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Mission to Thessalonica
“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.’ And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason and sought to bring them out to the people. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, ‘These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harboured them and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another King - Jesus.’ And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things. So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the Word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds. Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away, to go to the sea; but both Silas and Timothy remained there. So those who conducted Paul brought him to Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed.” Acts 17:1-15.
Ministry in the Synagogue
Acts 17 describes how the church in Thessalonica was planted - which helps us to understand the background to this letter. Paul would start to evangelise in synagogues, then go on to God-fearing gentiles. He preferred to first speak to those who had some foundational basis of information with which he could do evangelism. Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures. He explained and demonstrated from the Scriptures that Christ had to suffer, that the Messiah was coming as a suffering servant and that He would die and rise from the dead. Some of the Jews were persuaded and a great multitude of devout Greeks believed. The unbelieving Jews were envious, gathered a mob and started rioting, continuing to seek to undermine his ministry.
Scripture Interprets Scripture
We should be like the Bereans, studying and searching the Scriptures to see if the things we are taught are true. All authority comes from God. Any gospel that is not thoroughly Biblical and consistent with all of Scripture is no Gospel at all. The Bereans searched to see that the Messiah is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and that the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.
One of the Oldest Books in the New Testament
1 Thessalonians is one of the oldest and first Books ever written in the New Testament. These are the earliest writings of the Apostle Paul in the Scripture, written AD 50-AD 51.
Thessalonica – Named after Alexander’s Sister
Thessalonica, the capital of Macedonia, was a wealthy city of 200,000 people with a fine natural harbour, a centre of trade, a city founded in 315 BC by King Gesandra of Macedonia, named after the sister of Alexander the Great. Salonica was the name of Alexander’s sister. This was a free city, a provincial capital.
Grace and Peace Come from God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ
“Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 1:1. The Deity of Christ is emphasised.
Work of Faith, Labour of Love and Patience of Hope
“We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labour of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. For our Gospel did not come to you in Word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.” 1 Thessalonians 1:5
A Commendable Congregation
This is a commendable congregation. Paul lists their positive attributes as good examples. Faith without works is dead. Love serves. True love is measured by sacrifice. Hope is patient. God found us. We were the ones who were lost. We have faith in God and repent of our sins because He regenerated our heart. (Not - we repent of our sins and put our faith in God and then He rewards us by regenerating us and putting the Holy Spirit within us.) The Apostle Paul shared the Gospel by what he did, not just by what he said. His example of integrity and Christian work ethic is what he wanted them to follow. We cannot save anyone. It is the Holy Spirit who works within us and saves.
Turning Away from Idols to Serve the Living and True God
“And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the Word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the Word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from Heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10
Joy Amidst Persecution
The Church in Thessalonica was born in persecution, amidst riots and official opposition. They received the Word of God amidst affliction, but with the joy of the Holy Spirit. The joyful endurance of affliction is emphasised. The congregation sends out evangelists and missionaries. The testimonies of their changed lives has impressed many people. They have impacted their community, region and nations. When you are converted, a mark of repentance is to turn from idols and destroy them. In Ephesus they brought all their idols, made a huge bonfire and burned their idols. They chose to serve the living and true God. As the fire of the accursed occultic materials went up, the fire of the Holy Spirit came down in Revival. “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back...”
This is a lifestyle, not a ritual, nor a once-off token. They have turned from idols and are now following Jesus. We see pilgrimage, discipleship, ongoing learning, commitment and spiritual warfare. We have a battle between light and darkness, between the church and the world, between Christ and satan. Here is a clear warning that there is wrath to come. God is not only a God of love, He is a God of light. He is not only a God of Salvation, He is the Eternal Judge. God is not only a merciful God, He is also a God who hates evil. There needs to be balance.
Steadfastness Amidst Suffering
The emphasis on the Trinity. Joyfully enduring affliction. Marks of a commendable congregation, they are evangelistic, they have faith that works, they have a labour of love, they are patient and hope. The theme of Thessalonians is summarised as steadfastness in the face of suffering, being shining lights in the darkness, living holy lives amidst a pagan society. Different from the world, discerning in an age of deception.
In Chapter 2 we see a defence of Paul against false accusations. Timothy had come to Paul in Corinth during his second missionary journey. On the basis of Timothy’s report on this church, which was mostly positive, he hears some disturbing things and writes a response to this and sends Timothy back to deliver it to them. He lists his conduct, which is a good example of how a Christian should conduct themselves. He was courageous, sincere, God-fearing, God-honouring, humble, industrious, hard-working, steadfast, diligent servant of God.
Boldness in the Gospel
“For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain. But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the Gospel of God in much conflict. For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit.” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3. As Christians we need to be bold. (Job 11:15; Ephesians 3:12; 1 Timothy 3:13; Hebrews 4:16; Hebrews 10:19; 1 John 4:17; Acts 4:13; Acts 4:31; 2 Corinthians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:2.) We cannot do this by ourselves, we receive this boldness from our Lord Jesus. One of the evidences of the Holy Spirit’s work is that people go out and evangelise with boldness. It is not natural to want to go and be bold. We see boldness amongst the great servants of God in history, for example, in John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli.
Conflict and Slander is to be Expected
Conflict is part of the refining fires of discipleship. We should not think that conflict and opposition is a sign that God is against us. Our Lord Jesus Christ is our example. He was opposed, falsely accused, illegally tried, crucified, even though He was innocent. So we need to follow in His footsteps and not be surprised if we experience conflict and injustice. Anyone doing the work of the Gospel must expect to be slandered. Jesus was slandered, accused of being a drunkard and a glutton, a friend of tax collectors, prostitutes and thieves.
