CONTENTS.—Paul, after the address and salutation, testifies that he renders constant thanks to God for the Thessalonians, calling to remembrance their faith, love, and hope, being assured of their election. He expresses his joy in their cordial reception of the gospel and the Christian character which they exhibited, being examples to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia. He mentions the favorable report which he had of their conversion to God from idols, and of their waiting for the advent of Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1:1
Paul. He does not call himself "an apostle," not because the Thessalonians were newly converted (Chrysostom), or from tenderness to Silvanus who was not an apostle (Estius), or because his apostolic authority was not yet recognized (Jowett), or because he had merely commenced his apostolic labors (Wordsworth); but because his apostleship had never been called in question by the Thessalonians. For the same reason he omits this title in the Epistle to the Philippians; whereas he strongly insists upon it in his Epistles to the Corinthians and Galatians, because among them there were many opposed to his authority. And Silvanus. The same as the Silas of the Acts. He is mentioned as a chief man among the brethren, and a prophet or inspired teacher (Acts 15:22, Acts 15:32). His Latin name renders it probable that he was a Hellenistic Jew, and, like Paul, he was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37). He was sent with Judas Barsabas from Jerusalem, to convey the apostolic decrees to Antioch; and he accompanied Paul instead of Barnabas on his second missionary journey (Acts 15:40). He suffered imprisonment with Paul at Philippi; and was engaged with him in preaching the gospel in Thessalonica, Beraea, and Corinth. His ministry at Corinth is honorably mentioned by Paul in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:9). After this there is no more mention of Silvanus in the Acts, and it is doubtful whether he was the Silvanus by whom the First Epistle of Peter was conveyed to the Churches of Asia (1 Peter 5:12). £ Ancient tradition, erroneously supposing that Silas and Silvanus were different persons, makes Silas the Bishop of Corinth, and Silvanus the Bishop of Thessalonica. And Timotheus. The well-known disciple of Paul. He was a native of Lystra, having a Greek father and a Jewish mother (Acts 16:1). He joined Paul and Silas on their second missionary journey at Lystra, and was with them in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth. He was with Paul on his third missionary journey, and was sent by him on a mission to Macedonia and Corinth (Acts 19:22; 1 Corinthians 16:10), and accompanied him into Asia on his last journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). He was also with Paul during his first Roman imprisonment, when he wrote the Epistles to the Philippians and Colossians (Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1). Afterwards he resided at Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3); from which he was recalled to Rome by Paul shortly before his martyrdom (2 Timothy 4:21). The last mention of Timothy is in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you" (Hebrews 13:23). According to ecclesiastical tradition, he became Bishop of Ephesus, and there suffered martyrdom. Silvanus and Timotheus are associated with Paul in his address to the Thessalonians, not to give weight and authority to his Epistle, but because they assisted him in the planting of the Church at Thessalonica, and were now with him at Corinth, when he was writing this Epistle. Silvanus is placed first, because he was the older and had been longer with the apostle, and, as is evident from the Acts, was at this time the more important of the two (Acts 16:19; Acts 17:4). By being included in the address, they are represented as joint authors of the Epistle with Paul, although they were only so in name. It is possible that Paul employed one of them as his amanuensis in writing the Epistle. Unto the Church. The word "Church" denotes a select assembly; here, Christians selected from the world. It does not denote in the New Testament, as with us, a building, but the congregation. In Paul's later Epistles, those addressed are called, not the Church, but saints. Of the Thessalonians. In other Epistles the address is to the city, as Rome, Philippi, Colosse; here it is to the inhabitants. The Church of the Thessalonians was chiefly composed of converted Gentiles, with a small number of converted Jews (see Introduction). Which is; to be omitted, as not being in the original. In God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ. The characteristic peculiarity of the Church: they are in God and Christ, that is, in fellowship with them, united to them. "In God the Father" characterizes them as not being heathens; "in the Lord Jesus Christ" characterizes them as not being Jews. Grace be unto you, and peace. The usual apostolic benediction. "Grace" is the Greek and" peace" is the Jewish form of salutation. The Greeks commenced their epistles with wishing grace for those to whom they wrote; and the usual form of salutation among the Jews was Shalom or "peace;" the apostle combines them, thus intimating that both Greeks and Jews are one in Christ Jesus. In the Pastoral Epistles and in the Second Epistle of John the form is "Grace, mercy, and peace" (2 John 1:3.), and in the Epistle of Jude it is "Mercy, peace, and love" (Jude 1:2). From God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. These words are wanting in some important manuscripts, and are omitted in the R.V. The preponderance, however, of external authority is in their favor.
