§1 Address and Greeting (1 Thess. 1:1)

1:1   /   Paul frequently associates himself with others in the prescripts of his letters (cf. 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:1f.; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; Philem. 1). In most cases it must be doubted that the others made any material contribution to the letters, being named simply out of courtesy, and so in this case. The letter bears all the hallmarks of a Pauline epistle (see Introduction on The Authenticity of 1 Thessalonians and disc. on 3:1), such that it is difficult to believe that Silas and Timothy had any hand in what was written apart from giving Paul an up-to-date report on the situation in Thessalonica and some counsel as to what should be said to the church of the Thessalonians. Silas and Timothy had, of course, shared with Paul in the establishment of that church, and Timothy had only recently returned (as we suppose) from revisiting the scene of their former labors. It is understandable, therefore, that they should be named in the address.

The address follows the normal pattern of letters of that time, naming the writer(s) first, then the recipient(s), and finally giving a word of greeting. Sometimes this structure became for Paul the vehicle of an extended theological statement, as in Romans 1:1–7. Here it remains relatively simple. Because the letter is written to the church (no matter that it was addressed in the first instance to a particular group of Christians at a particular time), we may read it as Paul's letter (and God's word) to us (see Introduction on The Letters Today).

The greeting of peace was, and still is, the usual greeting among Jews. Properly, it signified far more than peace does with us. Our concept of peace is largely negative: the absence of war; theirs signified well-being in the widest sense, and here, in the spiritual sense in particular (cf. 5:23; 2 Thess. 1:2; 3:16). The usual Greek greeting was "Rejoice" and the similarity of that word ( chairo) with grace (charis) has led some to think that Paul was making a play on the two words. But this could equally as well be a variant of the greeting, "Mercy and peace," that was current in some Jewish circles (cf. 2 Bar. 78:2). At all events, we are carried by the greeting to the heart of the Christian gospel, for we have been saved by the grace of God ("the extravagant goodness" of God, cf. 1 Thess. 5:28; 2 Thess. 1:2, 12; 2:16; 3:18) that we might have peace with God. One wonders (although this is the first evidence of it) whether the greeting, Grace and peace, had become a liturgical formula (see disc. on 5:28 for the association of grace with the Lord Jesus Christ, and cf. 2 Thess. 1:2).

Elsewhere Paul adds to this greeting the phrase, "from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (cf. Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; 2 Thess. 1:2; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philem. 3) or simply, "from God our Father" (Col. 1:2). Thus we might ask whether we should add the phrase in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ to the greeting. The Greek would allow it, and it would thereby indicate the place (en, "in") in which grace and peace are to be found rather than the source (apo, as in the formulae above) from which they come. But NIV adopts the consensus view that the phrase belongs rather with the church of the Thessalonians, expressing the idea that the church was at rest in God. In the world it had no rest. It was a persecuted church. However, the promise was that no one could snatch followers of Christ out of the Father's hand, and they rested secure in that (cf. John 10:29 and see disc. and note on 2 Thess. 1:4 for the church as God's possession). But notice, to be in God is also to be in . . . the Lord Jesus Christ. The one preposition (in the Greek) governs both persons, thus drawing the Father and Jesus together whom, by implication, we know either together or not at all (cf. 3:11; John 10:28–30). The fact that the Father and the Son are thus linked in this the earliest of Paul's letters implies that it was already the practice (stemming from the first disciples' experience of Jesus) to afford the Son divine status (see further disc. on 3:11). As Morris observes, "It is not easy to see how any created being, anyone less than God, could be linked with God the Father in such a way. How can the Thessalonian church be 'in' the Lord Jesus Christ if he is no more than a first century Jew?" (Morris, Themes, p. 31).

The description of God as Father adds the dimension of love to the thought of God's care for the church, while the title Lord bears further witness to Paul's estimate of Jesus. The use of this title comes out of the early church's belief in the resurrection of Jesus, which, more than anything else, convinced them that God had made him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).

