Letter to the church in Thessalonica

From Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles

Not long after Paul first went to Europe, he arrived in Thessalonica. After only three weeks of ministering in the local synagogue, the Jews rebelled and started a riot. In their indictment of Paul and his coworkers before the local judge, they said, “These people—they’re political agitators turning the world upside down!” (Acts 17:5–6). Paul had spent just a few short weeks with the believers in Thessalonica, but he was greatly blessed by them.

Growth in the faith

In this warm, fatherly letter which is one of his first, he recalls their true faith, tireless love, and enduring spirit. They truly touched his heart. One can sense the instant affection between these new believers and their spiritual parent.

He describes himself as a nursing mother caring for her children and as a father soothing his own children.

After encouraging them to continue to grow in the faith and telling how word of their response to the good news has spread throughout the regions of Macedonia and Achaia, Paul pleads with them to avoid sexual defilement because their bodies are the dwelling places of the Holy Spirit and should be kept in holiness and purity.

He reminds them of the riches that belong to them, warning them of Satan’s activities. He then writes of Timothy’s report about their faith.

Timothy had been left behind when Paul was forced to move out of the area; later Paul’s spirit was buoyed when Timothy spoke of their growth in the faith in the midst of a period of stressful days for Paul.

Guarding the truth

At this stage in the development of the young church, they were not as greatly hindered by false teachers as were the churches in Asia Minor. But there were some who came from Judea sowing seeds of unrest.

Still Paul reminds them of his message of grace to the Gentiles. He then turns to one particular issue about those believers who have died and of their standing before God on the coming day of the Lord.

Paul tells them that all believers should have confidence whether they die before the return of the Lord or they are present at the time of His return. All have obtained salvation and should not fear that they will miss out on the joy of the King’s return. He concludes by emphasizing the importance of encouraging and caring for one another while guarding the truth.

1 Thessalonians 2:1

It’s only by the leading of the Spirit that these first-generation church planters find themselves in this most disagreeable city (although it seems there’s no place Paul can go without causing a commotion).

Likewise, it is neither by chance nor by any human power that these people are drawn out of their comfy old habits into a radical new way of living. A miracle really takes shape when, by trading in their old ways of living, believers take to heart the message of Jesus, and their unshakable faith shakes up conversations everywhere.

Kingdom work begins at the surrender of life, by giving yourself away and expecting nothing in return. Real change is then ushered in by the loving touch of the Spirit, moving out from people living transparently faithful lives even in the middle of commotion.

1 Thessalonians 3:11

It is obvious Paul loves Jesus, and His Spirit reinforces Paul in every way. How else is he able to walk away from beating after beating or endure trials of the heart and mind? He must constantly be praying for those he can and can’t reach, for those he is with and for those he has to leave behind. Paul loves Jesus, and so he cannot help but embrace the world as passionately as he does.

1 Thessalonians 4:13

What a beautiful, dramatic transformation! This is Paul’s progression from spoon-feeding people better moral choices to trusting them to live by love according to the conviction of the Spirit, their guide to becoming active participants in the kingdom of God.

Paul is acknowledging that there is a power at work that is much greater than his pen. In fact, the same Spirit that inspires Paul’s words in these letters is teaching the believers in Thessalonica to live as true believers and teaches us still today.

1 Thessalonians 5:1

Many people fear death; perhaps it’s the idea of the unknown that stirs the imagination. Death is the great enemy that stands before believers; but through Jesus’ own death and resurrection, the power of death is broken.

Paul uses the gentle image of the faithful being asleep as a new perspective on the finality of death. One minute you close your eyes to this world; the next you are celebrating with Jesus and experiencing the resurrection of the body. Those sleeping will not even miss a moment; it will all happen in the blink of an eye.