First Thessalonians Chapter One:
Chapter One Overview:
v.1: Greeting and benediction; v.2: Paul and his fellowlabourers show the constancy of their thankfulness and prayerfulness for the Thessalonian saints;
vv.3-10: Recounting the fruits of the election and true conversion of the Thessalonians:
v.3: Acknowledgement of the Thessalonians’ fruitfulness; vv.4-5: Acknowledgement of God’s sovereign electing grace and effectual calling; v.6: Fruitful results of that calling and election; v.7: The Thessalonians’ godly example; v.8: Widespread effects of their godliness; v.9: Validation of Paul’s ministering by their clear and dramatic turning from idols to serve God; v.10: The Thessalonians’ patience for and trust in Christ’s return, and Paul’s reminder of Gospel promise.
“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.”
– Greeting and benediction. Paul’s hearty pronouncement of blessing unto his beloved brethren should be thought upon. Though often skimmed over, these opening passages teach us much of how a godly man relates to his brethren, and therefore how we ourselves should treat one another. Let us be careful here not to take these words as mere politeness and formality. If Paul here does not heartily intend such blessings to his brethren, then he is speaking false words, and that under the inspiration of God. But of course, this is not the case. Paul truly had this heart towards God’s beloved people; let us therefore seek to emulate this godly example.
Notice also how God centred Paul was. In one sentence, he mentions God the Father and The Lord Jesus Christ twice each. He mentions that the church is “in” God the Father and “in” the Lord Jesus Christ, reminding us of Jesus’ great High Priestly prayer (John 17:20-26).
He also confidently and boldly pronounced blessing upon the Thessalonians “from” the first and second Persons of the Trinity in a way that shows his confidence in the freeness of God’s grace toward His people. It is as if Paul reached into God’s heavenly treasury and audaciously took of those stores and dealt them out to his brethren. This attitude is very far from the so-called “sin of presumption” invented by the Romish church, which dogma condemns as sinful the truth that we can have personal assurance of God’s grace toward us; but such a teaching only permits and begets a wavering, double minded, and unstable faith (James 1:6-8); which is the exact opposite of the very faith which justifies. Paul instead shows the disposition of a child to his brethren in their father’s household, who freely enjoys the gracious gifts of his father. Again therefore let us repent of any attitude that differs from the inspired example of Paul, and believe on the goodness, mercy, and generosity of God; lest our faith be that of the papists, or of any other works-righteousness religion, and we be condemned; for God is gracious, and all claims and teachings that seek to diminish that fact are not of God but of Satan.
“We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;”
– This is a very instructive sentence which tells us much of the godly man’s attitude to his brethren. I often long for the salvation of people who have not yet known the Lord, delighting in the prospect of new believers, and the freshness of their faith. This is not an ungodly desire by any means, but what about those who already know the Lord? Are they not precious to me? They are unfathomably precious to the Lord, for He lived (Romans 5:9-10,18-19), died (Romans 5:6-9; John 10:11,15; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21), rose again (Romans 6:4,9; 1 Corinthians 15:4); and “He ever liveth to make intercession for them” Hebrews 7:25. Let us therefore give thanks to God always for the brethren we already have. If it is a joyous thing when one sinner repents for the first time, then is it not a much greater cause for rejoicing when they continue in that state, seeing as how this confirms the genuineness of their faith in Christ? Paul was constantly grateful to God for every single saint.
This verse also shows that Paul and his fellowlabourers were in the practice of constant prayer, which same thing Paul commanded the Thessalonians to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18.
“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;”
– It is so easy to see the faults of others. Being that we are obliged to work righteousness, there is often less compulsion to recognise and be thankful to those who do so than there is to condemn those who fail to work righteousness; and so, it is often the case that we remember without ceasing the faults of others, which also in turn helps us to forget our own faults; which suits the fleshly nature that still clings to us. Let us repent of any attitude that differs from that seen here of the apostle, and follow his example; that any remembrance of the faults of others might only be made for the restoration of the brethren to a right standing with God, and to a right standing in the Church; and not for their condemnation; and let us remember without ceasing the good works of the brethren, as Paul did at length in Romans 16.
“Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. 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.”
– These two verses follow on from v.3, and precede vv.6-10, and are in the same context. This section, vv.3-10, is a recognition of the fact that they abounded in good works, in the midst of which the apostle focuses on their election. In contrast to the common view of salvation which consists of cheap and unsanctifying grace that is so widespread in this age, Paul here tells us how he knew their election of God; that is, by the fruit which God wrought in them. Paul did not tie his knowledge of their election to a prayer which they prayed one time in their lives, nor in the fact that they believed at one time; but he knew the genuineness of their faith by the ongoing fruitfulness which God had wrought in them.
We can clearly know that it was God which wrought such a fruitful faith in them by answering this question: if election merely hinged on the wills of men to say yea or nay to the Gospel, would the Gospel need to come in anything more than word to be effectual? Is that not enough, seeing as how the Gospel is often claimed to be something that can simply be assented to by mere human choice alone? See John 1:12-13; Romans 9:15-16; James 1:18; cf. Ezekiel 37; John 3:8.
But here Paul knows their “election of God” in that the “Gospel came not unto (them) in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance”, cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:13. The question must be considered: Can the Gospel come unto a people “in power, and in the Holy Ghost” without resulting in a definite knowledge that all such people unto whom the Gospel so comes are elect of God? To put it another way, Paul here essentially told the Thessalonians: “I know that you are elect of God because the Gospel came in power, and in the Holy Ghost. It did not come in word only. It came effectually, and so you became followers of us, and of the Lord. That is how I know that God has elected you.” We know that people are elect of God when they repent and believe the Gospel. Can the Gospel come unto a man in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and he not repent and believe? Of course not! When a person rejects the Gospel, that is because it did not come unto him in power, and in the Holy Ghost. If a person repents and believes at the preaching of the Gospel, that proves that the Gospel came unto him in power, and in the Holy Ghost. If it is otherwise, these inspired words are meaningless, or worse, they are completely untrue; but “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35) and it is “impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18). These two verses are in the context of vv.3-10, which recount the fruits of genuine conversion. We know that “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13); and we know that a person is “elect of God”, because the Gospel comes not unto him “in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost”; which certainly results in what follows:
“And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:”
– The end of v.5 and the beginning of v.6 seem to be the same thought. They were assured of the truthfulness of the sent Gospel preachers, Paul and his fellowlabourers; and insofar as those men brought and lived out the truth of the Gospel, the Thessalonians became followers of the Lord’s servants. But they did not merely follow men; they followed them in the context of following the Lord, see John 10:5,27; 13:20; cf. Matthew 10:40. There are many times when we must reject and even rebuke the conversation of otherwise godly men, even as Paul withstood Peter to the face, (Galatians 2:11-16). We must only follow the godly insofar as they follow the Lord; observing them and learning from their godly example, and allowing their godly conversation to be an edifying and practical demonstration of how we ought to live.
They also “received the Word in much affliction”, which is in stark contrast to today’s most common style of religion to call itself Christian: the health and wealth prosperity “gospel”. As a man who makes a marriage vow saying: “Not in sickness but in health; for better but not for worse; so long as it suits me”; the prosperity gospel adherents are much like Pliable in Bunyan’s classic work: “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, who abandoned his pilgrimage at the first sign of despond; and these followers of health and wealth will in a heartbeat leave their pilgrimage just as soon as the road turns hard and unpleasant. Desiring the crown but despising the cross, they would not take so much as one drop of spit upon their faces, nor one insult to their persons for the Lord Jesus’ sake; whereas those who love Him will receive the Word even in much affliction, and will even go to all manner of horrific deaths; and they will do, are doing, and have done so, “with joy of the Holy Ghost”. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, they follow the Lord.
