the preaching of the apostle, or had connected themselves with it after he had left them. Thus, in 1 Thessalonians 1:9, it is said, "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.
Though the apostle had been much opposed when there, and the gospel had been rejected by the great body of the inhabitants of Thessalonica, yet it had been most cordially embraced by these different classes 1 Thessalonians 2:13, and they were entirely harmonious in the belief of it. They forgot all their former differences in the cordiality with which they had embraced the gospel. The characteristics of the church there, and the circumstances existing, which gave occasion for the two epistles to the Thessalonians, appear to have been, so far as can he gathered from the history Acts 17, and the epistles themselves, the following:
(1) The members of the church had very cordially embraced the gospel; they were the warm friends of the apostle; they greatly desired to receive his instruction; and these things prompted him to the earnest wish which he had cherished to visit them 1 Thessalonians 2:17, and now led him to write to them; compare 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6; 1 Thessalonians 2:8-9, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20. Paul had for them the strong affection which a nurse has for the children committed to her charge (1 Thessalonians 2:7), or a father for his children 1 Thessalonians 2:11, and hence the interest shown for them by writing these epistles.
(2) they were disposed not only to embrace the gospel, but to spread it abroad (chap 1 Thessalonians 1:8), and Paul was evidently desirous of commending them for this, and of exciting them to greater love and zeal in doing it.
(3) they had at first embraced the gospel amidst scenes of strife 1 Thessalonians 2:2; they were now opposed, as they had been there, by the Jews, and by their own countrymen 1 Thessalonians 2:14; and they appear to have been called to some peculiar trials, by the loss of some valued members of the church - friends who were peculiarly dear to their hearts; 1 Thessalonians 2:3, 1 Thessalonians 2:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:13. To console them in view of these afflictions was one design of the first epistle, and in doing it the apostle states one of the most interesting views of the resurrection to be found in the Scriptures; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18.
(4) they had been instructed in reference to the future coming of the Saviour; the day of judgment, and the fact that the appearing of the "day of the Lord" would be like a thief in the night; 1 Thessalonians 5:2. But they seem to have inferred that that day was near, and they were looking for the immediate advent of the Redeemer, and the close of the world. To this view they seem to have been led by two things. One was, a misinterpretation of what the apostle says, 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3, about the advent of the Redeemer, which they seem to have understood as if it meant that it would be "soon;" and the other was, probably, the fact that certain letters had been forged in the name of Paul which maintained this doctrine; 2 Thessalonians 2:2. To correct this view was one of the leading objects of the second epistle, and accordingly the apostle in that shows them that events must occur preceding the coming of the Lord Jesus which would occupy a long time, and that the end of the world, therefore, could not be near; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12.
(5) An error seems also to have prevailed among them in regard to the resurrection, which was the cause of great uneasiness to those who had lost Christian friends by death; 1 Thessalonians 4:13, They seem to have supposed that when the Lord Jesus appeared, they who were alive would have great advantages over those who were deceased; that the living would be allowed to behold his glory, and to participate in the splendors of his personal reign, while those who were in their graves would slumber through these magnificent scenes. To correct these views, appears to have been one design of the first epistle. The apostle shows them that at the coming of the Saviour, all the redeemed, whether living or dead, would participate alike in his glory. They who were alive would not anticipate those who were in their graves. In fact, he says, those who were dead would rise before the change would take place in the living that was to fit them to dwell with the Lord, and then all would he taken up to be forever with him; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18.
(6) it would appear to be not improbable that after the departure of the apostle from Thessalonica, he had been accused by the enemies of the gospel there, of a lack of courage, and that they had urged this as proof that he was conscious that the gospel was an imposture. Besides, his leaving the church there without any instructors in a time when they greatly needed them, may have been urged as a proof that he had no real affection for them, or concern for their welfare. To meet this charge, the apostle urges several things, vindicating his conduct, and showing the strength of his attachment for them. He says, (1) that, as they knew; so far from being deterred by persecution from preaching, after a violent persecution at Philippi, he and his fellow laborers had at once preached the same gospel at Thessalonica, and they had done it there amidst the same kind of opposition; 1 Thessalonians 2:2. (2) that they themselves were witnesses that it had been done without any appearance of fraud or of guile. They had given them all possible proofs of sincerity; 1 Thessalonians 2:3-5; (3) That they had given every proof possible that they did not seek glory from men, and that their aims were not selfish. They were willing to have imparted, not the gospel only, but also their own lives; and to show that they had had no selfish aim while with them, they had supported themselves by the labor of their own hands; 1 Thessalonians 2:6-9. (4) that so far from not feeling any interest in them, he had repeatedly sought to visit them, but had in every instance been prevented 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18; and (5) that, since he was prevented from going to them, he had submitted to the personal sacrifice of parting with Timothy at Athens, and of being left alone there, in order that he might go to them and comfort their hearts; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2.
