THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH
I THESSALONIANS 1:1-4
Paul and Silas fled from Philippi because of persecution: “we were shamefully entreated at Philippi…” [2:2], and arrived in Thessalonica [Acts 17:1]. Silas was Paul’s chief missionary partner from the beginning [Acts 15:40]. Paul invited Timothy to join them [Acts 16:1-3] and so the three of them came to Thessalonica [Acts 17:1], hence the introduction to the letter: “Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy…” [1The.1:1].
- The Jewish population of Thessalonica was large enough to justify a synagogue and here Paul preached as his custom was [Acts 17:2].
- It was not long before opposition arose and Paul and Silas were forced to flee to Berea [Acts 17:10].
- Paul was taken fled further to Athens [Acts 17:15] where he waited for his companions, Timothy and Silas, to join him [Acts 17:16].
- Paul was reunited with Silas and Timothy finally in Corinth [Acts 18:5] and it was from here that Paul wrote his first letter to the Thessalonian church [1The.3:6].
- This was one of Paul’s earliest letter, written in AD50-51 – his second, on the assumption that Galatians was written just before the Jerusalem Council.
The apostle responded in this letter to the information he had received from Timothy [3:6-8; 2:2-6; 2:17-3:5].
God’s plan for evangelism through the local church:
1Thessalonians opens a window on to newly planted church in the middle of the 1st century AD. It tells us how it came into being, what the apostle taught it, what were its strengths and weaknesses, its theological and moral problems, and how it was spreading the gospel. What is of particular interest, because it applies to Christian communities in every age and place, is the interaction which the apostle portrays between the church and the gospel.
- He shows how the gospel creates the Church [1:1-4].
- He shows how the Church spreads the gospel [1:5-10].
- He shows how the gospel shapes the Church [ ], as the Church seeks to live a life that is worthy of the Gospel.
According to John Stott, the above theme gives the following analysis of the letter:
- Christian evangelism, or how the Church spreads the gospel [1:1-10].
- Christian ministry, or how pastors serve both the gospel and the church [2:1-3:13].
- Christian behaviour, or how the Church must live according to the gospel [4:1-12].
- Christian hope, or how the gospel should inspire the Church [4:13-5:11].
- Christian community, or how to be a gospel Church [5:12-28].
- THE CHURCH OF GOD
The particular assembly to which 1 Thessalonians is addressed was specified using three qualifying phrases that are both ascriptive and restrictive.
1. The Church in Thessalonica
Paul introduces the letter with his customary salutation: “unto the church of the Thessalonians…” [1:1].
§ ἐκκλησίᾳ - “church” [1:1], from ekkaléō, ‘to call out’; ‘the assembly called together’;
§ Used of a variety of assemblies in the first-century world—social, political, or religious.
§ The word translates the Old Testament qahal, the assembly of Yahweh: “the Lord spoke with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly” [Deu.9:10].
§ Θεσσαλονικέων - “Thessalonians” [1:1], genitive plural,
At the time of writing, the Church in Thessalonica is only a few months old.
2. The Identity of the Ecclesia
The distinctiveness of the “called out one” in Thessalonica is the relationship of the assembly with God.
a. The Relationship
The relationship: “in God the Father…” [1:1].
§ ἐν - “in” [1:1], preposition, ‘primary idea of withinness’;
§ The general idea is that of ‘spatial’ as being ‘located inside something’;
b. The Lord Jesus Christ
The relationship to Jesus Christ: “and the Lord Jesus Christ” [1:1].
§ καὶ κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ - “Lord Jesus Christ” [1:1],
i. Union With Christ
The general Pauline idea of union with Christ: “The churches of God in Judea are in Christ Jesus…” [2:14].
§ Union with Christ: “there is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus…” [Rom.8:1].
§ The metaphor taught by Paul: “as the body is one and has many members…” [1Cor.12:12].
§ The metaphor taught by Jesus: “I am the vine, you are the branches…” [Joh.15:4].
c. God the Father
The reference to the Father: “in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” [1:1].
