1 Thessalonians 1 (day 1112) 16 January 2013
Paul’s stormy visit to Thessalonica is described in Acts 17. He was run out of town after only a few weeks and fled to Beroea where he was chased out again. He was spirited off to Athens then, leaving Timothy and Silas behind. Later, he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica (see 3:1) to determine how things were going. This letter and the one that follows were sent from Athens (see 3:1-5) in response to what Timothy reported back to him about divisions within the congregation and their unhealthy concern over when the Second Coming would take place and what would happen to people who died before Christ returned. Other issues are taken up as well.
1: The greeting from Paul, Silvanus and Timothy will be repeated in 2 Thessalonians. Silvanus is the Latin form of Silas.
2-10: The usual thanksgiving for the recipients of the letter follows. He commends them for their faith in the face of persecution. Paul had encountered violent opposition there, and it would seem that the church he started had to deal with the same opponents. Even so, their hospitality to other believers is remarked upon, as is their wholehearted rejection of pagan beliefs. In verse 10 he mentions their eagerness for the return of Christ, a subject on which he will comment in more detail later in the letter.
1 Thessalonians 2 (day 1113) 17 January 2013
1-8: Paul, as is his wont, establishes his “credentials” with them; that is to say, he reminds them that although he had been mistreated by the Philippians he nevertheless proclaimed the gospel to them in Thessalonica, which proves his courage and also goes some ways toward proving his message because he would not risk himself so if he were not confident that he was telling the truth. Furthermore, he reminds them that he treated them gently and cared for them deeply.
9-12: In addition, he worked among them without demanding any payment (in contrast to other wandering teachers of the day), and he did not take advantage of anyone but lived an exemplary life among them, encouraging them to do the same.
13-16: Having commended himself, now he commends them: they received Paul’s teaching as being from God. He gives them high praise by comparing them with the churches in Judea; they have persisted and thrived in spite of being persecuted by their own neighbors, which was what had happened in Judea.
17-20: Finally, remembering how he had been chased out of town by enemies of the gospel, he places them high on his list of all the churches with which he has been associated, and paints a picture of bragging about them to Christ when he returns. This is high praise indeed.
1 Thessalonians 3 (day 1114) 18 January 2013
1-5: Paul, now in Athens and fearing the work he did in Thessalonica might be undone by the kind of persecution he himself had suffered there, sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how they fared.
6-10: Timothy has just brought back a good report and Paul’s gratitude and relief overflow.
11-13: He hopes to be able to return to them. Perhaps he did. On his last missionary journey he traveled again through Macedonia to Greece following an altercation in Ephesus, and back through Macedonia on his way to Jerusalem (Acts 20:1-4). On that trip he is accompanied by two Thessalonians, Aristarcus and Secundus, which may indicate that he did indeed make it back to Thessalonica. Aristarchus traveled extensively with Paul and is mentioned as well to have been in prison with him (Colossians 4:10). Secundus is named nowhere else.
1 Thessalonians 4 (day 1115) 19 January 2013
1-8: As always, Paul is concerned that their lives reflect their faith. Their sanctification (being set apart for sacred use) is God’s goal for them, he says. However, living holy lives was not part of the popular Greek culture of the day, and Paul was concerned that they might fall into the kinds of practices that were all too common in that time and place, and so his emphasis here is on the need for sexual purity. He insists that they cannot reject this teaching without rejecting God and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
9-12: Love for one another was to be the hallmark of the church, and Paul is also concerned with the face that the church presented to the world. “Live quietly,” he tells them. “Mind your own affairs.” He wanted them to be diligent and self sufficient so that they would not have to depend on non-believers for their sustenance.
13-18: In these verses he addresses one of the issues that bothered some of the folks in Thessalonica. When Christ returns, what happens to those who have already died? He assures them that those who have died will not be left out or left behind. All who believe in Jesus will be raised with him, he says – those who have died no less than those who are living. In fact, to reassure them, he insists that the dead will be raised first. Verses 16 and 17 have been the source of some of the most incredible speculation imaginable. Paul’s readers would have understood these words metaphorically. He is using imagery from Exodus 19:13-16 which describes the people preparing for Moses to go up on the cloud-enshrouded mountain to meet with God. They are told that they are not permitted to go up the mountain until they hear a heavenly trumpet sound a long blast. The trumpet blast is emblematic of the invitation God gives for them to join him in the clouds on the mountain which reached into the sky, or into the air, as it were. This is the picture Paul conjures up to describe what will happen when Christ returns and calls his people to himself.
1 Thessalonians 5 (day 1116) 20 January 2013
1-11: As to when the return of the Lord might happen Paul tells them what Jesus told the disciples, that the day of the Lord will come “like a thief in the night,” suddenly, without hint or warning. Their job is to live exemplary lives in the community and help each other.
12-22: He leaves them with some final instructions: honor the leaders of the church, avoid dissention, admonish the lazy ones, encourage the anxious, help the weak, exercise patience, do good to one another, rejoice, pray, give thanks, don’t “quench the Spirit” (bureaucracy can do that) or despise those who prophesy, check out everything you are told carefully and hold on to what is good. And, by all means, avoid evil of every kind.
23-28: He ends the letter with a blessing for them and asks that they pray for him and his companions as well. He commands them to read the letter to everyone in the church and wishes the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to be with them.