(7) in common with other churches, gathered in part or in whole from the pagan, they were in danger of falling into the sins to which they had been addicted before their conversion, and one object of the first epistle is to put them on their guard against the leading vices to which they were exposed; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7.
(8) it would seem, also, that there were some in the church who had a spirit of insubordination toward their religious teachers, and who, under pretence of edifying others, were guilty of disorder. To correct this was also one object of the epistle; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14.
From these views, the design of this epistle, and also of the second epistle to the same church, which seems to have been written soon-after this, will be apparent. They were the effusions of warm attachment toward a church which the apostle had founded, but from which he had been soon driven away, and which he had been prevented from revisiting when be had earnestly desired it. They are filled with expressions of tender regard; they remind the members of the church of the ardor with which they had at first embraced the gospel; caution them against the dangers to which they were exposed; commend them for their fidelity hitherto, and encourage them in their trials and persecutions. They present some most interesting views of the nature of the gospel, and especially contain statements about the resurrection of the saints which are not found elsewhere in the New Testament, and views in relation to the great apostasy, and the "man of sin," which demonstrate that the writer was inspired, and which are of inestimable importance in guarding the true church from the power of Antichrist. No one could have drawn the picture of the Papacy in the second chapter of the second epistle who was not under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost; and no true Christian can be sufficiently grateful that the apostle was thus inspired to reveal the features of that great apostasy, to put the church on its guard against the wiles and the power of him who "exalteth himself above all that is called God."
Analysis Of The Chapter
The first chapter of this Epistle embraces the following subjects:
1. The inscription by Paul, Silas, and Timothy, to the Thessalonians, and the usual salutations; 1 Thessalonians 1:1.
2. An expression of thanks for their fidelity in the gospel; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-4. The apostle says that he made mention of them continually in his prayers; that he remembered their faith, and love, and patience, for by these things they had shown that they were among the elect of God.
3. He reminds them of the manner in which they received the gospel when it was first preached to them; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6. The power of God had been manifested among them in a remarkable manner; they had embraced the gospel with strong assurance, and though in the midst of deep afflictions, they had received the word with joy.
4. The effect of the establishment of the church in Thessalonica had been felt far abroad, and had been of the most happy character; 1 Thessalonians 1:7-10. They had become examples to all that believed in Macedonia and Achaia. From them the gospel had been sounded abroad throughout Greece, and indeed in all places with which they had connection by their commercial relations. Those who dwelt in distant places bore witness to the influence of the gospel on them, and to the power of that religion which had turned them from idols to serve the living God. These verses contain a beautiful illustration of the effect of the gospel in a place favorably situated for commerce, and having extensive contact with other regions.
1Paul, 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 - On the reasons why Paul associated other names with his in his epistles, see the 1 Corinthians 1:1 note, and 2 Corinthians 2:1 note. Silvanus, or Silas, and Timothy were properly united with him on this occasion, because they had been with him when the church was founded there, Acts 17, and because Timothy had been sent by the apostle to visit them after he had himself been driven away; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2. Silas is first mentioned in the New Testament as one who was sent by the church at Jerusalem with Paul to Antioch (notes, Acts 15:22); and he afterward became his traveling companion.
Which is in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ - Who are united to the true God and to the Redeemer; or who sustain an intimate relation to the Father and the Lord Jesus. This is strong language, denoting, that they were a true church; compare 1 John 5:20. "Grace be unto you," etc.; see the notes, Romans 1:7.
