Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 42: Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL TO THE THESSALONIANS.
1 Thessalonians 1:1
1. Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the Church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. Paulus et Silvanus et Timotheus Ecclesiae Thessalonicensium, in Deo Patre, et Domino Iesu Christo, gratia vobis et pax a Deo Patre nostro, et Domino Iesu Christo.
The brevity of the inscription clearly shews that Paul’s doctrine had been received with reverence among the Thessalonians, and that without controversy they all rendered to him the honor that he deserved. For when in other Epistles he designates himself an Apostle, he does this for the purpose of claiming for himself authority. Hence the circumstance, that he simply makes use of his own name without any title of honor, is an evidence that those to whom he writes voluntarily acknowledged him to be such as he was. The ministers of Satan, it is true, had endeavored to trouble this Church also, but it is evident that their machinations were fruitless. He associates, however, two others along with himself, as being, in common with himself, the authors of the Epistle. Nothing farther is stated here that has not been explained elsewhere, excepting that he says, “the Church in God the Father, and in Christ;” by which terms (if I mistake not) he intimates, that there is truly among the Thessalonians a Church of God. This mark, therefore, is as it were an approval of a true and lawful Church. We may, however, at the same time infer from it, that a Church is to be sought for only where God presides, and where Christ reigns, and that, in short, there is no Church but what is founded upon God, is gathered under the auspices of Christ, and is united in his name.
1 Thessalonians 1:2-5
2. We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;
2. Gratias agimus Deo semper de omnibus vobis, memoriam vestri facientes in precibus nostris,
3. Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;
3. Indesinenter 488 memores vestri, propter opus fidei, et laborem caritatis, 489 et patientiam spei Domini nostri Iesu Christi coram Deo et Patre nostro,
4. Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.
4. Scientes, fratres dilecti, 490 a Deo esse electionem vestram.
5. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
5. Quia Evangelium nostrum non fuit erga vos in sermone solum, sed in potentia, et in Spiritu sancto, et in certitudine multa: quemadmodum nostis quales fuerimus in vobis propter vos.
2 We give thanks to God. He praises, as he is wont, their faith and other virtues, not so much, however, for the purpose of praising them, as to exhort them to perseverance. For it is no small excitement to eagerness of pursuit, when we reflect that God has adorned us with signal endowments, that he may finish what he has begun, and that we have, under his guidance and direction, advanced in the right course, in order that we may reach the goal. For as a vain confidence in those virtues, which mankind foolishly arrogate to themselves, puffs them up with pride, and makes them careless and indolent for the time to come, so a recognition of the gifts of God humbles pious minds, and stirs them up to anxious concern. Hence, instead of congratulations, he makes use of thanksgivings, that he may put them in mind, that everything in them that he declares to be worthy of praise, is a kindness from God. 491 He also turns immediately to the future, in making mention of his prayers. We thus see for what purpose he commends their previous life.
3 Unceasingly remembering you. While the adverb unceasingly might be taken in connection with what goes before, it suits better to connect it in this manner. What follows might also be rendered in this way: Remembering your work of faith and labor of love, etc. Nor is it any objection to this that there is an article interposed between the pronoun ὑμῶν and the noun ἔργου, 492 for this manner of expression is frequently made use of by Paul. I state this, lest any one should charge the old translator with ignorance, from his rendering it in this manner. 493 As, however, it matters little as to the main point 494 which you may choose, I have retained the rendering of Erasmus. 495
He assigns a reason, however, why he cherishes so strong an affection towards them, and prays diligently in their behalf — because he perceived in them those gifts of God which should stir him up to cherish towards them love and respect. And, unquestionably, the more that any one excels in piety and other excellences, so much the more ought we to hold him in regard and esteem. For what is more worthy of love than God? Hence there is nothing that should tend more to excite our love to individuals, than when the Lord manifests himself in them by the gifts of his Spirit. This is the highest commendation of all among the pious — this the most sacred bond of connection, by which they are more especially bound to each other. I have said, accordingly, that it is of little importance, whether you render it mindful of your faith, or mindful of you on account of your faith.
Work of faith I understand as meaning the effect of it. This effect, however, may be explained in two ways — passively or actively, either as meaning that faith was in itself a signal token of the power and efficacy of the Holy Spirit, inasmuch as he has wrought powerfully in the exciting of it, or as meaning that it afterwards produced outwardly its fruits. I reckon the effect to be in the root of faith rather than in its fruits — “A rare energy of faith has strewn itself powerfully in you.”
