1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
THE BROAD CONTEXT:
Thessalonica was (and still is) an important seaport about 185 miles (300 km) north of Athens. In Paul’s day, the region in which Thessalonica was located was known as Macedonia. Today, it is northern Greece. In return for its support of Augustus, the Romans made Thessalonica a free city in 43 B.C.
Paul, Silas, and Timothy visited Thessalonica on Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (NOTE: Silas is his name in the book of Acts, written by Luke. In Paul’s writings, he is known as Silvanus). Paul and Silas had been in Philippi, but were imprisoned there on the complaint of the owner of a slave girl from whom Paul had exorcised a demon. An earthquake freed them that night, but they remained in the jail until the following morning. Learning that they were Roman citizens, the magistrates apologized, freed them, and asked them to leave Philippi (Acts 16).
They then went to Thessalonica, where on three successive Sabbaths they attended the synagogue and presented their case for Jesus as the Messiah. They made a number of converts, primarily among devout Greeks (Acts 17:4)—Gentiles sympathetic to Judaism, but who had not yet become full-fledged Jewish proselytes.
Jewish leaders, unhappy about these conversions, complained to the authorities that Paul and Silas were claiming that there was a king named Jesus (Acts 17:7). As a result of the ensuing conflict, Paul and Silas left for Berea (Acts 17:10). Jewish leaders from Thessalonica followed them to Berea, “agitating the multitudes” (Acts 17:13). Silas and Timothy stayed temporarily in Berea, while Paul went to Athens (Acts 17:14). Paul sent word to Silas and Timothy to rejoin him, which they did (Acts 17:15).
Paul then went to Corinth, where he stayed for a considerable time (Acts 18). Silas and Timothy rejoined him there (Acts 18:5). It was there, after opposition by Jewish leaders, that Paul said, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on, I will go to the Gentiles!” (Acts 18:6).
Paul sent Timothy to assist the church at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:2). Timothy brought back a good report (3:6ff.), but expressed concern about their understanding of the status of “those who have fallen asleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
• Paul assures the Thessalonian Christians that “the dead in Christ will rise first” when Jesus comes again (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
• He reminds them that “the day of the Lord (will come) like a thief in the night” (5:2)—and that the unrepentant will find no escape (5:3).
• He reminds them also that they are “children of light” (5:5), which assures their salvation (5:8-9).
• He encourages them to “build each other up” (5:11)—and “to respect and honor” “those who are over you in the Lord” (5:12-13)—”to admonish the disorderly”…and to “be patient toward all” (5:14).
• He says, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks” (5:16-18).
• He tells them to “test all things” (5:21) and to “abstain from every form of evil” (5:22).
THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT:
In verses 1-5b, Paul, including the names of Silvanus and Timothy, expressed their greetings and wishes for grace and peace (v. 1). They remembered the Thessalonians in their prayers—”remembering…your work of faith and labor of love and patience” (vv. 2-3). Paul reminds them that God has chosen them, and that the Good News came to them in power, through the work of the Holy Spirit (vv. 4-5ab).
1 THESSALONIANS 1:5c. WHAT WE SHOWED OURSELVES TO BE
5c You know what kind of men we showed ourselves to be among you for your sake.
“You know what kind of men we showed ourselves to be among you for your sake” (v. 5c). Paul and his colleagues had preached an authentic word in Thessalonica—a reliable word. They had been intent on pleasing God rather than the people to whom they were preaching (2:4). They used no words of flattery to manipulate their hearers (2:5). They sought no human-dispensed glory (2:6). They worked to support themselves so that they might not impose a financial burden on the people to whom they were preaching (2:9). The Thessalonian Christians had seen this. They had experienced the integrity of Paul and his colleagues—their unselfishness—their agape love. All of those things contributed to their confidence that Paul and his colleagues were telling the truth—that they were serving God rather than promoting some sort of private agenda.
1 THESSALONIANS 1:6-7. YOU BECAME AN EXAMPLE
6 You became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all who believe in Macedonia and in Achaia.
“You became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction“ (v. 6a). Having seen the authenticity of Paul and his colleagues (see the comments above on v. 5), the new Christians in Thessalonica responded by imitating them. As they did so, they were also imitating the Lord. The Thessalonian Christians had suffered just as Christ had suffered—and just as Paul and his colleagues had suffered in the furtherance of their preaching ministry.
In the next chapter, Paul will mention how he and his colleagues suffered and were shamefully treated in Philippi (2:2). The book of Acts includes a number of accounts of Paul’s suffering in the service of Christ (Acts 9:28-29; 13:50; 14:4, 19; 16:22-24; 21:30-36; 22:22-25; 23:1-10). In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul gave a summary statement of his sufferings in Christ’s service. He was imprisoned, beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked. He endured perils of rivers and robbers—perils from Jews and Gentiles—perils in cities, in the wilderness, and at sea. He was frequently hungry and thirsty—cold—even naked. Above and beyond all that, he experienced daily anxiety for the fledgling churches he had founded (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
“with joy of the Holy Spirit“ (v. 6b). These Thessalonian Christians experienced joy in spite of their troubles. Before they had known Christ, they could look forward only to an uncertain future. Now they live in the assurance that the Holy Spirit—God’s Spirit—dwells in them, guiding and strengthening them. Furthermore, they live in the conviction that Christ’s death and resurrection have guaranteed their own salvation. Those things make it possible for them to be joyful in the midst of lives that are often difficult (see also 5:16—”Rejoice always!”).
“so that you became an example (Greek: typos) to all who believe in Macedonia and in Achaia“ (v. 7). Greeks used the word typos to refer to the mark or impression made by striking something with a patterned image. As a tentmaker, Paul would have worked primarily with leather—and leather lends itself to stamped images. However, a stamped image would need to be clear and accurate to be of value.
Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians that they have provided a faithful example (typos)—a witness with far-reaching impact.
Macedonia was the northern region and Achaia the southern region of the area that we know today as Greece. Paul is telling these Thessalonian Christians that their suffering for Christ—and their joy in Christ—has made them powerful witnesses throughout that part of the world—north to south—border to border.
A life well-lived is a sermon well-preached—a truth not limited to the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Roman philosopher, Seneca—contemporaneous with Paul and his colleagues—said, “We reform others unconsciously when we walk upright.” So we do!
We usually think of witnessing as something that we do for the benefit of unbelievers. It is, indeed, a wonderful thing to see the light of faith begin to shine in the heart of someone who has heretofore lived in darkness. It is especially wonderful to know that our witness helped to make that possible. But in this verse, Paul tells these Thessalonian Christians that they have become “an example to all who believe.” In other words, the Thessalonian example has been a special blessing to those who have already embraced Christ. Why would that be important? Why would someone who already believes in Christ need to see the faithful example of another believer?
The Gospel of Mark tells a lovely story of a father who brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus. When the father asked Jesus to heal his son, Jesus said, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” The father responded, “I believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24). That father’s response is a prayer that all of us would do well to memorize—and to pray. “I believe. Help my unbelief!”
Many people believe, but none believes perfectly. Our faith-journey sometimes feels as if we are walking a tightrope—and in a sense we are. We are buffeted by forces that threaten to throw us off-balance. The stronger our faith, the more determined is the tempter to unseat us. Therefore, we always need help, and the community of believers (the church) is one of the best places to find that help. When we fellowship with other believers, their faith strengthens ours—and our faith strengthens theirs.
When my wife and I visit the big city, we worship at a large, vital church that our son discovered when going to college there. That church includes personal testimonies in their worship services, a tradition less popular today than in earlier times. They structure those testimonies pretty tightly. Shortly before the sermon, one of the ministers interviews a member of the congregation who has agreed to give his or her testimony. Sometimes the testimony involves a husband and wife with babes in arms or children standing alongside—a particularly charming touch. The questions and answers have been practiced beforehand, giving the testimony a bit of a contrived flavor. Nevertheless, those testimonies are compelling. The congregation collectively holds its breath, listening intently to every word. It would be appropriate to tell the person or persons offering their testimony, “you (have) become an example to all who believe.”
1 THESSALONIANS 1:8. FROM YOU THE WORD OF THE LORD HAS BEEN DECLARED
8 For from you the word of the Lord has been declared, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone out; so that we need not to say anything.
“For from you the word of the Lord (Greek: tou kuriou) has been declared, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone out“ (v. 8a). “The word of the Lord” could mean “the word of God the Father” or “the word of Christ” or both. In the New Testament, it most often appears to mean “the word of Christ”—but the ambiguity may be intentional.
These Thessalonians have not only received the word of the Lord, but have also declared it—preached it—disseminated it. As noted above, their faithful witness has spread widely—from Macedonia to Achaia—from north to south—and to every place where the witness of their faith has touched.
We need to hear this, because we are always tempted to think that our personal witness or that of our small congregation has little potential. However, those Thessalonian Christians were few in number. They weren’t accustomed to traveling far and wide. They could not use radio, television, the Internet, cell phones, etc. to spread the word. Nevertheless, they somehow declared the word of the Lord in such a way that it made a positive impact far and wide—on whomever their witness touched.
“so that we need not to say anything“ (v. 8b). This is hyperbole—exaggeration for effect—overstatement to make a point. Paul and his colleagues are busily preaching and writing on an ongoing basis, and they know the value of their words (Romans 10:15-17). But they also know the importance of encouraging the faithful Christians in Thessalonica to continue being faithful, so they include this bit of over-the-top praise.
1 THESSALONIANS 1:9-10. YOU TURNED FROM IDOLS TO A LIVING GOD
9 For they themselves report concerning us what kind of a reception we had from you; and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.
“For they themselves report concerning us what kind of a reception we had from you“ (v. 9a). Who are “they”? They would be those from Macedonia, Achaia, and elsewhere who have been positively influenced by the example of the Thessalonian Christians.
Those people have told Paul and his colleagues that they have heard good reports about the reception that the Thessalonian Christians accorded them. That was true of devout Greeks (Acts 17:4)—Gentiles sympathetic to Judaism, but who had not yet become full-fledged Jewish proselytes. It was not true of Jewish leaders who became upset when these devout Greeks became followers of Jesus (Acts 17:7-10). Those leaders even followed Paul and his colleagues to Berea, where they agitated the people (Acts 17:13).
But Timothy has visited Thessalonica again, and his report tells us that that the Christians there continued to enjoy strong faith in Christ and an abiding relationship with Paul and his colleagues.
“and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God“ (v. 9b). This is key! The Thessalonian Christians had turned from the worship of idols—inanimate, dead idols—to the worship of the living God. They had moved from the worship of that which is counterfeit to that which is real. People had noticed the difference in their lives, and were favorably impressed. The proclamation of the Gospel was enhanced by their witness.
“and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom (the true God) raised from the dead—Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come“ (v. 10). The early Christian community eagerly awaited Christ’s Second Coming. Paul had obviously included this emphasis in his earlier preaching in Thessalonica, and he will emphasize it again in this letter (5:2-6).
The fact that God raised Jesus from the dead authenticated his status as Son of God. Later, it also authenticated the proclamation of the apostles.
It was appropriate for these Christians to look forward to Christ’s Second Coming, because Paul had assured them that Christ would deliver them from the wrath to come. They would not suffer the judgment that the wicked would experience at the end of time.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan