Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament1 Thessalonians 1
First, there is Paul's characteristic salutation and greeting (1 Thessalonians 1:1), followed by his fervent expression of thanks and appreciation for the Thessalonian church (1 Thessalonians 1:2-10).
Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy ...
The inclusion of Paul's distinguished helpers, Silvanus and Timothy, in this salutation was not intended as designation of them as co-authors with Paul of this letter, but rather as a mark of friendship and courtesy on the part of the apostle for these faithful workers who had so frequently labored and suffered with him on the mission field. Silas was beaten and imprisoned with Paul at Philippi (Acts 15:19), and Timothy's imprisonment is mentioned in Heb. 13:23. Timothy's father was a Greek, and Silas was a Roman citizen.
Silvanus was chosen by Paul following the dispute with Barnabas (Acts 15:40), and Timothy was recruited from Lystra where Paul had been stoned (Acts 16:1); thus both were identified with Paul on the second missionary journey and extensively thereafter. Hendriksen pointed out that the English adjective "sylvan" and the proper name "Pennsylvania" carry remnants of the ancient name of Silvanus. "Originally, it was the name of the god of the woods." F1 Many of the primitive Christians were named after the pagan gods, as in the outstanding instance of Apollos, but there is no record that any Of them ever changed their names on this account, indicating that it was considered perfectly proper, many personal names, of course, having been handed down from family to family.
Thessalonians in God ...
Other Thessalonians were in darkness, in sin, in the "world" and in a state of alienation from God, but these were in the true and Almighty God. This expression identifies "the assembly in Thessalonica as nonheathen," and the addition of "and the Lord Jesus Christ" designates them "as non-Jewish." F2 Practically all of the Thessalonian converts had been won out of paganism (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
The Lord Jesus Christ ...
The name "Lord" as it appears in this compound title of Jesus Christ "is the great Old Testament word which expresses the sovereignty of God, personally and legitimately exercised over the whole universe, animate and inanimate." F3 Thus, our Saviour is recognized here as a member of the Godhead, possessing full deity and entitled to the adoration and worship of all people. Note also that being "in God" is one and the same thing with being in Christ.
Grace and peace ...
This was the usual order in which Paul extended this double greeting, varying it only in the closing verses of Ephesians. They combined the highest form of both Greek and Hebrew salutations and were greatly enriched by theological implications of the highest significance. For example, "peace," which is a negative concept with us, means "the absence of strife"; whereas "The Hebrew equivalent, [shalom] (from which the word is derived), is concerned with `wholeness,' `soundness,' and signifies prosperity in the widest sense, especially prosperity in spiritual things." F4
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;
Paul's amazing capacity to find the source of gratitude in the converts God had given him is a mark of the boundless love the apostle had for humanity.
You all ...
is the simple plural "you" and need not necessarily be understood in the technical sense of "absolutely everyone." True, Paul mentioned "each one of you" in 2 Thess. 1:3; but even there the meaning is hyperbolic.
This is usually construed as the editorial "we," meaning "I," but there are instances in his writings where this pronoun is used to include all of the apostles with himself. Here, there is no reason to exclude Silvanus and Timothy as being included in the greeting, though of course only Paul was author of the letter.
remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father;
This remarkable Pauline triad, that is, a double triad of work, labor and patience linked to faith, hope and love (1 Corinthians 13:13) with "I know thy works, and thy toil, and thy patience" (Revelation 2:2), is one of the most interesting in the New Testament. Morris cautioned against failing to read the true meaning of [Greek: hupomone], rendered patience, but meaning "not a negative acquiescence, but an active, manly endurance"; F5 thus relating all three of the first triad with works, labor being intensified consistent work, and patience being unceasing work. This sheds much light on Paul's use of all these terms in the New Testament; for example, he even substituted "patience" for hope, as follows:
Follow after faith, love, patience
(1 Timothy 6:11).
Thou didst follow my faith, love,
patience (2 Timothy 3:10).
Let aged men be sound in faith, love,
patience (Titus 2:2).