1 Thessalonians 1:2
We. Many expositors (Cony-beare, Koch, Jowett) suppose that the plural is here used for the singular; as Paul elsewhere does in other parts of this Epistle. Thus: "Wherefore we would come unto you, even I Paul, once and again" (1 Thessalonians 2:18); "Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone" (1 Thessalonians 3:1). In these verses the pronoun "we" is evidently restricted to Paul. Still, however, Silvanus and Timotheus being mentioned directly before, it is most natural to include them here. Give thanks to God always for you all. All Paul's Epistles, with the solitary exception of the Epistle to the Galatians, commence with an expression of thanksgiving. Making mention of you in our prayers; whilst we are engaged in prayer for you. Paul's prayer for the Thessalonians took the form of thanksgiving.
1 Thessalonians 1:3
Remembering without ceasing. Some attach the words, "without ceasing," or "unceasingly," to the previous clause; "making mention of you unceasingly in our prayers" (so Alford). Your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope. These expressions are not to be weakened, as if they were a mere Hebraism for active faith, laborious love, and patient hope. We have here the three cardinal virtues—faith, love, and hope (1 Corinthians 13:13). Elsewhere these graces are combined. Thus again in this Epistle: "Putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation" (1 Thessalonians 5:8); and in the Epistle to the Colossians: "Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all saints, for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven" (Colossians 1:4, Colossians 1:5). By the "work of faith" is not meant faith itself as the work of God (John 6:29), but that faith which is energetic, which is active and living, productive of good works. By the "labor, or toil, of love" is not meant that love which is devoted to God, but that love which manifests itself in acts of kindness toward our fellow-Christians and toward the human race. And by the "patience of hope" is meant that constancy which remains unconquered by trials and persecutions. There is a climax here; faith manifests itself by its works—its active exertion; love by its toils—its works of self-denial; and hope by its patience—its endurance amid trials and discouragements. "Remembering, the apostle would say, your faith, hope, and love: a faith that had its outward effect on your lives; a love that spent itself in the service of others; and a hope that was no mere transient feeling, but was content to wait for the things unseen, when Christ should be revealed" (Jowett). In our Lord Jesus Christ. These words do not refer to all three virtues (Hohnann), but only to the last, specifying its object, namely, that it is hope in the advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is hope s highest expectation, because at the advent the kingdom of Christ will come in its glory. In the sight of (or rather, before) God and our Father. These words are to be conjoined with "remembering:" "remembering unceasingly before God and our Father your work of faith," etc. According to the English idiom, the conjunction "and" is dropped—"God our Father."
1 Thessalonians 1:4
Knowing; that is, not the Thessalonians themselves, but we, Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus; knowing, being well assured of. Brethren beloved, your election of God; or rather, as it is in the margin and in the R.V., Knowing brethren, beloved of God, your election. By election is meant that act of free grace by which God destines individuals to become believers in Christ. Thus the Thessalonian converts were chosen or elected by God from among their heathen countrymen to become Christians. The ultimate reason of their Christianity was their election of God.
1 Thessalonians 1:5
For; or rather, how that (R.V.); or, because; assigning the reasons for Paul's confidence in their election; and these reasons were two: first, the powerful entrance which the gospel had among them; and secondly, the joyful reception which was given to it by the Thessalonians. Our gospel; that is, the gospel which was preached by us. Came not unto you in word only. The gospel came in word, for this was a necessary pre-requisite, but "not in word only," that is, it was not a bare publication or communication in human words. But in power. Some restrict the epithets which here follow to the teachers, as denoting the mode in which they preached the gospel; but it is better to refer them both to the teachers and the taught. By "power" is not meant miracles, but, in contrast to "word," the power with which Paul and his companions preached, and the impression which the gospel made on the hearers. And in the Holy Ghost. Here also the reference is, not to miraculous gifts, but to the influences of the Spirit accompanying the preaching of the gospel; such was the efficacy of Paul's preaching that it proved itself to be accompanied by the operation of the Holy Ghost in the conversion of his hearers. There is here an ascent: the gospel came in power, and, what is more, it came in the Holy Ghost. And in much assurance. By "assurance" here is meant the confidence with which Paul and his fellow-workers preached the gospel to the Thessalonians, and the fullness of conviction with which the Thessalonians received it. As ye know. An appeal to their knowledge that what he now states is true. What manner of men we were among you. Alluding to the blamelessness of their behavior when in Thessalonica. For your sake; namely, that we sought not our own profit or advantage, but your spiritual good.
