1 Thessalonians 1
Vv 1,2: Greetings. The three missionaries, who had first
brought the gospel to Thessalonica and established the church in that city, now
address the ecclesia a second time, in terms almost identical with the greeting
of their first letter (1Th 1:1n).
Paul is still in Corinth. Apparently, only a few months have
elapsed since he had sent his first letter to the brethren at
Vv 3-12: Thanksgiving and prayer for the
Vv 3-5: Paul's thanksgiving. His prayer in these verses
parallels closely his opening prayer in the first letter (1Th 1:2,3).
WE OUGHT: "Opheilo" -- to owe (as money) in Luke 7:41;
to be under obligation (to love our wives) in Eph 5:28. The same phrase,
including "opheilo", is found in 2Th 2:13, but not elsewhere in Paul's
AND RIGHTLY SO: "Axios" -- right, on the ground of
fitness, as for examples: that labor should be rewarded (Luke 10:7) and sin
punished (Luke 23:15).
YOUR FAITH IS GROWING MORE AND MORE: The superlative
"hyper" (English equivalent: "super!") is prefixed to "auxano", which described
organic growth, as the growth of that which lives, such as seed (Luke 13:14) or
flowers (Mat 6:28). Faith must be alive" and active before it can grow. There is
no such thing, really, as a passive "faith", or a "nodding assent" to that which
is true. Paul had earlier expressed a desire to return and strengthen the
Thessalonians in faith (1Th 3:10); now he is thankful that, even in his absence,
their faith has grown.
THE LOVE EVERY ONE OF YOU HAS FOR EACH OTHER IS
INCREASING: "Love" is "agape", the full, self-sacrificing Christian love
(1Th 3:12). That it is increasing is the test proposed by Christ: Joh 13:34,35.
Such "love" was a quality for which the church had already been commended (1Th
1:3, 4:9,10). "Increasing" is the same word ("pleonazei") used in 1Th 3:12, so
that Paul is here recording the answer to his prayer expressed there.
"Two small words show us where Paul wishes us to put the
emphasis; 'bound' and 'meet': 'We are bound to thank God always for you, as it
is meet.' This is not just a desire we have in appreciation of our good fortune
in having friends like the brethren and sisters, for that very appreciation
should bring with it a driving force, even as Paul says, 'He is bound to give
thanks.' This is also implied in the use of that other word 'meet.' It is a pity
that this old English word is not used as frequently now as it used to be. It
carries with it the idea of suitability, of being the correct and proper thing
to do. Thus Adam was provided with a help, 'meet' or suitable for him. It also
occurs in the reply of the prodigal's father to his eldest son: 'It is meet that
we make merry...' It is the proper thing to do. So the Apostle, driven by an
urge which was right and proper, thanked God for his brethren and sisters. How
easy it is for us to take these blessings for granted" (Xd 113:408).
"Maybe I should thank God for my brothers and sisters more
often. In the past my thanks for them have been because of the blessings that I
have received from them, and I have given thanks for new brothers and sisters
when they have just given their lives to the Lord. But as far as following the
examples of Paul, Silas and Timothy and giving thanks for the growth of faith
and love, I fall far short. What we have to do is to take more notice of how our
brothers and sisters are growing spiritually, seeing how they are developing
their faith and how their love is growing. Then, when we begin to recognize
their growth, we can truly appreciate it and thank God for it. So let us
consider the faith and love of our brothers and sisters and then rejoice in
their achievements and thank God for them" (RP).
THEREFORE, AMONG GOD'S CHURCHES WE BOAST: The ecclesias
over a rather wide area (1Th 1:8,9) had heard of the practical faith of the
Thessalonians. Even Paul and Silas, in contrast to their normal practice, are
not embarrassed to speak in glowing terms of these new converts (cp 1Th
PERSEVERANCE: "Hupomone" -- literally, an abiding
under, or endurance. "Steadfastness."
