This is a Bible study on 1 Thessalonians 1.

Source: The Outlook, 1980. 4 pages.

1 Thessalonians 1 - Paul's Thanksgiving for the Thessalonian Church

Read 1 Thessalonians 1

On his second missionary journey the Apostle Paul had also come to the city of Thessalonica. This was one of the most important cities of that part of the world and had become the capital city of the whole province of Macedonia. Paul usually went to the larger population centers to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Because of circumstances, the Apostle did not re­main in Thessalonica very long. He preached in the synagogue of the Jews three Sabbath days (Acts 17:2). At the end of these three weeks the opposition to the gospel became so strong that the Apostle and those with him had to leave the city hastily. How­ever, in the short time he had worked here a surpris­ingly large number of people had been converted. Some of the Jews believed, a great multitude of Greeks turned to the Lord, and not a few of the chief women obeyed the gospel. It is indeed amazing that so much was accomplished in so short a time. The gospel is powerful!

The opponents of the gospel real­ized this and paid the Apostles the compliment of charging that they were turning the world upside down! That's what the gospel does! They, however, did not mean it as a compliment but tried to stop the spread of this gospel. They even pursued the Apostles to the next city because they did not want their former way of life disturbed.

Most of those who believed in Thessalonica were Greeks, and this must be borne in mind in the under­standing of these epistles. Neither the first nor the second letter Paul addressed to these people is char­acterized by a great deal of doctrinal discussion. Both letters are brief. The most important matter the Apostle deals with is the fact and manner of the second coming of Christ. In this connection he em­phasizes the hope which is given to believers.

The Greeting🔗

Paul follows the custom of his day in greeting those to whom he is writing, except that his greet­ing to the Thessalonians is shorter than that in any of his other epistles. He mentions himself and his two helpers, Silas and Timothy, and then simply says "unto the church of the Thessalonians." The word used for church was used in the Greek world of all manner of assemblies. This, however, is the assembly of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. The letters to the Thessalonians were among the very first of the Apostle's writings. Here he does not yet go into a long and definitive salutation but he makes it very clear whom he has in mind while he is writ­ing. To this church he speaks grace and peace. Al­though these terms were commonly used in letter writing, he pours a far richer content into both terms.

Paul's Prayer🔗

The writer is very much aware of the tremendous progress which the Christians at Thessalonica had made in a very short time. For this he is most grate­ful because he sees here an evidence of the Spirit's work. As a result, he says that he gives daily thanks to God for them. His work is difficult, but the bless­ings it brings are also beyond description. Not only has he preached the word to them, he continues to be their pastor even though he is removed from them. He still remembers them in his prayers every day. Of Jesus we read various times that He spent an entire night in prayer, but, although Paul urges the various churches to prayer again and again, we do not often read of his own prayers. However, let no one think that this man could have such results upon his preaching if he was not at the same time a man of earnest and frequent prayer. He may have gone on to another field of labor, but the need of every church weighs heavily upon him.

For what does he give thanks? It is for the way in which the gospel has completely captured them! He remembers their work of faith. He has seen the fruits of faith in these Thessalonian Christians. And: By their fruits ye shall know them. Not only do they speak of faith; their works show it. He also remem­bers them for their labor of love. Their works were performed as they were driven by love! It is not only true that their works were different from their for­mer manner of life, they also had a new motivation. This, of course, makes the work of faith possible. He also remembers their "patience of hope." By this term he means their endurance which is inspired by the hope they have in Jesus Christ, before our God and Father. These people have already suffered a great deal for the sake of the gospel; but it is made possible by the hope they have in the Christ and in His return. It is indeed amazing that these believers have progressed so far so quickly. Their faith, love and hope is clearly present and they have believed only a few months!

God's Elect🔗

Paul is so thankful for the genuine evidence of their faith because he knows they are the elect of God. Therefore they are his brethren in the fullest sense of the word. He doesn't even tell them what he means by election because he has no doubt in­structed them in this doctrine during the short time he has been with them. Think of it — converts from heathendom being instructed in such things from the very beginning! Of course, he could not preach the gospel without teaching election! This belongs to the heart of the gospel. He has made it very clear in some of his later writings what he means by the election of God (Ephesians and Romans). God has chosen them and it has not been their work. No one would ever choose for Him if He had not first chosen them. No one has ever "decided to follow Jesus." A denial of election is at the same time a denial of man's total depravity.

It must also be observed that the Apostle "knows" they are elect. He shows that clearly in verse five. The gospel did not only come to them in word; it came with power! It was the power of God, or the power of the Holy Spirit. It did not come as a teaching as of the philosophers of the day — it went right to the heart and changed lives. This is the evidence that they are the elect of God. Others will only hear the word with the ear, as the opponents of the gospel in Thessalonica did. They were infuriated by it. "The beloved of God" find sal­vation in it. Their faith and love and hope is clear evidence that they are the chosen of God. That elec­tion ought to fill their hearts with joy. They have received the assurance of faith from it. There is no assurance without election.