1 Thessalonians 1:6
Now follows the second reason assigned by Paul for his confidence in their election. And ye became followers (or, imitators) of us, and of the Lord; of Christ. By becoming imitators of the apostle, they became imitators of Christ. "Be ye followers of me," writes St. Paul to the Corinthians, "even as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). The point of imitation did not consist in their cordial reception of the gospel, for that could not apply to Christ; but in their joyful endurance of suffering. Having received the word in much affliction. We learn from the Acts that the unbelieving Jews stirred up the heathen rabble, and raised a persecution against Paul and his associates, in consequence of which they had to depart from Thessalonica (Acts 17:4-10). It would appear that, after the apostle had left the city, the persecution, far from abating, rather increased, and the Gentile inhabitants united with the unbelieving Jews against the Christians; the Thessalonian converts suffered from their own countrymen as well as from the Jews (1 Thessalonians 2:14). With joy of the Holy Ghost; that is, not merely spiritual joy, or joy in the Holy Ghost, but joy which proceeds from the Holy Ghost—joy which is produced by him, of which he is the Author.
1 Thessalonians 1:7
So that ye were ensamples. The word here rendered "ensamples" literally signifies "types." It is used to denote a form or figure (Acts 7:43), a model or likeness (Acts 7:44), a mark or impression (John 20:25). Hence, in a metaphorical sense, it came to signify an example, a pattern for imitation. "Now these things are our examples" (1 Corinthians 10:6). To all that believe—to all believers—in Macedonia and Achaia. These are the two provinces into which ancient Greece was divided by the Romans, each of which was governed by a proconsul Macedonia was the northern portion, including Macedonia proper, Epirus and Illyricum; at first it was divided into four districts, but afterwards united into one province, of which Thessalonica was constituted the capital. Achaia was the southern portion of ancient Greece, including the Peloponnesus, Attica, Boeotia, etc., and, until recently, was nearly of the same dimensions with the modern kingdom of Greece; its capital was Corinth.
1 Thessalonians 1:8
For; or, because the proof of tiffs praise conferred on the Thessalonians. From you sounded out. Resounded like the sound of a trumpet. Comp. Romans 10:18, "Their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the end of the world." The word of the Lord. This does not intimate that the Thessalonians by their missionary activity disseminated the gospel, but that from them locally the-gospel had spread. Not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad. There is a slight difficulty in the construction. The sentence is complete without the addition, "your faith to God-ward is spread abroad," and, therefore, we must consider these words as equivalent to "from you sounded out the word of the Lord." When the apostle says that "the faith of the Thessalonians is spread abroad in every place," the meaning is that the report of their joyful reception of the gospel had excited universal attention. There is here a certain use of the figure hyperbole. The words, "in every place," are not to be taken in their full literal sense, but are merely a strong expression for the wide diffusion of the faith of the Thessalonians. Paul uses similar hyperboles in other places, as when he speaks of the faith of the Romans being spoken of throughout the whole world (Romans 1:5), and of the gospel having come into all the world (Colossians 1:6). This wide diffusion of the Faith of the Thessalonians, notwithstanding the recent date of their conversion, may be accounted for when we consider that Thessalonica and Corinth were two great commercial cities, from and to which there was a constant coming and going, so that reports might easily be transmitted by merchants and strangers. It has also been suggested that Aquila and Priscilla, who had lately come from Rome (Acts 18:2), must in their journey have passed through Thessalonica, and would bring with them to Corinth such a report of the faith of the Thessalonians (Wieseler). So that we need not to speak anything; that is, of your faith, as this is already so well known and applauded.
1 Thessalonians 1:9
For they themselves; that is, the reporters, those in Macedonia, Achaia, and every other place. Show of us; or, report concerning us (R.V.) in regard to our preaching or entrance among you. Instead of questions being asked of us by them, as would naturally be expected, they of their own accord give information. What manner of entering in we had among you. "Entering" here evidently refers, not merely to the outward entrance, the mere preaching of the gospel among the Thessalonians; but to the access, the internal entrance, which the gospel found into their hearts; that is, with what power and fullness of the Holy Ghost we preached the gospel unto you, and with what joy and confidence and contempt of danger ye received it. And how ye turned to God from idols. This, as already remarked, is one of the proofs that the Church of Thessalonica was chiefly composed of Gentile converts, though, of course, not to the exclusion of the Jewish element (Acts 17:4). To serve the living and true God. Two epithets there employed in contrast to the idols of the heathen: "living," in opposition to dead idols, which were nothing in the world; "true," not in the sense of veracious, but of real in opposition to the imaginary gods of the heathen.