AND FAITH: Thus persecutions and trials are the means
by which faith is developed (Heb 12:1-3; Jam 1:3,4; 5:7,8; 2Pe 1:6; Rev
PERSECUTIONS: "Diogmos." This generally refers to
sufferings endured on account of one's faith.
TRIALS: "Thlipsesin": means afflictions of a more
general nature (1Th 1:6n). The Thessalonians had a faith strong enough to remain
steadfast under every form of trial (1Th 3:7). In this Paul commends them as an
example for other ecclesias to follow.
ALL THIS IS EVIDENCE THAT GOD'S JUDGMENT IS RIGHT:
Their heroic endurance in the face of sufferings was so unusual as to indicate
("endeigma" -- offer evidence or proof of) its divine source: God was on their
side, and they were strengthened by their faith and hope in Him. Furthermore, it
is part of God's "righteous judgment" that trials are the means by which His
people may be brought to maturity or perfection (1Th 3:3; Acts 14:22; 1Co
11:31,32; Heb 12:5-8).
AS A RESULT YOU WILL BE COUNTED WORTHY OF THE KINGDOM OF
GOD: They were not worthy as a result of what they did, but rather they were
deemed to be worthy as a result of what God did righteously in and through them.
They were not justified by their works, but by their faith -- once it was put to
the test by God.
The Christian community should not be a comfortable club for
the conserving of the lives of a few believers. It should be a place of
striving, of enduring, of overcoming, where real "fruit" is produced to the
glory of God. It should be a place where faith and love are refined in the
crucible of trials and hardships. If it is not such a place, then why
At first sight the apostle's argument in v 5 is difficult.
Surely the presence of sufferings would deny, rather than prove, that God is
working to a righteous purpose. The fault is ours if we fail to understand the
divine message, if we see instead as the "world" sees. The Bible does not look
on sufferings in quite the same way as most modern people do. To us, accustomed
as we are to the conveniences of an affluent society, suffering may seem almost
an "evil" -- something to be avoided at all costs. It is true that one need not
be a masochist -- seeking pain out of some sense of perverted "pleasure."
Nevertheless the true Bible message is that suffering, in all its varied forms,
is often the means of working out God's eternal purpose. It develops in the
sufferer qualities of character. It teaches valuable lessons. In one form or
another, it is inevitable; the believer is ordained to it (1Th 3:3).
The faith of a believer is not some fragile thing, to be
wrapped in cotton, insulated from all shocks. It is robust, it is alive, it
grows and flourishes, and it needs both sunshine and rain. The very troubles
which the world heaps upon the believer become, under God's hand, the means by
which he may grow into a fruitful vine, a productive plant. Suffering therefore
is no evidence that God has forsaken us; it is evidence that He is with
Vv 6-10: Divine judgment.
GOD IS JUST; HE WILL PAY BACK TROUBLE TO THOSE WHO TROUBLE
YOU: Trouble or "tribulation" ("thlipsin") is the present lot of believers
(v 4; 1Th 1:6; 3:4). However, for the rest of the world, tribulation will be
future and far greater in intensity (Mat 24:21; Mark 9:47-50; Luke 13:3,5; Rom
1:18-32; Rev 3:10). Paul is preparing to give some of the details (2Th 2) of
those terrible tribulations.
AND GIVE RELIEF TO YOU WHO ARE TROUBLED, AND TO US AS
WELL: The word "relief" ("anesin") signifies a relaxation of tension and is
used by Paul with regard to relief from suffering, as in the slackening of a
taut bowstring (2Co 2:13; 7:5; 8:13). Such rest will be experienced along with
Paul and Silas and Timothy in the kingdom of God (2Th 1:5), accompanied by
other, more positive and far-reaching, blessings. Since Paul had experienced,
and was continuing to experience, his own sufferings (2Th 3:2; 1Th 2:15; 3:7;
2Co 11:24-27), he knew what he was talking about! This was no smooth "bedside
manner" of one who had never known pain and anguish. Paul had known God's
comfort even in tribulation; now he is in a position to dispense that same
comfort to others who suffer (2Co 1:3-7).