Additional Notes §1

1:1   /   In God . . . and the Lord Jesus Christ: Not only is this phrase with the preposition in (en) unusual in a greeting, as noted above, but insofar as it speaks of the church as being "in God," it is unusual in any Pauline context. He might speak of boasting "in God" (Rom. 2:17; 5:11) or even of being hidden "in God" (Eph. 3:9; Col. 3:3), but he never speaks of the church or an individual being "in God" as he speaks of their being "in Christ." Acts 17:28 is no exception. That text refers to the life we have in him by virtue of creation, not of redemption; and in any case, the line is not Paul's but probably from Epimenides of Crete. Best takes the preposition as instrumental, "the Christian community brought into being by God."

There are a number of references in the OT to God as Father (e.g., Exod. 4:22; Deut. 32:6; Hos. 1:10; 11:1), but in most cases these describe the relationship between God and his people as a whole, or between God and the king. Evidence that individuals thought of God as their Father is sparse. The same can be said of intertestamental Judaism, and in the whole of the Qumran literature there is just one passage where the epithet, Father, is applied to God (1QH 9.35f.). Judaism of the first century A.D. and later did call God by this name but not often, and generally with stress on the idea of obedience to the Father. Few thought of God as the Father of the individual. "There is no instance," for example, "of the use of Abba (Father) as an address to God in all the extensive prayer literature of Judaism, whether in liturgical or in private prayers" (J. Jeremias, New Testament Theology [New York: Scribners, 1971], p. 65). If anything, first-century Judaism tended increasingly to think of God as remote from the individual, to which the teaching of Jesus provides a unique and radical corrective. The scribes put God in the seventh heaven; Jesus taught that he is near and cares for each of us. This teaching is reflected, for example, in the prayers of these two letters (1 Thess. 3:11–13; 2 Thess. 2:16f.; 3:5), where God is portrayed as "not remote and uncaring. He is deeply concerned about his people. He is active in bringing about their growth in Christian qualities, and his concern and his activity will persist to the end" (Morris, Themes, p. 13).

The Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1:3; 2:15, 19; 3:11, 13; 4:1, 2; 5:9, 23, 28; 2 Thess. 1:1, 2, 7, 8, 12; 2:1, 8, 14, 16; 3:6, 12, 18). Lord (kyrios) is not a name but a title. It is used in a variety of ways but, with reference to ordinary people, most commonly as a polite form of address, much like our "sir" (e.g., John 12:21). More importantly, however, it forms part of the religious vocabulary of the day. Pagan gods receive the title "lord," and sometimes, in that connection, it is applied to the Roman emperors to express their divinity. Paul would have been aware of this and mindful that in using the title of Jesus he was putting Jesus in the highest place in pagan terms. But, without question, the immediate background to his use (in common with that of the church generally) is the LXX, where "Lord" frequently renders the Hebrew Yahweh, the name of God. The application of the title to Jesus stems from his resurrection whereby he "was declared . . . to be Son of God" (Rom. 1:4). Paul employs this title ambiguously at times; whether he means God the Father or God the Son is not clear. In most cases, however, the reference appears to be to the Son. "There is but one God, the Father . . . and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 8:6; for Father, see disc. on 1:8; 2 Thess. 3:1, 3, 4, 5; for Son see disc. on 1 Thess. 1:10; 3:8, 12; 4:6; 4:15–17; 5:2, 12, 27; 2 Thess. 1:9; 2:2, 13; 3:16).

