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1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus
By Robert L. Thomas
ZondervanCopyright © 1996 Zondervan
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Chapter OneI. Salutation
1:1 1Paul, Silas and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians, who are in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.
1 This salutation follows the form Paul used in all his Epistles and is in the same style as that of other letters of his time. It contains three elements: the writer, the recipient, and the greeting or salutation proper.
The first element of this particular salutation contains not one, but three names: Paul, Silas (Silvanus), and Timothy. "Paul" is a Greek name meaning "little." In Acts Luke preserves the Hebrew name "Saul" up to the point of the apostle's encounter with the Roman official Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:9) and also when he reports Paul's calling himself "Saul" when he retold his experience on the Damascus Road (Acts 22:7, 13; 26:14).
Obviously absent is the official title "apostle" Paul used in all his other Epistles to churches except 2 Thessalonians and Philippians. A reasonable explanation of this is that no note of authority was necessary in letters addressed to the Macedonian churches, where his apostolic position never seems to have been questioned as it was elsewhere (e.g., Galatia, Corinth). This is not to say that there was no opposition to Paul in Thessalonica. On the contrary, that there was opposition is evident from his self-vindication (1 Thess 2-3). The opposition, however, never became overt as in other places and never specifically attacked his right to apostleship.
The second name included among the writers is that of Silas. The spelling found in v.1 is actually "Silvanus," probably the Roman transliteration of the Jewish name given the Greek transliteration "Silas." In Acts, Luke consistently uses "Silas" (Acts 15:22, 27, 32, 34, 40; 16:19, 25, 29; 17:4, 10, 14, 15; 18:5); Paul always uses "Silvanus" (2 Cor 1:19; 2 Thess 1:1). At any rate, this colleague of Paul was most likely a Jew by birth, a gifted prophet, and highly esteemed among the Jerusalem Christians (Acts 15:22, 32). That he inclined toward the Hellenistic wing of Palestinian Christianity is supported on several grounds, such as, his hearty concurrence with the Jerusalem Council's decision concerning Gentile believers (Acts 15:22-32), his Roman citizenship (Acts 16:37), and his being chosen as Paul's fellow worker on the second missionary journey (Acts 15:40-18:6). After the mission in Corinth, we find no further word of Silas's connection with Paul. He probably became associated with Peter, especially in the composition and sending of 1 Peter (1 Peter 5:12).
As an associate in the founding of the Thessalonian church, he endured cruel beatings, imprisonment, and pursuit by an angry mob (Acts 16:23-25; 17:5). Silas was known for his absolute reliability and his faithfulness in risking his life in the service of Christ (Acts 15:25-27).
Paul's other colleague at this time was Timothy. This young man, having helped in Philippi, had apparently remained behind when Paul had left that city (Acts 16:40). His name is not included in the account of the founding of the Thessalonian church (Acts 17:1-10), but he presumably joined Paul and Silas at Thessalonica later. (For further information about Timothy, see the commentaries on 1 and 2 Timothy.)
The second element in the salutation is the reference to the recipient of the letter-"the church of the Thessalonians who are in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Ekklesia ("church," "assembly") was the term applied to many types of public gatherings in the ancient Roman world, whether civil or religious. From this general sense, which is found also in LXX, there developed the technical meaning of an assembly of believers in Christ. The development of a technical meaning did not come at once, however. In fact, the earliest occurrence of the word in Acts is in 5:11 (ekklesia in TR at Acts 2:47 is not found in more reliable MSS). Some have suggested that by the time this first Epistle was written, the word was still general and needed qualifying ("in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ") to distinguish it from other assemblies in the city (Frame, pp. 68, 69). They argue in this connection that Paul saw no need to identify ekklesia thus in his later salutations (cf. also 1 Thess 2:14). But, contrary to this explanation, James used the word at an earlier date (c. A.D. 47) without qualification (James 5:14).
Some have not admitted this narrower scope of ekklesia, on the grounds that the NT church is merely a development of the OT church and that they find in Acts 7:38 and Hebrews 2:12 a technical use of ekklesia for God's people in the OT (cf. Deut 4:10; 23:2 and elsewhere in LXX where the word depicts Israel as a community). This reasoning, however, does not allow for the special use of the word in the NT in its preponderant reference to people from all races in the body of Christ beginning with Pentecost. This people is always distinguished from Israel and her ongoing purpose in God's plan.
In general usage, ekklesia had lost some of its etymological force of "called out." Yet there is good possibility that something of this meaning pertains to the special group composing the Christian church (Acts 15:14; Rom 9:24). They are "called out" from previous relationships so as to constitute a body with special relation to God (cf. 1 Cor 10:32).
Sometimes ekklesia designates all Christendom and is a synonym for the body of Christ (Col 1:18, 24). At other times it is a particular assembly in a particular location (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15). Elsewhere, as here, it denotes all the assemblies in a single city (Rom 16:1; 1 Cor 1:2).