THIS WILL HAPPEN WHEN THE LORD JESUS IS REVEALED:
"Apokalupsis": the unveiling of that which is at present hidden (1Co 1:7; Rom
2:5; 8:18; 1Pe 1:7,13; 4:13; 5:1; etc). This word, with its air of mystery and
suddenness and surprise, offers a different aspect of the "parousia" (see
Lesson, "Parousia"). The two words refer to the same event -- that is, the literal
return of Christ -- but from different perspectives.
FROM HEAVEN: This is expressive not just of location
and direction (1Th 4:16) but also of authority. The "kingdom of heaven" is the
kingdom of God on earth, because it derives its power and authority from God in
heaven (Mat 5:3,5,10; 6:10).
IN BLAZING FIRE: The "blazing fire" of his coming is
reminiscent of the glory and brightness of the special divine manifestations in
the OT: Exo 3:2 (cp Acts 7:30); 19:18; 24:17; Deu 5:4; Psa 18:12; Isa 30:27-30;
Dan 7:9,10. Fire may be associated with jealousy (Song 8:6), and divine
punishment (Lev 10:2; Num 16:35; Isa 65:15,16; Mal 4:1; Rev 20:9). God,
benevolent though He might wish to be, is also in certain circumstances a
"consuming fire" (Heb 12:29).
WITH HIS POWERFUL ANGELS: The "angels of his power"
(Mat 16:27; 24:30,31; 25:31; 26:53). This is equivalent to his "saints" or "holy
ones" (NIV) in 1Th 3:13 (see note there). Christ does not come with his saints
(ie, his glorified brethren); he comes with his angels and to his brethren. The
angels are also involved with the Lord's coming in such passages as Mat
13:39,41,49 and Mark 8:38.
HE WILL PUNISH THOSE WHO DO NOT KNOW GOD: The Gentiles,
those who are "without God ('atheists') in the world" (Eph 2:12; cp Gal 4:8; 1Th
4:5), being estranged and alienated from Him (Rom 1:18-32; Eph 4:17,18). There
is comparable OT language describing the "heathen", or nations (Jer 10:25; Psa
79:6). Paul appropriately singles them out for special retribution, in view of
their special participation in the persecution of Gentile believers in
Thessalonica (Acts 17:5; 1Th 2:14).
AND DO NOT OBEY THE GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS: Paul here
means the Jews, well-grounded in the Scriptures, who should have been expected
to obey the gospel preached by Jesus. These Jews were the indisputable
enlightened rejectors of the first century (John 3:18,19; 9:31; 12:48-50) --
Abraham's natural descendants (Rom 10:3), who should have obeyed but did not (v
16; cp Isa 53:1; 66:4). Like the Gentiles -- and with much less reason -- the
Jews have been adamant in their opposition to believers in Thessalonica and its
vicinity (Acts 17:5,13).
THEY WILL BE PUNISHED WITH EVERLASTING DESTRUCTION: The
same word for "destruction" occurs also in 1Th 5:3. "Everlasting destruction" is
clearly the counterpart and contrast of "everlasting life" (Rom 2:7; 5:21;
6:22,23; Gal 6:8), and therefore involves DEATH -- literal and final. It is
plain that everlasting punishment means a punishment that is everlasting in its
effect, though not in duration of actual suffering. The ultimate wages of sin is
literal death (Rom 6:23), in this case the "second death" (Rev 21:8). The
punishment of the wicked is annihilation: a complete and final cutting off (Psa
37:9,10,20,34; Job 20:5-8; John 15:6; Mal 4:1,3). Death is a state of
unconsciousness (Ecc 9:5,6; Psa 146:3,4), and so it will be even for the wicked.
Sodom is spoken of as "suffering the vengeance of ETERNAL fire", yet Jeremiah
speaks of Sodom being "overthrown IN A MOMENT" (Lam 4:6).
