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American Journal of Biblical Theology
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1 Thessalonians, considered by most biblical scholars to be written by the apostle Paul, but transcribed by another person (most likely Silas) is most likely the first written New Testament document, and the manuscripts we have are most likely the closest in time to the original. It was probably written in Corinth shortly after Paul left Thessalonica on his second missionary journey, perhaps around AD 52. The letter was written to encourage and establish the young church in the basic truths of the Gospel, to inspire it in progress in the power of holy living, and to instruct it in the matter of the coming of the Lord. 1 Thessalonians could be subtitled, "A Picture of an Exemplary Church." The church at Thessalonica consisted primarily of pagan converts. It was a Greek city, the capital of Macedonia, and had a large Jewish population.
1 Thess. 1:1. Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Contrary to the writing style of today, ancient letters were started by identifying the sender. Who are Silas and Timothy? Silas, or Silvanus (the Roman name that Paul always used), with Paul, initially shared the Gospel with the Thessalonians. Paul and Silas were literally chased out of Thessalonica because of the content of his preaching. Paul later sent Timothy to Thessalonica to visit the church and to assess the advance of the gospel there. The result of Timothy's visit and his subsequent report to Paul prompted the writing of this letter.
The salutation of an early letter also included the sender’s position, or association. Paul immediately associates himself immediately with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. When we communicate with others are we so quick to identify ourselves with God? Paul was not ashamed of his relationship with God. Consider:
Rom 1:16. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
2 Tim. 1:12. For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.
Do you think that God would want us to have such confidence?
Like many of his letters he starts with the words grace, (charis, yaris) and peace (irene, irene). These words communicated the context of Paul's letter. What do these words mean? Grace signifies the basis of our relationship with God: we are His only because He chose to love us, without any merit of our own. Peace signifies the context of our relationship with God: we are no longer God's enemy. Also, the use of both words together forms a bridge between the two cultures represented by the Jewish Paul and the Macedonian Thessalonians. The two words are similar to the respective words used in Greek and Hebrew salutations. The grace and peace that Paul refers to are gifts from God to those who have expressed faith in Him through Jesus Christ, the bridge between the cultures, and the bridge between God and Man. Finally, it is clear that Paul addresses his readers with the intent that they would personally experience these two gifts. Based on this, to whom is Paul writing? He is writing to the faithful Christians, who come from predominantly Greek backgrounds, who are part of the church in Thessalonica.
1 Thess. 1:2. We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;
Would it not be nice to know that someone might have the same testimony when we are remembered. Is our faith demonstrated so fully that when someone remembers us, their first response is to thank God for us and to take the time to pray for us. Actually, we probably find ourselves doing this very thing when we remember our loved ones who we might not be able to visit regularly.
Paul often mentioned his prayers on the behalf of those receiving a word from him. To Paul, prayer was an ever-open dialogue between himself and God. Paul talked continually with God, and though he describes times of blood-sweat-and-tears-on-the-knees type praying, he also describes times of on-going conversation. We can learn a lot about prayer from that little word, "always" in verse 2. Paul's prayers are continual. The teaching that prayer is only real when we assume some specific posture, or address God in a specific way, or use specific words is alien to scriptural example. Since God knows your very nature and thoughts, one can be in constant prayer simply by focusing on God continually. One can talk to God through words and thoughts as every event of our day transpires. This is the nature of Paul’s “prayer life.”
The word translated "thank", (ukaristeo, eucharisteo) means to be grateful. How grateful are we for one another? Have you prayed, "God, I am so grateful for these Christian friends you have given me!", or do we tend to put our friends under a microscope of criticism and lose something in the process? Let us never forget to rely on the Holy Spirit so that we will always be grateful for all of the people He has placed in our path, and let us never fail to pray for them.
1 Thess. 1:3. Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;
In this verse Paul describes three fruits of the Thessalonian church. What are they? They are work, labor, and endurance. Consider for a moment these three fruits. Are not work, labor, and endurance also common to the world, outside the influence of the Holy Spirit? What is different about these fruits from the same fruits produced by the pagan world? It is the underlying motivation and consequent power that generates the fruits that truly reveal their source and empower their effectiveness for the Kingdom. If we yield to the Holy Spirit, we will find our desires to be changed from what they were before we were saved. What is the motivation for work, labor, and endurance in the pagan world? People put much effort into these fruits when there is personal gain involved. What inspires the Christian to work, labor, and endure? Look back at the verse:
(1) Work produced by faith. Some people think that there is a contradiction between the application of work in Paul's writings and in James' writings. There is none. James also defines faith as the motivation for works.
