A Commentary by John Stott
1 Thessalonians:1-1a. Introduction.
*Paul, Silas and Timothy…*
It was customary in the ancient world for all letters to begin in the same way. Correspondents would announce first themselves, then the person(s) to whom they were writing, next a greeting, and lastly (though not always) either a thanksgiving or a wish for the reader’s welfare. Paul follows the same pattern but Christianizes it.
As we have already seen, *Paul, Silas (as he is called in the Acts, although the Greek here has the Latin form ‘Silvanus’) and Timothy* were the missionary team who evangelized Thessalonica. It is natural, therefore, for Paul to associate Silas and Timothy with him in both his letters to the Thessalonians. This does not necessarily mean that they shared in composing them; it is more likely to have been a courteous gesture, since Silas and Timothy were so well known in the Thessalonian church, together with a general indication that they were in agreement with what Paul wrote.
We also notice that in associating Silas and Timothy with him, Paul does not distinguish himself from them by calling himself an apostle, which they were not. Probably he omitted a reference to his apostleship here because what was being challenged in Thessalonica was his behaviour, not his authority. In other letters, however, if his special commission was being questioned, he both asserted and defended his apostleship, and in so doing distinguished himself from those he mentioned in the address. Already in Galatians, while including ‘all the brothers with him’ in his greeting, he called himself an apostle who owed his appointment not to any human source but to Jesus Christ and to God the Father. (Gal 1:1). Similarly in his two Corinthian letters he deliberately contrasted the designation ‘apostle’ and ‘brother’. In both cases he styled himself ‘Paul (called to be) an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God’ and then added ‘and our brother ‘Sosthenes’ (1 Cor 1:1) or ‘and Timothy our brother’ (2 Cor 1:1). There is no reason to suppose that the situation was different in Thessalonica; it is simply that he saw no need to spell out the distinction.
In this first chapter Paul refers to both the church and the gospel. He begins by describing the church of God, which the gospel has brought into being (1-4), and goes on to describe the gospel of God which the church has received and is spreading (5-10). Thus the gospel creates the church, which spreads the gospel, which creates more churches, which in their turn spread the gospel further *ad infinitum*. This is God’s plan for ongoing evangelism through local churches.
1) The church of God (1:1b-4).
It is truly remarkable to read Paul’s comprehensive portrayal of the Thessalonian church. It is only a few months old. Its members are newborn Christians, freshly converted from either Judaism or paganism. Their Christian convictions have been newly acquired. Their Christian moral standards have been recently adopted. And they are being sorely tested by persecution. You would expect it to be a very wobbly church in a very precarious condition. But no. Paul is confident about it, because he knows it is God’s church, and because he has confidence in God. He delineates it in three ways.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.