Excerpts from Calvin's Commentaries
First Thessalonians


The purpose of this paper is to present a selection of quotations from John Calvin's commentary on First Thessalonians. These excerpts represent exceptional insights either on the text itself or on Christian living. John Calvin was one of the great theologians of the Protestant Reformation. All excerpts are from the Baker edition in 22 volumes. Occasionally, expressions in older English are modernized by us.


"See that no one renders evil for evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:15)

As it is difficult to observe this precept, in consequence of the strong bent of our nature to revenge, Paul on this account bids us take care to be on our guard. The word "see" denotes anxious care. Now, although he simply forbids us to strive with each other in the way of inflicting injuries, there can, nevertheless, be no doubt that he meant to condemn at the same time every disposition to do injury. If it is unlawful to render evil for evil, every disposition to injure is culpable. This doctrine -- not to retaliate injuries but to endure them patiently -- is peculiar to Christians. Lest the Thessalonians should think that revenge was prohibited only toward their brethren, Paul expressly declares that they are to do evil to no one. As vengeance is forbidden us in every case without exception, however wicked the man that has injured us may be, we must refrain from inflicting injury.


"But always pursue what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:15)

By this last clause Paul teaches that we must not merely refrain from inflicting vengeance when anyone has injured us, but we must cultivate beneficence toward all. Although he means, in the first instance, that it be exercised among believers mutually, he afterward extends it to all, however undeserving of it. The first step, therefore, in the exercise of patience is not to revenge injuries; the second is to bestow favors even upon our enemies.


"Rejoice always" (1 Thessalonians 5:16)

I refer this to moderation of spirit, when the mind keeps itself in calmness under adversity and does not give indulgence to grief. Accordingly, I connect together these three things: to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks to God in all things. For when he recommends constant praying, he points out the way of rejoicing perpetually, for by this means we ask from God alleviation in connection with all our distresses. But lest we should be borne down by grief, sorrow, anxiety, and fear, he bids us repose in the providence of God.

Every day there are many things that may disturb our peace and mar our joy. For this reason, Paul bids us to pray without ceasing. Thanksgiving is added as a limitation, for many pray in such a manner as at the same time to murmur against God and fret themselves if he does not immediately gratify their wishes. On the contrary, it is befitting that our desires should be restrained in such a manner that, contented with what is given us, we always mingle thanksgiving with our desires. We may lawfully, it is true, ask, sigh and lament, but it must be in such a way that the will of God is more acceptable to us than our own.


"For this is the will of God" (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

God has such a disposition toward us in Christ that even in our afflictions we have large occasion of thanksgiving. For what is fitter or more suitable for pacifying us than when we learn that God embraces us in Christ so tenderly, that he turns to our advantage and welfare everything that befalls us? Let us, therefore, bear in mind that this is a special remedy for correcting our impatience -- to turn away from beholding present evils that torment us, and to direct our view to a consideration of a different kind, namely, how God stands affected toward us in Christ.


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