1 Thessalonians 1:10
And to wait. The faith of the Thessalonians took the form of hope or expectation for the coming of the Lord; an element of Christian feeling, perhaps, not so prominent in the present day. For his Son from heaven; referring to the second advent. Christ on his departure from this world went to heaven, where he resides, making intercession for us, but from thence he will come to judge the quick and the dead. In the primitive Church the advent of Christ was not regarded as at a distance, but as an event which might at any moment occur. Whom he raised from the dead; with emphasis placed before "Jesus," because his resurrection from the dead was the open declaration, the public inauguration, of his Divine sonship (Romans 1:4). Even Jesus which delivered us. The participle is present; not past, "who delivered us," namely, by his death; nor future, "who shall deliver us," at the judgment; but present," who delivers us;" the deliverance is going on—it commenced with Iris death, but will not be completed until his advent. Or the word may be used as a substantive, "Jesus, our Deliverer." From the wrath; or righteous indignation of God; here punishment as the effect of wrath. "The wrath of God is, in its deepest ground, love; love itself becomes a consuming fire to whatever is opposed to the nature of goodness" (Koch). To come; literally, which is coming, the coming wrath, denoting its absolute certainty. This coming wrath will take place at the advent of Christ, when he appears, not only for the salvation of his people, but for the destruction of his enemies.
1 Thessalonians 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 1:2
The character of Christians.
1. They are converted; they turn to God from idols. As the heathen turned from material idols, so do believers from spiritual idols. A change is effected in their disposition; their chief affection is now fixed on God and Christ; they serve the living and true God.
2. They wait for the Lord Jesus Christ; they expect salvation from him, and look forward to his second craning.
3. They live a holy life; they possess the three cardinal virtues, and prove that they do so by their outward manifestations.
1 Thessalonians 1:3
The three cardinal virtues
faith, love, and hope.
1. Their order. Faith is the commencement of the spiritual life, love its progress and continuance, and hope its completion; faith is the foundation, love the structure, and hope the top-stone of God's spiritual temple in the soul.
2. Their manifestations. Faith is seen by its works; love, by its self-denying exertions; and hope, by its patience and endurance.
3. Their reference to time. Faith refers to the past, love to the present, and hope to the future.
1 Thessalonians 1:5
The entrance of the gospel.
1. Negatively. "Not in word only." The preaching of the gospel will only add to our condemnation if we do not by faith accept it; not nominal, but real Christianity is the chief matter; the entrance must not be external, but internal.
2. Positively. "In power," arresting us in our worldly career; "in the Holy Ghost," being the Agent of our conversion; "in much assurance," so that we know from experience its truth and efficacy.
1 Thessalonians 1:6
The imitation of Christ.
Christ not only died as a Sacrifice, but lived as an Example. He is the great Example whom we must imitate, the Pattern of the new creation, the Original of which all believers are copies. Especially we must imitate him in his patient endurance of suffering. The cross is ever the Christian's motto; and we can only enter into heaven through tribulation.
1 Thessalonians 1:6
The union of affliction with joy.
The Thessalonians "received the word with much affliction and joy of the Holy Ghost." Christianity makes no stoical demands. Spiritual joy does not exclude, but even includes, sorrow. "Sorrowing, yet always rejoicing," is the Christian's condition. To glory in tribulation is the Christian's experience. "In the spiritual world joy and sorrow are not two, but one."
1 Thessalonians 1:7
The example of Christians.
It was greatly to the praise of the Thessalonians that they were examples to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
1. Consistent believers are living evidences of the truth of Christianity. By the purity of their conduct, by their unselfishness, by their patience in suffering, they prove that there is something real and living in Christianity.
2. Inconsistent believers are obstacles in the way of the gospel. They confirm the worldly in their worldliness, as if Christianity were a mere pretence, and thus give occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme.
1 Thessalonians 1:10 - The expectation of the advent.
Believers are here described as waiting for the Son of God from heaven. Certainty of the fact of the advent; Christ shall come from heaven. Uncertainty of the time of the advent; "Of that day knoweth no man, not even the angels who are in heaven." It would appear that the early Christians believed that Christ might come at any time, even in their days; the first advent, being so recent, excited within them the expectation of the immediateness of the second. Hence the doctrine of the second advent occupied a much more prominent place in the thoughts of the primitive Christians than it does in ours. It was to them a living power; believers then lived in constant expectation of the coming of the Lord; whereas the teaching of the present day has in a measure passed from it; its uncertainty, instead of exciting us to holiness and watchfulness, is too often abused as an encouragement to sloth and security.
HOMILIES BY T. CROSKERY
1 Thessalonians 1:1 - Address and salutation.
At a point almost midway between the apostle's call and his martyrdom he penned this first of his thirteen Epistles, which was, perhaps, the earliest book of New Testament Scripture, and addressed to one of the primary centers of European Christianity.
I. THE AUTHORS OF THE SALUTATION. "Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy." Simply Paul, without official adjunct of any sort, for there was no one in the Thessalonian Church to challenge his apostleship or his relationship to Christ. He associates Silvanus and Timothy with himself in the salutation as they were associated with him in the original foundation of the Church; Silvanus being placed next to himself, because he was of older standing and greater weight in the Church than Timothy, a comparatively young evangelist.
