COMMENTARY ON FIRST THESSALONIANS
" 1:1 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." (1 Thessalonians 1:1 KJV)
It is generally understood that this Epistle was the first of Paul's known letters. I say "known," because we are not sure how many letters Paul wrote which have not come down to us (i.e., like the Epistle to the Laodiceans, Col 4:16). This should present no problem to us, however, for the Holy Spirit has so orchestrated the compilation of Scripture that no essential teaching is missing.
Written somewhere between 52-53 A.D. (Approximately 15 years after Paul's conversion), this book is probably the earliest of all New Testament writings, with the possible exception of James. That makes it a particularly significant Epistle. In it, the general condition of the early church is indicated, together with their commendable response to the Gospel of Christ. Many of the heresies that were later addressed by the Apostle had not yet arisen, and questions concerning the implications of the Gospel were not common. Although the Thessalonians were not without a flaw in their persuasions, they possessed a purity of heart that is worthy of emulation.
The Thessalonians were being persecuted for their faith (1:6; 2:14), which gave rise to much of the teaching of this Epistle. Throughout the letter, they are exhorted to steadfastness in the faith. Some of the premier expressions concerning the anticipation of Christ's return are found in this book. They reveal to us HOW early believers were taught to consider this doctrine. There is a simplicity to this book that is refreshing, and yet a profundity that is challenging. There is a strong appeal to the simplicity of faith, which readily receives the Word of the Lord, and is willing to act upon it immediately.
PAUL, SILVANUS, AND TIMOTHY
" 1:1a Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus . . . " KJV Paul mentions Silvanus and Timotheus as fellow workers, and not co-authors of this Epistle. He was not ashamed to join his name with those who labored with him in the Gospel.
PAUL is the name that eventually was exclusively used by the Spirit for the former Saul of Tarsus. It is certainly not by coincidence that, in Scripture, "Saul" was a name shared by king Saul, also of the tribe of Benjamin (1 Sam 9:21; Rom 11:1). However, because Paul became so distinguished, he was known by a more unique name. Only one other person in the Bible had this name. It was Sergius Paulus, "a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God" (Acts 13:7). After that event, Saul became known as Paul (Acts 13:9), and was only referred to as "Saul" when recounting his conversion (Acts 22:7,13; 26:14). The name "Paul" means "small," or "little." It doubtless referred to his physical stature, as he was a giant in the Spirit. Some of conjectured he "was little of stature" like Zacchaeus (Lk 19:2).
Paul makes no other reference to himself, such as "Apostle," "a servant of Jesus Christ," or "servant of God" (1 Cor 1:1; Rom 2:2; Tit 1:1). The Thessalonians had so received him that there was no need for such introductions. His Apostleship had not been doubted as it was at Corinth (1 Cor 9:1-2), nor was his doctrine held in question as in Rome (Rom 3:8). The Thessalonian's unequivocal reception of Paul allowed him to speak freely.
SILVANUS is the Latin form of Silas, who was a significant believer in the early history of the church. Paul also uses this name for Silas in 2 Corinthians 1:19 and 2 Thessalonians 1:1. Peter also uses this form in 1 Peter 5:12. Silas is first mentioned as one of the "chief brethren"in Jerusalem (Acts 15:22). He was among those appointed to accompany Paul and Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 15:22-27). He is called a "prophet" in Acts 15:32), and was chosen by Paul to travel with him in the place of Barnabas (Acts 15:40). Silas was imprisoned with Paul in Philippi, an incident well known to believers everywhere (Acts 16:23-34). When Paul was in Athens, where he spoke his famous message to the Athenian philosophers, he was waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him (Acts 17:15-32). Here is man that stands out in the Acts of the Apostles.
TIMOTHEUS is Timothy, which means "dear to God." The word "Timotheus" is a transliteration of the Greek word (letter for letter translation), and "Timothy" is the translated name, being used in all later translations. Timothy is first mentioned in Acts 16:1. He is called "a certain disciple"who was the son of a believing Jewess, and whose father was a Greek. Though young, he was "well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium" (Acts 16:2). Paul referred to him as "my fellow worker" (Rom 16:21). He also told the Philippians he had no one else like Timothy, who would "naturally care for" their condition (Phil 2:19-20). Timothy was also an "evangelist," whom Paul charged to energetically fulfill his ministry (2 Tim 4:5). Later Paul tells the Thessalonians he had sent Timothy to them as a "brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlaborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith" (3:2).