Hayes declared that these six graces (work, labor and patience; faith, hope and love), properly united in the hearts of people, and thus "conjoined will regenerate the human race!" F6
Although Paul never substituted works for faith, the passage here shows that the two go together; and it may therefore be accepted as gospel that when Paul mentions faith in the New Testament, it never means anything other than an obedient, working faith. It has been repeatedly emphasized in this series that the present-day conception of subjective trust/faith is erroneous.
Other New Testament passages in which the second triad of faith, hope and love appears are:
Putting on the breastplate of faith
and love, and for a helmet, the hope
of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:8).
We have had our access by faith ...
rejoice in the hope of the glory of
God ... because the love of God, etc.
We through the Spirit of faith wait
for the hope of righteousness ... but
faith working through love
Having heard of your faith ... and of
the love which ye have ... because of
the hope (Colossians 1:4,5).
Your work and the love which ye showed
... be not sluggish but imitators of
them who through faith and patience
inherit the promises (Hebrews 6:10,12).
That your faith and hope might be in
God. Seeing ye have purified your
souls in your obedience to the truth
unto unfeigned love of the brethren
(1 Peter 1:21,22).
All of the above passages emphasize the absolute union of these graces. To construe Paul's words, "faith apart from works" in any other manner than as meaning "faith apart from the works of the Law of Moses" is to miss his meaning altogether.
FAITH, ONE IN KIND
Significantly, there is no New Testament mention of "kinds of faith." The "devils believe and tremble"; and there is no evidence that the faith of devils is any different from the faith of Christians, except in this one particular of being disunited from love and hope, as well as from work, labor and patience. The demon at Gadara cried out:
What have I to do with thee, Jesus, Son of God Most High? I adjure thee by God, torment me not! (Mark 5:7).
An analysis of the demon's faith shows that: (1) he believed Jesus to be the Son of God; (2) that Jesus had the power to torment him; (3) he also believed in God's existence; (4) that there was already a "time" appointed when God would visit judgment upon wickedness (Matthew 8:29); and (5) that such a time was yet future during the personal ministry of the Lord. Wherein is this different from what Christians believe?
No! Whereas faith is spoken of in the New Testament, as great faith, little faith, much faith, more faith, etc., all such designations regard the degree or amount of faith, and in no case a difference in kinds of faith, such as historical, or saving faith, etc. Even dead faith is not a different kind, but only the deceased state of the one kind.
WORKS OF DIFFERENT KINDS
The appearance in this passage of "work of faith" emphasizes the New Testament truth of there being many kinds of works mentioned in the New Testament, thus:
The works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21).
The works of people (Mark 13:1).
The works of the Law of Moses
The works of moral goodness
The works of human righteousness
The works of the devil (1 John 3:8).
The work of faith (1 Thessalonians 1:3).
The distinctions here enumerated from the sacred text are the key to understanding what Paul meant by "not justified by works," and what James meant by "justified by works" (James 2:24), there being in no sense any element of contradiction, there being two utterly different classes of works under consideration by the two sacred writers.
knowing, brethren beloved of God, your election,
"Here, as elsewhere, election derives from God's love; election to damnation is not found in the New Testament." F7 Such views as this derive from the failure to understand that God's election works both ways, both to eternal life and to eternal death. And who are they who are thus "elected"? Those people who will love God and choose to serve him are "the elect" foreordained before all time to inherit eternal salvation; whereas, those who will not love God and who choose to disobey him are "elected" to eternal death. Morris believed that in the New Testament election concerns individuals; F8 but the conviction maintained here is that God never "elected" any individual either to eternal life or eternal death, apart from the individual's choice of the kind of election he desired. The scholarly editor of the Firm Foundation, in a splendid editorial, "Hope for Calvinism," June 7, 1977, has given timely and concise comment regarding the fact of many Calvinists moving away from the straitjacket conception regarding election. The chancellor of Temple College, Chattanooga, wrote: "Nobody is predestined to be saved, except as he chooses, of his own free will, to repent of sin and trust Christ for salvation." F9 In the same vein, Wendell Eaves, chancellor of Hyles-Anderson College, wrote a recent book, Predestined to Hell? No! F10 It is not individuals who are predestined (except in the one sense that all people were intended and created for the purpose of being God's children); see my Commentary on Romans, p. 318. Nobody will be lost eternally except those who exercise their free will in the rejection of God and his message to people through Christ.
was a favorite word with Paul. Morris declared that Paul used this word twenty-one times F11 in the two Thessalonian epistles; and, coming from a formerly devout Pharisee like Paul, and especially when applied to Gentile idol-worshipers turned Christian, the word has epic overtones in this context.