Similarly Christ is a title, but, due in large measure to Paul, it soon came to used as a proper name. "Christ" comes directly from the Greek word Christos, which translates the Hebrew mesiach (messiah), meaning "anointed one." In the OT, various people are anointed with oil and thereby set apart for a particular office in the service of God, such as priests (Lev. 4:3; 6:22) and kings and perhaps prophets (1 Kings 19:16). The kings especially are called "the Lord's anointed" (e.g., 1 Sam. 24:10; 2 Sam. 19:21; 23:1; Ps. 2:2; Lam. 4:20). In some instances a person or persons might be called mesiach who had not been literally anointed but who, nevertheless, served God's purpose in some way (the patriarchs, Ps. 105:15; Cyrus the Persian, Isa. 45:1; the nation Israel, Hab. 3:13). Thus there were many "anointed ones," but over the years the expectation grew that in due course God would send not just an anointed one, but the anointed one who would inaugurate God's kingdom in the final and fullest sense (see note on 2:12). This expectation can be traced in the OT, although the title Messiah is hardly, if at all, applied there to the coming one. In that connection, the title belongs to a later period, including the period of the NT. At this time, according to A. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1890), vol. 2, pp. 710–41, the rabbis understood 456 OT passages to refer to the Messiah. Thus, when Paul called Jesus by this title, he was using a term that would arouse significant associations in the minds of all those in touch with rabbinic teaching. He uses the title ten times in each of the Thessalonian letters (1 Thess. 1:1, 3; 2:6, 14; 3:2; 4:16; 5:9, 18, 23, 28; 2 Thess. 1:1, 2, 12; 2:1, 14, 16; 3:5, 6, 12, 18).

§2 Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians' Faith (1 Thess. 1:2–10)

Paul's letters typically follow the address and greeting with Paul's thanksgiving for his readers. It is the celebration of their new life in the context of which he can deal with their mistakes and misunderstandings. This letter follows that pattern (the only exception is Galatians). Indeed, here the note of thanksgiving sounds well beyond this section, being heard again in 2:13–16, 3:9–10, and in 3:11–13, where its sound mingles with that of prayer (Paul Schubert, Form and Function of the Pauline Thanksgiving [Berlin: Töpelmann, 1939], pp. 17–27, suggests, indeed, that the thanksgiving begun in 1:2 extends for the next forty-three verses!). In the passage before us, it is also mingled with prayer, or at least a report of prayer for the Thessalonians (vv. 2b–3). The grounds of the thanksgiving in vv. 4–10 provide an interesting supplement to the story of the church's foundation in Acts 17.

1:2–3   /   We . . . thank God. The plural We reflects the association of Silas and Timothy with Paul in the address and suggests that they have some part in what is written, if only in providing Paul with more recent news about the Thessalonians. This should be compared, for example, with 1 Corinthians and Philippians, where Paul links other names to his own in the address but follows with the singular, "I thank God." The addition of the words always (adialeiptos, cf. 2:13; 5:17) and for all of you (despite the fact that there were some problem people in the church) is some measure of Paul's love for the Thessalonians. Out of this love his thanksgiving flows. The phrase for all of you could be read with either we . . . thank God, as NIV, or mentioning . . . in our prayers.

In the Greek, three participial phrases follow, qualifying Paul's opening statement. Thus we learn that the thanksgiving is made in the context of prayer, literally, by "making a remembrance of you (but in the sense of mentioning, cf. Rom. 1:9; Eph. 1:16; Philem. 4) "in the time of our prayers" (epi ton proseuchon hemon). That is, whenever they pray they include thanksgiving for the Thessalonian church.

The second participial phrase expresses the grounds of the thanksgiving in their remembering three things in particular about the Thessalonians. These three things correspond with the familiar triad of graces occurring elsewhere in Paul and other NT writers (cf. 5:8; Rom. 5:1–5; 1 Cor. 13:13; Gal. 5:5; Col. 1:4f.; Heb. 10:22–24; 1 Pet. 1:21f.).

1. Their work produced by faith (the three nouns, work, labor, endurance, ergon, kopos, hypomones, of this passage recur in Rev. 2:2). This short phrase sums up what must be our response to the gospel. We are saved by grace through faith—all that is necessary has been done for us by grace (the work of God in Christ), and we take hold of it through faith (our trust in Christ as the Savior; for "faith," see further disc. on 3:2, and for "salvation," see disc. on 5:8). Thus we are not saved by works—our works—but we are saved for works, specifically the "good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:8–10). These are expressed in his commands and summed up in the two great commands to love God and neighbor (Mark 12:29–31; Rom. 13:8–10). Paul could not conceive of a merely intellectual religion. Faith must be demonstrated in practice; evidently, this was happening in the Thessalonian church.