2We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;
We give thanks to God always for you all - see the notes, Romans 1:9.
Making mention of you in our prayers - See the notes at Ephesians 1:16. It may be observed here:
(1) that the apostle was in the habit of constant prayer.
(2) that he was accustomed to extemporary prayer, and not to written prayer. It is not credible that "forms" of prayer had been framed for the churches at Thessalonica and Ephesus, and the other churches for which Paul says he prayed, nor would it have been possible to have adapted such forms to the varying circumstances attending the organization of new churches.
3Remembering 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 - Remembering your faith and love whenever we pray. This is not to be understood literally, but it is language such as we use respecting anything that interests us much. It is constantly in our mind. Such an interest the apostle had in the churches which he had established.
Your work of faith - That is, your showing or evincing faith. The reference is probably to acts of duty, holiness, and benevolence, which proved that they exercised faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Works of faith are those to which faith prompts, and which show that there is faith in the heart. This does not mean, therefore, a work of their own producing faith, but a work which showed that they had faith.
And labour of love - Labour produced by love, or showing that you are actuated by love. Such would be all their kindness toward the poor, the oppressed, and the afflicted; and all their acts which showed that they loved the souls of people.
And patience of hope - Patience in your trials, showing that you have such a hope of future blessedness as to sustain you in your afflictions. It was the hope of heaven through the Lord Jesus that gave them patience; see the notes on Romans 8:24. "The phrases here are Hebraisims, meaning active faith, and laborious love, and patient hope, and might have been so translated." Doddridge.
In our Lord Jesus Christ - That is, your hope is founded only on him. The only hope that we have of heaven is through the Redeemer.
In the sight of God and our Father - Before God, even our Father. It is a hope which we have through the merits of the Redeemer, and which we are permitted to cherish before God; that is, in his very presence. When we think of God; when we reflect that we must soon stand before him, we are permitted to cherish this hope. It is a hope which will be found to be genuine even in the presence of a holy and heart-searching God. This does not mean that it had been merely professed before God, but that it was a hope which they might dare to entertain even in the presence of God, and which would bear the scrutiny of his eye.
4Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.
Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God - The margin here reads, "beloved of God, your election." The difference depends merely on the pointing, and that which would require the marginal reading has been adopted by Hahn, Tittman, Bloomfield, and Griesbach. The sense is not materially varied, and the common version may be regarded as giving the true meaning. There is no great difference between "being beloved of God," and "being chosen of God." The sense then is, "knowing that you are chosen by God unto salvation;" compare notes on Ephesians 1:4-5, Ephesians 1:11. The word "knowing" here refers to Paul himself, and to Silas and Timothy, who united with him in writing the Epistle, and in rendering thanks for the favors shown to the church at Thessalonica. The meaning is, that they had so strong confidence that they had been chosen of God as a church unto salvation, that they might say they knew it.
The way in which they knew it seems not to have been by direct revelation or by inspiration, but by the evidence which they had furnished, and which constituted such a proof of piety as to leave no doubt of the fact. Calvin. What this evidence was, the apostle states in the following verses. I was shown by the manner in which they embraced the gospel, and by the spirit which they had evinced under its influence The meaning here seems to be, not that all the members of the church at Thessalonica were certainly chosen of God to salvation - for, as in other churches, there might have been those there who were false professors - but that the church, as such, had given evidence that it was a true church - that it was founded on Christian principles - and that, as a church, it had furnished evidence of its "election by God." Nor can it mean, as Clarke and Bloomfield suppose, that God "had chosen and called the Gentiles to the same privileges to which he chose and called the Jews; and that as they (the Jews) had rejected the gospel, God had now elected the Gentiles in their stead;" for a considerable portion of the church was composed of Jews (see Acts 17:4-5), and it cannot, therefore, mean that the Gentiles had been selected in the place of the Jews. Besides, the election of the Gentiles, or any portion of the human family, to the privileges of salvation, to the neglect or exclusion of any other part, would be attended with all the difficulties which occur in the doctrine of personal and individual election. Nothing is gained on this subject in removing the difficulties, by supposing that God chooses masses of people instead of individuals. How can the one be more proper than the other? What difficulty in the doctrine of election is removed by the supposition? Why is it not as right to choose an individual as a nation? Why not as proper to reject an individual as a whole people? If this means that the church at Thessalonica had shown that it was a true church of Christ, chosen by God, then we may learn:
(1) that a true church owes what it has to the "election of God." It is because God has chosen it; has called it out from the world; and has endowed it in such a manner as to he a true church.
