Introduction to 1 Thessalonians

1thessalonians4_11plnToday we begin a new study. The church at Thessalonica was a young church, yet there are many things we can learn from them. This church has been called a model church and I hope over the course of our study together, we’ll see why.

How did the church at Thessalonica get there? Who was involved? The best place to learn these things is in the book of Acts. Take a look at Acts 15:40 – 16:3. What’s interesting about this is that Timothy was the son of a Jewish woman, but his father was Greek. We know from 2 Tim. 1:5 that Timothy was raised by his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice both who were described as having a sincere faith. Timothy lacked what we would call professional experience as a missionary, yet Paul still chose him. Timothy was both Jew and Gentile. His mother was a Jewish believer, BUT his father was a Greek. Timothy was also, “ . . . well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium.” (Acts 16:2) He was respectable, it’s one of the pastoral qualifications Paul relates to Timothy in 1 Tim. 3:2.

If you keep reading in Acts 16, you’ll see that Paul, Silas (Silvanus), and Timothy did a lot of traveling. Read Acts 16:4-5. They just didn’t get to their destination; it was more about their journey. They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, but they were, “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.” They came to Mysia and they tried to get in Bithynia, but the “Spirit of Jesus did not permit them.” They passed by Mysia and came to Troas. Paul had a vision in Troas about a man in Macedonia asking him to come over there.

It’s interesting that in 16:10, the pronouns change from “they” to “we” indicating Luke joined Paul, Silas, and Timothy.  The group sailed from Troas to Samothrace, then the next day to Neapolis. Then to Philippi which was a leading city in Macedonia.  They stayed there for several days. They met Lydia there. And a slave girl having a spirit of divination. This is also the place they were beaten and thrown in jail where they prayed and sang hymns that subsequently led to the salvation of the Philippian jailor. They left Philippi and traveled through  Amphipolis and Apollonia finally coming to Thessalonica. So what happened once they got there? You have to read Acts 17:2-10. And so the church at Thessalonica was planted.

When you look at Paul’s introduction in 1 Thes. 1:1-4, you need to notice a couple of things. The church is young, in its infancy stage, but Paul says he is writing to the church. Church comes from the Greek word ekklesia which means an assembly, a group of people assembled together for the purpose of worshiping God. Back in those days, ekklesia was used in a variety of contexts, both religious and secular. Chrysostom wrote that there were many ekklesias both Jew and Greek. I don’t want you to miss the significance of Paul’s next phrase. Paul said this ekklesia was in God the Father and in the Son.   What does Paul mean by saying “in” the Father and the Son? What kind of relationship does Paul have in mind? It’s not like the church is inside God. It doesn’t mean that the church is founded on God or that the church belongs to God although these things are certainly true. Paul speaks of the churches in Judea being “in Christ” in 2:14.

In John 15, Jesus uses a metaphor to describe Himself. He says He is the vine and we as the branches. A branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine. Remember Paul’s metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12:12? “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” The relationship Paul has in mind is an organic, living, breathing, one in which Christ’s DNA is all over us. In Colossians 3:3 Paul describes our new life as “hidden with Christ in God.” The church being in God indicates this is where life of the church comes from, this is the heartbeat of the church, this is the lifeblood of the church. The reason for describing the church at Thessalonica in this way will become apparent next week.

We’ve seen how the church was planted and how Paul greets the church, now see look at Paul’s thankfulness. They gave “. . . .thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in [their] prayers.” Why were they so thankful for this young church? V. 3 says, “Constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father.” This is the great character triad. Calvin calls this, “A brief definition of true Christianity.” Paul mentions faith, hope, and love again in 1 Thes. 5:8, Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, Galatians, and 1 Cor. 13. Peter talks about these three qualities in his first letter and the writer of Hebrews speaks of them twice.

The Thessalonians had “a work of faith.” They worked because they had faith, not the other way around. Service to the Lord is evidence that we are saved. A true faith in God leads to good works.

“Labor of love.” Labor gives the idea of strenuous, tiring labor. You think of going into labor when you have a baby. True love for people leads you to labor for them.

“Steadfastness of hope.” Steadfastness is the characteristic of someone who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.

Our hope is in the coming of Christ. There is just one more thing in this introduction. Look at v. 4. There is much confusion over this statement I am sure. Choice comes from the Greek word ekloge ek-log-ay’. The confusion comes because KJV translates this word as election and that freaks people out because they think of predestination and Calvinism. This word “choice” or “election” means that God has indeed chosen you – chosen you to service for Him – that’s the context. He has chosen the church to do His work – to have a, “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope.” There’s no option in Christianity to sit on the sidelines. Here’s a good barometer of your spiritual work of faith: if you quit doing what you are doing for the Lord, would the church, your community, or eternity notice?

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