1 Thessalonians 1
We read the origination of the Thessalonian congregation in Acts 17. Paul and the guys planted the church during their second missionary journey. Considering the fact that Paul was there preaching and reasoning from the Scriptures for only 3 Sabbaths (Acts 17:2-3), it’s amazing to see the work God had done and all the theology (including eschatology) that the Thessalonians learned in such a short period of time.
It didn’t take long for things to heat up in Thessalonica, so Paul was sent away and went on to Berea, Athens, and then Corinth. While in Corinth he apparently received a report on the Thessalonian church along with a few misunderstandings that needed to be addressed, so he wrote this letter somewhere around AD 52.
We read in v. 2 that Paul was grateful to God for the Thessalonians and prayed for them always. Verse 3 mentions their faith, hope, and love, tell-tale signs of a healthy congregation. What an encouragement that must have been to him that their faith was followed by works, that those works were not done grudgingly, but lovingly, and that even though they had been afflicted and persecuted, they persevered with their anchor of hope, they knew that Jesus was coming, that their future was bright.
Every pastor and evangelist always wonders if the professions of faith are genuine. In Thessalonica, Paul knew it was indeed the work of the Lord. The Gospel didn’t simply come in word only, but it came in power, the personal power of the Holy Spirit working through men who had also been touched legitimately, there was deep conviction.
The Thessalonians followed in the footsteps of Christ, and His ministers in that they also were afflicted for the truth, but they held to their joy. God did such an amazing work in the Thessalonian church that the word spread in the surrounding provinces of Macedonia and Achaia. Their testimony went before Paul and the other missionaries, they heard how these people truly turned from dead idols to serve the living God.
Wow! What an awesome work the Lord did there in Thessalonica! May He do the same today, through us. May it be the Lord, His Word, His power, His Holy Spirit; may we change in such a radical way that the word of our testimony spreads like wild-fire. When it’s a genuine work of God of course we know the devil is going to come against us and fight us tooth and nail, but we don’t lose heart. We have that hope as an anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6:19) Jesus is coming and He will deliver us, not necessarily temporally, but eternally.
As we go through the book of 1 Thessalonians, you’ll notice that every chapter ends with the mention of the Lord’s return.
1 Thessalonians 2
Many people would classify this chapter as a chapter for pastors. In this section Paul speaks of his code of conduct and care for the congregation in Thessalonica – all rooted in the fact that he had been given a pastor’s heart. I always tell people that, “A shepherd’s work can never be done without a shepherd’s heart.”
God truly did a work in Thessalonica; their coming there was NOT in vain (see also 1 Corinthians 15:58). This in spite of the fact that just prior to Paul’s arrival in Thessalonica, Paul and Silas had been beaten and imprisoned in Philippi (Acts 16:16-17:9). The way I see it (at least in part) is that God did a great work in Thessalonica, because He had already done a great work in Paul and Silas!
By the grace of God, the opposition and persecution didn’t slow ‘em down even one iota…they just kept preaching the Gospel boldly. Their message was accurate, their motives were pure; they didn’t preach to tickle ears or appease men, all they wanted to do was to please God. They didn’t flatter for selfish reasons, they weren’t greedy for gain, they refused to touch the glory or use their position to push people around (even though they were Apostles of Christ). They were gentle, as a good mother is towards her children. Another maternal characteristic they had as pastors is they not only gave them the gospel, they essentially gave them their lives (wow), they loved the people (8).
In Thessalonica they worked to support themselves financially laboring and toiling day and night. Their behavior was devout, just, even blameless as they exhorted, comforted, and charged them all as a father does his children that they would walk worthy of God who had called them.
The Thessalonians had received the Word the way we’re supposed to, it’s not the word of men, it’s the Word of God! This led them to believe in all the promises of the Bible, that the suffering was not in vain, that it was a spiritual battle they were experiencing, and that God would one day punish their persecutors if they didn’t repent – one day God will make every wrong, right. The Thessalonians were willing to suffer from their countrymen, just as the Jewish Christians did in Israel and Jerusalem.
Paul closes the chapter by explaining to the Thessalonians that although they weren’t with them physically, they were with them spiritually. They wanted to be there – but the enemy opposed him, hindered him. Did you know that Satan can do that? He can, but at the same time God is sovereign in all this, which gives us even more reason to pray.
Paul had that heart that every true minister of Christ possesses, his JOY, his crown of rejoicing one day, will be to see the people he loved and reached out to – there they are, home in heaven!
1 Thessalonians 3
Can you picture the great Apostle Paul pacing back-and-forth, wondering, maybe even worrying about the Thessalonians? How would they do under the pressure of persecution?
While in Athens Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica (and probably Silas) to check on them…how were they doing? To encourage them, to strengthen them concerning the faith, double-checking to make sure they knew that trials and tribulations go hand-in-hand when we walk with the Lord (John 16:33; Acts 14:22).
Paul’s heart was heavy, so when Timothy and Silas brought the good news that not only had the Thessalonians kept the faith, but they’d grown in love, that they had nothing but good memories of Paul and wanted to see him again…Paul was comforted and he even grew bolder in Corinth (Acts 18:5).
