The Thessalonian church Paul wrote to was full of recent converts to the faith, they lacked full understanding of the faith and they were suffering severe persecution. Could these new believers withstand the antagonistic social climate? This book isa reminder that good and faithful leadership, good teachers, and overall obedience is a huge help in helping believers remain firm in their faith. Thessalonica was a major military and commercial port and she had a population of about 200,000 making it the largest city in Macedonia. After Paul planted the church in Thessalonica he was abruptly forced out of the city. Thisaccount can be found in Acts 17:1-10. This left the new Christians with very little teaching in Christian doctrine. As you read this short book note Paul’s repeated references to God’s faithfulness and list the truths from this letter regarding the end times and Christ’s second coming. Watch too for practical advice on living the Christian life within the context of an immoral culture that is hostile to Christian values. Here are three themes to look for as well. First, persecution. Paul applauded the Thessalonians for their progress in the faith and encouraged them to stay the course. He maintained that the trials believers endure because of their faith are not just chance happenings. On the contrary, suffering for the faith is to be expected. Second, Christ’s return. Paul assured the Thessalonians that believers who have already died will be raised first when Christ returns. No one knows the date or the time. It will come like a thief in the night or the birth of a baby. Third, Christian living. While believers wait for the second coming they are to live quiet, respectful, holy and productive lives. They are called to encourage and help each other, and be patient and kind to one another. While a moral lifestyle is not a precondition for acceptance by God, an immoral lifestyle is irreconcilable with the Christian life.
It appears that Paul, Silas, and Timothy were the founders of the church of the Thessalonians. After Paul thanked God for the faith, hope, and love of the Thessalonian believers he recalled how the Good News was proclaimed to them, and how they accepted the message. Paul had much to thank God for: their faithful work, loving deeds, and enduring hope and confidence. God called the Thessalonians through hearing the Good News,and the Holy Spirit convinced the hearers that the message was true. But their acceptance had resulted in severe persecution. They followed the example set for them by Jesus and even in their suffering they received joy from the Holy Spirit. This was made known throughout Macedonia and Achaia. Among the Gentiles the message of the apostles was an exhortation to turn from false gods and idols to serve the one true living God who created all things. Jesus resurrection from the dead was at the core of the apostles preaching and teaching. It was also the foundation of their confidence in Jesus’s return.
The body of this letter begins by discussing Paul’s and his associates’ character and the way the Thessalonians received the Good News. Paul spoke of his visit. The word visit here often refers to one’s entrance into a city. Ancient orators were known for their grand entrances into a city. Paul’s entrance into Thessalonica should be judged by its credible results rather than its lack of pomp or ceremony. Despite the struggles Paul had there, they showed great courage by preaching confidently there. In the ancient world those entrusted with a public office had to be tested and approved. The Thessalonians and God served as two witnesses to the purity of Paul’s motives. In Paul’s day flattery was a common means of getting financial gain from others. He denied that he flattered the Thessalonians in order to be given money. Paul and his associates did not wield their apostolic authority to make demands. Instead they worked for everything they had received as an example to the new believers. Both God and the Thessalonians were witnesses that Paul’s conduct was was devout and honest. These were terms used in the ancient world that indicated obedience to both divine and human laws. In the ancient world the moral teaching of children was a fundamental obligation of the fathers. Some were harsh and others loving. Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he was a loving father. Paul taught that the things God would consider worthy would be a life lived in harmony with the high standards He expected of those called to share his kingdom and glory. And then Paul gave thanks again because the Thessalonians accepted the message of the apostles, not just as human philosophy but as the very word of God. Paul also reminded the Thessalonians that he was not anti Jewish because he loved his own people but he also knew that some Jews had played a role in the deaths of God’s messengers including Jesus. And now they were persecuting the apostles. The mission to the Gentiles was one of the most important issues in the earlychurch. And, Paul complained that their forced early departure had deprived the new believers of their spiritual parents. Their absence was not neglect however. Paul and company tried repeatedly to return to the Thessalonians but the evil one would not allow them. Paul viewed them as not his own accomplishment but as his pride and joy.
After preaching in Berea, Paul left Macedonia and went to Athens. Timothy returned to the Thessalonians because Paul was overly stressed about the new church. Timothy reminded them that suffering for the faith is often a part of the Christians life. Paul was concerned that the evil one had undermined their faith and rendered their work there futile. Paul wrote this book from Corinth just after Timothy had returned from Thessalonica. His report provided good news about the Thessalonians faith, hope, love and steadfastness. They were standing strong in their faith despite their challenges. Paul prayed to both the Father and to Jesus, signaling His divinity as well. One of the characteristics of the Thessalonian church was their love for one another as members of God’s family and Paul prayed that their love would continue to grow and grow, and then overflow out into the community. The final part of Paul’s prayer was for their hearts; that they would be strong, blameless and holy.
