1 Thessalonians 1:1-5


After gathering all the information which we have concerning the Thessalonian congregation at this point, Franzmann summarizes what must have been Timothy's report (Acts 18:5) in these words:

Franzmann: Timothy would have reported that these Christians in a Gentile environment, and in a Greek harbor town at that, where the idea of sexual purity was a complete novelty, were having difficulty in maintaining that chastity which a life of faith demands; that their past made it difficult for them to shed at once and altogether the unscrupulous craftiness which they had hitherto regarded as normal and prudent; that their fervent hope easily degenerated into an excited and irresponsible enthusiasm which led them to neglect the tasks and duties of daily life; that their imperfect grasp of the hope which the promised return of the Christ gave them made them despondent regarding their kin and brethren who had died before that return; that their hope was not content to be pure hope and leave the times and seasons of fulfillment in God's hands but sought to calculate and predict; that their life was a community bound together by faith and love and hope was not without its frictions and difficulties. To these difficulties Paul's warm and pastoral heart responded with a wisdom and a love that only the Spirit of God can bestow.

What Paul says of these Christians, in view of the fact that it had been only a few weeks or, at the most, a few months after their departure from the city, is truly amazing.

1 Thessalonians 1:1 Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.

Compare this salutation with that of 2 Thessalonians. Except for the addition at the end of that salutation, they are identical and unique. Paul places the names in order of seniority, if we may use that word here. Silas must have had some standing in the Jerusalem congregation because he was asked to convey the apostolic decree to Antioch (Acts 15:22.27.32). From Acts 15:36-41 we know that Paul chose him as his companion on what we call his second missionary journey. In Acts he is known as Silas (Acts 15:22) and in the Epistles as Silvanus. The Thessalonian Christians knew all three men. At Lystra Paul and Silas engaged Timothy as a fellow missionary (Acts 16:1-3).

The prepositional phrase "in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" is unusual in Paul. For this phrase look at John 17:21. Christians are in the Father and the Son, which is essentially the same as we have here in 1 Thessalonians 1:1.

Kretzmann: This profound and stately expression does not denote a fellowship with God and the Savior Jesus Christ, but it emphasizes that the entire life of the believers is in God, that their entire sphere, their whole state of existence, is in the Lord. Romans 16:11; John 15:4; 1 John 2:5; 5:20. The fact that the Christians are in Christ and in God, the two persons of the Godhead being one in essence, makes them new creatures, separates them from the world and consecrates them to the Lord.

Well said. By the way, in John 17:21 the Father and Jesus are in each other by essence but in us by grace. Coming back to 1 Thessalonians 1:1 note that in this prepositional phrase God and Jesus are mentioned in the same phrase. Jesus is true God.

Ward: 'Grace to you and peace', the source and the result. . . . It is from God to man and not from man to God. . . . Grace means God himself working for and in men; and he thus works in Christ. . . . Grace is thus a particular case of love. It is love loving the unlovable and pardoning the unpardonable. . . . It is the perfectly clean touching the leper. It is the exalted coming down to lift up the fallen. . . . Salvation is due to grace (Ephesians 2:5.8; 2 Timothy 1:9). . . Christian service is the gift of grace (Ephesians 3:8). . . . In grievous personal situations which need to be interpreted in order to be endured, grace is enough (2 Corinthians 12:9). . . . The believer has peace with God (Romans 5:1); the divine opposition has ended and in Christ God is 'for us' (Romans 8:31-32). . . . It is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). . . . The world gives a mere salutation; Jesus gives his peace (John 14:27).

We simply note in passing that KJV and NKJV add the words "from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."  In 1 Thessalonians 1:2 these words are considered textual.

1 Thessalonians 1:2 We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.

"Our prayers" means "general prayer," as opposed to  "particular prayer," but maybe that distinction is not being made here. If it is, Paul is saying that in every prayer, no matter what kind, they remembered the Thessalonians.

1 Thessalonians 1:3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Evidently AAT takes the first words here as a litotes:  "Never forgetting etc."  In any case "remember" is clearly middle voice, making the action of the verb emphatic. The construction of this verse is truly beautiful, and the commentators dwell on this.

The objective genitive "of our Lord, Jesus Christ" belongs to all three subjective genitives. Some say that it belongs only to the last. And finally, the prepositional phrase, beginning with "in our Lord", modifies all three, with Christ standing between God, the Father, and the believers.

We know of nowhere else that ten consecutive genitives are found in Greek. AAT gets at the meaning of each genitive:  ". . . never forgetting before our God and Father how your faith is working, your love is toiling, and your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ is enduring."  Similarly NIV:  "We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." The more literal translations (e.g. KJV, NKJV and NASB) have a difficult time bringing out the intended sense.

"Work" is the whole Christian life. Look at Galatians 5:6.

