1:1 From Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace and peace to you!
Most people tend to read rapidly over these epistolary salutations in an attempt to get on to the so-called real ‘meat’ of the epistle, but to hurry past these warm greetings is to miss some important and very practical truth. They were important to Paul, to his readers, and as we reflect on them and seek to apply God’s Word to our lives, we find they are important to us. When my wife and I were dating, we were never really separated by any great distance and so we never wrote each other letters, but being in an all male military school, I regularly observed how eager the guys were to get letters from their sweethearts. There was a period while in school that I was very much smitten by a girl I was dating, and being some ninety miles away, we communicated a lot by letter. I would regularly go to the post office in anticipation of one of her perfumed letters. After sniffing the envelope, which was a dead give away as to its source, I would immediately open the letter and begin reading, but you know, I always paid particular attention to just how she would begin and close her letters. As our relationship developed, this told me a lot about how she felt about me—or at least I thought it did. Would she begin with “Dear Hampton” or “Hi Hamp” or “My dearest …”? And how would she close it? With simply “love” followed by her name or with, “I love you and miss you”?
The greetings and closures of a letter can just be formality, but they can also demonstrate love and concern. These epistolary greetings and the nature of the letter which followed were clearly the product of Paul’s concern and care for his readers as it pertained to the particular circumstances of their lives. So it is important for us to see why and what Paul was doing in these verses to get a feel for his concern and the desires he had for them because this has personal application to us. They express God’s desire, concern, and care for us today.
In ancient times names carried more significance than they do today by way of their meaning and use. They were chosen and often used according to their meaning, especially among the Jews. “Paul” was the Apostle’s Gentile or Roman name which means “little.” Interestingly, though His Hebrew name was Saul (“asked for,” Acts 13:9), Paul is the name always used by the Apostle himself. Contrary to others like Simon Peter (Matt. 10:2), Saul and Paul are never found together. There has been some speculation as to how he came to have two different names.
In Paul’s case, the double name may be explained in one of four ways: (a) he had both from childhood; (b) being short of stature, 2 Cor. 10:10, the contrast with his O.T. namesake, I Sam. 9:2, suggested the second name; (c) he took it from Segius Paulus, the Roman proconsul whom he met at Paphos, Acts 13:4-12; it is in this context that the name Paul first occurs; (d) in self-depreciation, cp. I Cor. 15:9, and Eph. 3:9, et al. Of these (a) is, perhaps, to be preferred.10
Regardless of how he came by the name Paul, in the divine sovereignty of things, it certainly reflected both his call and ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Eph. 3:1-12) and his grace perspective of himself as seen in his statements in 1 Corinthians 15:9-11 and in 1 Timothy 1:12-17:
1 Cor. 15:9-11. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
1 Tim. 1:12-17. I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service; 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; 14 and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. 15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. 16 And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
May I suggest that Paul’s names (both Paul and Saul) reflect the truth of our inadequacy and so our need to go to the great and all sufficient one, the Lord Jesus Christ, through the privilege of prayer (1 Cor. 15:9-11).
His companions are identified as Silvanus and Timothy. “Silvanus” is the Silas of Acts. Silas was probably his Aramaic name and Silvanus his Roman or Gentile name. He was a Jew (Acts 16:20), a chief man among the brethren at Jerusalem (Acts 15:22), a prophet (v. 32), and a companion of Paul on his second missionary journey (v. 40). Later, Silvanus became a companion of Peter as well (1 Pet. 5:12).
“Timothy” was a younger man, the son of a Jewish Christian mother and a Gentile father (Acts 16:1; 2 Tim. 1:5). It appears Paul had led Timothy to Christ (1 Tim. 1:2) though the statement here could refer to Paul’s fatherly mentoring of his young cohort.
More importantly, Paul willingly acknowledged his fellow laborers. He wanted to build the confidence of others in these two men and what the Lord was doing in and through them. There was no jealousy, nor fear of competition. They were all just fellow laborers and instruments of the Lord.
We might also note that in neither 1 or 2 Thessalonians does Paul identify himself as “an apostle” or “a servant” of Jesus Christ as in other places. Perhaps this was because he had just recently been with these believers and no one had called his official position in question as had been done in Corinth.
In summary, what can we learn from the fact Paul included his partners in his address?
(1) He was considerate of others and acknowledged their part in his ministry. He was not trying to hog the limelight or get all the attention for himself.
(2) He was a team player. It shows his viewpoint about ministry—he was not a one man team. He needed them and wanted these believers to know of their concern and love as well.