2. Their labor prompted by love. This phrase makes the same point as the other: namely, that the Thessalonians are making their Christian profession visible. The practice of their belief is evident for all to see. But, whereas the work produced by faith focuses on the word faith, i.e., on the means of entering into relationship with God, this phrase draws attention to the nature of that relationship with God. It is one of love. "We love because he first loved us." But "he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:19–21)—another form of the two great commands, obedience to which is the labor prompted by love . Labor (kopos, cf. 2:9; 3:5; 2 Thess. 3:8 and 1 Thess. 5:12 for the corresponding verb) is a stronger word than ergon, work, but no difference is intended here. Obedience is always hard work!

3. The missionaries' third recollection of the Thessalonian church concerns their endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. Endurance (hypomone, cf. 2 Thess. 1:4; 3:5) characterizes those who are unswerving in purpose. It is not a passive virtue but an active one, as its association with labor and work suggests. The Thessalonians' endurance was rooted in both the past and present. It sprang from their consciousness of the grace of God in Christ and of the love of God which now enfolded them (see disc. on 1:4). But further, it is sustained by what still lay ahead. The NT understands hope not merely to mean wishful thinking but to possess a certainty about the future based on the promises of God (cf. 2:19; 4:13; 5:8; 2 Thess. 2:16). Specifically the hope is in our Lord Jesus Christ. The Greek reads literally, "the hope of," but the genitive is objective. Jesus—and more precisely his return—is the content of their hope. In line with this, Paul speaks of "the hope of salvation" in 5:8, and in 5:9 of the Thessalonians as waiting still "to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (cf. Rom. 5:2; Col. 1:27). There is no question that they are saved, but Paul generally reserves that term for the future, though he sometimes uses it of the present state of believers (cf. Rom. 8:24; 1 Cor. 1:18; 15:2; 2 Cor. 2:15; Eph. 2:5, 8; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5). But some of the benefits of salvation such as "the redemption of (their) bodies" (Rom. 8:23) will come only with the return of Jesus. Thus we are introduced to what will become the single most important theme of these letters (for Lord and Christ, see note on 1:1).

NIV links the phrase, before our God and Father with Paul's "remembering," but in the Greek text the phrase comes at the end of the verse and may be better linked with what is remembered of the Thessalonian church. This especially concerns their endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, since it follows immediately on that phrase. In support of this view, we note that the same phrase, before our God and Father (identical in the Gk. though not in NIV) is closely associated in 3:13, as it would be here, with the thought of Christ's return. It suggests that all that they did and endured was done with an awareness of God and that he was in control.