(2) a church may give evidence that it is chosen of God, and is a true church. There are things which it may do, which will show that it is undoubtedly such a church as God has chosen, and such as he approves. There are just principles on which a church should be organized, and there is a spirit which may be manifested by a church which will distinguish it from any other association of people.
(3) it is not improper to speak with strong confidence of such a church as undoubtedly chosen of God. There are churches which, by their zeal, self-denial, and deadness to the world, show beyond question their "election of God," and the world may see that they are founded on other principles and manifest a different spirit from other organizations of people.
(4) every church should evince such a spirit that there may be no doubt of its "election of God." It should be so dead to the world; so pure in doctrine and in practice, and so much engaged in spreading the knowledge of salvation, that the world will see that it is governed by higher principles than any worldly association, and that nothing could produce this but the influence of the Holy Spirit of God.
5For 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 our gospel came not unto you - When first preached; Acts 17:1-3. Paul speaks of it as "our gospel," because it was the gospel preached by him and Silas and Timothy; comp 2 Thessalonians 2:14; 2 Timothy 2:8. He did not mean to say that the gospel had been originated by him, but only that he had delivered the good news of salvation to them. He is here stating the evidence which had been given that they were a church "chosen by God." He refers, first, to the manner in which the gospel was received by them 1 Thessalonians 1:5-7, and, secondly, to the spirit which they themselves manifested in sending it abroad; yet.1 Thessalonians 1:8.
In word only - Was not merely spoken; or was not merely heard. It produced a powerful effect on the heart and life. It was not a mere empty sound that produced no other effect than to entertain or amuse; compare Ezekiel 33:32.
But also in power - That is, in such power as to convert the soul. The apostle evidently refers not to any miracles that were performed there, but to the effect of the gospel on those who heard it. It is possible that there were miracles performed there, as there were in other places, but there is no mention of such a fact, and it is not necessary to suppose it, in order to see the full meaning of this language. There was great power manifested in the gospel in its leading them to break off from their sins, to abandon their idols, and to give their hearts to God; see this more fully explained in the notes on 1 Corinthians 2:4.
And in the Holy Ghost - Compare the notes on 1 Corinthians 2:4. It is there called the "demonstration of the Spirit."
And in much assurance - That is, with firm conviction, or full persuasion of its truth. It was not embraced as a doubtful thing, and it did not produce the effect on the mind which is caused by anything that is uncertain in its character. Many seem to embrace the gospel as if they only half believed it, or as if it were a matter of very doubtful truth and importance; but this was not the case with the Thessalonians. There was the firmest conviction of its truth, and they embraced it "heart and soul;" compare Colossians 2:2; Hebrews 6:11. From all that is said in this verse, it is evident that the power of God was remarkably manifested in the conversion of the Thessalonians, and that they embraced the gospel with an uncommonly strong conviction of its truth and value. This fact will account for the subsequent zeal which the apostle so much commends in them - for it is usually true that the character of piety in a church, as it is in an individual, is determined by the views with which the gospel is first embraced, and the purposes which are formed at the beginning of the Christian life.
As ye know what manner of men, ... - Paul often appeals to those among whom he had labored as competent witnesses with respect to his own conduct and character; see 1 Thessalonians 2:9-10; Acts 20:33-35. He means here that he and his fellow-laborers had set them an example, or had shown what Christianity was by their manner of living, and that the Thessalonians had become convinced that the religion which they taught was real. The holy life of a preacher goes far to confirm the truth of the religion which he preaches, and is among the most efficacious means of inducing them to embrace the gospel.
6And 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 - "You became imitators - μιμηταὶ mimētai - of us." This does not mean that they became followers of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, in the sense that they had set themselves up as teachers, or as the head of a sect, but that they imitated their manner of living; see the notes on 1 Corinthians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 11:1.
