Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians

This is one of Paul’s earliest letters to the churches. If Galatians was the first (which is much debated), then this would have been his second. Paul was at Thessalonica for only a short time before having to leave because of persecution orchestrated by some Jews. Even so, there had been many converts. From Thessalonica Paul went on to Berea, then Athens and then to Corinth. Timothy had been sent to Thessalonica from Athens, then later rejoined Paul in Corinth, bringing news of the Thessalonian church, which prompted this first letter to them, written around A.D. 51 or 52. Although the content is various, the subject of eschatology (doctrine of last things or end times) seems to be uppermost in Paul’s mind, with each of the first three chapters ending with a reference to Christ’s second coming, and chapter four giving it specific consideration. Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians also deals with this subject, with the consequence that these letters to the Thessalonians are often referred to as the eschatological letters.

Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians

[1] Paul’s greeting comes from himself, Silas and Timothy, his companions at the time. He gives thanks and commends them for their faith, love and hope, which, despite the persecution around them, continue to grow and have become known throughout Macedonia and Greece. They are an example to all believers in the region in how they turned away from idols to God and now wait for His Son from heaven.

The manner of Paul’s ministry to the Thessalonians

[2] Seemingly in defence of his ministry to them, Paul tells of how they came to Thessalonica despite experiencing previous persecutions in Macedonia, bringing the gospel boldly, but with plain speaking and without seeking glory from anyone. They delivered the gospel with love and without being a burden to them, being blameless in their behaviour, and teaching them as a father to his children that they might come to know the ways of God. All the believers at Thessalonica can testify to this. Paul and his companions are now able to give thanks for their acceptance of the gospel as the true word of God, having become like the churches in Judea, suffering persecution for their faith. But their time at Thessalonica had been cut short and Paul now longs to come to see them again, having already been hindered twice. His hope and joy would be for them to be in the presence of Christ in His coming.

Further thanksgiving and prayer

[3] Timothy had been sent to Thessalonica because Paul was concerned their faith might have suffered as a result of the persecution there. However, he returned with good news and the message that they longed to see Paul and his companions again. Paul gives thanks to God and prays they will increase and abound in love, establishing hearts prepared for the Lord’s second coming.

Living for God; Concerning the departed and Christ’s second coming

[4-5:11] Paul now exhorts them to continue to walk in faith and to aim to please God. He particularly mentions abstinence from fornication (which dishonours the body), both personally and in relation to another man’s wife, for the Lord is the avenger concerning all these. Their brotherly love should increase more and more, they should work to support themselves and they should conduct themselves in a manner that witnesses to their faith. Probably in response to concerns for loved ones who died before Christ’s second coming (for which the expectation at the time was that it would be soon), Paul makes it clear that believers, living or departed, will all be gathered to be with the Lord forever. In this they can take comfort, but they will not know when that day will come, for it will be as a thief in the night. In the meantime, they are to continue in their Christian walk, in faith, love and hope of salvation, comforting and edifying one another.

Closing exhortations, prayer and greetings

[5:12-28] Paul’s closing remarks provide a summary list of Christian attributes they should display, including respect for masters, concern for one another, to do good to all men, rejoice and pray continuously, and to always give thanks to God. They are to be receptive to inspired teaching, but with discernment. Paul closes with a request for prayer and a charge to ensure this epistle is read to all the brethren.
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