James 2:16-18. And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 18Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.
Confusion between the writers is realized when it is not understood that Paul’s criticism of “works” refers to works of the flesh, and the “works” that James commends are the works of the Sprit. We can always determine which usage of this word form is being used by the context of the passage. A work that is produced by faith is empowered by God, honors God, and is fruitful to the Kingdom. It is always inspired by God’s agape love and serves to minister to others. A work that is produced without God’s power will be self-serving. The difference between these is not difficult to see.
What is the inspiration for our works? Do we do the things we do to serve God by serving others, or are we busy serving ourselves so that we can have nicer possessions or more honor in the eyes of the world?
(2) Labor prompted by Love. There is a difference between work and labor, as applied in the context of these verses. The “work” of the previous verse is the result of the labor that generates it. Furthermore, the word for labor used here implies an arduous investment of energy. No such implication is included in “work.” What is the source of inspiration for this arduous investment of labor? Why is one willing to invest long hours of time, or physical labor in the production of such works? Hard labor may be expended for the pagan desire of personal gain, or for the Godly desire of service to His Kingdom in a more selfless attitude.
When we invest hard labor in a spirit of selfishness, bitterness, criticism, or anger, what is the result? Such labor will often produce physical exhaustion, and emotional discouragement. When we labor in a spirit of love, what is the result? From such efforts we may find ourselves tired, but instead of exhausted, we find ourselves exhilarated, and instead of finding discouragement, we are strengthened and encouraged.
(3) Endurance inspired by Hope. This word, endurance, is different from the word, patience. This endurance, (hupomone, hupomone), refers to continued strength to stand up under external pressure. How does one who does not know God deal with such pressures? Those who are without God are entirely dependent upon his or her own strength, relying on self or other people for direction. Such people may seek help from any of a variety of worldly sources that offer advice, but not truth. They offer analysis, but not God’s love that truly strengthens. How may a Christian deal with the same pressures in a way that is different from those who do not know God? Like a runner who is running a race, the focus is on the finish line not on the road behind. The strength for the race has come from preparation. The goal is clear, and the source of strength is provided. Consider:
Phil 3:13-14. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
The love that God has for us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, adds a new dynamic to those things that we do. Paul commended the church in Thessalonica for the true motivation behind their work, labor, and endurance. It is worthwhile to evaluate the true motivation for the works that we produce, the reason for the hard labor we put into them, and endurance that we demonstrate in attaining these.
1 Thess. 1:4-5. Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. 5For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
Paul knows these things to be true because he knows that those to whom he writes are saved from the condemnation they deserve. Paul often reminds us that we did not choose God, but rather, God chose to reveal Himself to us, and to invite us into fellowship with Him. His act of salvation is then a simple decision on His part, a choice to forgive us, and to save us from the condemnation that we deserve for our bent to sin. This is contrary to all the world religions which are invariably works-based systems of obedience that testify to our choosing God and revealing ourselves to Him, trying to do the right things to be made worthy. World religions go about the process of defining fellowship with God in a manner that is completely opposite to that of Christian faith. This is what makes the faith of Christianity unique. We have access to God by His choosing, not ours. We are made righteous by God’s work, not ours. Consider:
1 Pet 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light:
We call ourselves "believers." What does it mean to believe? We would probably stat the belief is the acceptance of something as true. Note that Satan believes in God. He knows who Jesus is far better than we do. We just looked at a passage from James 2:16-18. Consider the next verse in that passage:
James 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble..
The difference is in that phrase, "chosen people." God's plan was that he would bring to himself those who would accept God for who he is. Satan will not accept God for the truth of who He is: Lord and Savior. Much of the lost world calls itself Christian simply because they believe there is a God; there is nothing that separates that belief from that of Satan. It is only in fully accepting God for who He is that we will find salvation.