Tested and Entrusted
“But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness - God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as Apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the Gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember, brethren, our labour and toil; for labouring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the Gospel of God. You are witnesses and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; as you know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own Kingdom and glory.” 1 Thessalonians 2:4-12
People Pleasers make Traitors
We are not to be man-pleasers. People are more concerned about popularity and likes from the world, than they are with: “Well done good and faithful servant!” from the only One whose Words and whose vote ultimately counts on the Day of Judgement. (John 12:43; Acts 12:1; Ephesians 6:6; Colossians 3:22 are examples of people pleasing man and not God.) Integrity is what you are in the dark when no one is watching, except God. Paul reminds them freely he received from God, freely he gives to them, he took nothing from them.
Do Not Be Concerned About the Opinions of the Enemies of God
“For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the Word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.” 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16. Why do you care what they say? They are the enemies of Christ. The full measure of their sins is laying up fire for the furnace, not treasures in Heaven.
Crown and Joy
“But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured more eagerly to see your face with great desire. Therefore we wanted to come to you - even I, Paul, time and again - but satan hindered us. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20. Those who have come to the Lord through His ministry, the converts he baptised, the people who are growing in the Lord are his crown and joy.
Stand Fast in Faith Despite Tribulation
“Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God and our fellow labourer in the Gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened and you know. For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you and our labour might be in vain. But now that Timothy has come to us from you and brought us good news of your faith and love and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you - therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God, night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith?” 1 Thessalonians 3:1-10
The Birkenhead Drill
In Chapter 3, Paul speaks about sending Timothy to help establish and encourage them. The church had gone through a lot of affliction and tribulation. Verse 8 says, Stand fast in the Lord. Like the HMS Birkenhead military command: “Stand fast! Do not attempt to leave the ship. Do not attempt to swim to the lifeboats. Do not endanger the women and children. Go down with the ship.” Not a man on the HMS Birkenhead attempted to swim to the lifeboats, they obeyed the command. The natural instinct of every human being is to flee, save himself. The Lord is saying to the Church who are facing massive attacks, to stand fast! Stand your ground. Do not give in. Take the full assault without wavering. It does not matter how much the enemy may intimidate, or how outnumbered we may be – stand. Stand fast! If you flee, you may be speared in the back. There is no salvation from assault by fleeing. That is why the full armour of God does not include any description of armour for your back. Face the foe. Stand fast!
Abound in Love, Be Established in Holiness
“Now may our God and Father Himself and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.” 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13. This prayer is for the Church.
Aim to Please God by Living Sanctified Lives
“Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what Commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honour, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.” 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
This is the Will of God
The Will of God is spelled out in Chapter 4 and emphasises growing, being more productive. Walking with the Lord and seeking to please the Lord. The will of God is more than what am I going to do, where am I going to do it and who am I going to marry. It is more the kind of people we should be, rather than where. Our character of integrity is important. God's will is more than vocation and location, it is for us is to be set apart, to be different from the world. Do not give into the world’s spirit. You must have different standards. We have a higher call. God's call is to holiness.
Continually Grow, Improve and Increase in Productivity and Effectiveness
“But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside and that you may lack nothing.” 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
Occupy Until He Comes
We are called to love one another, to increase more and more and not be busy bodies who cause riots. Mind your own business and work with your own hands. Work is spiritual. It is laziness that is unspiritual. To be productive, hard-working, caring for and improving the environment is what God wants us to do. When Martin Luther was asked, “What would you do if you knew the Lord was coming back tomorrow?” He replied “I would plant an apple tree today!”
Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the Life
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the Word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these Words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. We do sorrow about those who have died, but we do not sorrow as those who have no hope! Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. This passage comforts us concerning those who have died in Christ, by reminding us about the Resurrection.
Be Sober and Alert - Putting on the Armour of Faith
“But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety’” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labour pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet the hope of Salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Live in the Light of Eternity
Chapter 5 contains instructions for us to understand the times, so we know what to do. We need to cautious and skeptical of all kinds of proclamations of “peace and safety”. Do not be gullible. Be like the Bereans, who studied the Word of God daily to see if these things are true. The armour we are given is Faith, which is our shield, a strong substantial solid protection which is able to put out the fiery darts of the enemy. The helmet of Salvation. The Breastplate of righteousness. As we are involved in fighting the good fight of Faith, in a battle between light and darkness. We are not part of the darkness, which is fear, sleep and drunkenness. We belong to the day, which means being alert, awake, vigilant, steadfast and discerning. We should be comforted in expectation of the Day of the Resurrection of the dead, the Day of the Return of the Lord and the Day of Judgement.
Test All Things
“And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labour among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22
Be Joyful, Prayerful and Thankful
We should be sober and watchful. We should be prepared for spiritual warfare by putting on the armour of God. We should be different from the world. We should rejoice always. We should pray without ceasing. We should give thanks in all circumstances. We should test all things. We should hold fast what is good. Be appreciative of those who labour amongst you.
Be Discerning and Diligent
God's will is more about the kind of people we should be and the kind of attitude you should have than location, vocation or marriage partner. We are taught to be discerning, to be diligent in our duties, to live in a life of eternity. We are commanded to love God with all of our hearts, soul, mind and strength.
Spirit, Soul and Body
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. Brethren, pray for us. Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss. I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-28
Be Discerning in an Age of Deception
This prayer is for us to love God body, mind and spirit. To stand fast in the face of suffering. To be shining lights in a world of darkness. Live holy lives amongst paganism. Be different from the world. Be discerning in an age of deception.
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa