First read Acts 17:1-10 and 13. The congregation at Thessalonica, made up of Jews and Gentiles, learned early what it means to suffer for their Lord. And they were still suffering when both Epistles to the Thessalonians were penned. Compare 1 Thessalonians 2:14 and 3:3,7. Suffering and affliction come to the Christian with God's permission. In fact God planned suffering and affliction for Christians. Christians often have a tendency to think that God no longer loves them when they suffer. But the very opposite is true. Suffering is a clear indication of His love. Suffering is a clear indication that God is already counting the Christian blessed and that what is happening now is a reminder of God's favorable judgment for the Christian on Judgment Day. That is what our text for this day is talking about. There is so much suffering in the world. But the suffering of the Christian is vastly different in origin, scope, and purpose, from the suffering of the unbeliever.
As in the salutation of 1 Thessalonians, Paul, Silvanus (Silas), and Timothy address the congregation. Paul is doing the actual composing of the letter. But Silvanus and Timothy are with him. Note that the Father and Jesus Christ are put on the same level.
At this point 1 Thessalonians 1:1 has only "grace to you and peace."
Kretzmann: The apostle's salutation names the greatest gifts. The highest spiritual benefits which may ever fall to the lot of sinful men: grace, the free and unrestricted kindness and mercy of God which was earned for all through the vicarious work of Christ; peace from God the Father, since the payment of all our guilt through the blood of Jesus has removed the cause of God's displeasure toward us and given us a perfect reconciliation. Again, Jesus Christ the Lord is placed on the same level with the Father: He is true God from eternity with the Father, in every way the Father's equal in majesty and power.
The repetition of the nouns "God" and "Lord" and what goes with them reminds us emphatically that the congregation belongs to the Trinity and was redeemed by the Trinity.
Morris: Paul often associates grace with Christ, and peace with the Father, but in his greetings he prefers to make no distinctions.
Lenski: The point to be noted is the fact that the Thessalonians are addressed in the same way in both epistles, which means that the attitude of the writers toward the Thessalonians had not been altered by what had occurred in Thessalonica since the first letter was written and sent.
If we had nothing but these two verses, we would have much. They cover so much territory:
The redemptive plan of the Trinity;
The preservation of the Christian congregation by the Trinity;
The wonders of the person of Christ.
Perhaps some time the pastor would like to preach a sermon on the salutations found at the head of the Epistles. It would be rewarding.
All commentators mention and dwell on the fact that "we ought always to thank" does not occur in 1 Thessalonians, but occurs not only here but again at 2:13. Why do they say "we must"? And why add "it is right for us to do so (TEV)"? On the first Bengel remarks: "Because of a sense of duty," and on the second: "In view of external circumstance." The best explanation obviously is:
At 1 Thessalonians 3:12 Paul had prayed that their love would increase and abound toward each other;
In spite of persecution and affliction, which are mentioned in 1 Thessalonians, their faith toward God and love toward their neighbors had increased.
Bruce: The Thessalonians deserve all the thanksgiving with which the writers' hearts are filled on their account, because of the encouragement brought by the news of their ever-increasing faith and love. . . . The earlier report was encouraging; the latest news was even more encouraging.
In the Common Order of Service (Communion) we find these words: "It is truly good, right and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to you," etc. See The Lutheran Hymnal, page 25 and Lutheran Worship, page 145. It has been suggested by some modern scholars that Paul found these words in a "liturgical setting" and therefore copies them. That is form criticism or something akin to it. It should be avoided. There is absolutely no proof for this theory. Lenski thinks that Paul says "we ought always thank" because the Thessalonians perhaps felt that Paul had spoken too highly of them. But there is no proof for that idea here. Then Lenski adds, and we agree:
They cannot help it in view of what has transpired since the first letter was written.
Bruce: The classical compound, 'flow abundantly,' is not found elsewhere in the New Testament, but Paul is fond of compounds with the idea of 'more.'
Lenski: The faith is growing 'beyond' what it was at the time when the first letter was written. . . . Persecution drew the members more closely together. Paul says: 'The love of each one of all of you is increasing toward one another.'
Morris: Though Paul has some salutary rebukes to administer before the letter is finished, yet he is glad to begin by paying a tribute to the Christian love which permeated the community.
At this point this congregation was very young, just a few months old. Their mutual love, in the face of persecution, is truly amazing.
1 Thessalonians 1:3 has "faith, love, hope." The word "hope" lacks here at 2 Thessalonians 1:3. Some commentators are disturbed by that fact. But Morris:
The omission here is not significant, for he uses the same word 'patience' in the next verse as one of the things about which he boasts.
Bruce: As for the companion grace of hope, while the actual word occurs in this letter only in 2:16, the ground of their hope -- their vindication at the Advent of Christ -- is dealt with at length from verse 5 onward.
Kretzmann: The apostle's language throughout is full of cheerfulness and exaltation. . . . Paul rejoices that the unpleasant and dangerous situation of the Thessalonians serves only to bring out all the more prominently and brilliantly their excellent bearing under the circumstances. . . . Their faith was growing exceedingly, beyond expectation, the storms of affliction which were striking the young congregation were causing their faith to strike roots ever more deeply into the heart of their Savior. At the same time, their love, not only that of one or two or a number of them, but that of each and every one of them all, was increasing, as its manifestations toward one another gave evidence. The tribulation, by the gracious guidance of God, was teaching them unselfish consideration for others, their suffering was drawing the Thessalonian Christians more closely together and binding them more firmly to the Lord.
English requires that the first part be translated with "about." Thus far the verse reads: "With the result that we ourselves boast about you" or ". . . we take pride in you." "Perseverance" denotes the ability to endure and stand up under very adverse circumstances. Like Job in the Old Testament and Paul in the New Testament, or Christ Himself. "Persecutions" and "afflictions" hardly need explanation.
Rienecker: The former is a special term for external persecutions inflicted by the enemies of the Gospel; the latter is more general, and denotes tribulation of any kind. These indicate that trouble did not end for the converts with the expulsion of the missionaries from Thessalonica.
Bruce: Whereas the 'faith' of verse 3 is general, here the reference is more particularly to the faith which enables them to remain steadfast under persecution and other forms of trial, see 1 Thessalonians 3:7. . . . The missionaries do not boast in what they have achieved, but in what God has achieved, at Thessalonica.
Kretzmann: Both from the Jews and from their own countrymen the believers of Thessalonica had suffered persecution.
Lenski: The aim is always to encourage and strengthen those to whom the boast is made, to stimulate their consciousness that they are not a lone handful standing by themselves.
Bengel: Faith here denotes faithful constancy in confessing the truth.
NKJV reads: "Which is manifest evidence." TEV: "Here is proof of." What is the antecedent to this word? The implied attitude, faith and endurance of the Thessalonians. Is "God's judgment" present or future? TEV makes it future: "You will become worthy." Also NIV. But AAT: "It shows how God judges righteously: He means to make you worthy of His kingdom." And RSV: "This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering."
Kretzmann: The equity of God's judgment will also eventually right the present apparent inequalities of the situation in life. See Psalm 73. The sufferings of the just and the apparent triumph of the wicked in this life are a sure proof that there will be a future judgment, in which the wicked will receive their punishment and the righteous will be rewarded.
Lenski: This is God's judgment on the persevering faith of the Thessalonians right here and now. The thought often occurs to true Christians, that God is unrighteous when he lets them suffer severe persecution. This is the problem with which Psalm 73 deals. it is ever a righteous, and thus most blessed judgment, and we are to see the indication to that effect. . . . The ungodly are like chaff which the wind drives away, they cannot stand in the judgment, now or ever (Psalm 1:4-5); but persecution and faith, tried by persecution and affliction, have weight in God's judgment. 'To be accounted worthy of this Kingdom' means to be considered fit for entering this Kingdom at the final consummation.
Morris: 'To declare worthy' reminds us strongly of that other great Pauline word 'to justify,' in the sense of 'to declare, count at just.' . . . The apostle is excluding human merit even in a section where he is drawing attention to the noteworthy piece of endurance, and is emphasizing that attainment to the kingdom is not the result of human endeavor at all, but of the grace of God.
It is truly paradoxical that persecution and affliction are a sign of God's love toward his enduring and faithful children. It is truly paradoxical that "we must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God." Acts 14:22. It is truly paradoxical that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness and are already considered blessed. Matthew 5:10. The pastor should comfort his hearers with these thoughts in this text.2 Thessalonians 1:6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.
"With this in mind." What? The final judgment, especially that of Christians. Not only do the apostles thank God always for the, verse 3, but they also pray for them all the time. Is "calling" the original call (conversion) or their calling or vocation as Christians? Commentators and translations are divided on this matter. Neither could be called wrong, but we feel, along with AAT, that this refers to God's call, their conversion.
Most commentators translate: "every good purpose" or "every purpose arising out of goodness." Whose goodness? That of God or that of the Christian? KJV and NKJV plainly make it God's goodness. RSV and NASB are ambivalent: "Every good resolve." One cannot tell whether it is of God or of Christians. TEV, NIV, and AAT plainly find its origin in the renewed child of God. In any case the text is speaking of sanctification.
"Power" here is the power of the Gospel, the same use as in Romans 1:16. The Christian's faith, life and good resolve are possible only by the power of the Gospel. Here we have the Lutheran doctrine of the means of grace.
Morris: The 'name' in Biblical times stood for the whole personality and was an expression of the personality.
Kretzmann: His essence, His attributes, His holy will should receive honor and glory in consequence of our entire life.
Lenski: 'The name' means the revelation. By the Name he reveals himself to us, and by this revelation of himself we are able to apprehend him, -- the Name is the link: all by which he makes known to us his Person and his work for our saving apprehension.
To be glorified means to be exalted, treated honorably, be clothed in splendor. The Name of Jesus and everything it stands for are very dear to a Christian.
"In you" and "in Him" are prepositional phrases denoting relationship. Look at John 13:31; 17:10,21. The relationship between Redeemer and redeemed is closer than the relationship pertaining between husband and wife.
We might translate: "According to the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ." Or, do these words speak of two persons: "According to the grace of our God and the Lord, Jesus Christ." The word "the" in English makes all the difference. Since the two words have only one article it might be argued that only one person is meant. But all our versions and the commentators prefer to understand it of two persons. It is not a crucial matter here. What is very important is the thought that the strength to glorify the Name of Jesus Christ in this life comes only from the Triune God by His grace.
Perhaps we don't commend our people often enough for their faith toward God and their love toward their neighbor. Perhaps we don't speak often enough about the paradoxical thought that suffering is a sign of God's love, not of His anger. This text affords a good opportunity for both to be said.