1 Thessalonians Commentary
The letters (called epistles) from Paul to Thessalonica, which included I Thessalonians and II Thessalonians were probably two of the earliest letters Paul had written which was around A.D. 50 or 51. Paul wrote these letters in response to Timothy’s report that the Thessalonians’ church was prospering despite intense persecution from factions. Unscrupulous men from the Jewish community had sent men to stir up animosity toward the Christians who they identified as straying from Judaism. These Jews stirred up a riot in which Paul, Silas, and Timothy had to flee for their lives during the middle of the night.
The residents and recipients of Thessalonica resided in a huge city with estimates of 200,000 citizens. Immorality abounded as the norm in the pagan Greek religions there. Today it might have been called “sin city.” Sitting in a prime spot of wealth and influence as the chief port of the Roman province of Macedonia, this city was one of the crown jewels of the Roman shipping and receiving centers and Roman citizens had many freedoms there because it had the status of a “free city.” That meant that Thessalonica citizens had self-rule. Thessalonica had many great influential citizens of Rome dwelling there since it was the provincial capital of Macedonia.
The purpose behind I Thessalonians is multifaceted. Part of Paul’s letter was to expose the false teachers in the church there. They were obviously in it for money and prestige. He was also disputing the false charge that he had left in a hurry because of a charge of hypocrisy that the false teachers had accused him of.
Paul was also interested in encouraging the Thessalonians in their persecutions and to strengthen their resolve for Jesus Christ and the gospel‘s sake. He wants the Thessalonians to understand that persecution was to be expected as part of the cost of their faith.
Paul’s practical instructions and exhortations are universally applicable throughout the church’s history even up to today. One of these were for the reasons of having godly conduct. They are to live to please God and not men and their conduct is to be motivated by a love for God. Pleasing God is also living a chaste life and avoiding sexual immorality as they are called to be holy just as God is holy. This was exceedingly more difficult in Thessalonica. Paul reinforced the idea that knowing God is an important way to avoid immorality and having godly conduct. Believers are called to holiness and that living a holy life glorifies God which is His will. Living a holy life is not possible by human effort but only by the power of an indwelling Holy Spirit.
Paul also addressed what many call the “rapture.” This is where the saints of God are taken up into the air to be with the Lord, thereby avoiding the Great Day of the Lord, or the Great Tribulation. Even though the word rapture doesn’t appear in the Bible, neither does the word Trinity, yet we know from the Bible that there is a Triune God family; The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. The Thessalonians were worried that those who had already died would miss this gathering up but Paul reassures the church that those who are still alive will not precede those who are already deceased. The Lord will not forget them and they will also meet those saints who are alive at His Second Advent and be with them and the Lord forever (4:13-18). Even though the word rapture is not in the Bible, the word Paul used for “caught up” (v 17) is a Greek word, “harpazo.” Harpazo literally means: to seize, carry off by force, to claim for one’s self, or to snatch out or away. It is very close in meaning to the word kidnapping, but in this case, the “victim” is a willing member.
1 Thessalonians Summary
Paul addressed the Thessalonians but his instructions apply to all Christians in the Body of Christ throughout the ages. He directs Christians to have respect for church leaders since many of them devote their own time and energies into serving the church as well as working in secular occupations. Paul was bi-vocational and many pastors, elders, deacons, and church leaders today work outside of the church to support themselves. Holding someone in “high regard” means to give them all due respect.
Christians are also exhorted to not be lax in their duties and to encourage those who need the encouragement. Showing patience with others displays the love of God which is empowered by the Holy Spirit. To love one another means not responding with retaliation to unkind acts when done to them which was a frequent occurrence for the church at Thessalonica. Living a holy life and that this is impossible to do so without the power of the Holy Spirit. Part of living a holy life is to be full of joy, thanksgiving, and to be continually in prayer.
Paul also tells this church, and by extension all believers, that they should be in prayer as often as possible and also be giving thanks to God in all situations because God is working all things out for the best. He tells the church membership to use Scripture as the acid test as to whether teachings are from God or not and to reject what is scripturally unsound.
The exhortations that Paul gave were to protect the church from false beliefs concerning the Lord’s return. Paul warned “those who are idle” because they were abandoning their work responsibilities and their lazy and disorderly conduct was hurting the church. They had this disorderly conduct when they were depending upon others in the church for support since they believed that the Lord’s return was imminent. Paul used himself as an example that he was not lazy and worked to support himself. He was not depending upon others for support and was not a “burden to any.” Paul worked despite his right to be supported by the church for his ministry but forgo this right to be an example to believers. Paul was saying that Christians should not be using other Christians to support them and should be self-supporting as he was. The principle was that if no one works, neither shall he eat. Paul was irritated by the fact that they were taking advantage of other Christians who did work and support themselves and those who did not work and were waiting for the Lord‘s return. He was saying in effect that meddling in the affairs of others was unprofitable for the church. Instead they ought to settle down and work and not use others and take advantage of other people’s generosity. Discipline of those idle members of the church may be necessary with the goal of bringing them to repentance which was really for their own good. But the other extreme was a danger too so Paul clarified in his writings by saying that they should be welcomed back warmly by the church in brotherly fashion if they repented and to not hold it against them. This is still the basic tenet in church discipline being used today for those who are clearly being disobedient or are openly sinning. This is one of the most difficult things for church leaders to do, yet it is in the disobedient church member’s and in the church’s best interest.
1 Thessalonians Key Verses
I Thessalonians 1:2 “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.”
I Thessalonians 1:5 “because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.”
I Thessalonians 2:6-7 “We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. 7 Instead, we were like young children among you.”
I Thessalonians 2:12 “encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”
I Thessalonians 3:13 “May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”
I Thessalonians 4:3 “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality.”
I Thessalonians 4:11 “and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you.”
I Thessalonians 4:13-18 “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
I Thessalonians 5:2-6 “for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.”
I Thessalonians 5:9 “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I Thessalonians 5:17-19 “Pray continually. give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit.”
What is your favorite Bible verse from the book of First Thessalonians? Share it in the comments!
The Holy Bible, New International Version
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