He adds labor of love, by which he means that in the cultivation of love they had grudged no trouble or labor. And, assuredly, it is known by experience, how laborious love is. That age, however, more especially afforded to believers a manifold sphere of labor, if they were desirous to discharge the offices of love. The Church was marvelously pressed down by a great multitude of afflictions: 496 many were stripped of their wealth, many were fugitives from their country, many were thrown destitute of counsel, many were tender and weak. 497 The condition of almost all was involved. So many cases of distress did not allow love to be inactive.
To hope he assigns patience, as it is always conjoined with it, for what we hope for, we in patience wait for, (Ro 8:24) and the statement should be explained to mean, that Paul remembers their patience in hoping for the coming of Christ. From this we may gather a brief definition of true Christianity — that it is a faith that is lively and full of vigor, so that it spares no labor, when assistance is to be given to one’s neighbors, but, on the contrary, all the pious employ themselves diligently in offices of love, and lay out their efforts in them, so that, intent upon the hope of the manifestation of Christ, they despise everything else, and, armed with patience, they rise superior to the wearisomeness of length of time, as well as to all the temptations of the world.
The clause, before our God and Father, may be viewed as referring to Paul’s remembrance, or to the three things spoken immediately before. I explain it in this way. As he had spoken of his prayers, he declares that as often as he raises his thoughts to the kingdom of God, he, at the same time, recalls to his remembrance the faith, hope, and patience, of the Thessalonians, but as all mere presence must vanish when persons come into the presence of God, this is added, 498 in order that the affirmation may have more weight. Farther, by this declaration of his goodwill towards them he designed to make them more teachable and prepared to listen. 499
4 Knowing, brethren beloved. The participle knowing may apply to Paul as well as to the Thessalonians. Erasmus refers it to the Thessalonians. I prefer to follow Chrysostom, who understands it of Paul and his colleagues, for it is (as it appears to me) a more ample confirmation of the foregoing statement. For it tended in no small degree to recommend them — that God himself had testified by many tokens, that they were acceptable and dear to him.
Election of God. I am not altogether dissatisfied with the interpretation given by Chrysostom — that God had made the Thessalonians illustrious, and had established their excellence. Paul, however, had it in view to express something farther; for he touches upon their calling, and as there had appeared in it no common marks of God’s power, he infers from this that they had been specially called with evidences of a sure election. For the reason is immediately added — that it was not a bare preaching that had been brought to them, but such as was conjoined with the efficacy of the Holy Spirit, that it might obtain entire credit among them.
When he says, in power, and in the Holy Spirit, it is, in my opinion, as if he had said — in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that the latter term is added as explanatory of the former. Assurance, to which he assigned the third place, was either in the thing itself, or in the disposition of the Thessalonians. I am rather inclined to think that the meaning is, that Paul’s gospel had been confirmed by solid proofs, 500 as though God had shewn from heaven that he had ratified their calling. 501 When, however, Paul brings forward the proofs by which he had felt assured that the calling of the Thessalonians was altogether from God, he takes occasion at the same time to recommend his ministry, that they may themselves, also, recognize him and his colleagues as having been raised up by God.
By the term power some understand miracles. I extend it farther, as referring to spiritual energy of doctrine. For, as we had occasion to see in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul places it in contrast with speech 502 — the voice of God, as it were, living and conjoined with effect, as opposed to an empty and dead eloquence of men. It is to be observed, however, that the election of God, which is in itself hid, is manifested by its marks—when he gathers to himself the lost sheep and joins them to his flock, and holds out his hand to those that were wandering and estranged from him. Hence a knowledge of our election must be sought from this source. As, however, the secret counsel of God is a labyrinth to those who disregard his calling, so those act perversely who, under pretext of faith and calling, darken this first grace, from which faith itself flows. “By faith,” say they, “we obtain salvation: there is, therefore, no eternal predestination of God that distinguishes between us and reprobates.” It is as though they said — “Salvation is of faith: there is, therefore, no grace of God that illuminates us in faith.” Nay rather, as gratuitous election must be conjoined with calling, as with its effect, so it must necessarily, in the mean time, hold the first place. It matters little as to the sense, whether you connect ὑπὸ with the participle beloved or with the term election 503
5 As ye know. Paul, as I have said before, has it as his aim, that the Thessalonians, influenced by the same considerations, may entertain no doubt that they were elected by God. For it had been the design of God, in honoring Paul’s ministry, that he might manifest to them their adoption. Accordingly, having said that they know what manner of persons they had been, 504 he immediately adds that he was such for their sake, by which he means that all this had been given them, in order that they might be fully persuaded that they were loved by God, and that their election was beyond all controversy.
