Author: The Apostle Paul
Date of Writing: AD 51 (Paul's earliest epistle)
Target Audience: Jewish and Greek believers who gather as a “church” in Thessalonica.
Theme: Living in view of the coming of Christ
THANKSGIVING FOR FAITH
INTO THE TOPIC (OPENING):
What teams (or organizational groups) did you belong to as a child? Which ones made you the most proud? Why?
INTO THE WORD (STUDY):
- What do you know about the Thessalonian church from Paul’s experiences in Acts 17:1-9?
- What convinced Paul that that Thessalonians were indeed chosen by God?
- How did they first become imitators, and then models, of the faith (vv. 6-10)? What does this tell you about their growth in Christ?
- In an age without mass and social media, how do you suppose their faith became so legendary?
INTO MY LIFE (APPLICATION):
1. What kind of “model” are you in matters of faith: Still on the drawing board? A work in progress? Secured in a private collection? On display at the National Museum?
2. Which of the qualities in verse 3 do you most wish to see developed in your life now? How can the group help?
As a result of my conversational study in 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, I choose to pursue the following transformative action:
- More “works by faith” (deeper spirituality)
- More “labor by love” (Christian service)
- More “endurance by hope” (patience in my current troubles/trials)
HISTORICAL/CULTURAL BACKGROUND AND COMMENTARY
Thessalonica is a bustling trade town in northern Greece. It’s the capital (and largest) city of Macedonia with around 200,000 population. Macedonia is in a different continent (Europe) and part of the Greek kingdom of Alexander the Great. Ironically, Alexander the Great dreamed of (and conquered for) a “one world” Greek culture. He believed he was Divinely commissioned “to unite, pacify and to reconcile the whole world.” Alexander dreamed of a day when there was no Greek or Jew, barbarian or Scythian, bond or slave, an idea that Paul will borrow to represent the Kingdom of God (Colossians 3:11).
The imprint of Alexander was everywhere. Paul was in Troas (named for Alexander’s “Trojan” empire). He was in Philippi (named after his father). He came to Thessalonica (named after Alexander’s half-sister). Thessalonica gets its name from two Greek words: thalassa (sea) and nike (victory). Literally, its name means “victory by the sea.” Indeed, even by Paul’s day, the “Greco-Roman” world was still highly “Greek.” The most common language was Koine Greek (common Greek). This is the Greek that New Testament writers will employ to pen the gospels, letters and history of the early church.
Originally, Thessalonica was called “Thermai” for its natural hot springs. It’s always been a famous harbor. The Persian Xerxes used Thermai as his naval base. In 315 B.C., The Greek commander Cassander rebuilt the city and named it “Thessalonica” (after his wife, who was the half-sister of Alexander). Rome later used Thessalonica to dock its ships. Consequently, the city profited as a port in the Thermatic Gulf of the Aegean Sea. It was also greatly aided by its location on the Via Egnatia, an east-west Roman road that stretches across northern Greece and into Turkey. It was a “free” city, meaning it was never occupied by Roman troops. Today, this ancient city is known as Salonika and still has roughly a population of 70,000.
The introduction of Christianity to Thessalonica cannot be understated. It’s conversion to Christian teachings was a critical juncture to spread the faith throughout Europe. In a way, it’s similar to Nashville and country music. Because of its location (seaport and highway), Thessalonica was known as the “lap of the Roman empire.” A common saying of the day: “As long as nature does not change, Thessalonica will remain wealthy and prosperous.” Thessalonica was synonymous with Rome and Grecian influences flowed through her veins. If Christianity was to “turn the whole world upside down,” it would need to start in Thessalonica.
The irony? The Thessalonian church was a baby church. Paul founded the church in only a few weeks. See Acts 17:1-9. The city of Thessalonica was large enough to justify a synagogue. Consequently, Paul spends three “Sabbaths” (three weeks) in Thessalonica before he’s finally run out of town by an angry mob. However, in those three weeks, Paul used the Scriptures (Acts 17:2) to prove Jesus was the Messiah. He taught in the synagogue (because he was a Jewish rabbi and Pharisee) a message that traditional Judaism has formally ended. It’s why the non-believing Jews became “jealous” of Paul. Eventually they claimed he was “defying Caesar’s decree” by saying there was “another king” named Jesus.
The Thessalonian church is meeting in Jason’s house. The numbers are likely small (maybe no more than 15-20 believers). That’s why the mob goes to his house to find Paul but were disappointed to find they were not there. Instead, the angry mob dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials (which Luke rightly names as “politarchs”) and caused a scene. Meanwhile Paul, Silas and his other traveling companions sneak out of town. Unfortunately, this same trouble will soon happen again in Berea (Acts 17:1-15). This is when Paul separated from Silas and Timothy, escaping to Athens (Acts 17:16-34). Obviously, these Thessalonians left an impression upon Paul, because once Timothy and Silas reconnected with Paul in Athens, he immediately commissioned Timothy to return to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5) and Silas (likely) to Philippi. Paul was clearly deeply torn. He later wrote the separation from the Thessalonians was like being “orphaned” and he wanted to return but “Satan blocked [his] way (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20).”
By the time, Timothy and Silas catch up to Paul again, he’s now in Corinth. This is where the epistles to the Thessalonians are penned, as two of Paul’s earliest letter. They are written in Corinth (250 miles south of Thessalonica) as Paul enjoyed his second longest ministry (around two years) in that city. He sent Timothy back to Thessalonica with a letter we now know as “First Thessalonians.” The Thessalonians, concerned about Jesus’ second coming, have many questions upon Timothy’s arrival. He hustles back to Corinth with their queries. Paul will answer these questions in “Second Thessalonians” (penned months after the first letter).
In general, the Thessalonian church is facing persecution as well as false teaching. There were SIX specific issues in the Thessalonian church that Paul needed to address:
1. The preaching on Jesus’ second coming had created a group of believers who had stopped working to wait for it (1 Thessalonians 4:11).
2. The Thessalonians were worried about what would happen to those who died prior to Christ’s second coming (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
3. There was a tendency by some in the church to despise lawful authority (1 Thessalonians 5:12-14).
4. There was a fear that some believers would relapse back into immoral behaviors (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8).
5. There was an element in the church that slandered Paul’s and his ministry. Some thought he was preaching the gospel and creating churches for his own gain (1 Thessalonians 2:5,9) and others felt he was an overbearing dictator (1 Thessalonians 2:6,7, 11).
6. There was a good amount of division in the church (1 Thessalonians 4:9; 5:13).
Discipleship. Fellowship. Prayer. WORSHIP.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer...
"A biblical community for the spiritually curious."
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.