(3) It teaches us something of his methodology: He was always training others and involving them in ministry. One of my teachers in seminary, Howard Hendricks, used to say, “Gentlemen, never do anything by yourself if you can help it. Take someone along and let them learn from you and with you.”
As usual, there are two designations or spheres by which Paul refers to his recipients: one is local and one is spiritual. Why? Evidently it was because, as Christians, we live in two spheres and Paul wanted us to learn to relate to both and see how each sphere affects the other.
“Unto the church (sg) of the Thessalonians (pl).” Normally, the Apostle wrote something like “unto the church which is at …” So why the difference? “Of the Thessalonians” is a little more personal and seems to be more directed toward the individuals of the congregation. “Of the Thessalonians” means the church consisting of Thessalonians. This change seems to lay stress on the individual concern of the Apostle for each member. Why? Because the members in Thessalonica were under severe persecution and testing and Paul’s heart went out to each member in their suffering.
Further, there is an interesting observation here which stresses the point made in the introductory remarks about writing to real people in real life situations. To note this, compare 1:1 with 1 Corinthians 1:2. Do you see any difference? Here Paul wrote, “to the church of the Thessalonians in God,” but in 1 Corinthians he wrote, “to the church of God which is at Corinth.” Why the difference? What was going on and how does this apply to us? The church at Thessalonica was undergoing persecution while the church at Corinth was troubled by party factions with some member claiming allegiance to certain personalities (see 1 Cor. 3:3f.) as though these personalities owned the church when it really, of course, belonged to God, not men. The Thessalonians needed to be reminded of their sphere of protection and provision which was in God.
The word “church” is ekklesia and means “a company called out.” While it has other non-theological uses in the New Testament in a few places, its primary use in the epistles is theological. As such, it may be used of (1) the universal church as the entire body of Christ or (2) of any local assembly of believers. Either way, it stresses we are a people called out of the world (an elect assembly) unto the Lord to represent Him in a fallen world.
“In God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” pointed the Thessalonians to their spiritual sphere of existence. The “in” (en) denotes the new sphere of communion and participation and reminded them of their new sphere of spiritual life and security. As such, it focused them on their intimate union and spiritual relationship with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. But there is a significant point of syntax or grammar here. The one preposition “in” governs both phrases and links together both God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This has a number of implications. We might paraphrase: “In relationship with God, as Father, and with Jesus Christ, as Lord.”11
So what are the implications this syntax suggests? “God the Father” marks out this assembly of believers as non-heathen and “the Lord Jesus Christ,” as non-Jewish. Also, the linking of both phrases with one preposition stresses the unity of Christ and the Father and is a sure evidence of Christ’s deity.
Note also that I have put the articles in italics (the Father and the Lord … ) because in the original Greek text they are absent. In Greek grammar, omitting the articles does not make the nouns indefinite, but it does make the nouns, Father and Lord, somewhat qualitative. This draws our attention to the quality, nature or essence of God as He is revealed in the Father and the Son. God is one who is both a caring Father to believers in Christ (in the first person of the trinity) and our sovereign Lord (in the second person of the trinity, Jesus Christ).
“God the Father” draws our attention to God’s sovereign power and divinity which are manifest in creation (Ps. 19; Rom. 1:18f.), while the concept of God as the Father is the subject of special revelation through Scripture. Being our Father, God expects honor, obedience, and confidence from us as His children while He deals with us in grace, pity, and love (see Ps. 103:12-14; Matt. 6:25-34). At the same time this means that believers in Christ become His children by the new birth (John 1:12-13; 3:3f.; Gal. 3:26) who are to look to the Father for direction, provision, and protection (Matt. 6:34).
“And the Lord Jesus Christ” focuses our attention on who and what the Savior is to all who believe in Him. As Lord (kurios) Christ is God and the supreme Creator and Sustainer of the universe (John 1:1; 20:28; Phil. 2:5ff.; Col. 1:15ff.). Kurios is the Septuagint representation of the Hebrew Yahweh of the Old Testament. “Jesus is Lord” seems to have been a very early Christian credal confession, especially in Gentile churches. The name “Jesus” draws our attention to His humanity, but He is not just an exalted man, but the eternal God who became man, true humanity, that He might die for our sin (Phil. 2:5-8). As Christ, He is the one promised in the Old Testament, the Anointed One, the Messiah Savior. As Lord, He is also master and owner and deserves the full surrender of every believer and person in the world. Having spoken about the Savior as God becoming flesh in Philippians 2:5-10, Paul concludes with these remarks:
Phil. 2:9-11. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Remembering the truth of this union was to be a source of comfort in their persecution and testing. No matter what our sphere of trouble or pain, as believers we need to remember the spiritual sphere in which we also live as those who are in God the Father and in the Savior, the Lord Jesus. In this light, another text to recall is Colossians 3:1-4:
If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory (NASB).