II. THE CHURCH TO WHICH THE SALUTATION WAS ADDRESSED. "To the Church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
1. Its situation. Thessalonica was the capital of all Macedonia, and is still the second city of European Turkey. Important then as now by its commerce; important by its place on the great road which connected Rome with its Asiatic dependencies; but more important in the eye of the apostle as a grand center of missionary operations both by laud and sea, and with a mingled population of Jews and Gentiles.
2. Its true character as a Church. It was "the Church of the Thessalonians"—a regularly organized community of Christians, mostly Gentiles, having the root and ground of its spiritual existence in union with the Father and the Son. They were "in the fellowship of the Father and the Son," because they were "dwelling in God, and God in them," and "they were in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ." The one fellowship implies the other; for Jesus said, "No man cometh unto the Father but by me;" yet it is also true that it is "God who calls us into the fellowship of the Son" (1 Corinthians 1:9). This double fellowship is secured by the bond of the Holy Spirit. As enjoyed by the Thessalonians it implied:
III. THE SALUTATION. "Grace and peace be unto you." (See homiletical hints on Galatians 1:5; Colossians 1:2.)—T.C.
1 Thessalonians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:3 - Heartfelt thanksgiving for spiritual prosperity.
The apostle begins by a full and earnest expression of thanksgiving such as is characteristic of all his Epistles except that to the Galatians.
I. THE GROUND OF THANKSGIVING. "Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." We consider here:
1. The graces of the Christian life. We have here, in the first Epistle ever written by the apostle, his favorite trilogy of Christian principles.
2. The practical aspect of these graces as forces in the life of the Church. There is a climax in the exhibition of the three graces. The apostle does not say, "the work of faith, the work of love, the work of hope," but ascends from work to labor, and from labor to endurance. There is a work that is a refreshing exercise of our energies, but it involves no exhaustion or fatigue; but when work has deepened into labor we become conscious of the limitation of our strength, and then we have to call in the new principle of endurance, or "patience," if we are to carry it to a triumphant result.
II. THE OCCASION, CIRCUMSTANCES, AND FREQUENCY OF THE APOSTLE'S THANKSGIVING. "We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers."
1. It was in his prayers for them that he expressed his thanksgiving. "Even in the sight of God and our Father." The care of all the Churches was upon him daily (2 Corinthians 11:28), and under such a burden he "bowed his knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." It is happy for Christians to be remembered in the prayers of saints, to be borne upon their hearts, to be borne up before God in intercessory prayer (Romans 1:9; Ephesians 1:16). His thanksgivings were as constant as his prayers.
2. Tile thanksgivings were addressed to God because the spiritual prosperity at Thessalonica was due neither to the converts themselves nor to the preachers of the gospel. We must ever speak of the grace of God, and exalt it in our praises.
3. The thanksgiving was all the more hearty and full because it had regard to the prosperity of the entire community. "All of you," because they were an eminent seal Of his apostleship, a blessed effect of his ministry among them.—T.C.
1 Thessalonians 1:4-6 - Their election and its fruits another ground of thanksgiving.
The apostle, Jew as he was, addresses these Gentiles as his brethren, and represents them as the objects of Divine love. "Knowing, brethren beloved of God, your election."
I. THERE IS AN ELECTION ACCORDING: TO GRACE.
1. The election referred to here was not an election to external privilege or ecclesiastical relationship; for that might have had a very uncertain issue, and would not have been the subject of such abounding thankfulness as he expresses in this passage.
2. It was not even the call to obtain glory, which they had received through his gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Thessalonians 2:14); for the election only realized itself in that call, Scripture always distinguishing the order of election and calling. "Whom he did predestinate, them he also called" (Romans 8:30).
3. Much less is the election to be identified with regeneration, conversion, or faith. These were its effects.
4. It was an election to eternal life, involving all the various processes of his grace. (Romans 11:5.)
II. THE KNOWLEDGE OF THIS ELECTION IS A POSSIBLE AND AN ACTUAL EXPERIENCE. The apostle's knowledge was not derived from special revelation, neither was it the mere credulity of a kindly charity, "hoping all things" in the absence of evidence. It had a double ground—one subjective and the other objective; one based upon the apostle's conscious experience in preaching the gospel, the other upon their practical and hearty reception of the truth.
1. The subjective evidence. "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance."
2. The objective evidence of their election. "And ye became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the Word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost." Their ready imitation of the apostle and his colleagues—which was, in truth, an imitation of Christ, so far as they were connected with him in his life and truth—was a practical proof of the sincerity of their conversion. The imitation was manifest in the spirit and circumstances of their reception of the truth.