§ θεῷ πατρὶ - “God the Father” [1:1], ‘male parent’;
§ The second letter: “unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…” [2The.1:1].
§ Jude: “to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ…” [Jude 1:1].
Paul writing to the church in Colossae: “your life is hid with Christ in God” [Col.3:3].
§ ἡ ζωὴ - “life” [3:3], ‘physical life and existence’;
§ κέκρυπται - “hid” [3:3], perfect passive, ‘to hide, conceal’; ‘to make visible’;
§ The perfect tense points to the ‘ongoing and permanent effects’ of their new life.
§ σὺν τῷ Χριστῷ - “with Christ” [3:3], marker of ‘association’; ‘together with’; “buried with him…quickened together with him” [2:12-13].
§ ἐν τῷ θεῷ - “in God” [3:3], ‘withinness’; a focus on the spatial aspect;
§ The believer’s life is “in God” because Christ himself has his being in God and those who belong to Christ have their being there too.
d. The Interpretation
The church finds its unique identity in its union or relationship with God the Father and the exalted Lord Jesus Christ.
§ Bruce: ‘if “in Christ” has its customary meaning here, then “in God the Father” should be understood in the same way’.
§ Wanamaker: ‘Paul sought to link the Christian community to both God and Christ because it had its origin in divine activity, its existence was to be determined by God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and its members were to live out their lives in the presence of the divine’.
§ The spatial understanding of “in”: ‘the church that is in the presence of God’ or ‘the church that is in union with God’.
The suggested paraphrase: “living in, rooted in, or drawing its life from God” [1:1].
§ First, “the church of Thessalonica in God…” [1:1].
§ Secondly: ‘the church of God in Thessalonica…’.
§ Both statements are true: the church is “in God” as the source from which its life comes; the church is ‘in Thessalonica’ as the sphere in which it lives in the world.
From these core distinctives radiate a multitude of other characteristics that both make the church what it is and distinguish it from its social context. In the letter that follows, Paul instructed the believers regarding their identity, their place among the brethren, and the way in which they should interact with one another. Such self-definition is vitally important for any faith community.
3. The Salutation
Paul sends his greeting to the church: “grace be unto you and peace…” [1:1].
a. The Grace of God
The grace of God: “grace be unto you…” [1:1].
§ χάρις - “grace” [1:1], from chaírō, ‘to rejoice’; ‘that which causes joy, pleasure, gratification, favor, acceptance, for a kindness granted or desired, a benefit, thanks, gratitude’; ‘a favor done without expectation of return; the absolutely free expression of the loving kindness of God to men finding its only motive in the bounty and benevolence of the Giver; unearned and unmerited favor.
i. The Gospel
The entire gospel is involved in this word: “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” [Joh.1:17];
§ The grace of Christ: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor” [2Cor.8:9].
§ The “grace” also includes the continuous divine action by which he enables his people to do his will: “make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia” [2Cor.8:1].
b. The Peace
The peace of God: “and peace from…” [1:1].
§ εἰρήνη - “peace” [1:1], ‘harmony, tranquillity’; Old Testament shalom;
§ Shalom speaks not only of the absence of hostility but ‘the fullness of health and harmony through reconciliation with him and with each other’.
§ Points to the core of the saving relationship between God and his people: “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” [Rom.5:1].
Far from being a mere formality, in Paul’s hands the common letter greeting becomes a blessing that embraces the totality of the divine benefits he and his associates desire for the Christians in Thessalonica.
4. The Pauline Relationship
The main clause “we give thanks” [1:2] is followed by three dependent participial constructions: “making mention…” [1:2], “remembering…” [1:3], and “knowing…” [1:4].
a. The Thanks
The thanks to god: “we give thanks to God…” [1:2].
