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a Bible passage
1. Thanksgiving and Prayer
1Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; 2Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3We are bound to give thanks to God always to you, brethren, even as it is meet, for that your faith growth exceedingly, and the love of each one of you all toward one another aboundeth; 4so that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which ye endure; 5which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God; to the end that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: 6if so be that it is righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict you, 7and to you that are afflicted rest with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, 8rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus: 9who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at in all them that believed (because our testimony unto you was believed) in that day. 11To which end we also pray always for you, that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfil every desire of goodness and every work of faith, with power; 12that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 To the Church of the Thessalonians which is in God. As to the form of salutation, it were superfluous to speak. This only it is necessary to notice — that by a Church in God and Christ is meant one that has not merely been gathered together under the banner of faith, for the purpose of worshipping one God the Father, and confiding in Christ, but is the work and building as well of the Father as of Christ, because while God adopts us to himself, and regenerates us, we from him begin to be in Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:30)
3 To give thanks. He begins with commendation, that he may have occasion to pass on to exhortation, for in this way we have more success among those who have already entered upon the course, when without passing over in silence their former progress, we remind them how far distant they are as yet from the goal, and stir them up to make progress. As, however, he had in the former Epistle commended their faith and love, he now declares the increase of both. And, unquestionably, this course ought to be pursued by all the pious — to examine themselves daily, and see how far they have advanced. This, therefore, is the true commendation of believers — their growing daily in faith and love. When he says always, he means that he is constantly supplied with new occasion. He had previously given thanks to God on their account. He says that he has now occasion to do so again, on the ground of daily progress. When, however, he gives thanks to God on this account, he declares that the enlargements, no less than the beginnings, of faith and love are from him, for if they proceeded from the power of men, thanksgiving would be pretended, or at least worthless. Farther, he shews that their proficiency was not trivial, or even ordinary, but most abundant. So much the more disgraceful is our slowness, inasmuch as we scarcely advance one foot during a long space of time.
As is meet. In these words Paul shews that we are bound to give thanks to God, not only when he does us good, but also when we take into view the favors bestowed by him upon our brethren. For wherever the goodness of God shines forth, it becomes us to extol it. Farther, the welfare of our brethren ought to be so dear to us, that we ought to reckon among our own benefits everything that has been conferred upon them. Nay more, if we consider the nature and sacredness of the unity of Christ’s body, such a mutual fellowship will have place among us, that we shall reckon the benefits conferred upon an individual member as gain to the whole Church. Hence, in extolling God’s benefits, we must always have an eye to the whole body of the Church.
4 So that we ourselves glory in you. He could not have bestowed higher commendation upon them, than by saying that he sets them forward before other Churches as a pattern, for such is the meaning of those words: — We glory in you in the presence of other Churches. For Paul did not boast of the faith of the Thessalonians from a spirit of ambition, but inasmuch as his commendation of them might be an incitement to make it their endeavor to imitate them. He does not say, however, that he glories in their faith and love, but in their patience and faith. Hence it follows, that patience is the fruit and evidence of faith. These words ought, therefore, to be explained in this manner: — “We glory in the patience which springs from faith, and we bear witness that it eminently shines forth in you;” otherwise the context would not correspond. And, undoubtedly, there is nothing that sustains us in tribulations as faith does; which is sufficiently manifest from this, that we altogether sink down so soon as the promises of God leave us. Hence, the more proficiency any one makes in faith, he will be so much the more endued with patience for enduring all things with fortitude, as on the other hand, softness and impatience under adversity betoken unbelief on our part; but more especially when persecutions are to be endured for the gospel, the influence of faith in that case discovers itself.
5 A demonstration of the righteous judgment of God. Without mentioning the exposition given by others, I am of opinion that the true meaning is this — that the injuries and persecutions which innocent and pious persons endure from the wicked and abandoned, shew clearly, as in a mirror, that God will one day be the judge of the world. And this statement is quite at antipodes with that profane notion, which we are accustomed to entertain, whenever it goes well with the good and ill with the wicked. For we think that the world is under the regulation of mere chance, and we leave God no control. Hence it is that impiety and contempt take possession of men’s hearts, as Solomon speaks, (Ecclesiastes 9:3) for those that suffer anything undeservedly either throw the blame upon God, or do not think that he concerns himself as to the affairs of men. We hear what Ovid says, — “I am tempted to think that there are no gods.” 626626 “Solicitor nullos esse putare deos.” — Ovid in. Am. 9:36. In order to see the appropriateness of the quotation, it is necessary to notice the connection of the words “Cum rapiant mala fata bonos.... Solicitor,” etc.; — “When misfortunes overtake the good, I am tempted,” etc. — Ed. Nay more, David confesses (Psalm 73:1-12) that, because he saw things in so confused a state in the world, he had well-nigh lost his footing, as in a slippery place. On the other hand, the wicked become more insolent through occasion of prosperity, as if no punishment of their crimes awaited them; just as Dionysius, when making a prosperous voyage, 627627 “Comme Denys le tyran, apres auoir pillé vn temple, s’estant mis sur le mer, et voyant qu’il auoit bon vent;” — “As Dionysius the tyrant, after he had plundered a temple, having embarked upon the sea, and observing that he had a favorable wind.” boasted that the gods favored the sacrilegious. 628628 Our author alludes to a saying of Dionysius the younger, tyrant of Sicily, on occasion of his plundering the temple of Proserpine. See Calvin on the Psalms, vol. 1, p. 141, vol. 3, p. 126, and vol. 5, p. 114.—Ed. In fine, when we see that the cruelty of the wicked against the innocent walks abroad with impunity, carnal sense concludes that there is no judgment of God, that there are no punishments of the wicked, that there is no reward of righteousness.
Paul, however, declares on the other hand, that as God thus spares the wicked for a time, and winks at the injuries inflicted upon his people, His judgment to come is shewn us as in a mirror. For he takes for granted that it cannot but be that God, inasmuch as he is a just Judge, will one day restore peace to the miserable, who are now unjustly harassed, and will pay to the oppressors of the pious the reward that they have merited. Hence, if we hold this principle of faith, that God is the just Judge of the world, and that it is his office to render to every one a recompense according to his works, this second principle will follow incontrovertibly — that the present disorderly state of matters (ἀταξίαν) is a demonstration of the judgment, which does not yet appear. For if God is the righteous Judge of the world, those things that are now confused must, of necessity, be restored to order. Now, nothing is more disorderly than that the wicked, with impunity, give molestation to the good, and walk abroad with unbridled violence, while the good are cruelly harassed without any fault on their part. From this it may be readily inferred, that God will one day ascend the judgment-seat, that he may remedy the state of matters in the world, so as to bring them into a better condition.
Hence the statement which he subjoins — that it is righteous with God to appoint affliction, etc., is the groundwork of this doctrine — that God furnishes tokens of a judgment to come when he refrains, for the present, from exercising the office of judge. And unquestionably, if matters were now arranged in a tolerable way, so that the judgment of God might be recognized as having been fully exercised, an adjustment of this nature would detain us upon earth. Hence God, in order that he may stir us up to the hope of a judgment to come, does, for the present, only to some extent judge the world. He furnishes, it is true, many tokens of his judgment, but it is in such a manner as to constrain us to extend our hope farther. A remarkable passage truly, as teaching us in what manner our minds ought to be raised up above all the impediments of the world, whenever we suffer any adversity — that the righteous judgment of God may present itself to our mind, which will raise us above this world. Thus death will be an image of life.
May be accounted worthy. There are no persecutions that are to be reckoned of such value as to make us worthy of the kingdom of God, nor does Paul dispute here as to the ground of worthiness, but simply takes the common doctrine of Scripture — that God destroys in us those things that are of the world, that he may restore in us a better life; and farther, that by means of afflictions he shews us the value of eternal life. In short, he simply points out the manner in which believers are prepared and, as it were, polished under God’s anvil, inasmuch as, by afflictions, they are taught to renounce the world and to aim at God’s heavenly kingdom. Farther, they are confirmed in the hope of eternal life while they fight for it. For this is the entrance of which Christ discoursed to his disciples. (Matthew 7:13; Luke 13:24)