AND SHUT OUT FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD AND FROM THE
MAJESTY OF HIS POWER: An aspect of this punishment is a dismissal "away
from" the very presence of Jesus Christ (Mat 7:23; 8:12; 22:13; 25:30,41; Luke
13:27; Rev 22:15), echoing the fearful language of Isa 2:10,19,21. Therefore
Paul has in mind here those who, being responsible by their knowledge, have
appeared before Christ the Judge (Rom 14:10-12; 2Co 5:10,11) only to be rejected
There is a link with 1Th 1:9: Believers had turned "away from"
(sw) idols, so that they might not be turned "away from" the presence of Christ
at his coming.
The language here is that of the Garden of Eden: as Adam and
Eve hid themselves from the presence of God (Gen 3:8), so He at last sent them
forth from His presence (v 23). Cain, as punishment for his crimes, was sent
even further from the presence of God (4:16). And so man, ever since, has
existed apart from, or away from, God. Jesus is the means by which God seeks to
bring man back into His presence (Psa 16:10,11), but for some who listened to
(and even accepted) His initial invitation, their fate will be the same as
ON THE DAY HE COMES TO BE GLORIFIED IN HIS HOLY PEOPLE:
The glorification of the saints (1Th 4:17; 2Th 1:7a; 2:1; Psa 89:7) will occur
at the same time as the everlasting destruction of the wicked. They are the two
aspects of the vindication of the righteousness of God. These "saints" are --
probably in contrast to 1Th 3:13 -- the once-mortal believers called to be "holy
ones" (Rom 1:7; 1Co 1:2; 16:1; 2Co 1:1; 9:1; Phi 1:1; Col 1:2,4; etc).
Christ will be glorified -- physically -- in his saints, who
will be made "like him" when he appears (1Jo 3:2).
AND TO BE MARVELED AT AMONG ALL THOSE WHO HAVE
BELIEVED: "...saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to
receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and
blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the
earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying,
Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the
throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever" (Rev 5:12,13).
"Marveled" in this verse has the connotations of praising, and
glorifying, and especially that of breath-taking wonder (Psa 68:35).
BECAUSE YOU BELIEVED OUR TESTIMONY TO YOU: They had not
only accepted the facts, but they had acted, decisively and with finality, upon
what they believed. Even though their faith and actions had brought sufferings
upon them, it was that very action of believing and accepting that will one day
stand them in such glorious company at Christ's coming. Thus the present is
always linked to the future.
Vv 11,12: Paul's prayer for their future acceptance.
THAT OUR GOD MAY COUNT YOU WORTHY: We cannot be
"worthy" by our own actions solely; every man sins and falls short of the glory
of God (Rom 3:19). However we may be deemed or reckoned worthy by the One who
created us, and Who has provided a covering and cleansing for our sins (Eph
2:5,8; Rom 4:16).
HE MAY FULFILL EVERY GOOD PURPOSE OF YOURS: Or better,
"that (God) may fulfill every good purpose (of His, in you)." Paul's words in
Phi 2:12,13 express a similar thought: "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always
obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out
your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you
both to will and to do of his good pleasure." Cp also Col 1:9,10 and Eph 1:5-11.
What they had already attained was important, but there was still room for
growth and improvement (1Th 3:10; 4:1).
EVERY ACT PROMPTED BY YOUR FAITH: See 1Th 1:3n. Faith
is never a passive thing, but a ceaselessly active phenomenon -- appropriating
God's blessings and God's power to our service of Him.
THAT THE NAME OF OUR LORD JESUS MAY BE GLORIFIED IN
YOU: In v 10 Paul stated that Christ at his coming WILL BE glorified in his
people. Now he goes even further, to assert that Christ MAY BE glorified even
now in his brethren.
"Name" in Scripture suggests more than a verbal designation:
it speaks of character (Exo 34:6,7; Psa 9,10; John 17:6), rank (Heb 1:4); and
power and authority (Mark 9:39; John 5:43; 17:11,12; Acts 4:10; 1Co 5:4); in
short, the whole personality. This was the "name" of God (whether "Yahweh",
"Jehovah", "Shaddai", or "Theos" is a matter of lesser consequence) -- His
character and His authority -- which Jesus manifested to the disciples (John