Paul greets the Thessalonians in the name of himself, Silas, and Timothy, because they had been with him when the church at Thessalonica was established (Acts 17:1-4). They had labored with him in the beginning, and their hearts were still knit to the work.
Here, then, is a marvelous trio of Kingdom laborers. A seasoned Apostle, a prophet, and an evangelist. They were not co-equals, but were co-laborers. Paul "labored more abundantly than" the other Apostles (1 Cor 15:10). Silas was among the "chief men" in the early church, and distinguished himself as a "prophet." Timothy was an aggressive young man held in high regard by the brethren. They did not compete with one another, but worked together. They did not go their separate ways, but joined in a common endeavor.
In this we see the glorious "unity of the faith." People from different age groups, backgrounds, and gifts, can join together in the work of the Lord. They can assist one another in better fulfilling their own ministries, while being of benefit in sharpening the kingdom skills of their fellow workers. Such an arrangement is not common in this day of religious specialists and fractured ministries. We can, however, experience such things.
THE CHURCH OF THE THESSALONIANS
" 1:1b . . . unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ . . . " KJV This is one of the two churches identified by its local members: "the church of the Thessalonians" (1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1) and "the church of the Laodiceans" (Col 4:16; Rev 3:14). Some might object to such an appellation, feeling it draws undue attention to the people. Notwithstanding, this expression has been sanctified by the Holy Spirit. "The church" means the "called out assembly." This letter, therefore was not a general letter to the citizens of Thessalonica, nor was it intended to be read in the city council or the marketplace. This is a letter to the citizens of that city who had been "called out" of this present evil world, and into the fellowship of God's dear Son. These were the people God recognized in that city.
Real churches are not part of a denominational brotherhood, nor are they under some regional religious authority. Congregations are autonomous, or independent, being individual entities of themselves. They are part of the whole body, and cooperate with each other in the good work of the Lord. They must master not being swallowed up with institutionalism, yet not divorcing themselves from other saints-all the while serving the Lord with fervency of spirit. Each church has unique gifts, opportunities, and ministries. There are also unique problems that must be addressed, as evidenced in the Epistles.
This congregation had a unique beginning. After Paul and Silas had their jailhouse experience (Acts 16), the magistrates of the city, fearing because Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, asked them to "depart out of the city" of Philippi. Following that, they entered into the house of Lydia, saw and comforted the brethren, and departed (16:38-40). Passing through Amphipolis and Apollonia, cities of Macedonia (in Turkey), they came to Thessalonica. There Paul, together with Silas and Timothy, reasoned out of the Scriptures for three days in the synagogue of the Jews. Paul "explained and proved" it was necessary for the Messiah "to suffer and to rise from the dead," affirming that Jesus was that Messiah (Act 17:1-3).
The results were remarkable. "Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women" (17:4). It was at this point that the church in Thessalonica was born. Because this took place in the synagogue, we understand "God-fearing Greeks" to mean those who had abandoned Grecian idolatry and become Jewish proselytes. "Chief," or "prominent women" are understood to be those who were wives of eminent men in the city, and themselves notable among the citizenry. Other such women include Drusilla, wife to Felix, and was a Jewess (Acts 24:24). Lydia, a business woman, and a number of other women with her, were also in this class (Acts 16:13-14). In Antioch of Pisida, when the Gospel was believed, a number of "honorable women" who were Greeks "believed" (acts 13:12). We must be careful to allow such distinguished women to remain among us.
However, all did not go well during this notable beginning. The Jews were "moved with envy" at acceptance of the Gospel, formed a mob, and started a riot in the city. Dragging Jason, who had received Paul and Silas into his house, before the city officials, these Jews charged, "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also." Seeing the course of events, "the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea" (17:5-10). The church at Thessalonica did have a stormy beginning!