Another discerning comment by Morris regards the nature of the "brotherhood of man" as set forth in the New Testament:
In view of the many loose modern ideas
regarding the "brotherhood of man" it
is worth noting that the New Testament
concept of brotherhood is specifically
a brotherhood in Christian bonds.
Here it is linked with being loved by
God and with election. Both are
how that our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance; even as ye know what manner of men we showed ourselves toward you for your sake.
See comment on preceding verse.
Our gospel ...
Paul on occasion could say "my" gospel; and therefore the thought persists that the construction here is for the purpose of affirming the oneness of the gospel the Thessalonians had received with the same gospel taught by all of the apostles. Note that the acceptance of that gospel by the Thessalonians was one of the reasons that Paul spoke so confidently of their being the election of God. Those who accept the gospel in all generations are likewise of the elect.
What manner of men we showed ourselves ...
It seems to this writer that commentators make too much of this and other passages in the letter which might be construed as Paul's defense against "charges." Barclay made a list of these, compiling them from references in 1 Thess. 2.
It was being said that Paul preached
from sheer delusion (1 Thessalonians 2:3).
That his preaching sprang from impure
motives (1 Thessalonians 2:3).
It was said his preaching aimed at
deluding others (1 Thessalonians 2:3).
That he was seeking to please people,
not God (1 Thessalonians 2:4).
That he was preaching for what he
could get out of it (1 Thessalonians 2:5,9).
That he sought personal prestige
(1 Thessalonians 2:6).
He was something of a dictator
(1 Thessalonians 2:7). F13
A careful reading of the epistle fails to support the theoretical speculations of a savage campaign of slander as alleged by Barclay. It was the part of wisdom to place in the hands of churches the truth which could prevent such slanders from ever being propagated; and that is just as reasonable a supposition as the other. That Paul, knowing the ways of Satan, would have anticipated and frustrated such slanders in advance, wherever possible, would appear to be a certainty; and there must be some of that in evidence here.
Not in word only ...
Paul's preaching was accompanied by the exhibition of miraculous apostolic powers (Romans 15:19) of "signs and wonders and mighty deeds in the Holy Spirit"; such things, of course, having been the Father's way of confirming the gospel he preached.
What manner of men we showed ourselves ...
Paul worked with his own hands to support his preaching; his conduct was righteous and holy in their presence; and it was fitting indeed that he should remind them of the Christian character he had exhibited among them.
And ye became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit;
As Mason noted, "they did not become "disciples' of Paul, but followers of him as he followed the Lord." F14
In much affliction ...
For a glimpse of the afflictions which attended their reception of the gospel, see Acts 17:5-8.
With joy of the Holy Spirit ...
Upon conversion, every Christian receives the earnest of the Holy Spirit; and the very first fruits of the Spirit are "love" and "joy" (Galatians 5:22). The overwhelming joy that attends one's obedience to the gospel is frequently mentioned in Acts, "he went on his way rejoicing" (Acts 8:39) being absolutely the normal experience following one's baptism into Christ. That this initial joy of souls newly won in Christ is in evidence here appears in the fact of its being mentioned in connection with their reception of the gospel.
Verses 7, 8
so that ye became an ensample to all that believe in Macedonia and in Achaia. For from you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith to God-ward is gone forth; so that we need not to speak anything.