§ Εὐχαριστοῦμεν - “thanks” [1:2], from eucháristos, ‘thankful, grateful, well–pleasing’; ‘to show oneself grateful, to be thankful, to give thanks’;
§ The noun comes from the root chair-/char-, the main words of which ‘express the feeling of joy’; it is a derivative of charis (everything about which one rejoices; grace) compounded with eu, ‘well, rightly, properly, very’;
§ τῷ θεῷ - “to God” [1:2], the object; ‘the source of the life of the church’;
b. The Prayers
The first participial clause related to the thanks: “making mention of you all…” [1:2].
§ ποιούμενοι - “making” [1:2], present middle participle, ‘to do, perform an action’;
§ μνείαν - “mention” [1:2], ‘to recollect’; ‘to remember and mention’;
§ προσευχῶν - “prayers” [1:2], ‘to offer prayers’; from the preposition prós, ‘to’, and eúchomai, ‘to wish, pray’;
§ If προσευχῶν is used with any nuance, it refers to prayer expressing worshipful praise (in contrast to, for instance, a prayer of petition or intercession).
5. The Witness of God
The witness of God: “in the sight of God our Father” [1:3].
§ ἔμπροσθεν - “in the sight” [1:3], ‘in front of’; ‘in the special presence of a person’;
§ τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ πατρὸς ἡμῶν - “God and our Father” [1:3], genitive singular,
The thanksgiving (vv. 2–5) is blended with an affirmation (vv. 6–10) of the church. Both together praise past actions of the Thessalonians with the intent (as becomes clear later in the letter) of encouraging the continuation and expansion of praiseworthy Christian deeds and character.
The main statement, “We always thank God,” is elaborated upon with the use of three participial clauses: “mentioning …” (v. 2b), “we continually remember …” (v. 3), and “for we know …” (vv. 4–5).
- THE MARKS OF THE CHURCH
The Church is a community which is distinguished by faith, hope and love. Paul uses the triad of faith, love, and hope to express the essence of his readers’ experience as Christians.
1. The Dependent Clause
The second participial clause dependent on the thanks: “remembering…” [1:3].
§ μνημονεύοντες - “remembering” [1:3], present active participle, ‘to call to mind’;
§ ἀδιαλείπτως - “without ceasing” [1:3], ‘continuously’; ‘constantly’; ‘permanently’;
The motivation for the thanksgiving was the memory of the Christian virtues that were clearly evidenced in these believers’ lives.
§ Paul had feared for their faith and constancy because of the persecutions they were enduring [2:14; 3:2-5].
§ For this reason, the report from Timothy was received with abundant thanksgiving: “Timothy brought us good tidings of your faith and charity…” [3:6, 9].
Faith, love, and hope are not the focal points in this verse, though Paul frequently cited them as prime Christian virtues (cf. 5:8; 1 Cor 13:13; Col 1:5). As subjective genitives “faith,” “hope,” and “love” in this sentence identify that which motivates and produces Christian actions. But the actions themselves are what is stressed. Paul remembered the “work,” “labor,” and “endurance” of those who were in the church.
2. The Grace of Faith
a. The Faith
The grace: “your work of faith…” [1:3].
§ τῆς πίστεως - “faith” [1:3], ‘complete trust’; union with Christ: “ ;
§ Salvation is by faith alone: “by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves…” [Eph.2:8].
§ Faith has its fruit in good works: “created in Christ Jesus unto good works…” [Eph.2:10].
b. The Activity
The activity: “your work of faith…” [1:3].
§ ἔργου - “work” [1:3], ‘activity’; ‘assigned task’; ‘action or active zeal in contrast to idleness’; ‘useful activity in contrast to useless business’;
§ The evidence of true faith: “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” [Jam.2:17]; “show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works” [Jam.2:18];
i. The Loyalty
The Roman and Greek understanding of fides/pistis (faith) can help clarify the close association between faith and works in these verses.
§ In the relationship between patrons and clients, the client was said to be in the fides/pistis of the patron.
§ For their part, clients owed fides/pistis or loyalty to their patron, and this was shown in their actions.