Rom 10:9-10 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
1 Pet 2:6-8 Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. 7Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, 8And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.
Rev 20:14-15 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Why are we who accept Jesus as Lord destined for life, and those who reject God destined for death? That is simply the plan that God chose. Eternal fellowship with God is a gift given to all who will come to Him in faith, accepting Him as Savior and Lord. Eternal separation from Him is reserved for all of those who have rejected Him, failing to accept Him as Savior and Lord. That is His plan, not ours, and there is no work of our own that can bridge the gap in between the two destinies.
1 Thess. 1:6-7. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: 7So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
Here we see some more fruits of the church in Thessalonica. What are they? (1) they are imitators of Paul and Silas and of the Lord, (2) they welcomed God's Word, and (3) they are a model to other Christians. Here again we have an opportunity to consider the fruits of our own lives.
First, the Thessalonians were imitators of Paul, Silas, and of the Lord. By implication, Paul is boldly stating that he is an imitator of the Lord, and he states that those in the church are also. How are we imitators of the Lord? Consider the following advice:
Eph 5:1-4 Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; 2And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. 3But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; 4Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.
We make choices every day in the attitudes and actions that define who we are. We can choose to imitate what we see around us as we are immersed in this pagan society, conforming to its pattern of sin. Or, we can choose to listen to God’s Holy Spirit as we make the decisions that define our daily activity. When we do this we will not be drawn to the “debauchery” of this sinful society, but rather to a walk that is inspired by, and conforms to, the attitudes and actions that are Christ-like. We will find ourselves taking part in actions that produce fruits that are useful to God’s kingdom in a spirit of thankfulness and love that will empower endurance so that our labors will produce fruits worthy of God’s approval.
The Thessalonians welcomed God's Word. How do you respond to hearing or reading God's word? A pastor and friend of mine has a favorite Greek word, A-ni-ma-soos-me-cox, animisusmikox. It is an empowering attribute of a good student. It describes the student who has an active curiosity that inspires sufficient labor to determine the truth, an attitude that will keep the student searching until the truth is found. It is a desire for truth that includes the willingness to put forth the work necessary to find it. The Thessalonians exhibited this trait of actively welcoming the word into their hearts.
Psa 63:5-7 My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: 6 When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. 7Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.
Psa 143:5-6 I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands. 6stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land.
We might gain in the maturation of our Christian faith through an understanding of this long and unfamiliar Greek word. Let our desire for God’s word be empowered by God’s love and God’s purpose so that we will be willing to invest the time and energy that is necessary to better understand the truths of God.
Finally, let’s look at the result of the Thessalonian church’s response to the Gospel:
1 Thess. 1:8-10. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. 9For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; 10And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
This illustrates one additional attribute of the church: Their faith is known to all the region around. Do note that the Thessalonian church was made up of regular people like you and I who had a myriad of problems, backgrounds, pressures, etc. They also brought some of their problems in with them like baggage into the church. Part of the purpose of this letter to the church was to deal with significant problems in both theology and action that had surfaced there. We will investigate some of these as our study in this book continues. Consequently, like ours, their church was not perfect. Yet, Paul writes here some words of deep and truthful encouragement to a church who desperately needed them. Paul later goes on to address areas where the church is lacking and needs growth.
How do others describe us to one another? What would be the first thing they would say? Many Christians would be described by others as “very nice, very friendly,” etc. I recall from my long-passed childhood days that a Boy Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. These are fine attributes to be exhibited in this world that is moving more and more to a self-centered, hateful spirit. Still, though this list of attributes was originally composed by a Christian organization, they can be applied to one who does not know the Lord. A person can demonstrate these attributes from a motivation of fileo, or philanthropic love. Such a person would be described by this world as one to be respected. A nice, reliable and trustworthy person. However, when those same attributes are inspired by God’s love that is applied to our relationship with others, an entirely new dynamic is empowered. We would be seen in a way that can open the door for true and meaningful ministry.
Each one of us is involved in a journey toward the High Calling of Christ. Let us not fail to work together, motivated by God's love, continuing to grow in areas of weakness, never failing to love one another, and pray for one another, and thank God for each other.
 Acts 16-17.