When You Started Out
Explore the Bible Series
December 7, 2008
Background Passage: I Thessalonians 1:1-10
Lesson Passage: I Thessalonians 1:1-10
I Thessalonians is an invaluable resource for the study of early Christianity. Most scholars agree that the Apostle Paul wrote this letter earlier than any other book of the New Testament. If so, I Thessalonians, penned about 50 A.D., is the first written witness to Christ and to the development of the earliest Christian communities.
Authorship: Most theologians agree that Paul wrote I Thessalonians. Both letters to this church link Timothy and Silas to Paul’s work, and it is possible one or both of these men may have assisted in writing these epistles. We know, for instance, that Silas helped Simon Peter with writing I Peter (See I Peter 5:12).
Occasion and Date: Acts 17:1-9 records Paul’s missionary
work in Thessalonica. The apostle and
Silas had recently worked in
Salutation (1:1): The salutation to I Thessalonians
follows the familiar Pauline pattern. It’s interesting to me that Paul does not
employ a Trinitarian formula in his salutations—typically only mentions the
Father and the Son. As in other places,
he included a greeting from his companions, in this case Timothy and Silvanus
(Silas), and he addressed the congregation to whom he wrote the epistle. The typical greeting “grace and peace”
accompanies most of Paul’s writings. Two
assistants worked with Paul, in
This man was held in high esteem by the
This young man joined Paul and Silas at either Derbe or Lystra, during the
Second Missionary journey. He came from
a mixed family, a Gentile father and Jewish mother. We know nothing about Timothy’s father, but
the Bible indentifies his mother as Lois and his grandmother as Eunice. The Book of Acts recounts that Timothy
embraced Christianity during Paul’s first Journey; then, when Paul revisited
the area, Timothy joined the missionary band (See Acts 16:1f). Periodically, Timothy accompanied Paul on the
Third Missionary Journey, and we have reliable indications that he attended
Paul during the apostle’s Roman imprisonment.
Some historians think Timothy later served as bishop in
II. Paul’s Gratitude for the Church in Thessalonica (vv. 2-10): The first paragraph of the epistle centers on Paul’s gratitude to God for the Christians at Thessalonica. His thanksgiving focuses on the following points.
A. Introduction to Paul’s statement of thanksgiving (vv. 2-3): The apostle mentioned his continued prayers for his friends, and thanked God for three Christian qualities he observed.
1. “your work of faith”: This phrase tells us much about Paul’s understanding of faith. Faith is not a passive, inert quality; rather, it is active and vigorous. It involves a strenuous exertion of the will and always issues in the fruit of good works.
2. “your labor of love”: Like faith, love requires great diligence. It takes work to build and maintain the bonds of Christian fellowship. Paul commends the Thessalonians for efforts to manifest the love of Christ.
3. “steadfast hope”: Paul concludes his trilogy (faith, love and hope) with an encouragement for his readers to remain steadfast. Hope, in Pauline theology, is much more than wishful thinking. It entails a resolute confidence and expectation of good from the hand of God. I don’t want to press this distinction too hard, but, as faith looks back to the finished work of Christ, hope looks forward to continued blessings that arise from the Lord’s redemptive work.
B. Paul’s gratitude for God’s election of the saints in Thessalonica (vv. 4-6): God’s choice of his people runs as an essential thread through the entire Bible. Don’t miss the pastoral implications of this mysterious doctrine. These people had embraced the gospel at great cost and hardship (See v. 6). No doubt, many of them experienced the rupture of relationships with friends and family, and the culture of Thessalonica proved difficult for these people who must have felt rejected and abandoned. Paul encouraged his readers that, while they may endure the hardship of human rejection, they were the chosen people of God. Election grows from the love of God, and is evidenced by the saint’s faith in the gospel message, a message that came to the Thessalonians in the power of the Holy Spirit and much affliction.
C. Paul’s gratitude for the example set by the Thessalonian believers (vv. 7-10): Because of rising hostilities in Thessalonica, Paul could not remain long in the city. Perhaps he feared that the gospel would flounder with only an infant church to carry on the work, but these believers flourished. The ever-expanding influence of the church had encouraged Paul in several ways.
faith in God has gone forth everywhere”: In particular, their gospel influence
had spread through Achaia (the Peloponnesian peninsula- modern
have turned… from idols”: Paul emphasized that the Thessalonians had “turned to
God from idols.” This phrase indicates
that many of these believers were Gentiles, Greeks once given to the prevalent
idolatry of the
3. “to wait for his Son from heaven”: This phrase relates to the call for hope that Paul expressed in verse three, and it introduces one of the important themes of I and II Thessalonians, the glorious return for Christ. In this case, Paul emphasized Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the Lord’s redemptive work that delivers his people from the wrath to come.d the