(a) a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22);
(b) it is essentially connected with the kingdom of God as part of its blessedness (Romans 14:17);
(c) it is capable of increase through the very presence of affliction (Acts 5:41);
(d) it is the strength of the believer—"The joy of the Lord shall be your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10);
(e) its advent marks a distinct change in the world's history;
(f) it ought to be constant (Philippians 4:4);
(g) it is maintained through abiding in Christ (John 15:10, John 15:11).—T.C.
1 Thessalonians 1:7, 1 Thessalonians 1:8 - The profound impression made by the conversion of the Thessalonians.
Having become imitators of the apostles and of our Lord, they soon became examples for the imitation of other Churches. Their conversion lifted them up into a sudden and distinct visibility in two directions.
I. THE GOSPEL WAS TITUS CARRIED THROUGH NORTHERN AND SOUTHERN GREECE LIKE THE RINGING SOUND OF A TRUMPET. "For from you hath sounded out the Word of the Lord in Macedonia and Achaia." These two divisions of Greece, included in the Roman empire, received the report of the gospel, which went forth like a joyful sound, proclaiming with no uncertainty liberty to the captives.
1. A work of grace in one place quickly leads to a work of grace in other places. The tale of wonder is repeated with solemn surprise, gratitude, and expectation.
2. Churches already in existence were stirred and stimulated by the visible work of grace at Thessalonica.
II. THE REPORT OF THEIR FAITH RECEIVED A WIDE PUBLICITY EVERYWHERE, EVEN OUTSIDE THE LIMITS OF GREECE. This was not wonderful, for the city was, as Cicero says, in the very bosom of the Roman empire, a center of business and influence which touched its furthest limits. Their faith must have had the solid stamp of reality to produce such a widespread sensation. It must have been practical and self-mantles-tattoo, for they did not hide it in their own breasts, but declared it by words and deeds. There was, therefore, no necessity for the apostle speaking about it—"so that we need not to speak anything."—T.C.
1 Thessalonians 1:9, 1 Thessalonians 1:10 - The nature of the impression made upon the world by the spectacle of Thessalonian piety.
It was a truly providential foresight that led the apostles at the beginning of the gospel to plant it first in the great cities of the world. Thus it first appeared at Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Rome, and Corinth.
I. THE WORLD WAS FIRST IMPRESSED BY THE RAPID AND IMMEDIATE SUCCESS OF THE APOSTLES. "For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you." The world seemed to appreciate the boldness, the sincerity, the uprightness of the preachers, as elements of their success; for there was no dexterous flattery, there was no spirit of self-seeking, there was no guileful strategy, in the proclamation of the gospel.
II. THE WORLD WAS STILL MORE DEEPLY IMPRESSED BY THE BLESSED EFFECTS OF THE APOSTLES' PREACHING, "And how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God."
1. It was a conversion from idolatry, Immediately and at once they received converting grace, under the influence of which they turned to the Lord from their dead and fictitious deities.
2. Another effect of the apostles' preaching was their expectation of our Lord's coming. The doctrine of the advent occupies the foreground in the thoughts of the Thessalonians, as in the two Epistles addressed to them. As faith underlies the service of the true God, so hope underlies the expectation of the Lord's coming. "And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivereth us from the wrath to conic."
HOMILIES BY B.C. CAFFIN
1 Thessalonians 1:1 - The address.
I. THE WRITER.
1. He uses no title. He does not style himself apostle. He asserted his apostolic authority when it was necessary to do so; for the sake of others, as in his Epistles to the Corinthians and Galatians. Now it was not necessary; the Macedonian Churches regarded him with affection and reverence. He simply gives his name, his new name—Paul. He had laid aside his old name with all its associations. It recalled the memory of the famous king, Saul the son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin. It recalled to the apostle the memories of his own old unconverted life, his self-satisfied Pharisaism, his persecution of the Church, especially that one saddest day of his life, when he consented to the death of the first martyr of the Lord, the holy Stephen. He had laid aside his old name, and with it his old modes of thought, his old life. Paul was, we may say, his Christian name; we do not read of it before the beginning of his first missionary journey; it was consecrated now by constant, untiring, self-sacrificing labor. It was known wherever Christ was preached as the name of the great missionary, the apostle of the Gentiles, the first of the noble band of Christian missionaries, who had left his home and all that once he loved to devote himself, heart and soul, to the mission work with all its hardships, all its dangers. Many holy men have trodden in his steps; but it was Paul who first set the high example, who kindled the sacred enthusiasm which has led so many saints in every age to fulfill the Lord's command, to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Paul is a Latin name; it means "little." St. Augustine in one place suggests that St. Paul may have chosen it to mark himself as "the least of the apostles." There are other possible reasons for the change, and it may be thought that St. Paul would have shrunk from what might seem almost like a parade of humility. But at least we may find a lesson here. God exalteth the humble. Paul is a famous name. Others have borne it—some distinguished Romans; but it was reserved for the apostle to make the name honored and beloved throughout the civilized world. The Paulus who conquered Macedonia for Rome is far less famous now than the Paul who won the Macedonian Churches for Christ.