Paul is not at all afraid of using himself as an ex­ample time and again. Here he calls to the remembrance of these Thessalonian Christians how he and his helpers had conducted themselves while they ministered to them. It should be clear to these peo­ple that the gospel which they brought had also done its work in their own lives. Why would anyone, with the talents and potentialities of Paul, have jeopardized his life if he were not completely cap­tive to the Christ Whom he preached and were not filled with a consuming love for the people He had chosen?

Imitators of Paul and the Lord🔗

These Christians had become imitators of Paul and his associates and of the Lord Himself. First they had to imitate the Apostle. He often speaks of this. He has not only preached the gospel but his whole life is a witness to that gospel. The life must agree with the teaching, or the one slays the other. Only then can they become imitators of the Lord as Paul had himself also become. This imitating refers especially to the manner in which they have borne affliction.

Paul and Silas had come to Thessalonica from Philippi where they had been treated shame­fully and had suffered a great deal. But, this abuse was not a reason to cease from preaching the word of God! Upon their coming now to Thessalonica, the same situation repeated itself, and they would, no doubt, have suffered many cruelties if they had not escaped the city. The believers in Thessalonica now had to bear the reproach of the enemies of the gospel. They received the word in much affliction. There must be much more to the gospel than their foes thought. They not only received that word in much affliction, but with joy of the Holy Spirit! They have indeed become imitators of both the Apostle and his Lord and have found that the joy of the Holy Spirit is much greater than the physical affliction they had to bear. Only those who are the elect of God will receive the word under such conditions. But, for them being His elect, there is no other way. Paul had experienced this himself. Christ had gone through unspeakable suffering for the word and for His people. They have become imitators of both Paul and Christ.

A Missionary Church🔗

Now that they have learned to imitate both Paul and Christ, they have become an example to believers in Macedonia and Achaia. They have there­fore become a pattern for others so that they too may become imitators. Their strategic place in this important city causes the Apostle to rejoice in the quality of their faith. It is a living faith which is of great value to themselves and now also spreads from them to other believers. For you have become a sounding board for the gospel. Note that a sound­ing board does not itself produce the sound, but it amplifies the sound it has received. From you hath sounded forth "the word of the Lord"! Not your own experience! Only the word of the Lord initiates faith. Human experience may be interesting, but is not unto salvation! He now tells them that they have sounded God's word forth not only to Macedonia and Achaia, but it has gone forth everywhere! A church, recently come out of heathendom, is a missionary church such as has seldom been seen.

As a result of their faithful activity the work of the Apostle has been eased. So often he speaks to the one church concerning the progress of the other, but he doesn't have to speak about the church in Thessalonica at all because everyone has heard about it. The Thessalonian Christians speak to everyone of their faith but also of the Apostle's labors among them. If every church had shown this zeal how it would have helped Paul in his difficult labors. They speak to everyone how they had turned away from the idols of the day. There could be no compromise, of course. Idolatry and the service of Christ were mutually exclusive. But, this turn­around was a major step for these people to take. In their idol worship they had found their social life. Economically they would suffer if they turned their backs on idolatry. But, they did it! They turned to the true God. They turned from dead gods to a living God! Even if they have to suffer in the body as a re­sult, it is well worth it. It has been a complete turn­about for them. But, that's what the gospel is all about. No wonder that their opponents claimed that the missionaries were turning the world upside down!

Waiting for the Returning Lord🔗

These who are serving a true and living God have come to this position through the Son of God Who had been proclaimed to them. This Christ has gone above and is no longer present here in the church in physical form. The true believers now wait for that Son to come again. This coming again will be treated much more fully later in this epistle and in the next. However, even though they may have had wrong ideas concerning the time and manner of that re­turn, it is obvious here that they indeed believe in His return. Not only do they believe in this fact, they are longingly waiting for it. Theirs is not a "gospel" which only looks back over those things which have been completed, but it also looks for­ward to the return of Christ when all of the prom­ised things shall be fulfilled. In a measure, these peo­ple are ready for that return. The Apostle reminds them that the One who will return is the same Jesus Who was raised from the dead. This may never be lost from sight.

Love and Judgement🔗

This Jesus is also the One who delivers us from the wrath to come. Note the balance we find in this chapter. He has been speaking of the grace and peace of God; the love, the faith, the hope, and the joy of believers; but he also speaks of the wrath to come. In many places today the love of God alone is mentioned. Paul emphasizes the urgency of salva­tion and is fully aware of the fact that the wrath of God is something to be feared! He will not condone sin — and His wrath is kindled against it. He does not accept the blasphemer — and His wrath is kindled against such. But — and this is the glory of the gospel — He delivers us from the wrath to come! We are saved to fullness of life and from the wrath to come.

Questions for Discussion🔗

  1. Must the gospel be made "very simple" to those who hear it for the first time? How did Paul preach?

  2. What is the place of prayer in the work of the Apostle? Does a minister's prayer life become evident in his work?

  3. How can one be sure of his election? Pauline the­ology is based on election. Do we hear enough of this doctrine today?

  4. Would it be proper for a minister to tell the con­gregation to become imitators of him? Discuss.

  5. What does the New Testament mean by "wit­nessing"? Does the present-day form of "witnessing" agree with this?

  6. Is the "wrath of God" a very important subject in the Scriptures? How is it related to the love of God, or isn't it so related?

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.