The Apostle Paul wrote two separate letters to the church in Thessalonica; a place he visited on his second and third journeys. In this next post in my year-long journey through The MANual, an NIV Bible for Men, I provide the lessons from both letters to the Thessalonians, written to first encourage them to return to right living and then to correct their misconception about the resurrection and second coming of Christ.
Thessalonica was Macedonia’s capital and most populous city with over 200,000 people. Founded in 315 B.C. by Cassander, a relative of Alexander the Great, who also was one of his generals. The city was located on the Thermaic Gulf, a large gulf in northeastern Greece, across the Aegean Sea from Troas, Ephesus, and Colosse; Paul’s other stops in modern-day Turkey (see last week’s post on Paul’s Letter to the Colossians for a map of that region).
Thessalonica (along with Corinth) was an important economic center for all of Greece. As a designated “free city” in the Roman Empire, Thessalonica had no army garrison within its walls. It also benefited economically from the privilege of striking its own coins.
According to this post from BibleStudy.org, the Apostle Paul evangelized the northern Greece city during both his second and third journeys. A Jewish Christian named Jason, who was likely a blood relative of Paul (Romans 16:21), hosted believers in his home at Thessalonica (Acts 17:5 – 9). After planting a church there, Paul was quickly ushered away since he was being threatened for continuing to cause trouble for Caesar. Acts 17 tells us Paul quickly left for Berea while Paul’s protege, Timothy, and Silas remained behind. Paul then directed the two to join him in Athens and later sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how the believers were doing.
About The Letters to Thessalonians
Paul penned the letters now called the books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. These are some of the earliest letters from the apostle, though they are not in the order that appears in our modern New Testament. (Check out this interesting post I that used for a recent men’s study on Paul’s letters about the ordering of the books of the New Testament).
Paul wrote both letters from Corinth in approximately AD 50-51. The first letter came just a few years after his initial visit to Thessalonica; the second just a few months later.
Paul had received a favorable report from Timothy about the Thessalonian believers. However, he needed to assure them of his love with his first letter and praise them for their faithfulness during the persecution they experienced from the angry Greeks and Roman authorities. The second letter cleared up subsequent confusion about the coming return of Christ and reminded them of their hope in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Living a Holy Life
The central theme of 1 Thessalonians was to live a holy life in the midst of a culture that is hostile to Christian values. Sounds a lot like our current environment, heh? Paul says to have courage in the knowledge that Jesus is with us now and that he is coming again.
- In what ways are Chrstians persecuted today?
- How can believers in Jesus Christ remain strong in our beliefs about what the Bible teaches?
Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians
The 5 chapters of 1Thessolonians open with Paul’s trademark – a personal greeting and a statement of thanksgiving for their faith (1:1-3). Paul includes Silas, along with Timothy as someone who could represent him when he is not there. Regardless of the content of each letter, Paul’s style is always affirming. He states what he most appreciates about his readers. He tells them of his joy knowing they had faith in God and a belief in Jesus.
Chapter 2 reminds the Thessalonians that his first visit there was not a failure. After his imprisonment in Philippi, Paul learned to overcome a fear of persecution to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. He encourages them to live the same way.
Chapter 3 validates Timothy as a co-worker and brother in Christ, who brought good news about their church. He thanks the believers for their strength, faith, and love.
Chapter 4 urges the Thessalonians to continue to live in a way that pleases God by avoiding sexual immorality (4:1-8), loving each other (4:9,10), and living as good citizens in a sinful world (4:11,12). Paul reminds them of the hope of the resurrection (4:13-18) to be prepared at all times since Jesus could return at any moment.
Chapter 5 provides a handful of reminders of how to prepare for the Second Coming. Paul encourages the Thessalonians’ spiritual growth and concluding with some final advice and a benediction with a request for prayers.
Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians
Paul addresses the Thessalonians again just a few months later. Some of the news he received back from Timothy was good. The majority of the Thessalonians were continuing to grow and to remain faithful to Christ in spite of persecution. Unfortunately, there was also bad news. False teaching about the Day of the Lord had entered the church and caused confusion. This led some of Christians to quit their jobs in expectation of the Lord’s imminent return.
The 3 chapters of 2 Thessalonians commend the people for their faithfulness and correct a doctrinal error that led to idleness among the people who understood Paul as meaning Jesus would come any day.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Some in the Thessalonian community stopped making plans for the future after hearing Paul’s teaching of the coming of the Lord. Some stopped doing any work at all, believing that they were demonstrating their faith in the nearness of Christ. Those who did not work became a burden to those who did, and this situation constituted a new problem.
Today, it is easy to become lazy and passive at home, at work, and in our church when we get frustrated.
- Do you ever feel as though your Christian faith has grown stale?
- What can you do to revive your belief in the coming of Jesus?
Chapter 1 again opens with a greeting from Paul, Silas, and Timothy. Paul is encouraged after hearing their growing faith and love for one another in spite of persecution. He says God would use their oppression for good once Jesus comes back from Heaven. Paul said that God will punish those who do not know Him with eternal destruction, while those who live in a way that pleases God will be saved by His grace.
Chapter 2 clarifies his prior teachings about the coming of Lord Jesus. The Thessalonians were in danger of losing hope in the Second Coming. They had shifted to the opposite extreme and stopped being productive. To restore balance, Paul describes certain events that would happen before Christ’s coming and emphasizes living rightly day by day.
Grace Alone. Faith Alone.
Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 to stand firm in your faith, “But we ought to give thanks to God for you brothers loved by the Lord because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and belief in the truth.” This leads to discussions of salvation, justification, and good works.
Because God is utterly just and fair, believers in Him are saved by grace through faith alone in believing in Christ; not by our efforts or works. Grace alone means that God loves, forgives, and saves us, not because of who we are or what we do. The work of Christ, Who died on the cross, covers our sins. We can never do anything to undo it.
- Some people grow up with a belief that what you do or who you are could earn salvation. What was your upbringing?
- Did you still feel you could never do enough to get to Heaven?
Pauls asks the Thessalonians for prayer in chapter 3. He asks that they pray for the Lord’s message to spread quickly and that they are rescued from wicked and evil people. He again warns those who are idle and exhorts them to proper living. As he does for all his letters, Paul’s final benediction states “Here is my greeting in my own handwriting… to prove they are from me.”
God Buddy Focus
Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians reveal the conditions of false teaching and persecution that existed in the newly formed Christian communities. These two letters encourage us to stay connected with Paul’s messages about the coming of Jesus. He says stand firm in our faith alone, rather than by trying to earn our salvation. Jesus already did that for us!
This week discuss :
- Why is it so hard to overcome any views we must earn our way into Heaven?
- What does faith alone look like in your life?
- What are the implications of Christ’s coming for us?
My next post is about Paul’s pastoral letters to his mentees, Timothy and Titus.