The second part of the letter contains Timothy’s news about the church and the questions the believers had for Paul. Paul’s exhortation in the name of the Lord Jesus emphasized the authority of his teachings. He reminded them that the foundation of Christian ethics is not philosophical speculation about virtue but doing God’s will. Holiness embraces all of a persons life and Paul singles out the importance of staying away from sexual sin. This was tolerated across the Mediterranean world. Paul taught that rejecting his teaching on these matters was the same as rejecting God, and that it is the Holy Spirit who empowers Christians to live in accord with God’s will. In chapter 4:9-5:11 Paul answered a series of questions from the Thessalonians concerning love for one another, the destiny of deceased believers, and when the day of the Lord would come. Paul reminded the believers that God Himself has taught us all to love through the teachings of Jesus, the cross, and the Holy Spirit. One of the ways the Thessalonians showed love was by helping other believers through financial aid. Living a quiet life meant being respectable, not causing problems in the community, and working with their hands at an honest trade.
Believers who have already died, or fallen asleep, await the resurrection. Those who didn’t believe grieved hard because they had no hope but believers, though they grieve, know there is more to come. The central Christian creed was that Jesus died and was raised to life again and that there will come a day when we will all be resurrected to spend eternity with Him. Paul is teaching them directly from what the Lord had given him. He wanted the Thessalonians to know that when the Lord returns the dead will not be at a disadvantage but will participate equally in the resurrection. The Greek Paul used here is “parousia” which is the word commonly used to describe the coming of the emperor to a city with great pomp and celebration. God’s trumpet will herald the resurrection, just as it previously announced the rescue of Israel. In the future it will announce the gathering of God’s chosen people from the farthest ends of the earth. Both those alive at the time and those believers who have died will meet the Lord in the air and be caught up. Paul is teaching about the end so that the believers will encourage one another in the face of death. He is not prompting speculation about the end times.
Many people, both then and now, have questions about how and when all this will happen. Paul tells all of us that we do not know the time or day when the Lord will return. It will happen like a thief in the night or the birth of a baby. One minute there will be peace and the next, there won’t. The day of the Lord will not surprise believers, not because they will know It is happening but because they will be ready spiritually. The Thessalonian believers were saved from the darkness of the world. They belong to God’s new order and live in the light of day. We are called to stay alert and be clear headed, in other words morally prepared. Sleep here refers to moral indifference and drunk is a metaphor for those who do not exercise self control. These people will be very surprised when the Lord returns. And then it will be too late. The armament here is the moral life, the Christian soldier is equipped with the virtues of faith, love, and confidence. God’s anger represents Him pouring out His judgement against evil but God destined believers for salvation, not wrath and believers will escape the terrors of the day of the Lord. The promise that believers will live forever is based on Christ’s resurrection. Paul ends this section by calling on the Thessalonians to encourage and build one another up, not to fuel speculation about when the Lord might return.
As he winds up this book Paul has some final exhortations. The first is either a call to honor their leaders or to give them a look at what valued leaders look like. They work hard and provide spiritual guidance. They are to be respected and loved because of their work. But, the responsibility for the moral progress of the congregation does not rest solely with the leaders. The Thessalonians are to warn those who are lazy. They are instructed to care for those who are weak or those who have no social or economic power. Instead of being irritable, they are called to be patient. And Paul told them there was no point in retaliation or revenge. Paul calls believers to do good to everyone, even those who hate us. And never stop praying.Always be thankful and don’t try to put out the Holy Spirit’s fireby prohibiting prophecy in the church. Prophecy was meant for building up the church but they needed to test the prophecies to discern their origin and check their agreement with the apostlesteachings.
The Thessalonians were to reject every kind of evil, especially false prophecies. Greek and Roman letters usually ended with a wish for good health for the recipient. Jewish letters ended with a wish for peace, or shalom. Paul closed with a Christian variation on those practices. God enables Christians to live a holy life and His sanctifying work extends to the spirit, body, and soul…the totality of human life. God will make this happen.Paul bases his confidence on the character of God. Paul commanded them to read this letter to all the brothers and sisters, in other words to the entire congregation. And he ended the letter with a blessing of grace.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W