Notice the unique manner in which these brethren are described: "IN God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Individually and as an assembly, they were "IN" God and Jesus! They had been baptized "into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" (Matt 28:19), and were thus found "IN" them. Their lives were "hid with Christ IN God" (Col 3:3). This condition lifts "true religion" from mere from sectarian identity. It brings the personal aspect to spiritual life. To be "in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ" means we have access to all of the treasures hidden there (Col 2:3). The Person of the Father is accessible to us through the Son. Being in the Father and Jesus is what makes a church a church. That is what brings recognition from heaven and among the godly.
GRACE AND PEACE
" 1:1cGrace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ." KJV The consistency of this greeting in Scripture makes it worthy of extended consideration (1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; Col 1:2; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 John 3). In every case, "grace" is said to come "from" both "God the (our) Father AND the Lord Jesus Christ." Among other things, that confirms the "abundance of grace" (Rom 5:17). Also, only a church that is "in" the Father and the Lord Jesus can receive "grace" and "peace" from them. Such is a church where the Father and Son preside, in Whom the people trust, and to Whom they intently listen.
There is a unity in the Father and the Son that is held before us in Scripture. The One does not work without the Other, and to receive One is to receive the Other. Jesus spoke of that unity in His Gethsemane prayer. "That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in Us" (John 17:12). The unity is so remarkable that Jesus could say, "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30). He declared those who know Him also know the Father (John 8:19). Those serving Jesus will be honored by the Father (John 12:26). The Father will also love those who love Jesus (John 14:21). When an individual loves Jesus and keeps His word, both the Father and the Son come into him and make their abode with him (John 14:23). Our fellowship is "with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). When one takes hold of the Gospel, as did the Thessalonians, this word is fulfilled in them: "He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9).
The necessity of grace and peace is thus seen. Our identity with the Father and the Son is not a mere formality. It is not an institutionalized relationship, but a vibrant and productive one. Many a poor soul has never seen this truth, and thus attempts to live on supposed mountaintop experiences and emotions. The believer, however, must learn to look for grace and peace, not unusual experiences. The fact that both of these come from the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ underscores their importance and abundance. Also, neither of them is valuable to the flesh, nor have an appeal to those who are carnal.
Grace is Divine favor and preference. It is living under the smile of the Lord, and being found pleasing in His sight because of faith. Grace brings benefit, protection, and gladness. It causes us to reason, "If God be for us, who can be against us" (Rom 8:31). Grace is to us what Joseph's wagons were to Jacob (Gen 45:27). It brings the rich resources of heaven to us, together with strength (2 Tim 2:1), the power to believe (Acts 18:27), "everlasting consolation," and "good hope" (2 Thess 2:16). Grace "teaches us" how to effectively deny fleshly inclinations and live uprightly in a wicked world (Tit 2:11-12). From beginning to end, salvation is "by grace" (Eph 2:5,8). To receive "grace" from the Father and the Son, therefore, is to receive an abundance of those things. It is to be enabled to see God is for us, believe, and live in consolation and hope. It is to be made adequate for the challenge of denying the encroachments of sin, and living alertly, uprightly, and Godlike in a wicked world.
Peace is a quietness and confidence within. It involves the calming of the soul and the presence of certitude and assurance (Isa 30:15; 32:17). The enemy of our soul is seen as powerless to separate us from the Lord (Rom 8:35-39). In peace there is a sense of Divine acceptance (Rom 15:7; Eph 1:6), and a certainty of good things to come (1 Pet 1:4). This is a peace that, as a heavenly sentinel, keeps both heart and mind (Phil 4:7). It can "rule" our hearts, dispelling fear and bring great assurance. To receive "peace" from both the Father and the Son means these effects flourish and abound in us, bringing a refreshment without which we cannot do well. This is not a peace like the world gives, which is only on the surface. Rather, this is a peace that yields the fulfillment of Jesus' word: "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27).
Thus, the Thessalonian brethren have been duly greeted by a trio of godly servants. They have been recognized as a valid assembly "in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ." Because of that, both grace and peace have been conferred upon them from both the Father and the Son. Is that not an enviable position? And, it is for all believers.