§ Faith and love: “for in Christ Jesus…faith that works by love” [Gal.5:6].
The “work of faith” lauded here is the Christian life, the deeds that result from the indwelling Spirit (Gal 5:16–26; cf. Eph 2:10). These are not prerequisites of salvation but the results of salvation in the lives of those transformed by Christ (1 Cor 6:1–4; 12:1–2). Exactly which works and labors Paul had in mind is not stated at this point in the letter.
3. The Grace of Love
a. The Love
The grace: “your labour of love…” [1:3].
§ τῆς ἀγάπης - “love” [1:3], in the Old Testament, ‘a spontaneous feeling which impels to self-giving or, in relation to things, to the seizure of the object which awakens the feeling, or to the performance of the action in which pleasure is taken’;
b. The Activity
The grace of love was expressed in hard, strenuous, and exhausting labour: “your labour of love…” [1:3].
§ κόπου - “labour” [1:3], ‘toil’; in secular Greek κόπος means a) ‘beating’; ‘weariness as though one had been beaten’; and b) the ‘exertion’ or ‘trouble’ which causes this state of weariness.
i. The Exertions
In prose it is the proper word for physical tiredness induced by work, exertion or heat.
§ Expressing ‘severe labour,’ it is synonymous with πόνος, which signifies the most tense or strenuous effort, e.g., of the soldier in battle or the exertions of messengers or manual workers: “he that plants and he that waters are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour” [1Cor.3:8].
§ Denotes either ‘the fatiguing nature of what is done’ or ‘the magnitude of the exertion required’: “but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you” [2/3:8].
c. The Objects
In this context, the word most likely refers to any kind of self-sacrificing labour the believers engaged in as they served those both inside and outside the community: “love suffers long and is kind; love envies not; love vaunts not itself…” [1Cor.13:4].
§ Other members of the Christian community: “the charity of every one of you toward each other…” [2/1:3].
§ Christians in other locations: “you do it to all the brethren who are in Macedonia…” [4:9-10].
§ Church leadership: “esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake” [5:13].
§ The unconverted: “abound in love one toward another, and toward all men…” [3: 2].
They were taught to love in this way by God: “you yourselves are taught of God to love one another” [4:9].
A reference to his converts’ love for God [4:9] and their love for one another [3:12]:
§ Love was ‘the necessary manifestation within Christ’s body of the new creation already underway in the working of God’s Spirit; it was inextricably linked to the activities that proceeded from it’.
§ The subjective genitive: ‘their labour that proceeds from love’.
4. The Grace of Hope
a. The Hope
The grace: “and patience of hope…” [1:3].
§ τῆς ἐλπίδος - “hope” [1:3], ‘looking forward to in confident expectation’;
§ In the Old Testament there is no neutral concept of expectation. An expectation is either good or bad and therefore it is either hope or fear. Hope itself is thus differentiated linguistically from fear of the future. Hope as expectation of good is closely linked with trust, and expectation is also yearning, in which the element of patient waiting or fleeing for refuge is emphasised.
b. The Activity
The activity: “patience of hope…” [1:3].
§ ὑπομονῆς - “patience” [1:3], ‘endurance’; ‘perseverance’; ‘derived from ὑπο-μένω, ὑπομονή refers to steadfastness and perseverance ‘under’ certain circumstances, and also to ‘remaining expectant in the face of passing time’;
§ ‘independent, unyielding, and defiant perseverance in the face of aggressive misfortune’;
§ The subjective genitive: ‘their steadfastness that proceeds from their hope’.
i. The Opposition
The activity is ‘the ability to remain steadfast and persevere in the face of suffering or temptation’.
§ The persecutions they endured: “you also have suffered like things of your own countrymen…” [2:14].
§ The temptations to apostatise: “that no man should be moved by these afflictions…” [3:1-5].
c. The Focus
The objective genitive: “in our Lord Jesus Christ…” [1:3].