The faith of those Thessalonians has touched all lands, as noted in the introduction. Dummelow called attention to the fact of Thessalonica being the capital of Macedonia, and of Achaia (the equivalent of ancient Greece) having its capital in Corinth. F15 While true enough that Athens was the political capital, Corinth was indeed the commercial and business capital. What a triumph it was for Christianity to flourish in this ancient cradle of Western civilization! As Hubbard put it, "Macedonia and Achaia, the northern and southern provinces, made up all of Greece." F16
For they themselves report concerning us what manner of entering in we had unto you; and how ye turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God,
The meaning here is that "they themselves," i.e., the citizens of Greece, not having to wait for Paul to speak of the conversions of the Thessalonians, reported to Paul the amazing marvel of their wholesale conversion to Christ, dramatically pointed up by the savage beating and imprisonment of Paul and Silas at the beginning of the campaign in Philippi. Here is a glimpse of what an impression the Christian religion was making on the ancient Greek culture. It should be remembered that "not a few" of those in honorable estate accepted Christ in Thessalonica (Acts 17:12).
Ye turned unto God from idols ...
Idols were big religion in Greece, and those who thus turned were Gentiles, that is, Greeks. As Clarke said:
This could not be spoken of either the
Jews or the devout persons, but of the
heathen Greeks; and of such it appears
that the majority of the church was
The living God ...
"This is an Old Testament term contrasting Jehovah with idols who can do nothing" (Isaiah 41:23). F18
No negative attitude is sufficient in the sight of God. It was not enough that the Thessalonians had turned from idols, there was likewise a positive side to their conversion: (1) They had come to serve the living and true God, and (2) they waited for the Second Advent (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivereth us from the wrath to come.
And to wait for his Son from heaven ...
It is most deplorable that scholars press this passage as proof of their allegations that the apostles expected Jesus to come in the Second Advent during their lifetime. For example, Hayes said:
We may believe that Paul was mistaken
in his expectation of the speedy
Advent of our Lord. After nineteen
centuries of waiting, we know that he
was mistaken, if he expected it in his
generation, or in his century. We
think the sufficient warrant for his
expectation was to be found in the
belief of all the apostles and in the
traditional teaching of the Master
This is fembu at its noisome worst. Neither Paul, nor any of the apostles, and least of all the Lord himself, expected that the Second Advent would be "speedy," or "in their lifetime," or at any time other than remote generations afterward; but none of that prevented Christians from living and dying "in expectation of the return of Christ," even as true believers do now! And yet every Christian knows that the actual coming may still be centuries or millenniums in the future.
THE SPEEDY RETURN OF CHRIST
Did Christ and the apostles believe and teach that the Second Advent would occur in their generation, at a time immediately in the future? The answer to that question is negative.
Jesus himself declared that he himself did not know the day nor the hour (Matthew 24:36); least of all could any apostle have pretended to know.
Christ emphatically declared, "Wheresoever the gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, that also which this woman hath done (Mary's anointing) shall be spoken of for a memorial of her" (Mark 14:9). Preaching the gospel in the whole world was a task involving generations and centuries, not merely a lifetime.
Christ thundered the prophecy that "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled (Luke 21:24); and the treading down of Jerusalem by Gentiles was an event that did not begin until a full forty years after Christ was crucified; and no sacred writer, all of whom wrote before that event, could ever have imagined that Christ would surely come until after that prophecy had been fulfilled.
Christ, in the analogy spoken in the parable of the talents, said: "Now after a long time the lord of those servants cometh" (Matthew 25:19); and there is nothing there that speaks of any "speedy return."
Paul did not expect the Second Advent in his lifetime, because he speaks of his own resurrection from the dead, along with the resurrection of all the Corinthians, as an event scheduled for the future (2 Corinthians 4:14). Furthermore, his saying, "We shall not all sleep" (1 Corinthians 15:51) refers to the ultimate fact of Christians who may be alive at the coming of the Lord, and not either to himself or the Corinthians of his generation. It bears this construction as easily as it bears the one which makes it a certainty of the speedy return of Jesus. Furthermore, in these very letters to the Thessalonians, written long before the Corinthian letters, Paul affirmed that "The coming shall not be except the apostasy come first" (2 Thessalonians 2:3); and the apostasy was an event which Paul clearly understood as involving a great deal of time.