And of the Lord - The Lord Jesus. You also learned to imitate him. From this it is evident that the manner in which the Saviour lived was a prominent topic of their preaching, and also that it was one of the means of the conversion of the Thessalonians. It is probable that preaching on the pure and holy life of the Lord Jesus might be made a much more important means of the conversion of sinners than it is. Nothing is better adapted to show them the evil of their own guilty lives than the contrast between their lives and his; and nothing can be conceived better fitted to win them to holy living than the contemplation of his pure and holy deportment.
Having received the word in much affliction - That is, amidst much opposition from others; see Acts 17:5-8. It was in the midst of these trials that they had become converted - and they seem to have been all the better Christians for them. In this they were imitators of the Saviour, or shared the same lot with him, and thus became his followers. Their embracing and holding fast the truths of religion amidst all this opposition, showed that they were controlled by the same principles that he was, and that they were truly his friends.
With joy of the Holy Ghost - With happiness produced by the Holy Ghost. Though they were much afflicted and persecuted, yet there was joy. There was joy in their conversion - in the evidence of pardoned sin - in the hope of heaven; see the notes, Acts 8:8. However great may be the trials and persecutions experienced in receiving the gospel, or however numerous and long the sufferings of the subsequent life in consequence of having embraced it, there is a joy in religion that more than overbalances all, and that makes religion the richest of all blessings.
7So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
So that ye were ensamples to all that believe - Examples in reference to the firmness with which you embraced the gospel, the fidelity with which you adhered to it in trials, and the zeal which you showed in spreading it abroad. These things are specified in the previous and subsequent verses as characterizing their piety. The word here rendered "ensamples" - τύπον tupon, singular - is that from which the word type is derived. It properly denotes anything caused or produced by the means of "blows" (from τύπτω tuptō), and hence a mark, print, or impression, made by a stamp or die; and then a resemblance, figure, pattern, exemplar - a model after which anything is made. This is the meaning here. They became, as it were, a model or pattern after which the piety of others should be moulded, or showed what the piety of others ought to be.
In Macedonia - Thessalonica was an important city of Macedonia (see the Intro.; compare notes, Acts 16:9), and of course their influence would be felt on the whole of the surrounding region. This is a striking instance of the effect which a church in a city may have on the country. The influence of a city church may be felt, and will usually be felt afar on the other churches of a community - just as, in all other respects, a city has an important influence on the country at large.
And Achaia - Achaia proper was the part of Greece of which Corinth was the capital. The word, however, was sometimes so used as to comprehend the whole of Greece, and in this sense it seems to be employed here, as there is no reason to suppose that their influence would be felt particularly in the province of which Corinth was the center. Koppe observes that Macedonia and Achaia were the two provinces into which all Greece was divided when it was brought under the Roman yoke, the former of which comprehended Macedonia proper, Illyricum, Epirus, and Thessaly, and the other Greece properly so called. The meaning here is, therefore, that their influence was felt on all the parts of Greece; that their piety was spoken of, and the effect of their conversion had been felt in all those places. Thessalonica was a commercial city, and a sea-port. It had contact with all the other parts of Macedonia, with Greece, and with Asia Minor. It was partly owing to the advantages of its situation that its influence was thus felt.
Its own merchants and mariners who went abroad would carry with them the spirit of the religion of the church there, and those who visited it from other ports would see the effect of religion there. This is just an instance, therefore, of the influence which a commercial town and a sea-port may have in religion on other parts of the world. A revival of religion in such a place will extend its influence afar to other places, and appropriate zeal among the friends of the Redeemer there may have an important effect on sea-ports, and towns, and lands far remote. It is impossible to over-estimate the importance of such places in regard to the spread of the gospel; and Christians who reside there - be they merchants, mechanics, lawyers, physicians, mariners, or ministers of the gospel, should feel that on them God has placed the responsibility of using a vast influence in sending the gospel to other lands. He that goes forth from a commercial town should be imbued with the spirit of the gospel, and churches located there should be so under the influence of religion, that they who come among them from abroad shall bear to their own lands honorable testimony of the power of religion there.