1:4   /   Where NIV begins a new paragraph, the Greek continues with the sentence begun in verse 2. We have now the third participial phrase qualifying the statement, "we . . . thank God," and expressing further the grounds of the thanksgiving. The importance that Paul gives to thanksgiving (cf. Rom. 1:8, "First, I thank . . . God") lies in his recognition that, whatever part he or others might play, in the final analysis it is God who opens hearts (cf. Acts 16:14)—the new life of the Thessalonian Christians is due to God. And this is the point that Paul makes in this verse. We know . . . that he has chosen you (lit. "knowing your choice, election"; ekloge, in the NT always of the divine choice, cf. Rom. 9:11; 11:5, 7, 28; also klesis, "calling," 2 Thess. 1:11). Election in the OT concerns the nation (cf. Deut. 4:37; 1 Kings 3:8; Isa. 41:8f.; 43:10; 44:1f.; 45:4; 49:7), although it begins with an individual, Abraham (Neh. 9:7). In the NT it concerns the individual, and, in a sense, the individual, Christ, so that election becomes ours only when we are "in Christ" (cf., e.g., Eph. 1:3–14). Thus the element of human choice enters into the process. If we choose to be in Christ, we have been chosen by God. There is nothing arbitrary, therefore, about election. Our choice makes us his elect. At the same time it makes us "somebodies" who in the eyes of the world may be "nobodies." Election gives us a value that otherwise we would not have, for God chose us, not because of what we were, but despite our being sinners and simply because he is the kind of God he is (cf. 1 John 4:8, 16; also Rom. 5:8 and 1 John 4:10). Our election is entirely an expression of God's love. Notice then, how Paul links these two ideas in this passage by calling the chosen those loved by God (cf. Deut. 33:12; Neh. 13:26; Sir. 45:1; Bar. 3:36; m. 'Abot 6.1). The perfect tense of the participle expresses the thought that the love, once shown to us in Christ, continues to enfold us. (See 2 Thess. 2:13 and probably Jude 1 for a similar use of egapemenoi.) The adjective agapetos more often expresses this idea, but the participle may put greater emphasis on God's continuing love. Brothers is one of the earliest names used by Christians of themselves and certainly the most frequent in the NT. The roots of the Christian use lay in the Jewish practice of calling one another "brother" (cf. Acts 2:37; 7:2; 13:15; 28:17), but for Christians it came to have a deeper meaning (cf. Matt. 23:8; Mark 3:34). They were those whose new birth had made them members of the one heavenly family and children of the one heavenly Father. The name is a reminder that, despite our differences, we are one, and that there is "one God and Father of all" (Eph. 4:6; cf. 1 Thess. 1:1). The many occurrences of the name in these letters (twenty-one times), more than might have been expected even from its frequent use elsewhere, may be taken as a measure of Paul's affection for the Thessalonians. Needless to say, brothers includes both men and women.

1:5   /   The conjunction introducing this verse in the Greek, hoti, is ambiguous. It could be taken as "that," making verse 5 an amplification of verse 4, as in RV: "knowing your election, how that our gospel came to you." On this understanding, the emphasis appears to be on their hearing the gospel as evidence of their election. Or it could mean because, as in NIV. We know that he has chosen you, says Paul, because our gospel came to you. On this view (which we accept as the more likely), it is the preaching, not the hearing, that is the evidence and, more particularly, the circumstances in which the gospel was preached. For it came, not simply with words, but also with power. No preaching can be effective without the infusion of divine power (touching all concerned—the preacher and the hearer alike), while effective preaching—and this is Paul's point—demonstrates that God has chosen the hearers. (It is proof, too, that the preachers themselves have been chosen.) The gospel is described as our gospel in the sense that this is what they were to preach (cf. 2 Thess. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:3; also "my gospel," Rom. 2:16; 16:25; 2 Tim. 2:8), but it is "the gospel of God" in the sense that it is peculiarly God's or that it originates from God (2:2, 4, 8, 9; Rom. 1:1; see further disc. on 1:8). In terms of its content, though, it is described as "the gospel of his Son" (3:2; 2 Thess. 1:8; Rom. 1:9; 15:19; 1 Cor. 9:12; 2 Cor. 2:12; 9:13; 10:14; Gal. 1:7; Phil. 1:27; cf. also Rom. 1:1–3, "the gospel of God . . . regarding his Son").

