St Paulís First Letter to the Thessalonians
St Paul founded the church at Thessalonica during the early part of his second great missionary journey. Thessaloniaca, the capital of Macedonia, was a large and important city. Its population was predominately gentile, but Jews dwelt there in sufficient numbers to have a synagogue. Paul succeeded in converting some of the Jews and a large number of gentiles. But his success stirred up the envy of the unbelieving Jews, who by calumny and riot compelled him to flee. He went to Athens and Corinth and it was from there that this letter was written. While at Athens Paul, fearing lest the persecution which continued against the church at Thessalonica should cause his new converts to abandon their faith, sent Timothy to ascertain conditions in the church and to comfort and strengthen its members. Timothy reported to Paul at Corinth, bringing cheering news of their constancy in the face of persecution. He likewise informed Paul that the Thessalonians required further instruction on the Second Coming of Christ, and this topic forms the main doctrinal subject of the letter.
1. Paul is the author of this letter. But he writes in association with Silvanus (also known as Silas, Acts 15:40) and Timothy, his companions on his mission to Thessalonica, and now in Corinth. This co-authorship is reflected in the use of Ďweí, something which distinguishes the First and Second letter to the Thessolonians from Paulís other letters.
1 Thessalonians 1:1.
Thanksgiving and Congratulations.
2. The response of the people of Thessalonica to the gospel message, and all that has happened since, is something to thank God for. This little group of Christians has endured persecution. They were deprived of their teachers far too soon. Yet they have stood firm. More than that, within months they have become an example of unwavering faith to the rest of Greece, spreading the Good News far and wide by word and example.
1 Thessalonians 1:2-10.
Paulís Mission Among Them.
3. It is clear that Paulís enemies have been engaged in a smear campaign. The apostle clears himself of their charges by reminding the Christians of what actually happened when he was with them. He did not come as an itinerant quack teacher, peddling dubious wares and out to deceive. Nor was he on the make, in any sense. He came to give, not get, willing to face more trouble while still smarting from his wounds at Philippi. (See Acts 16:22-28). Nor did he rely on them for his keep. The conventions of the patronage system would have put him under obligation to them, and required him to do as they told him. Obviously Paul would want to avoid that, and Ė perhaps even more Ė the odium of the itinerant preacher who would say almost anything to earn a living! 1 Thessalonians 2:1-16.
Paulís Anxiety and the Mission of Timothy.
4. Paul is as close to his converts as parent to child. No matter how far away, they are deep in his heart and thoughts. The knowledge that they are in trouble fills him with unbearable anxiety. Paulís happiness Ė his life, even Ė depends on their continuance and progress in the faith. So he longs to see them and hear from them. He is even prepared to face Athens alone, rather then do without news. So Timothyís welcome report brings the apostle an influx of joy, a new lease of life. His one thought now is to see them again. 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 & 3:1-13.
Live in Holiness and Charity.
5. Pagan standards of sexual behaviour fall far short of Jewish and Christians ones. The pull of the old ways was strong for the young converts. But they must exercise self-control. Christian must not wrong Christian in sexual affairs. Christian love: even where love already exists there is always room for more. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-10.
Paul Encourages Work.
6. Patrician Greeks (noble aristocratic Greeks) looked down on those who worked with their hands (though artisans and manual labourers themselves took pride in their work). And there were idlers in the church quite happy to sponge on the generosity of fellow-Christians. Paul himself worked with his hands. He was prepared to step down the social ladder and identify with the labourers. And he encourages the Thessalonians to do the same. The prospect of Jesusí return was a great temptation to opt out of humdrum daily work. (Some of the people, expecting Christ to come almost any day soon, felt that work was a waste of time.)
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.
The Dead and the Living at the Time of the Lordís Coming.
7. Two problems have arisen out of Paulís teaching on the subject: 1 Some had died in the months between Paulís departure and the writing of this letter. So, will Christians who die before Christ comes lose out? Far from it, says Paul. They will be raised first when Christ comes. And dead and living together will join in the Lordís triumph and enjoy his presence. 2 When will the Lord come? No one knows.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 & 5:1-11.
Obedience, Patience and Charity.
8. Time, or space, is running out. But Paul manages to pack seventeen practical and characteristic commands into these few verses.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-22.
Closing Prayer and Farewell.
9. Paulís prayer is comprehensive: for the whole person in every aspect (Ďspirit, soul, bodyí). Authority (the stern command to read the letter to the whole church) sits beside humility. The apostle, who never ceases to pray for his readers, knows how much he needs their prayers.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-28.
St Paulís Second Letter to the Thessalonians.
Biblical scholars have some doubts as to whether this letter was written by St Paul. One reason for the doubts is that the letter contains words or phrases not normally used by Paul. A second reason for doubts is that the contents of the letter are very similar to those contained in the first letter. Despite the doubts the opinion is that the letter was written by Paul. (The other possibility is that similar problems occurred and, to answer them, someone copied Paulís first letter.)
1. Opening Greeting ĎGrace and Peace.í 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2.
Their Faith and Constancy.
2. The Thessalonians seem to have protested against the extravagant praise of Paulís first letter. He replies that it is only right to thank God for their growing faith and love, and their firm stand in the face of persecution. 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4.
God is a Just God.
3. God will do what is right. It is therefore certain that those who made his people suffer, and reject the truth, will themselves suffer Ďeternal destructioní (permanent separation from God, in contrast to the believer, who has Ďeternal lifeí, permanently in Godís presence).
2 Thessalonians 1:5-12.
The Coming of the Lord and the Prelude To It.
4. (This passage is the most difficult of all Paulís letters. Even Peter found Paul hard to understand: See 2 Peter 3:16!) Paul alludes to a teaching of which we have no surviving record. So that which was clear to his first readers is now obscure. It is better, in some cases, to admit we do not know the meaning, than to speculate. Some of the Thessalonian Christians thought the Day of the Lord had already come. But Paul had never said so. Before that happens, he explains, there will be a great, final rebellion against God, headed by an individual utterly opposed to him. At present there are forces at work restraining evil Ė but in the end these will be swept away. Victory will come only through Christ, when he appears. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.
Encouragement to Persevere.
5. Paul turns, with tremendous contrast, to the Thessalonians. They were chosen and called by God Ė and they responded gladly to the truth. They will share in the glory of Jesus himself. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 & 3:1-5.
Against Idleness and Disunity.
6. Paul stressed the need to work in his first letter (1 Thessalonians 4:11). But excitement about Christís coming seems to have made the situation worse, not better. So Paul speaks out in strong terms against those who idle their life away and sponge on others. They can find no warrant for this in the example that he had set. They should have nothing to do with anyone who refuses to obey what Paul has written. Though treat them gently. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15.
Prayer and Farewell Wishes.
7. But no matter what times may be like, no matter what may be going on around, the Christian has an inexhaustible, unfailing source of peace. 2 Thessalonians 3:16.
Paulís Personal Final Greeting.
8. Paul takes over from his scribe for the final greeting and blessing. His own signature authenticates the letter. (He added his personal signature to each of his letters in the same way.) 2 Thessalonians 3:17-18.