Summary: The first in a short series on 1st Thessalonians. This introductory sermon gives some background into the purpose of the epistle and talks about the true work of God in the Thessalonian Christians lives.
A True Work of God
Text: 1st Thessalonians 1:1 – 10
By: Ken McKinley
Well, in case you couldn’t tell, we are going to be going through the book of 1st Thessalonians in our evening services. This is an interesting book. It talks of God’s truth, it teaches on morality, faith, Christian living, and the 2nd Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So before we get started, lets get a little background information on Paul’s reason to write this letter.
Thessalonica was a fairly important city. It was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia. The same place that Alexander the Great came from nearly 400 years before. Paul, Silas and Timothy had brought the gospel to this city around 50 AD. We aren’t sure how long they stayed there, but we know it was at least 3 weeks, because that’s how long they preached in the synagogue. We do know that during their time there they faced serious persecution. They were even charged with subverting the Roman Emperor. We read about this in Acts 17 where the Jews formed a mob and said, “These are the men who have turned the world upside down, and they’ve come here also, and they are acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, Jesus!”
Scripture tells us that the people were disturbed when they heard these things.
Now the reason they were disturbed was because they knew that the Roman Empire didn’t take too kindly to any sort of uprising. They were quick, efficient, and brutal when it came to striking down uprisings and rebellions. And so the believers in Thessalonica urged Paul to leave the city. Paul left during the night and went to the next town – Berea, and then on to Athens. While he was in Athens, Paul sent Timothy back to check on the Thessalonians… just to make sure the Gospel has taken root in their lives.
Timothy came back and he told Paul how things were going and so this letter, this epistle to the Thessalonians is the result of that report. Timothy had brought mostly good news from Thessalonica, but there was a sort of slanderous campaign against Paul going on as well. Remember Paul had left in a hurry from the city, and his enemies were saying to the new Christians, “That guy Paul is no different than anyone else. He was just using you, but he bailed out on you and has left you to suffer for his mistakes.” So Paul has to address that, then there were a few other issues to address, but for the most part, it was good, happy news.
So in vs. 2 Paul writes, “We give thanks for you…” He gave thanks because he was sure of their salvation. Look at verse 4 (read), he was sure that they were among the elect, those who had been chosen by God. He was sure about this, not because the Thessalonians had a lot of money, or because they had a huge congregation, or had a few best selling books on the Rome best seller list. The reason he is sure is because of what he has said in verses 5 through 10. In verse 5 Paul said that the Gospel had come to them in word and in power. Then Paul goes on to explain that their faith has become evidence to other believers in the surrounding area.
In verse 3 Paul mentioned their faith, hope and love. In verse 6 he mentioned their commitment to lead lives of faithfulness. He even says that they became imitators of the apostles and of the Lord, despite much affliction.
You know Scripture says, in 2nd Timothy 3:12 that, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus WILL SUFFER persecution.” So despite the affliction the Thessalonians were facing they were still following Paul’s and more importantly the Lords example. And the fact that their lives were changed, from idol worshipers to true worshipers of God almighty, people in Macedonia and Achaia were taking notice of their changed lives. Their lives were bearing witness of their profession of faith. Their lives were bearing witness of their conversion; look at verses 9 and 10 (read).
Now let me explain something to ya’ll here real quick.
In those days, and in that culture, the gods of the Greeks and Romans were everywhere. Idol worship was a part of everyones daily living. If you were going to plant crops you would pray to the god of the harvest, the gods of soil, the gods who brought rain or sun-shine; and any other pagan, false god they could think of that might make a difference in their harvest. If you were going on a business trip you would go to the temple of whatever god provided safe travel, the temple or shrine of the god that controlled the weather, or the seas (if you were traveling by ship), the temple or shrine of whatever god offered favor in business dealings. You might even offer sacrifice to any idol that offered wisdom, the ability to speak well, or deceive well, depending on your disposition. And this sort of behavior permeated everything they did in the ancient world. From weddings to funerals, to dinner parties, to warfare, to you name it. These false gods were everywhere, and the problem with the Greek and Roman pantheons were that their gods were often fickle, they were often hard to please, they often were at war among themselves, and so a person would cover all their bases and try to appease every god they could think of that might have to do with whatever it was they were undertaking. But one of the greatest proofs of true faith in the Thessalonians was that they abandoned all of these false gods; they gave up all their idols, and worshiped the true God, and the Lord Jesus Christ.