Rienecker: The word denotes arduous, wearying toil involving sweat and fatigue. The word emphasizes the weariness which follows on this straining of all one's power to the utmost.
Kretzmann: Faith has laid hold of the grace of God in Christ and breaks forth in action; love guides this action in the paths of unselfishness, it seeks ways and opportunities of serving the neighbor, of coming to his assistance, even if that course should demand some measure of real sacrifice.
Bruce: Faith shows itself in work and love in labor.

True faith and love evidence themselves in work and sacrifice which sometimes means sweat and tears.

And then follows "endurance." 

Ward: The Christian hope is the motive power by which faith continues to work and love to toil, even though we encounter stem opposition and feel that we have come to the end of our tether. The object of hope is Christ (Colossians 1:27).
Lenski: They hope in him with the sure hope based on who he is, what he has done, and promised to do, a hope that will be more than fulfilled.
Kretzmann: Patience is the inseparable companion of hope, for it is only in view of the future glory that we Christians are able to bear the suffering of this present time, Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17.18; Hebrews 11:26. This hope is based upon Christ, who is its object. . . . Therefore the hope of the Christians persists in spite of delay and discouraging hardships. They hold it before God and their Father.

This final sentence in Kretzmann's remarks brings the question:  "How handle 'before God and our Father'?"  Note that AAT and NIV, quoted above, and also RSV, TEV and NEB seem to mean that, by faith in Christ, the suppliants stand before God and their Father. Lenski takes it to mean that the Thessalonians believe, love and hope in the presence of our God and Father.

Kretzmann: The hope of the Christians persists in spite of delay and discouraging hardships. They hold it before God and their Father; sure of their adoption, of their sonship in Jesus Christ, they are looking forward to the inheritance promised to them by the gracious will of the Father.

Faith, love and hope appear as a triad at Colossians 1:4-5; 1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:8; Hebrews 10:22-24; 1 Peter 1:21-22.

1 Thessalonians 1:4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,

TEV:  "We know, brothers, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own."  TEV ought to have preserved the tense of the participle to indicate that God's love is what caused the election. AAT does precisely that:  "We know, fellow Christians, whom God has loved, that He has chosen you." 

How Paul, Silas and Timothy came to a knowledge of the fact that God had elected these Thessalonians, is made clear in verse 5. Election means that God "chose us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him."  (Ephesians 1:4). This love is mentioned in Romans 8:37; 1 Thessalonians 2:16; Galatians 2:20. The Christian seeks his election alone in the love of God which came to him in Christ Jesus. John 3:16. Election is incomprehensible but is nothing mysterious.

Ward: It is a doctrine -- a doctrine for believers, and believers only.

When down and out, empty of all their own righteousness, feeling the very flames of hell licking at them, Christians must comfort themselves with the doctrine of election as does Paul in Romans 8. The perfect participle, used in this verse, points to the election of God, in Christ, from all eternity.

1 Thessalonians 1:5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.

This verse tells us how Paul, Silvanus and Timothy knew that the young Christians in Thessalonica were God's elect. The "because" has been explained in several different ways: Most of the versions render it "For."  AAT, NIV and JB read "because that."  And Bruce explains it as either "because" or "namely, that."  We offer one more suggestion: It is like the evidential "for" at Luke 7:47 and carries a meaning like the word "because" in the following sentence:  "It is raining because the windows are wet."  The wet windows are evidence of the rain. Likewise in 1 Thessalonians 1:5 the contents of the verse is evidence of the Thessalonians' eternal election. AAT translates:  "because the good news we told wasn't just words to you, but it had power, the Holy Spirit, and strong conviction." 

Note the correlatives "not only--but also."  Paul is not  saying that the Gospel is not powerful through words. It is. But those words bring the power and the Holy Spirit. The best commentary on this verse is Romans 1:16. The Gospel is the "power" of God. Paul calls it "our" Gospel because they preached it.

Note how NASB brings this out:  "If our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake." 

The power and the Holy Spirit are the same entity. Full conviction denotes what this gospel worked in the Thessalonians.

Lenski: 'Deep conviction' is the 'assurance' or 'confidence' produced by the Spirit's power or grace in the hearts of the Thessalonians through the Gospel word. Seeing all this, Paul and his companions knew that these Thessalonians were the elect of God.
Kretzmann: The apostle here substantiates more fully the reason for his assurance of the election of the Thessalonian Christians: Because our Gospel came not to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and in full assurance, just as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sakes. This is Paul's reason, as far as he, as to his person, is concerned, why he is so sure of their having been chosen by God unto salvation. He had not been preaching the Gospel to them in vain and empty phrases. Look at 1 Corinthians 4:20.

And now the final clause of verse 5.

Lenski: The Thessalonians know the writers to be men who are wholly devoted to the Gospel, totally unselfish, doing their work entirely for the sake of their hearers.
Bruce: The conjunction links the following words with the preceding so as to imply 'we know what kind of people you turned out to be when you received the gospel AS you know what kind of people we were when we brought it to you.' The spiritual power and conviction with which the message was received matched the spiritual power and conviction with which it was delivered.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1984, pp. 81-84. Used with permission.

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