1 Thessalonians 1

1 This letter is believed to be one of the first that Paul wrote. Thessalonica was a large, cosmopolitan city that Paul visited on his second missionary journey in 51 AD (Acts 17:1-9). Paul had sent Timothy back to Thessalonica from Athens. Timothy brought back a good report and some questions to Paul in Corinth, and this was Paul's reply.

Thessalonica was founded in 315 BC by Cassander, One of Alexander the Great's four generals who divided the Greek Empire. He named the city after his wife, Thessalonike, a half-sister to Alexander. Formerly, the city had been called Therma because of the hot springs in that area. Today it is known as Salonika.

Thessalonica had an excellent harbor, and was situated at the end of the trade route from the Danube. It naturally became one of the most important commercial centers in Greece. After the Romans took over, it retained its Greek culture, and was made the capital of Macedonia in 146 BC. It remained a "free" city, meaning that there were no Roman troops stationed there and they minted their own coins.

The letter starts with a standard Hellenistic greeting listing the authors, recipients, blessing, and a prayer for the church in Thessalonica. Paul, of course, was the lead missionary during the early years of the Church. Silas (a.k.a. Silvanus) took Barnabas' place during Paul's second missionary journey (Acts 15:39,40), and Timothy had joined the team in Lystra (Acts 16:1-3). Their inclusion here recognizes their work among the Thessalonians and shows that they are in agreement with what is in the letter.

Paul uses phrasing that emphasizes the church's relationship with God (like father and child) and Christ (as lord and subject). This combines the warmth of the relationship as well as the proper authority structure. The phrasing assures the church that they are surrounded by God's love, and that they are spiritually protected from the world (John 17:21-23). Paul then combines the Greek and Hebrew greetings of "grace" and "peace" (shalom). In this context, both of these blessings flow out of the relationship of the church with God.

2 The Thessalonian church had proven to be a model church - strong and able to stand up against persecution. However, Paul and his companions were aware that both the strong and the weak need prayer.
3 The practice of the Gospel manifests itself in all kinds of good works and spiritual fruits. Paul specifically emphasizes the role that faith, hope, and love have in motivating believers to action. These are in chronological order - past faith leads to work, present love to labor, and future hope to endurance.

Note that work does not produce faith, rather, faith prompts believers to work. Love motivates Christians when the work is difficult. Hope is waiting in confidence that God will fulfill His promises in our lives no matter what the circumstances may be. All of these motivators stem from Jesus, but Paul emphasizes the future hope in this letter.

Paul kept all these things in his prayers to God. He gave thanks for the results from the church, and prayed for their future endeavors.

4 God always initiates His relationships with people. He chooses when, how, and to whom the Gospel is preached. He can not force people to love or even respond positively to Him, but that response is necessary to complete the relationship. God's actions and choices are neither arbitrary nor wrong. God knows exactly who will love Him and under what conditions that relationship with begin. He has carefully planned everything to reach everyone who will be saved successfully. Many hear the Gospel, but choose to respond negatively to it. God will be glorified through His right to judge them for rejecting Him, but He would much rather be glorified by people's voluntary acknowledgement of and love towards Him.

God had chosen to send Paul and his companions to Thessalonica to share the Gospel there. The acceptance of the Gospel by some of the people demonstrated that Paul had faithfully done as God directed, and gave him another reason to give thanks.

5 The Gospel is not mere words. The Holy Spirit gives power to the proclamation of God about the salvation, transformation, and eternal life that are available through faith in Jesus. It is through the Holy Spirit that the words of the Gospel motivate people to respond to God in a positive way. When people believe the Gospel, the power of God is demonstrated through changed lives and miraculous signs. The urgency and faithfulness in which the apostles preached and practiced the Gospel made it clear that they themselves were convinced of the message.
6 Jesus is the ultimate role model for every Christian. However, it is sometimes easier for us to see this demonstrated in everyday life by the examples of others who are following Him. Every Christian should strive to be a good role model, so that in following us, others will be shown how to follow Christ. This is a practice called "discipleship."

The world opposes the Gospel, and this negative reaction is disturbing to Christians. Many Christians suffer in various ways as the more vigorous opponents attempt to silence them and limit the Gospel's influence. Even in modern times, there are places where Christians are actively sought out and killed. In less violent cultures, political and social pressure is used to stifle the message. However, no matter what the world's reaction is, the Christian has a joy that can not be taken away. The Holy Spirit Himself provides this joy.

7 The church in Thessalonica was following the Lord so well that they had become a role model for other church bodies in Macedonia and Achaia (i.e., Greece). Being and example is not intended to be merely an individual effort. Entire church bodies should be examples for one another.
8 Paul likens the testimony of what God did in Thessalonica to a loud trumpet call or clap of thunder that "sounded forth" far and wide. The work of the church in Thessalonica was evident to everyone, and its good reputation spread rapidly. Paul found that when he visited other places that he did not need to tell others about this church -- the people had already heard about it from other sources. There were many travelers through the port city of Thessalonica, and these apparently spread the good word about these Christians and their faith.
9 The testimony of this church is that they received the Gospel from Paul and his fellow missionaries, and it dramatically transformed them. They changed from a pagan people to godly people, and everyone was talking about it. Undoubtedly, this is the kind of testimony every church should desire -- to see the life-changing and life-giving work of God manifested in its members. Christians delight in seeing people turn to the true and living God and stop worshiping false gods and lifeless things.
10 This church was not only interested in how God was working in them at the time, but they had an eye on the future and eagerly awaited Jesus' Second Coming. Obviously, this did not happen in their lifetime, but the twofold vision of the Church should still be on God's present work and the anticipation of God's final judgement and restoration. Christians are not supposed to be idle while we wait for Christ's return -- we are to be actively serving God.