8For 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 of the Lord - The truths of religion were thus spread abroad. The word rendered "sounded out" - ἐξήχηται exēchētai - refers to the sounding of a trumpet (Bloomfield), and the idea is, that the gospel was proclaimed like the sonorous voice of a trumpet echoing from place to place; compare Isaiah 58:1; Revelation 1:10. Their influence had an effect in diffusing the gospel in other places, as if the sound of a trumpet echoed and reechoed among the hills and along the vales of the classic land of Greece. This seems to have been done:
(1) involuntarily; that is, the necessary result of their conversion, even without any direct purpose of the kind of their own, would be to produce this effect. Their central and advantageous commercial position; the fact that many of them were in the habit of visiting other places; and the fact that they were visited by strangers from abroad, would naturally contribute to this result. But.
(2) this does not appear to be all that is intended. The apostle commends them in such a way as to make it certain that they were voluntary in the spread of the gospel; that they made decided efforts to take advantage of their position to send the knowledge of the truth abroad. If so, this is an interesting instance of one of the first efforts made by a church to diffuse the gospel, and to send it to those who were destitute of it. There is no improbability in the supposition that they sent out members of their church - messengers of salvation - to other parts of Macedonia and Greece that they might communicate the same gospel to others. See Doddridge.
But also in every place - Thessalonica was connected not only with Macedonia and Greece proper, in its commercial relations, but also with the ports of Asia Minor, and not improbably with still more remote regions. The meaning is, that in all the places with which they trafficked the effect of their faith was seen and spoken of.
Faith to God-ward - Fidelity toward God. They showed that they had a true belief in God and in the truth which he had revealed.
So that we need not to speak anything - That is, wherever we go, we need say nothing of the fact that you have been turned to the Lord, or of the character of your piety. These things are sufficiently made known by those who come from you, by those who visit you, and by your zeal in spreading the true religion.
9For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;
For they themselves - They who have visited you, and they whom you have sent out; all persons testify of your piety. The apostle seems to refer to all whom he had met or had heard of "in all places," who said anything about the Thessalonians They were unanimous in bearing testimony to their fidelity and piety.
Show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you - The testimony which they bear of you is, in fact, testimony of the manner in which we preached the gospel, and demeaned ourselves when we were with you. It shows that we were intent on our Master's work, and that we were not actuated by selfish or sinister motives The argument is, that such effects could not have been produced among them if Paul, Silas, and their fellow laborers had been impostors. Their sound conversion to God; their change from idolatry to the true religion, and the zeal which had been the result of their conversion, was an argument to which Paul and his fellow-laborers might appeal in proof of their sincerity and their being sent from God. Paul often makes a similar appeal; compare notes on 2 Corinthians 3:2-3. It is certain that many of the Jews in Thessalonica, when Paul and his fellow-laborers were there, regarded them as impostors Acts 17:6, Acts 17:8, and there is every reason to suppose that after they left the city, they would endeavor to keep up this impression among the people. To meet this, Paul now says that their own undoubted conversion to a life of holiness and zeal under their ministry, was an unanswerable argument that this was not so. How could impostors and deceivers have been the means of producing such effects?
And how ye turned to God from idols - That is, under our preaching. This proves that the church was to a considerable extent composed of those who were converted from idolatry under the preaching of Paul; compare Intro. 4. The meaning here is, that they who came from them, or they who had visited them, bore abundant testimony to the fact that they had turned from idols to the worship of the true God; compare notes 1 Corinthians 12:2; Galatians 1:8.
To serve the living and true God - He is called the "living God" in opposition to idols - who are represented as dead, dumb, deaf, and blind; compare Psalm 135:15-17; notes, Isaiah 44:10-17; Matthew 16:16; John 5:26; Acts 14:15.
10And 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 - It is clear from this and from other parts of these two Epistles, that the return of the Lord Jesus to this world was a prominent subject of the preaching of Paul at Thessalonica. No small part of these Epistles is occupied with stating the true doctrine on this point (1 Thessalonians 4:), and in correcting the errors which prevailed in regard to it after the departure of Paul. Perhaps we are not to infer, however, that this doctrine was made more prominent there than others, or that it had been inculcated there more frequently than it had been elsewhere, but the apostle adverts to it here particularly because it was a doctrine so well fitted to impart comfort to them in their trials 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and because, in that connection, it was so well calculated to rouse them to vigilance and zeal; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. He makes it prominent in the second Epistle, because material errors prevailed there in reference to it which needed to be corrected.