"In God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" tells of the spiritual quality of the believers. The translation of the phrase by the relative clause "who are in God the Father" gives more particularized information as to which ekklesia Paul addresses within the city. It is not a pagan or nonreligious assembly (cf. "God the Father"). It is not a Jewish assembly (cf. "the Lord Jesus Christ"). It is distinctly "in Christ Jesus" (2:14). Being in union with the Father and Christ meant a new sphere of life, on an infinitely higher plane.
It should not be overlooked that the deity of the Son is taught here. Combining "God the Father" and "the Lord Jesus Christ" under one preposition demonstrates Jesus' equality with the Father and consequently his deity. To deny this fact (Best, p. 63) is to approach v.1 in an unnatural way, especially in light of kyrio ("Lord"-frequently used in reference to deity) and Christo ("Christ"-the title of Israel's divine Messiah).
"Grace to you and peace" (the Greek word order) recalls the normal Greek and Hebrew greetings. Paul coined a slight variation to connote the deepened Christian meaning. Charis ("grace") goes beyond chairein ("greetings"; cf. Acts 15:23; 23:26; James 1:1) in highlighting unmerited benefits given by God to the believer in Christ. Through grace lost men are saved from their sins in the eyes of a holy God by a transaction completely free of charge. Grace, however, does not cease at the point of salvation. It continually issues in privileges. These the writer wishes for his readers.
One of these benefits is reflected in "peace" (cf. Judg 19:20) but with a deeper meaning than among the ancient Hebrews. Differences separating God from his creatures had for centuries worked against peaceful relationships, but with the entrance of grace in its fullness through the coming of Christ (John 1:17) the ultimate basis for resolving this conflict and establishing harmony between God and man was laid. Because of this harmony man can also enjoy inward wholeness and tranquility.
II. Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians (1:2-10)
A. The Manner of Giving Thanks-Praying 1:2
2We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.
2 It was Paul's practice to begin his letters by thanking God for his readers. The only exception is the letter to the Galatians, where indignation and disappointment ruled out gratitude. The Thessalonians, however, did not disappoint him. Paul found much in their lives to be grateful for. In fact, he kept on being grateful, as the present tense of the verb "thank" and the adverb "always" show. Paul was not alone in gratitude. The pronoun "we" includes Silas and Timothy as sharing his appreciation. The verb must be understood as genuinely plural because the names of Paul's two colleagues immediately precede it. Of course, the first person plural need not always refer to more persons than the writer. There is such a thing as the editorial "we" in Paul's style (cf. 2:18; 3:1).
By thanking God at the beginning of the epistle, Paul lifts the thought above the human level and rises above the conventional opening of letters of his time. He is not trying to win the Thessalonians over by rhetorical flattery (cf. 2:5). On the contrary, he is sincerely trying to give the ultimate credit to the One from whom spiritual progress comes. When Christians realize their complete dependence on God and keep this in clear focus, then and only then are they capable of moving on to greater spiritual exploits such as those spoken of later in this Epistle (Milligan, p. 5).
"All of you" expresses Paul's desire not to exclude any of the Thessalonian believers. Every single one of them, no matter how obscure, had certain qualities worth thanking God for.
The latter part of v.2 is the first of three participial phrases that elaborate on the thanksgiving. "Mentioning you in our prayers" tells how Paul and his colleagues expressed their thanks. Mneian poiein ("making mention") is never used by Paul except in conjunction with prayer. Making mention of his readers at prayer times enabled him not only to thank God for their progress, but also to intercede for their advancement in the gospel. The full meaning of "in our prayers" is "on the occasion of our prayers." Paul is pointing to the times when, as he prayed with Silas and Timothy, they had remembered the Thessalonian believers one by one with gratitude and intercession.
B. The Circumstances of Giving Thanks-Remembering 1:3
3We 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.
3 The mnemoneuontes ("remembering") clause in v.3 tells us the occasion when Paul and his colleagues thanked God. This was whenever they recalled the threefold nature of the Thessalonians' progress-a recollection so frequent as to be "continual." Of course, Paul does not mean that they thought of nothing but the Thessalonians. He rather uses the hyperbolic "continually" to indicate intense interest.
The words "before our God and Father" show the sincerity of this remembrance in prayer. Some in the Thessalonian church had questioned Paul's motives in dealing with them. So at the very outset, he dispels this suspicion and confronts it more directly in chapters 2-3 (cf. "God is our witness," 2:5, and "You are witnesses, and so is God," 2:10; cf. 3:9). To interpret "before our God and Father" (which comes at the end of v.3 in the Greek word order) in connection with "hope in our Lord Jesus Christ," as some have done, is to see in the phrase the heavenly scene where Christian hope will be culminated. While favored by the Greek word order, this interpretation fails to explain why Paul would leave the relation of the phrase introduced by emprosthen ("before") to elpidos ("hope") so ambiguous when he could have clarified it by an additional article (tes)
Excerpted from 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus by Robert L. Thomas Copyright © 1996 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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