What a statement we see there in v. 8, “For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.” And I can honestly say that that is our heart as pastors. When we see new believers blossom into “true-blue” blood-bought “bonafide” Christians, it keeps us going. Paul was grateful to God and prayed night and day that God would somehow use his life to help the believers in whatever way they needed to be helped.
So Paul prayed; verses 11-13 is a beautiful prayer that God would make a way for Paul to visit them again – for their love to grow more and more – and that God would establish their hearts so that when Jesus came for them, that they would truly be ready for His return.
When I read this chapter I can’t help but think of the many people I’ve had the privilege and honor to meet over the years – on mission’s trips, or after altar calls; they might come forward after a church service for prayer and I wonder how they’re doing? What a blessing when you get that report – they’re doing well and walking strong with the Lord.
I still remember back somewhere around 1999 I was part of an outreach that took a good amount of time, effort, and even money. At the end of the event when I extended the invitation, only one person came forward. My flesh wondered if it had all been futile – was all this toil, time and trouble in vain? But as I write these words, close to 20 years later I still see this person, from time to time, who loves the Lord and has been on mission’s trips all around the world – and then just last year she went on staff at a local Calvary Chapel!
What joy for me to see God’s wonderful work in the lives of His people! I’m sure you feel the same way.
1 Thessalonians 4
As Paul begins to wind down the letter, he no doubt deals with a number of issues that were plaguing the church in Thessalonica, things that we still deal with today.
That our walk would be pleasing to God. We don’t want to be mere talkie-talkies, we want to be walkie-talkies, to be obedient in both word and deed, with our lips and our lives. “To please God” is the key! Even Jesus had that heart; He said in John 8:29b, “…for I always do those things that please Him.”
Sexual sin is a huge problem in the world, and tragically, in the church as well. We read in v. 3 that God’s will is our sanctification, that we should abstain from sexual immorality. This type of intimacy was given to us by God and can only be blessed within the confines of marriage (Hebrews 13:4). Verse 6 is a heavy warning, that if a man has sex with another man’s wife, or another man’s future wife, God Himself will be the avenger! Consider yourself warned, Paul says.
Brotherly love, and Divine love, proves we are Christians, and we are to increase and grow in this “love-life”. We don’t necessarily need anyone to teach us to love one another and abound in it, for God Himself teaches us this. And it’s not merely mushy sentiment, it’s sexual purity and respect for one another, it’s learning to work hard and not leech off of others. Most bible teachers believe that some of the Thessalonians were quitting their jobs because they were convinced that Jesus was coming and they therefore became loud, obnoxious, intrusive, lazy and terrible witnesses. Wiersbe, “Because they expected the Lord to return any day, some believers had quit their jobs and became idlers and meddlers (2 Thess. 3:6–15). What kind of testimony would this be to the lost?”
Paul closes the book by dealing with their concern for their loved ones who had already passed away; had they missed the boat? Would they still make it to heaven?
No need to sorrow Paul says, as a matter of fact, those who have passed away as Christians will precede those are alive. First the bodies of those who have died as Christians will be resurrected, then those who are alive at that time on earth will be transformed and also rise (be raptured) caught up to be together with the Lord forever. This event is called the “Rapture” of the church; the Greek word harpazo is translated rapturos in Latin, from which we derive our English word Rapture.
If a believer passes away today, they are absent from the body, but present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). When the rapture happens, they will receive their eternal glorified body and then those who are alive will follow “suit.” (See also 1 Corinthians 15:51-52). This is what happened to Enoch, he was raptured and is a picture of this event (Genesis 5:21-24; Hebrews 11:5).
We are to comfort one another with these words.
1 Thessalonians 5
Concerning various prophecies and the rapture of the church we do not know the day or the hour, but we can see the seasons. We not only see the signs of the times, the truth is, we’re living in the times of the signs. When Jesus comes and raptures His church the world will be taken by complete surprise, Jesus likened it to the days of Noah, when people were living life as usual, until the very day the flood came. This shouldn’t happen to believers who know the Lord and know His Word. We should be ready and watching for His coming, we should be sober and awake (6-8).
There are some who mistakenly believe the church will go through the great tribulation period but God has not appointed us to wrath (1:10; 5:9) and the great tribulation is a time of God’s wrath (Revelation 6:16-17), so I believe the church will not be here. With all that’s going on in the world today, in Israel, Iran, Russia, China, with so many signs to see I believe the rapture can take place any day now, I must be living in light of the Lord’s eminent return.
Paul closes the letter with a series of exhortations, beginning with an urging of the body to esteem, recognize and love our spiritual leaders. Pray for them, they work hard and have a heavy responsibility.
What a variety of things to consider – how Christians are called to warn, comfort, and uphold the brethren. We’re called to be patient, to pursue good; to rejoice, pray and be grateful ALWAYS…this is God’s will for us.
What a beautiful balance we see in verses 19-21. Don’t quench the Spirit, let Him move and speak, and yet at the same time, test everything by the Word. A church with the Spirit and no Word, will lie. A church with the Word and no Spirit will die. But a church with Spirit and the Word will glorify God every time.
We are to avoid any form or appearance of evil.
Paul closes the letter in a prayer for the church and a revelation of the trichotomy of man (we are body, soul, and spirit). He also wisely and very humbly asks for prayer. Sounds like a plan, I’ll pray for you, would you pray for me?