“So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.”
– The fruit of genuine conversion is in part that we will strive to bear a good testimony before all men (Matthew 5:16); both believers (Hebrews 10:24-25), and unbelievers (1 Thessalonians 4:12) alike. The fruit of the Thessalonians was abundant in this respect, given how widely their edifying influence was felt, as we see in the following verse:
“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.”
– Here we have a great expression of Paul’s confidence in the Thessalonians’ fruitful zeal and their positive effect upon “all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.” The same apostle who said in 1 Corinthians 9:16 “woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” here feels secure enough that the duties of preaching and of bearing godly testimony were in those regions being fulfilled to his satisfaction by the Thessalonians; though we can be sure that this in no way means that Paul would have shunned the opportunity or call to preach there.
The Greek word translated “from” in this verse (ἀπό; apo) does not mean “by”, but rather it speaks of separation, departure, and origin. This sentence therefore implies that the word of the Lord was spread abroad not solely by them, but by others also, because of their example and zeal. The Reformation Heritage Study Bible comments on this verse:
“The people of Thessalonica had a consistent and sound faith so that reports of them spread abroad.”
Which fits with what follows:
“For 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;”
– That is, the believers of Macedonia and Achaia, as well as people from many other places, proclaimed about Paul and his fellowlabourers and their fruitful mission among the Thessalonians. Paul is here stating that the testimony given by people with whom he had no direct contact, which they gave concerning people to whom he ministered, is an evidence of the efficacy of his ministering. This is not to say that he had anything of which to glory in himself; Paul having already stated that the Gospel came unto them “in power, and in the Holy Ghost,” and that this was the reason why the Thessalonians were saved, and thereby he knew that they were elect of God.
Also of note was the widespread knowledge of the repentance of the Thessalonian saints. This was not something that was hidden or obscure, but obvious and plain. This same thing our Lord tells us is both true of His people, and is to be practised by His people; which we read in the Sermon on the Mount: “Ye are the light of the world” (indicative) and “let your light so shine” (imperative); see Matthew 5:13-16.
The Thessalonians “turned to God from idols”. You cannot turn to God whilst looking to your idols; the two are diametrically opposed, like presuming to watch the sunrise whilst looking to the west. It is also of note that they did not merely turn to God in the erroneous sense that you can believe on Him without serving Him as Lord. They “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God”; not to serve themselves. Is this true of you? Does Paul’s inspired description of true believers describe you, or are you walking in hypocrisy
“And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.”
– To “wait for” (ἀναμένω; anamenō) means: “to wait for one (with the added notion of patience and trust)”. If we truly believe on Jesus, we wait patiently upon Him, no matter what trials are sent; whereas disingenuous professors of religion can and do fall away through persecution and trials, cf. Matthew 13:20-21.
Herein are essential Gospel truths to which we genuine believers must and do cling:
Firstly, God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead! Our present verse says that the Father raised Christ from the dead, but we know from the whole counsel of Scripture that God is triune, and so it will not do to have a different apprehension of the God who raised Jesus from the dead than the one put forward in all of Scripture. Here are some references in the Bible which focus on the different personages of the Godhead working the miracle of the resurrection of Christ: (1) God: Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 6:14; (2) The Father: Acts 3:26; Galatians 1:1; (3) The Son: John 2:19-22; 10:18; (4) The Holy Spirit: Romans 1:4; 8:11.
Secondly, Jesus delivered us from the wrath to come; and it is only by this that anyone can truly turn from idols, for Christ alone is Lord (Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12; Revelation 1:8,17-18; 2:8; 22:13,16), and He alone is Saviour (Psalm 62; Isaiah 43:11; Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:47; 2:11). Any other god than the Triune Lord, or else any other method of redemption or goal of religious attainment than those ordained by the Lord Jesus in His Word are idolatrous vanities. The Five Solas of the Reformation are essential. Turning to God can only be done through Jesus Christ, as He said in John 14:6:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”