§ - “in” [1:3],
§ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ - “in our Lord Jesus Christ” [1:3], genitive singular,
§ Their “hope” was not some vague expectation of a better future but rather a solid confidence rooted in the expectation of Christ’s coming: “wait for his Son from heaven…” [1:10].
The source of the perseverance was not some inner resolve or personal strength.
5. General Observations
Two aspects of these Christian qualities must be noted:
a. Their Outgoing Nature
All the graces are outgoing in the focus and activity:
§ Faith is directed towards God; love is directed towards others; hope is directed towards the future, in particular, the glorious coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
§ Similarly, faith rests on the past; love works in the present; hope looks to the future.
§ They are sure evidence of our regeneration by the Holy Spirit. together they completely reorientate our lives, as we find ourselves being drawn towards God in faith, out towards others in love, and on towards the parousia in hope.
b. Their Productivity
Each of the graces is productive:
§ A true faith in God leads to good works, and without works faith is dead.
§ A true love for people leads to labour for them; otherwise it degenerates into mere sentimentality.
§ A true hope leads to endurance, which is patient fortitude in the face of opposition.
Calvin: ‘a brief definition of true Christianity’.
- GOD’S MISSION & THE CHURCH
The Church is a community which is loved and chosen by God.
1. The Third Dependent Clause
The third participial clause dependent on the thanks: “knowing…” [1:4].
a. The Assurance
Paul was assured about the status of the church in Thessalonica: “knowing, brethren beloved…” [1:4].
§ εἰδότες - “knowing” [1:3], perfect active participle, ‘to have seen and believed and hence know’; ‘to know intuitively or instinctively’;
2. The Election of the Church
Paul now presents the second and most profound reason for thankfulness to God in
a. The Election
Paul is assured about election: “your election of God” [1:4].
§ ἐκλογὴν ὑμῶν - “your election” [1:4], from ἐκλέγω; the idea of ‘selection’ is predominant; ‘to seek out or select’;
b. The Old Testament
Paul follows the example of Moses in bringing “love” and “election” together:
§ God’s love and election of Israel was not based on who or what they were: “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous…” [Deu.7:7].
§ The explanation for God’s love and election of Israel is hidden in himself: “but it was because the Lord loved you” [Deu.7:8].
c. The Root Cause
i. The New Social Identity
The identity: “brethren beloved of God…” [1:4].
§ ἀδελφοὶ - “brethren” [1:3], ‘male sibling’; ‘male child of the same parenthood’; in Judaism used to express group identity or a loose sense of group kinship’;
§ They gained a new social identity as ‘those who called God their Father’ [Rom.8:15], ‘professed themselves to be God’s adopted children’ [Gal.3:26], and ‘understood Christ, the Son of God, to be their brother’ [Rom.8:29].
§ The church has been alienated from their society due to their new religious allegiance.
§ But their new social identity is forged by the One who is their Father.
ii. The Love of God
The love of God: “brethren beloved of God…” [1:4].
§ ἠγαπημένοι - “beloved” [1:4], perfect passive participle, in the Old Testament, ‘a spontaneous feeling which impels to self-giving or, in relation to things, to the seizure of the object which awakens the feeling, or to the performance of the action in which pleasure is taken’;
§ ὑπὸ [τοῦ] θεοῦ - “beloved of God” [1:4],
3. God’s Mission
God’s plan for humankind: “that the purpose of God according to election might stand…” [Rom.9:11].
§ πρόθεσις - “purpose” [9:11], ‘plan, purpose, will’; ‘a divine decision that transcends history’; “to them who are the called according to his purpose” [Rom.8:28].
§ A setting forth, presentation, an exposition, determination, plan, or will. It involves purpose, resolve, and design. A placing in view or openly displaying something.
The question: ‘does God have a mission for his Church or does God have a Church for his mission?’
§ Paul’s knowledge of their election is based on the transformation that took place in their lives when he and his colleagues preached Christ to them.
MAKE THE ELECTION OF GOD THE TRANSITION FROM ONE SERMON TO THE NEXT