1 Thessalonians 1:6-8
6. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:
6. Et vos imitatores nostri facti estis et Domini, dum sermonem amplexi estis in tribulatione multa, cum gaudio Spiritus sancti:
7. So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
7. Ita ut fueritis exemplaria omnibus credentibus in Macedonia et in Achaia.
8. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.
8. A vobis enim personuit sermo Domini: nec in Macedonia tantum et in Achaia, sed etiam in omni loco, fides vestra quae in Deum est manavit: ita ut non opus habeamus quicquam loqui.
6 And ye became imitators. With the view of increasing their alacrity, he declares that there is a mutual agreement, and harmony, as it were, between his preaching and their faith. For unless men, on their part, answer to God, no proficiency will follow from the grace that is offered to them — not as though they could do this of themselves, but inasmuch as God, as he begins our salvation by calling us, perfects it also by fashioning our hearts to obedience. The sum, therefore, is this — that an evidence of Divine election shewed itself not only in Paul’s ministry, in so far as it was furnished with the power of the Holy Spirit, but also in the faith of the Thessalonians, so that this conformity is a powerful attestation of it. He says, however, “Ye were imitators of God and of us,” in the same sense in which it is said, that the people believed God and his servant Moses, (Ex 14:13 505 ) not as though Paul and Moses had anything different from God, but because he wrought powerfully by them, as his ministers and instruments. 506 While ye embraced. Their readiness in receiving the gospel is called an imitation of God, for this reason, that as God had presented himself to the Thessalonians in a liberal spirit, so they had, on their part, voluntarily come forward to meet him.
He says, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, that we may know that it is not by the instigation of the flesh, or by the promptings of their own nature, that men will be ready and eager to obey God, but that this is the work of God’s Spirit. The circumstance, that amidst much tribulation they had embraced the gospel, serves by way of amplification. For we see very many, not otherwise disinclined to the gospel, who, nevertheless, avoid it, from being intimidated through fear of the cross. Those, accordingly, who do not hesitate with intrepidity to embrace along with the gospel the afflictions that threaten them, furnish in this an admirable example of magnanimity. And from this it is so much the more clearly apparent, how necessary it is that the Spirit should aid us in this. For the gospel cannot be properly, or sincerely received, unless it be with a joyful heart. Nothing, however, is more at variance with our natural disposition, than to rejoice in afflictions.
7 So that ye were. Here we have another amplification — that they had stirred up even believers by their example; for it is a great thing to get so decidedly the start of those who had entered upon the course before us, as to furnish assistance to them for prosecuting their course. Typus (the word made use of by Paul) is employed by the Greeks in the same sense as Exemplar is among the Latins, and Patron among the French. He says, then, that the courage of the Thessalonians had been so illustrious, that other believers had borrowed from them a rule of constancy. I preferred, however, to render it patterns, that I might not needlessly make any change upon the Greek phrase made use of by Paul; and farther, because the plural number expresses, in my opinion, something more than if he had said that that Church as a body had been set forward for imitation, for the meaning is, that there were as many patterns as there were individuals.
8 For from you sounded forth. Here we have an elegant metaphor, by which he intimates that their faith was so lively, 507 that it did, as it were, by its sound, arouse other nations. For he says that the word of God sounded forth from them, inasmuch as their faith was sonorous 508 for procuring credit for the gospel. He says that this had not only occurred in neighboring places, but this sound had also extended far and wide, and had been distinctly heard, so that the matter did not require to be published by him. 509
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
9. For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;
9. Ipsi enim de vobis annuntiant, qualem habuerimus ingressum ad vos: et quomodo conversi fueritis ad Deum ab idolis, ut serviretis Deo viventi et vero:
10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
10. Et exspectaretis e cælis Filium eius, quem excitavit a mortuis, Iesum qui nos liberat ab ira ventura.
He says that the report of their conversion had obtained great renown everywhere. What he mentions as to his entering in among them, refers to that power of the Spirit, by which God had signalized his gospel. 510 He says, however, that both things are freely reported among other nations, as things worthy of being made mention of. In the detail which follows, he shews, first, what the condition of mankind is, before the Lord enlightens them by the doctrine of his gospel; and farther, for what end he would have us instructed, and what is the fruit of the gospel. For although all do not worship idols, all are nevertheless addicted to idolatry, and are immersed in blindness and madness. Hence, it is owing to the kindness of God, that we are exempted from the impostures of the devil, and every kind of superstition. Some, indeed, he converts earlier, others later, but as alienation is common to all, it is necessary that we be converted to God, before we can serve God. From this, also, we gather the essence and nature of true faith, inasmuch as no one gives due credit to God but the man, who renouncing the vanity of his own understanding, embraces and receives the pure worship of God.