Much more could be said on this; but further attention will be given to it in the 2 Thessalonian commentary.
The reason that scholars often mistakenly believe that Christ taught his "speedy return" is that they misconstrue passages like Mark 8:38 and Mark 9:1 as references to the Second Advent, whereas the reference, like some similar passages, refers not to the Second Advent but to the establishment of the kingdom of Christ, an event which did occur immediately.
It is not amiss to note, in this context, that some prefer to believe that the Holy Christ and the blessed apostles were all mistaken; and that bias enters into their interpretations. The importance of this question is inherent in the fact that if the Lord himself and his apostles were truly mistaken about such an event as the Second Advent, then how may one be sure they were not also mistaken about heaven and hell, the terms of the gospel, the necessity of godly living, and all the rest of the Christian message? There is no way that this writer could accept either such implications or the false interpretations by which they are advocated. The holy apostles were inspired of God in what they wrote, and the totality of their teaching derives from God himself.
Who delivereth us from the wrath to come ...
This is a reference to the judgment of the Great Day, and the "wrath of God that falls upon the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 5:6). Other passages bearing on this are Rom. 1:18,28,32; Rom. 2:8,9; Eph. 2:3 and Col. 3:6. God has a score to settle with sin, and a day has been appointed in which he will judge the world in righteousness, "by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all people, in that he hath raised him from the dead" (Acts 17:31). Amen!
Footnotes for 1 Thessalonians 1
1: William Hendriksen, Commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1955), p. 38.
2: Peter E. Cousins, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 492.
3: Ronald A. Ward, Commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Waco: Word Book Publishers, 1973), p. 15.
4: Leon Morris, Tyndale Commentaries, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956), p. 33.
5: Ibid., p. 35.
6: D. A. Hayes, Paul and His Epistles (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 158.
7: Peter E. Cousins, op. cit., p. 492.
8: Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 36.
9: Reuel Lemmons, Firm Foundation (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation Publishing House, June 7, 1977), Vol. 94, No. 23, p. 354.
11: Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 36.
13: William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), p. 188.
14: A. J. Mason, Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 131.
15: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 987.
16: David A. Hubbard, Wycliffe New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 808.
17: Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. VI (London: Carlton and Porter, 1829), p. 541.
18: Peter E. Cousins, op. cit., p. 493.
19: D. A. Hayes, op. cit., p. 181.
20: Herbert Lockyear, op. cit., p. 110.
21: Donald Guthrie, New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 1153.
22: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 117.
23: A. S. Peake, op. cit., p. 546.
25: Ibid., p. 547.
26: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 984.
27: A. S. Peake, op. cit., p. 547.
28: The New Bible Dictionary, op. cit., p. 77.
29: John B. Nielson, op. cit., p. 414.
30: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 552.
31: E. Earle Ellis, op. cit., p. 797.
32: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 113.
33: William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 153.
34: E. Earle Ellis, op. cit., p. 552.
35: Donald Guthrie, op. cit., p. 1150.
36: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 114.
37: John B. Nielson, op. cit., p. 416.
38: A. S. Peake, op. cit., p. 541.
39: Ernest G. Ashby, op. cit., p. 488.
40: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 115.
41: A. S. Peake, op. cit., p. 541.
42: Donald Guthrie, op. cit., p. 1150.
43: Ibid., p. 1151.
44: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 161.
45: John B. Nielson, op. cit., p. 420.
46: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 115.
47: William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 175.
48: A. S. Peake, op. cit., p. 543.
49: F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), p. 109.
50: A. S. Peake, op. cit., p. 531.
51: Ibid., p. 532.
52: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 983.
53: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 111.
54: William Hendriksen, op. cit, p. 88 footnote.
55: James Burton Coffman, The Mystery of Redemption (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1976).
56: Ernest G. Ashby, op. cit., p. 486.
57: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 436.
58: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 63.
59: David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles, Vol. IV (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1964), p. 194.
60: B. C. Carlin, op. cit., p. 64.
61: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 437.
62: William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 141.
63: Ibid., p. 143.
64: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 974.
65: Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 769.
66: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 50.
67: Ibid., p. 48.