The association of power (dynamis) with the gospel is a familiar Pauline theme (see Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18, 24). This reference may be to "signs, wonders, and various miracles" that accompanied the preaching (Heb. 2:4)—what Paul refers to elsewhere as "the things that mark an apostle" (2 Cor. 12:12); or Paul may be referring to the changed lives of the Thessalonians. Either way, "the power of the Spirit" was at work (Rom. 15:19). Hence Paul's reference to the Holy Spirit (written in the Gk. without the definite article, emphasizing, perhaps, his activity; cf. 1:6; Rom. 5:5; 9:1; 15:13, 16, 19; 1 Cor. 12:3; 2 Cor. 6:6; note that the Third Person of the Trinity has now been introduced; see disc. on 1:1 and cf. 1:3f.). The Spirit is the source of power; he is also the source of deep conviction, or so the juxtaposition of the three phrases, with power, with Holy Spirit, . . . with . . . conviction, would seem to imply. Conviction (plerophoria) carries the sense of being convinced about a matter. Paul probably still has the preachers in mind, their conviction about the gospel being a factor in the Thessalonians' response. But it is possible (as Bruce and others) to take the word as applying to the hearers and to the Spirit's role in convincing them of the truth of what they heard and, beyond that perhaps, in giving them a general confidence in God. As Morris notes, this concerns "the God who has a purpose for them and who will surely bring that purpose to pass" (Morris, Themes, p. 90). At all events, the verse ends with the preachers in mind. What they preach, they live. There is a consistency in their ministry such that their lives exemplify their message. The final clause in the Greek is connected to the rest of the verse by the conjunction kathos, which marks a close correspondence between what precedes and what follows: as our gospel came to you with power, said Paul, so you know how we lived among you for your sake. That final phrase, for your sake (di' hymas, "because of you"), suggests that lifestyle is a matter of deliberate choice on the part of the preachers (cf. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:7).

1:6–7   /   This consistency of practice with belief was evident, no less, in the Thessalonian Christians. These verses are introduced (in the Gk.) by "and" (kai ) and furnish the second (as we read the Gk.; see disc. on 1:5) of the two reasons for the statement in verse 4. The writers knew that God had chosen the Thessalonians because, first, he had sent them effective preachers and, second, the preachers had met with a ready response: You became imitators of us and of the Lord (see note on 1:1). Lifestyle is the only evidence that others have of our standing with God. Paul is thus sure that the Thessalonians are in good standing. Paul appears to claim in this verse that he and his colleagues are to be imitated equally with the Lord. Such a claim would be too presumptuous by far. Rather, what he means is that the preachers so mirror Christ in all that they do, that they themselves are models of Christ to others: "You became imitators of us and therefore of the Lord." Could we say that? We should remember that, to begin with, the Thessalonians had no Christian examples to follow other than Paul and his colleagues (see further disc. on 2 Thess. 3:7). In time, they found other models and became imitators of the churches in Judea (cf. 2:14).

The second half of verse 6 sets out how the Thessalonians became imitators of the missionaries. Like Paul, Silas, and Timothy (and indeed like others before them, cf. Acts 5:41; 16:22–25; Rom. 5:3, 5; 2 Cor. 6:10; Col. 1:24, including Christ himself, cf. Heb. 12:2), in spite of severe suffering, they had welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit (for dechomai, "to receive gladly," "to welcome," see disc. on 2:13). The NT takes it for granted that Christians will suffer. Indeed, Paul later states that we are destined (by God) for suffering (see disc. on 3:3). Why this should be, we do not know. But we do know that suffering builds character (cf. Rom. 5:3–5; James 1:12; 1 Pet. 1:6f.) and there may be a hint of this in the juxtaposition of suffering and joy. Joy is a distinguishing mark of the Christian, for it has its basis in our relationship with God (and therefore derives from his grace) and is a gift of his Spirit who is at work in us (see further disc. on 5:16). The precise nature of the "severe suffering" of the Thessalonians is not explained—why should it be? Both the writer and the readers knew what was meant. The word thlipsis implies pressure from without, and clearly in this instance, its cause was the pressure of persecution (cf. 3:3, 7; 2 Thess. 1:4, 6; for the verb, thlibomai, 3:4), almost certainly instigated by the Jews who had earlier succeeded in having the missionaries driven from the city (cf. 2:14–16; Acts 17:5–10). But for all that, the Thessalonian Christians were themselves a model of Christ to all the believers in Macedonia, their own province, and Achaia, the neighboring province to the south (modern central and southern Greece).