9 To the living God. This is the end of genuine conversion. We see, indeed, that many leave off superstitions, who, nevertheless, after taking this step, are so far from making progress in piety, that they fall into what is worse. For having thrown off all regard to God, they give themselves up to a profane and brutal contempt. 511 Thus, in ancient times, the superstitions of the vulgar were derided by Epicurus, Diogenes the Cynic, and the like, but in such a way that they mixed up the worship of God so as to make no difference between it and absurd trifles. Hence we must take care, lest the pulling down of errors be followed by the overthrow of the building of faith. Farther, the Apostle, in ascribing to God the epithets true and living, indirectly censures idols as being dead and worthless inventions, and as being falsely called gods. He makes the end of conversion to be what I have noticed — that they might serve God. Hence the doctrine of the gospel tends to this, that it may induce us to serve and obey God. For so long as we are the servants of sin, we are free from righteousness, (Ro 6:20) inasmuch as we sport ourselves, and wander up and down, exempt from any yoke. No one, therefore, is properly converted to God, but the man who has learned to place himself wholly under subjection to him.
As, however, it is a thing that is more than simply difficult, in so great a corruption of our nature, he shews at the same time, what it is that retains and confirms us in the fear of God and obedience to him — waiting for Christ. For unless we are stirred up to the hope of eternal life, the world will quickly draw us to itself. For as it is only confidence in the Divine goodness that induces us to serve God, so it is only the expectation of final redemption that keeps us from giving way. 512 Let every one, therefore, that would persevere in a course of holy life, apply his whole mind to a expectation of Christ’s coming. It is also worthy of notice, that he uses the expression waiting for Christ, instead of the hope of everlasting salvation. For, unquestionably, without Christ we are ruined and thrown into despair, but when Christ shews himself, life and prosperity do at the same time shine forth upon us. 513 Let us bear in mind, however, that this is said to believers exclusively, for as for the wicked, as he will come to be their Judge, so they can do nothing but tremble in looking for him.
This is what he afterwards subjoins — that Christ delivereth us from the wrath to come. For this is felt by none but those who, being reconciled to God by faith, have conscience already pacified; otherwise, 514 his name is dreadful. Christ, it is true, delivered us by his death from the anger of God, but the import of that deliverance will become apparent on the last day. 515 This statement, however, consists of two departments. The first is, that the wrath of God and everlasting destruction are impending over the human race, inasmuch as all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. (Ro 3:23) The second is, that there is no way of escape but through the grace of Christ; for it is not without good grounds that Paul assigns to him this office. It is, however, an inestimable gift, that the pious, whenever mention is made of judgment, know that Christ will come as a Redeemer to them.
In addition to this, he says emphatically, the wrath to come, that he may rouse up pious minds, lest they should fail from looking at the present life. For as faith is a looking at things that do not appear, (Heb 11:1) nothing is less befitting than that we should estimate the wrath of God, according as any one is afflicted in the world; as nothing is more absurd than to take hold of the transient blessings which we enjoy, that we may from them form an estimate of God’s favor. While, therefore, on the one hand, the wicked sport themselves at their ease, and we, on the other hand, languish in misery, let us learn to fear the vengeance of God, which is hid from the eyes of flesh, and take our satisfaction in the secret delights of the spiritual life. 516
10 Whom he raised up. He makes mention here of Christ’s resurrection, on which the hope of our resurrection is founded, for death everywhere besets us. Hence, unless we learn to look to Christ, our minds will give way at every turn. By the same consideration, he admonishes them that Christ is to be waited for from heaven, because we will find nothing in the world to bear us up, 517 while there are innumerable trials to overwhelm us. Another circumstance must be noticed; 518 for as Christ rose for this end — that he might make us all at length, as being his members, partakers of the same glory with himself, Paul intimates that his resurrection would be vain, unless he again appeared as their Redeemer, and extended to the whole body of the Church the fruit and effect of that power which he manifested in himself. 519
“En nos prieres, sans cesse ayans souuenance; ou, En nos prieres sans cesse, Ayans souuenance;” — “In our prayers, without ceasing having remembrance; or, In our prayers without ceasing, Having remembrance.”