In the passage before us, he says that the return of the Son of God from heaven was an important point which had been insisted on when he was there, and that their conduct, as borne witness to by all, had shown with what power it had seized upon them, and what a practical influence it had exerted in their lives. They lived as if they were" waiting" for his return. They fully believed in it; they expected it. They were looking out for it, not knowing when it might occur, and as if it might occur at any moment. They were, therefore, dead to the world, and were animated with an earnest desire to do good. This is one of the instances which demonstrate that the doctrine that the Lord Jesus will return to our world, is fitted, when understood in the true sense revealed in the Scriptures, to exert a powerful influence on the souls of people. It is eminently adapted to comfort the hearts of true Christians in the sorrows, bereavements, and sicknesses of life John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Peter 3:8-9; to lead us to watchfulness and to an earnest inquiry into the question whether we are prepared to meet him Matthew 24:37-44; Matthew 25:13; to make us dead to the world, and to lead us to act as becomes the children of light (1 Thessalonians 5:5-9; to awaken and arouse impenitent and carless sinners 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3; 2 Peter 3:3-7, and to excite Christians to self-denying efforts to spread the gospel in distant lands, as was the case at Thessalonica. Every doctrine of the gospel is adapted to produce some happy practical effects on mankind, but there are few that are more full of elevated and holy influences than that which teaches that the Lord Jesus will return to the earth, and which leads the soul to wait for his appearing; compare notes, 1 Corinthians 1:7; Philippians 3:20.
Whom he raised from the dead - See the Acts 2:24-32 notes; 1 Corinthians 15:4-9 notes. Paul probably means to intimate here, that this was one of the great truths which they had received, that the Lord Jesus had been raised from the dead. We know it was a prominent doctrine wherever the gospel was preached.
Which delivered us from the wrath to come - Another of the prominent doctrines of Christianity, which was undoubtedly always inculcated by the first preachers of religion. The "wrath to come" is the divine indignation which will come upon the guilty; Matthew 3:7. From that Christ delivers us by taking our place, and dying in our stead. It was the great purpose of his coming to save us from this approaching wrath. It follows from this:
(1) that there was wrath which man had to dread - since Jesus came to deliver us from something that was real, and not from what was imaginary; and,
(2) that the same wrath is to be dreaded now by all who are not united to Christ, since in this respect they are now just as all were before he died; that is, they are exposed to fearful punishment, from which He alone can deliver. It may be added, that the existence of this wrath is real, whether people believe it or not, for the fact of its existence is not affected by our belief or unbelief.
Remarks On 1 Thessalonians 1
This chapter teaches:
(1) That it is right to commend these who do well; 1 Thessalonians 1:3. Paul was never afraid of injuring any one by commending him when he deserved it: nor was he ever afraid to rebuke when censure was due.
(2) Christians are chosen to salvation; 1 Thessalonians 1:4. Their hope of heaven depends on the "election of God."
(3) it is possible for a people to know that they are chosen of God, and to give such evidence of it that others shall know it also; 1 Thessalonians 1:4. It is possible for a church to evince such a spirit of piety, self-denial, love, and holiness, and such a desire to spread the gospel, as to show that they are "chosen of God," or that they are a true church. This question is not to be determined by their adherence to certain rites and forms; by their holding to the sentiments of an orthodox creed: or by their zeal in defense of the "apostolic succession," but by their bringing forth "the fruits of good living." In determining that the church at Thessalonica was "chosen of God," Paul does not refer to its external organization, or to the fact that it was founded by apostolic hands, or that it had a true ministry and valid ordinances, but to the fact that it evinced the true spirit of Christian piety; and particularly that they had been zealous in sending the gospel to others. There were three things to which he referred:
1. that the gospel had power over themselves, inducing them to abandon their sins;
2. that it had such influence on their lives that others recognized in them the evidence of true religion; and,
3. that it made them benevolent, and excited them to make efforts to diffuse its blessings abroad.