Paul’s normal greeting is “grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Greeting believers in this way emphasizes both the blessings of grace and peace as well as their source from God the Father and the Lord Jesus. Here, the Apostle had just mentioned both the Father and the Son so that focus is omitted, though surely understood. So while the normal, full greeting is missing here, Paul does this in part at the conclusion of this epistle (5:28). Regardless, the greeting teaches us: (1) there can be neither grace nor peace without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and (2) the fact that Christ is presented as the source of grace either alone, as in 5:28, or in association with the Father, as in other passages, is a clear testimony to the deity of Jesus Christ as one equal with the Father.
As an introduction to the significance and application of this portion of Paul’s greeting, it would be well to compare chapter 5:1-3. One of the signs and characteristics of the last days will be man’s clamor and pursuit of peace. But like a man trying to grasp oil with his hand, real and lasting peace will escape all those who seek it outside of the Lord. The society of the last days, as has been the case with the nations as a whole, will seek peace and safety by every avenue imaginable other than by God’s grace in Christ. Mankind typically seeks it through the occult, through drugs and alcohol, materialism, entertainment, wealth and possessions, religionism (man seeking the approbation of God and men by good works) which rejects grace, humanism, astrology, pantheism, and the list goes on.
For the character and the results of man’s search we might compare Isa. 57:20-21.
20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea, For it cannot be quiet, And its waters toss up refuse and mud. 21 “There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”
Because the wicked turn away from God’s grace, they forfeit God’s peace and in its place toss up refuse and mud, a fitting picture for the consequences of any society that turns away from God’s grace or perverts it in some manner. In other words, societies always experiences the garbage of moral decay and breakdown—breakdown in the home, in business, in government, in religion, in entertainment, and every sphere of life. We see this today in our country in ways that are almost beyond belief when one considers the origins of our nation which were rooted in the soil of the Bible.
In the end time this absence of peace will become global and difficult beyond words. As a result, men will seek solutions and peace in Satan’s man and Satan’s lie (2 Thess. 2). But of course, there can be no true peace apart from God’s grace through Christ.
So we now turn to Paul’s greeting …
William Barclay writes: “When Paul took and put together these two great words, grace and peace, charis and eirene, he was doing something very wonderful. He was taking the normal greeting phrases of two great nations and molding them into one”12
“Peace,” eirene, the Greek equivalent of shalom was the usual greeting among the Jews. “Grace,” chaire (sg.) or chairete (pl.) ‘rejoice, hail, greetings,’ was a normal greeting among the Gentiles, and charis was the normal Greek greeting used in Greek correspondence. These two words were taken by the Holy Spirit into the service of God and greatly enlarged and deepened in their meaning. By themselves, each was missing something. It is only in Christ that both grace and peace are brought together into the biblical order of blessings.
The purpose of the greeting is seen in the translation, “to you.” This is derived from what is called in Greek grammar, the dative of advantage. Paul’s use of grace and peace in his greetings indicates a prayerful concern and desire for his readers because all men are in desperate need of God’s grace and peace, as Isaiah 57:20-21 makes so clear. There is, then, an element of prayerful intercession in these greetings. Why? Because the Apostle desires his readers to comprehend more fully God’s grace that they might also experience the peace which only God can give through Christ who is Himself both the manifestation of God’s grace—the peace maker—and our peace.
At the same time, Paul is challenging his readers (us included) to a renewed commitment to know, comprehend, and live by the grace of God which gives God’s peace. We all face a grave danger—either of failing or falling away from God’s grace—seeking to live by our own abilities or works and strategies for life (see Jer. 2:12-13; 17:5; Gal. 5:4; Heb. 12:15).
This couplet of blessing is essential, an absolute necessity for life and ministry. Grace and peace compose the stuff out of which strength, capacity, and encouragement are made of.
Biblically speaking, peace is always the product of knowing and appropriating the Grace of God in Jesus Christ. This order can never be reversed. Ignore the grace of God and you forfeit the peace of God. Peace is the product of grace (2 Pet. 1:2-4). So Peter exhorts us, “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). The more we grasp and experience the grace of God, the more capacity we have to experience the many wonderful aspects of God’s peace.
Understanding the nature of God’s grace and peace in all their elements and aspects is tremendously important, but rather than giving space to this within this commentary please see the study entitled, “Grace and Peace” in the “Bible Studies / Spiritual Life / Miscellaneous” section of our Biblical Studies Foundation web site at www.bible.org.