1:8    /   By way of further explanation (note the conjunction gar, "because") Paul remarks that the Thessalonians' imitation of the missionaries included preaching as well as practice. The Lord's message rang out from you. This is literally, "the word of the Lord," a phrase common in the OT and later in Acts, but appearing only here and in 2 Thessalonians 3:1 in the Pauline writings. But Paul enlists other, similar phrases like "the word," "the word of God," "the gospel of God." The word is the gospel, and it is the gospel of which "the Lord" is the author (see disc. on 1:5). As elsewhere in the NT, it is unclear who is meant by the Lord, for the Son (Jesus) no less than the Father is called by this name. In this instance we should probably understand the reference to be to the Father (see note on 1:1). The verb "to ring out" (execheo), found only here in the NT, suggests the call of a trumpet and brings to mind Paul's metaphor of 1 Corinthians 14:8: "If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?" The clarion call of the gospel had sounded from Thessalonica not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but everywhere.

This, at least, is the sense of what Paul says. But in mid-stream he changes the structure of the sentence. "The Lord's message" is replaced as the subject by your faith in God (for faith, see disc. on 3:2), and strictly, the latter had become known. "Everywhere" refers only to Jewish-Christian communities, and even then it may be hyperbole (cf. Rom. 1:8; 2 Cor. 2:14; Col. 1:6). It is commonly suggested, however, that Priscilla and Aquila may have heard of the faith of the Thessalonians in Rome before coming to Corinth (Acts 18:2), as Paul would have learned, and "what was known at Rome could be presumed to be known everywhere" (Morris). Certainly at Corinth, Paul and the others had no need to say anything about it. News of their faith (and equally, no doubt, of their "work produced by faith," etc., 1:3) had gone before them. However, before long, he boasted to the Corinthians about their faith (2 Thess. 1:4) and their work, along with that of all of the Macedonian churches (2 Cor. 8:1–5).

1:9–10   /   As verse 8 explains verse 7, so verses 9–10 explain verse 8 (notice again the conjunction gar). The subject they is indefinite—anyone at all might have reported what was happening in Thessalonica. This is how the missionaries heard of their own part in the story—what kind of reception you gave us—from the lips of others. The unusual expression literally means, "What kind of entrance we had." It implies a warm reception and, again, suggests the familiar Pauline metaphor of the open door (cf. Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3). The best part of the story, however, was how they turned to God from idols. There is a striking correspondence between this report and that of Paul's preaching in Acts 14:15. Together with Acts 17:22–31, these verses give some indication of Paul's approach to pagans in which the denunciation of idolatry played an important part. We should thus read his description of God as the living and true God against this background. The Greek lacks the definite article; the phrase is literally, "a living and true God" (cf. Acts 14:15; Rom. 9:26; 2 Cor. 3:3; 6:16; 1 Tim. 3:15; 4:10; Heb. 3:12; 9:14; 10:31; 12:22; 1 Pet. 1:23), but there is no danger of misunderstanding. Only one God fits this description. He alone lives, and therefore, he alone is "real," the sense of alethinos, true.

In greater detail, what it meant to turn to God receives a twofold definition. First, it means to serve him, with the infinitive expressing the goal of salvation and the tense (present) making the point that our goal in being saved is to serve him always. The word means "to serve as a slave" (douleuo, see also Rom. 12:11; 14:18; 16:18; Eph. 6:7; Phil. 2:22; Col. 3:24; for Paul's use of the noun of himself, see Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:1), which highlights that our service is to be absolute—there is no time and there are no circumstances in which God is not Lord and we are not his slaves. Second, it is to wait for his Son from heaven. The juxtaposition of these ideas of serving and waiting complement one another. There is no other way in which to wait for God than to serve God here and now (cf. Acts 1:6–8). Again, the present tense of the infinitive expresses the thought of being always on the lookout for Christ's return. The Thessalonians needed no urging in this; sadly that is less true of Christians today who have largely lost sight of his return and, therefore, lack that incentive for mission and for a more Christlike way of life. The phrase from heaven (ek ton ouranon), signifies the Son's divinity (cf. 4:16 and see disc. on 1:1).