2. He associates others with himself. Paul is the spiritual father of the Thessalonian Christians; he is the writer of the Epistle, not Silvanus or Timotheus (see 2 Thessalonians 3:17). But they had labored with him in Thessalonica; Silvanus certainly, Timotheus in all probability; they had shared his dangers there; they were well known to the Thessalonians. So he joins their names with his own, recognizing their brotherly fellowship, their faithful co-operation, and shrinking, it may be, kern putting himself into unnecessary prominence. He seeks not honor ion himself; he has no literary ambition; his one aim is the salvation of his converts, the glory of God.
II. THE CHURCH.
1. The foundation of the Thessalonian Church. St. Paul had been shamefully treated at Philippi; he had not lost courage. He came to Thessalonica; he went, as he was wont, to the synagogue. There he preached for three sabbath days; he "reasoned with them out of the Scriptures." He showed (as our Lord himself had shown to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus) that it was necessary that the Messiah should suffer, and should rise again from the dead; he showed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ. All true preaching must be full of Scripture; all true preaching must be full of Christ. St. Paul's words were greatly blessed. Some Jews believed, a great multitude of Greek proselytes, many ladies of rank. Those three sabbaths had been wonderfully fruitful; a Church was formed at Thessalonica.
2. The word "Church." This is the earliest of St. Paul's extant Epistles; it may be (possibly the Epistle of St. James was written earlier) the earliest of all the writings of the New Testament. Then, if we were to read the New Testament in chronological order, we should meet here with the word "Church" for the first time. St. James 2:2 uses the word "synagogue," not "Church." Our Lord, of course, used it earlier. He founded the Church. He had said, "On this rock wilt I build my Church;" and again, "Tell it to the Church." But the date of St. Matthew's Gospel is probably later than that of this Epistle. The Greek word means simply an assembly, a congregation, as the word "synagogue" means a meeting. It is derived from a verb which means to call out or summon, and is regularly used in classical Greek of the assemblies of citizens summoned by the magistrate in the Greek commonwealths for legislative or other political purposes (comp. Acts 19:39); sometimes of other assemblies, as of the crowd of artisans collected by Demetrius (Acts 19:32, Acts 19:41). It is used of the congregation of Israel in Acts 7:38; Hebrews 2:12; and sometimes in the Septuagint. The New Testament has taken the word and filled it with a new and holy meaning. It is the assembly which Christ hath chosen to himself out of the world—the flock of Christ. The visible Church of Christ is "a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same." The great day of Pentecost was the true birthday of the Church; the gift of the Holy Ghost then sent down from heaven knit together the disciples into one body, the mystical body of Christ. St. Luke gives us, in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, a description of the Church at that time. "Then they that gladly received the Word were baptized… and they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." Thus the notes of the Church, according to Holy Scripture, are baptism, fellowship with the apostles, the doctrine of the apostles, the holy communion, public worship. The Church is also one, for it is one body in Christ, united into one fellowship by the indwelling of the one Spirit. It is holy, because it is being sanctified by the Holy Ghost; all its members are dedicated to God in holy baptism; they are all pledged by that dedication to follow after holiness of heart and life. It is catholic, because it is not confined to one nation, like the synagogue, but universal, world-wide, open to all who receive the Word of God. It is apostolic, because it is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief Corner-stone; and because it continues in the doctrine and fellowship of the apostles. It is the bride of Christ. "Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that he might present it unto himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish."
3. The Church of the Thessalonians. Now there was a branch of the one Church at Thessalonica.
III. THE SALUTATION.
1. Grace. It is one of those words which the Holy Spirit has taken from common use and filled with a sweet and sacred meaning.
2. Peace. It was the first greeting of the risen Lord to his apostles, "Peace be unto you." It became the apostolic greeting. The Macedonian Churches had little outward peace; they were early called to suffer. They needed that blessed peace which God alone can give. (See homiletics on Philippians 1:2 and Philippians 4:7.)
1. Imitate St. Paul in his humility. Notice every feature, every manifestation of that great grace; it is hard to learn.
2. The Church, as a whole, is in God; in his guardianship, in his encircling love. We must strive and pray to realize that loving presence individually, to be in God ourselves.
