Summary: An introduction and the church at thessalonica
Today the art of letter writing seems to be dying. What with email, text messaging etc people no longer seem to write a letter to anyone. Now I am one of those who uses text messages and email but I love receiving a letter and I quite enjoy writing letters to people. I enjoy reading letters – especially long correspondences over many years. The NT has many letters and just like our they have a formal way of starting and ending. We have them in chapters and verses so that it is easier for us to find our way around when we are studying and reading them, especially in public. But please keep in mind that they were letters of their day. So we must first and foremost understand the situation into which Paul was writing this letter and then bring it into 2002. So let me begin by setting the background to this first letter of Paul’s to the Thessalonians.
In Acts 1536 we reads of Paul beginning his second missionary journey. Paul completed three missionary journeys and then he had a missionary journey to Rome where he was eventually martyred for the Christian faith. His first missionary journey was really a local journey – he travelled through Cyprus, Syria and south Galatia. The second journey we read about in Acts 15-17 – he moved out west and was prevented from going any further, again he was prevented from going north so he decided to go north west. In Acts 16 verse 9 he has a vision of a Macedonian man calling him and he goes in that direction. He heads form Troas to Philippi and then on to Thessalonica. Thessalonica was the largest city in Macedonia and it had a very fine harbour on the Aegean sea. Thessalonica was a Greek city but it had a large number of Roman and Jewish inhabitants. It had in fact a well established synagogue and that is where Paul goes to preach the gospel. He goes into the synagogue for two reasons. Firstly that is where there would be a ready congregation of people and secondly the synagogue would have copies of the Scriptures and Paul could read from them and speak about Christ from them. The synagogue in Thessalonica, like many others, would have had a main body of Jews augmented by a number of God-fearing gentiles. Men and women who were attracted to Judaism because of its monotheism and its high morality. We read in Acts 17 that some Jews and Greek women are converted in Thessalonica and a church is established. Paul however has to quickly move on because he is opposed by some Jews in the city and out of care and concern for the new converts he moves on to Berea. He is not long in Berea when the same people make it impossible for him to stay there and he moves on again to Corinth. Paul is genuinely concerned about the well being of the Thessalonian Christians and so he sends Timothy to them to find out how they are getting on in the hostile environment of Thessalonica. Timothy brings back good news about their growth in the faith and Paul pens this first epistle or letter in response to the news. He has many things which he wishes to teach them and these we will hear and learn about over the next months. He wants to teach them about the second coming of Christ, to be holy in their living, to assure them of his love for them and to defend his character before them and in so doing to defend the gospel before them.
I Thess. 11-4 Security of the Church.
Security is a very important thing to many people. We lock away our valuables. Armed guards are posted at important buildings. Some times in the paper we read of daring robberies. We read of places which people thought were secure and they were not. We often speak about people being secure in themselves. Paul begins his letter to the Thessalonian believers assuring them of their eternal security. So let us look at this first chapter in a little more detail.
Verse 1 – Paul, Silas and Timothy – standard greeting for a letter. Note Paul does not mention his apostleship in this letter – because it was not questioned by the Thessalonians. Silas had travelled with Paul to Thessalonica on the second journey and in Acts 15 he is noted for his reliability and consistency even in the face of much opposition. Although Timothy was not with him when he first visited Thessalonica they knew him because Paul had sent him to bring word of the church there back to him.
In God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Now I want us to stop there for a moment and I want us to read that line again. It is no accident that Paul greets them as ‘in God the Father’. Compare this beginning with those of the letter to Philippi or to Corinth. Can you see the difference? Paul immediately wants them to understand where there security is. He wants them to understand at the very beginning of the letter that they are in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Geographically they are in Thessalonica but spiritually and eternally they are in God. Even though they live in a hostile environment and numerically they are not big they are secure because they are in God. Do you know that today in turkey there are only 100 known Christians in a population of 43 million. In Chad there is only one known Christian woman. Where would you find security if you were those people living in a hostile environment? The church is in God – he is the source and the sustainer of its life and therefore Paul wants them to know that security right at the very beginning.