Verse 10 introduces the distinctly Christian element into this report. Others, such as Jews, might have called upon the Thessalonians to turn from idols, but for Christians, the other side of that coin was that they should turn to God through his Son whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. We notice again a striking correspondence to an account in Acts, this time with Paul's speech to the Athenians in Acts 17:22–31, which is largely an appeal to them to turn from idols. Also the speech associates the thought of judgment with the risen Jesus. The resurrection attests Jesus to be "the man (whom God) has appointed" for this purpose (Acts 17:31). In Acts, the thought of Jesus' coming is expressed as a threat; here it is held out as the hope of our salvation. Notice the use of his human name both here and in Acts: thus Paul identifies God's appointed savior and judge with the man of Nazareth. The present tense who rescues should not be overemphasized. As a title it must be understood as timeless and meaning something like "the Deliverer." But that rhyomai (cf. 2 Thess. 3:2) was chosen, and not some other word, draws attention to the danger in which sinners stand. They need to be "saved" in the sense of "rescued," and that is precisely what Jesus does. He rescues us from the coming wrath of the eschatological judgment. The preposition, ek, from, underlines the thoroughness of his achievement. The reality of the wrath "revealed from heaven (i.e., God) against all the godlessness and wickedness of men" (Rom. 1:18; cf. 1 Thess. 2:16; 5:9) is insisted upon in Scripture, and we must not shut our eyes to its grim certainty. As righteous and holy, God responds to human sin, but this should not be thought of as merely "an inevitable process of cause and effect in a moral universe" (C. H. Dodd, The Epistle to the Romans [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1932], p. 20). It is inevitable, but it is something personal. God will actively drive the sinner from his presence (no matter that his love longs to bring the sinner home) until the sinner turns for rescue to the Savior, on whom God's wrath has been redirected (cf. Mark 15:34), and in whom God's love is revealed. Thus, through Christ the Savior and the sinner's taking hold of what he has done, God's purpose is fulfilled, for he "did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation" (5:9; see also disc. on 2 Thess. 2:11). See further Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956); R. V. G. Tasker, "Wrath," NBD, p. 1341, and H. C. Hahn, "Anger, Wrath," NIDNTT, vol. 1, pp. 105–13.

Additional Notes §2

1:5   /   Our gospel (euangelion): In classical literature this word designated the reward given for good news. Its later transference to the good news itself belongs to the NT and early Christian literature. Even in the LXX its only definite occurrence (2 Sam. 4:10) carries the classical meaning. And yet, the NT usage probably stems from the LXX, not from the noun, but from the verb euangelizomai, and in particular from the use of the verb in Isa. 40:9; 52:7; 60:6; 61:1 concerning the announcement of restoration after the Babylonian exile. The whole context (Isa. 40–66) of these occurrences is reinterpreted in the NT with reference to salvation through Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 4:18 with Isa. 61:1 and Rom. 10:15 with Isa. 52:7).

1:9   /   You turned to God from idols: It would appear that from the outset, the majority of the Thessalonian Christians were of Gentile origin. The first converts came into the church by way of the synagogue as God-fearers (Acts 17:4; see Introduction on The Founding of the Church). These words serve, then, as an adequate description of their background and may have sprung to Paul's lips as the language commonly used in preaching to pagans. We have noted above the parallel with Acts 14:15. But is it Pauline language? Bruce points out that this summary of the Thessalonians' conversion experience lacks some of the distinctives of Paul's preaching, such as God's grace and the cross of Christ (cf., e.g., Rom. 3:25; 1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 3:1; 6:14). This, together with the rhythmical structure of the passage, may indicate a pre-Pauline formula which has left its mark also on Acts (Bruce). This is not to say, of course, that Paul could not or did not make the language his own. There is ample evidence of his readiness to take up a form of words from the tradition and to incorporate it into his own writing or preaching (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:23–26; 15:3–8).

 

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