“De vous pour l’œuure de la foy, et pour le trauail de vostre charite; ou, de l’effect de vostre foy, et du trauail de vostre charite;” — “Of you for the work of faith, or for the labor of your love; or, of the effect of your faith, or of the labor of your love.”
“Freres bien—aimez, vostre election estre de Dieu; ou, freres bien—aimez de Dieu, vostre election; ou, vostre election, qui est de Dieu;” — “Brethren beloved, your election to be of God; or, brethren beloved of God, your election; or, your election, which is of God.”
“Est vn benefice procedant de la liberalite de Dieu;” —”Is a kindness proceeding from God’s liberality.”
The words are ὑμῶν τοῦ ἔργου. —Ed
The rendering of the Vulgate is as follows: “Sine intermissione memores operis fidei vestrae.” Wiclif (1380) renders as follows: “With outen ceeysynge hauynge mynde of the werk of youre feithe.” Cranmer, (1539,) on the other hand, renders thus: “And call you to remembrance because of the work of your faith—Ed.
“Quant a la substance du propos;” — “As to the substance of the matter.”
The rendering of Erasmus is as follows: “Memores vestri propter opus fidei;” — “Mindful of you on account of your work of faith.”
“D’afflictions quasi sans nombre;” — “By afflictions, as it were, without number.”
“Foibles et debiles en la foy;” — “Weak and feeble in faith.”
“Ce poinct a nommeement este adiouste par Sainct Paul;” — “This point has been expressly added by St. Paul.”
“Car ce n’estoit vne petite consideration pour inciter St. Paul et les autres, a auoir les Thessaloniciens pour recommandez, et en faire esteme;” — “For it was no slight motive to induce St. Paul and others to hold the Thessalonians in estimation, and to regard them with esteem.”
“A l’este comme seellé et ratifié par bons tesmoignages et approbations suffisantes;” — “Had been there, as it were, sealed and ratified by good testimonies and sufficient attestations.”
“Et en estoit l’autheur;” — “And was the author of it.”
See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 1, pp. 100, 101.
“Au reste, les mots de ceste sentence sont ainsi couchez au texte Grec de Sainct Paul, Scachans freres bien-aimez de Dieu, vostre election: tellement que ce mot de Dieu, pent estre rapporté a deux endroits, ascauoir Bien-aimez de Dieu, ou vostre election estre de Dieu: mais c’est tout vn comment on le prene quant au sens;” — “Farther, the words of this sentence are thus placed in the Greek text of St. Paul; knowing, brethren beloved of God, your election: in such a way, that this phrase of God may be taken as referring to two things, as meaning beloved of God, or, your election to be of God; but it is all one as to the sense in what way you take it.”
“Quels auoyent este St. Paul et ses compagnons;” — “What manner of persons St. Paul and his associates had been.”
This is what the original text reads; however, (Ex 14:31 would seem to be a more appropriate reference. — fj.
See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 2, p. 288.
“Si viue et vertueuse;” — “So lively and virtuous.”
“Auoit resonné haut et clair;” — “Had resounded loud and clear.”
“Tellement que la chose n’ha point besoin d’estre par luy diuulgee et magnifiee d’auantage;” — “So that the matter does not need to be farther published and extolled by him.”
“Par laquelle Dieu auoit orné et magnifiquement authorizé son Euangile;” — “By which God had adorned and magnificently attested his gospel.”
“De toute religion;” — “Of all religion.”
“Que ne nous lassions et perdions courage;” — “That we do not give way and lose heart.”
“Jettent sur nous leurs rayons;” — “Cast upon us their rays.”
“Aux autres;” — “To others.”
“Mais’au dernier iour sera veu a l’oeil le fruit de ceste deliurance, et de quelle importance elle est;” — “But on the last day will be visible to the eye the fruit of that deliverance, and of what importance it is.”
“En delices et plaisirs de la vie spirituelle, lesquels nous ne voyons point;” — “In the delights and pleasures of the spiritual life which we do not see.”
“Et faire demeurer fermes;” — “And make us remain firm.”
“A laquelle ceci se rapporte;” — “To what this refers.”
“Laquelle il a vne fois monstree en sa personne;” — “Which he once shewed in his own person.”