The letters to the Thessalonians are a wonderful insight into the world of an early church fellowship. As we focus on the first letter, we learn about the relationship Paul and his companions had built with the Christians at Thessalonica, and also the instruction that the church needed to hear from the apostle.
Along the way, we learn lessons that remain incredibly relevant to us today:
We see how the Lord’s message is spread through word and example, even in the face of strong opposition.
We see how Christian faith should work itself out in every area of life, even those things we might think of as mundane
In the shadow of Easter, we see how the resurrection of Jesus points us to a joyful future beyond death
We see how the certainty of Jesus’ return should impact all that we do
In addition, throughout we learn much about the importance of Christian fellowship, how as a community we are called to encourage one another and build each other up. The apostle, “
shows how the gospel creates the church and the church spreads the gospel, and how the gospel shapes the church, as the church seeks to live a life that is worthy of the gospel.”
This short letter is a mine of encouragement and exhortation that lifts our eyes to the risen Christ and challenges us to lift our hands to work for him. As we study 1 Thessalonians, may we all find renewed joy in the risen Jesus and in our fellowship together as we are challenged to live every day wholeheartedly for him.
Apart from the contextual information we can glean from reading the epistle, the only account of Paul, Silas and Timothy’
s time in Thessalonica can be found in Acts 17:1-15. In this brief account we learn that Paul’
s ministry brought converts from both Jew and Gentile (17:4) but that there was sufficient jealousy amongst the other Jews that they raised a mob, who attacked both the visitors and the fledgling church (17:6). In the end, the believers sent Paul and Silas onto Berea, where their message was received “
with great eagerness”
(17:11). However, such was the jealousy of some of the Thessalonian Jews that they travelled to Berea to continue their assault against Paul and Silas (17:13).
Despite the brevity of his stay in Thessalonica, Paul was able to point to the strong pastoral relationships he built up with the believers there (2:7-12). It is clear that there was a genuine love and a shared journey between Paul and the church; indeed, he has been greatly pained by their enforced separation (2:17-18; 3:5) and his greatest joy is that, having sent Timothy to find out how they are getting on, he knows that they are standing firm in the Lord (3:8-9). This is a church with a special place in Paul’
Making the time to read at least one decent commentary in your preparation will enrich your study time and help you to gain a rounded perspective on the letter. These three are well worth a look:
With a focus on application:
Jackman, David; The Authentic Church: A study of the letters to the Thessalonians
(Christian Focus, 1998)
Stott, John; The Message of Thessalonians
(The Bible Speaks Today, IVP, 1991)
More scholarly, but still very accessible:
Marshall, I Howard; 1 and 2 Thessalonians [A Commentary]
(Regent College Publishing, 2002)
Brief Series Overview
4 May 2014: Acts 17:1-15 Really not welcome
A chance to look at the only account we have of Paul’
s time in Thessalonica. What was his message, how was he received, and what did the fledgling church have to face?
11 May 2014: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 Chain reaction
The spread of the gospel through preaching and modelling. Paul’
s message was both spoken and lived, and as the Thessalonian church in turn spoke and lived the gospel he proclaimed to them, so the good news was heard “
! (v8) How can our emulation of the apostolic model become the vehicle for the spread of the gospel in our own context?
18 May 2014: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-16 Words AND deeds
Unpacking the modelling from last week: Paul, Silas and Timothy looked for approval from God, not others, which led them to continue talking about Jesus despite the opposition we read about in Acts 17. Love led Paul and his companions to share both the good news and their lives; God was at work through their word and witness (v13). Paul and his friends knew nothing of the sacred/secular divide that sometimes infiltrates our thinking; how can we learn from their example and live as whole-life disciples?
25 May 2014: 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13 From a distance
s greatest concern for the Thessalonians was that they stood firm in the face of unsettling news and temptation. He was overjoyed to hear that their faith remained strong, and prayed that they would remain faithful in heart and deed as they awaited Jesus return. What will it mean for us to “
be blameless and holy”
when Jesus returns?
15 June 2014: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 Pleasing God
Living to please God means submitting every area of life to him; Paul challenges sinful behaviour and calls the Thessalonians to a holy life. This way of life is also to be evidenced in personal relationships, and specifically in their attitude to work. What will it mean for us to bring our desires, our relationships and our work into line with the gospel?
22 June 2014: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 Things to come
resurrection gives future certainty for all who trust him, whether they live to see his return or not. All will be “
with the Lord forever.”
However, although the day of Jesus’
return is not and cannot be known, the Thessalonians are challenged to be prepared by encouraging one another and living lives characterised by faith, hope and love. How does our understanding of future hope impact on our daily lives?
29 June 2014: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 God will do it!
Paul finishes off with a series of instructions relating to the Thessalonians’
relationships with each other and with God. But lest the challenges of the letter be misconstrued, there is a strong reminder that, over and above all their efforts, it is God who sanctifies and who will declare them blameless. “
The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”
(5:24) What will this mean for us: how do we balance the call to obey the commands with a confidence in God’
s saving activity?