3. Pray that grace and peace may rest on all who bear the Name of Christ.—B.C.C.
1 Thessalonians 1:2-6 - The apostle's thanksgiving.
I. ITS CHARACTER.
1. It is shared with his companions. "We give thanks." The three friends prayed and gave thanks together. It is true that the plural number is characteristic of these Epistles to the Thessalonians; the singular is avoided, it seems, from motives of modesty. But here, immediately after the mention of the three names, it is natural to regard the thanksgiving as proceeding from all. It is a true Christian feeling that draws friends together for religious exercises. The faith, the love, of the one kindles, strengthens, the like graces in the other. The tide of prayer and praise from many hearts flows in deeper, fuller volume towards the throne. And we know that where two or three are gathered together in his Name, there is he in the midst of them.
2. It is constant. "We give thanks to God always." Thanksgiving is the joy of the redeemed in heaven; it is the outpouring of the Christian heart upon earth. The nearer we can approach to perpetual thanksgiving, the nearer we draw to heaven. "Sursum corda!"—"Lift up your hearts!" is an exhortation which we daily need. May God give us grace to answer daily, hourly, "We lift them up unto the Lord."
3. It is for all. The true shepherd knows his sheep; he loves them all, he prays for all. He does not divide them into parties. The closer his own walk with God, the more he is enabled to keep himself apart from and above party divisions. But the infant Thessalonian Church seems to have enjoyed the blessing of unity. It was not, like Corinth, distracted by strife and party feeling.
4. It accompanied prayer. Thanksgiving and prayer ever go together. The man who prays earnestly must give thanks, for prayer brings him into the sense of God's most gracious presence; and with that presence cometh joy—joy in the Lord. True prayer must involve intercession, for in answer to prayer the Holy Spirit is given; and the first, the chief of the fruits of the Spirit is love. St. Paul is a remarkable example of perseverance in intercessory prayer.
II. ITS GROUNDS.
1. His remembrance of their spiritual state. He was working hard at Corinth; in the midst of his labor, with all its new interests, he remembered without ceasing the Christians of Thessalonica. The care of all the Churches was already beginning to press upon him. He was unwearied in his labors, in his supplications, in his constant thoughtfulness for all the Churches which he had founded, for all the converts whom he had brought to Christ. Mark the extent, the comprehensiveness of his love for souls.
2. His description of that state. The Thessalonian Christians already exhibited the three chief Christian graces.
3. His confidence in God's election; Himself "a vessel of election" (Acts 9:15), he felt sure that the same gracious choice had rested on the Thessalonian Christians. God had "chosen them to salvation," he tells them in the Second Epistle. St. Paul loves to dwell on the great truth of God's election.
4. The evidence of that election. St. Paul finds it:
1. To take delight in the spiritual progress, in the, faith, hope, love of our fellow-Christians.
2. To thank God for it.
3. To refer all that seems good in us to God's electing grace.
4. To look for the evidence of that election in holiness of life.—B.C.C.
1 Thessalonians 1:7-10 - The happy results of the conversion of the Thessalonians.
I. THEY BECAME AN EXAMPLE TO OTHERS.
1. True piety tends to propagate itself. The Thessalonians had not long embraced Christianity. But they had learned much; they had given their hearts to God. The Macedonian Churches gave St. Paul, from the first, deep and unmingled satisfaction. Thessalonica was the metropolis of Macedonia, the seat of government, and of trade. It became a center of spiritual life. All believers throughout Macedonia and Achaia looked to the Thessalonians. St. Paul was now at Corinth, the chief city of Achaia. The Lord had much people in that city; but there were grave evils at Corinth, many causes for anxiety and distress. St. Paul must have told the Corinthians often of the simple faith and obedience of the Macedonians. So the Thessalonians became an example to the converts whose lot was cast among the sensual temptations anti the intellectual restlessness of the famous Peloponnesian town. The lives of good men are very precious; they are a living proof of the power of God's grace; they arc facts which can be seen and tested; facts from which the reality of the forces which are working in the unseen sphere of God's spiritual agency can be inferred with as much certainty as the laws of nature from the facts of observation and experiment.
2. The Word of God is living and powerful. The Thessalonians had received it; it was in their hearts and on their lips. As the starry heavens with their silent witness declare the glory of God, so it is with the stars that are in the right hand of the Son of God (Revelation 1:20); their sound goeth forth into all the earth. That heavenly melody was issuing now from Thessalonica. "It hath sounded forth," St. Paul says, like a clear, thrilling trumpet-strain. It hath sounded, and still it sounds, reaching far and wide with its penetrating tones. The conversion of the Thessalonians was known not only in the neighboring regions of Greece. The glad news had brought joy wherever the gospel had reached. It was