(4) if a church may know that it is chosen or elected of God, it is true of an individual also that he may know it. It is not by any direct revelation from heaven; not by an infallible communication of the Holy Spirit; not by any voice or vision; but it is in the same way in which this may be evinced by a church. The conversion of an individual, or his "election of God," may be certainly known by himself, if,
1. the gospel is received as "the word of God," and induces him to abandon his sins;
2. if it leads him to pursue such a life that others shall see that he is actuated by Christian principles; and,
3. if he makes it his great aim in life to do good, and to diffuse abroad, as far as he can, that religion which he professes to love. He who finds in his own heart and life evidence of these things, need not doubt that he is among the "chosen of God."
(5) the character of piety in the life of an individual Christian, and in a church, is often determined by the manner in which the gospel is embraced at first, and by the spirit with which the Christian life is entered on; see the notes on 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6. If so, then this fact is of immense importance in the question about organizing a church, and about making a profession of religion. If a church is so organized as to have it understood that it shall be to a considerable extent the patron of worldly amusements - a "halfway house" between the world and religion, that purpose will determine all its subsequent character - unless it shall be counteracted by the grace of God. If it is organized so as to look with a benignant and tolerant eye on gaiety, vanity, self-indulgence, ease, and what are called the amusements and pleasures of life, it is not difficult to see what will be its character and influence. How can such a church diffuse far and near the conviction that it is "chosen of God," as the church at Thessalonica did And so of an individual. Commonly, the whole character of the religious life will be determined by the views with which the profession of religion is made. If there is a purpose to enjoy religion and the world too; to be the patron of fashion as well as a professed follower of Christ; to seek the flattery or the plaudits of man as well as the approbation of God, that purpose will render the whole religious life useless, vacillating, inconsistent, miserable. The individual will live without the enjoyment of religion, and will die leaving little evidence to his friends that he has gone to be with God. If, on the other hand, there be singleness of purpose, and entire dedication to God at the commencement of the Christian life, the religious career will be one of usefulness, respectability, and peace. The most important period in a man's life, then, is that when he is pondering the question whether he shall make a profession of religion.
(6) a church in a city should cause its influence to be felt afar; 1 Thessalonians 1:7-9. This is true, indeed, of all other churches, but it is especially so of a church in a large town. Cities will be centers of influence in fashion, science, literature, religion, and morals. A thousand ties of interest bind them to other parts of a land, and though in fact there may be, as there often is, much more intelligence in a country neighborhood than among the same number of inhabitants taken promiscuously from a city; and though there may be, as there often is, far more good sense and capability to appreciate religious truth in a country congregation than in a congregation in a city, yet it is true that the city will be the radiating point of influence. This, of course, increases the responsibility of Christians in a city, and makes it important that, like those of Thessalonica, they should be models of self-denial and of efforts to spread the gospel.
(7) a church in a commercial town should make use of its special influence to spread the gospel abroad; 1 Thessalonians 1:7-9. Such a place is connected with remote lands, and those who, for commercial purposes, visit distant ports from that place, should bear with them the spirit of the gospel. Such, too, should be the character of piety in the churches in such a city, that all who visit it for any purpose, should see the reality of religion, and be led to bear the honorable report of it again to their own land,
(8) such, too, should be the piety of any church. The church at Thessalonica evinced the true spirit of religion; 1 Thessalonians 1:7-9. Its light shone afar. It sent out those who went to spread the gospel. Its members, when they went abroad, showed that they were influenced by higher and purer principles than those which actuated them before conversion, and than were evinced by the pagan world. Those who visited them, also, saw that there was a reality in religion, and bore an honorable report of it again to their own lands. Let any church evince this spirit, and it will show that it is "chosen of God," or a true church; and wherever there is a church formed after the primitive model, these traits will always be seen.
(9) it is our duty and privilege to "wait for the Son of God to return from heaven." We know not when his appearing, either to remove us by death, or to judge the world, will be - and we should therefore watch and be ready. The hope of his return to our world to raise the dead, and to convey his ransomed to heaven, is the brightest and most cheering prospect that dawns on man, and we should be ready, whenever it occurs, to hail him as our returning Lord, and to rush to his arms as our glorious Redeemer. It should be always the characteristic of our piety, as it was that of John to say, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus;" Revelation 22:20.