I Thessalonians

Author: Paul of Tarsus

Date Written: 51 AD


Paul wrote this letter in 51 AD from Corinth.  He and Silas had begun preaching the gospel in Macedonian Thessalonica, but were persecuted by the Jewish leaders.  The uproar over their teachings was so great they had to sneak out of the city by night (Acts 17).  The unrest even followed them to the next town in which they ministered, Berea.  Before writing 1 Thessalonians, Paul received good news from Timothy about the church at Thessalonica.  Though imperfect (3:10), the Thessalonians were standing fast in their faith (3:8), so Paul writes this letter as a response to encourage them all the more.


The city of Thessalonica was a prosperous Roman city and the capital of the province of Macedonia.  It was situated on the Aegean Sea and the Via Egnatia-the same road that runs through Philippi.  It functioned as an important center of trade and culture.


Paul begins his letter by referring to the common "work of faith, labor of love and steadfastness of hope" he has with the Thessalonians (1:3).  He sees them, not merely as souls to be ministered to, but as brothers who participate in the same work.  The presentation of the theological virtues (faith, hope and love) points forward to 1 Cor 13 which Paul writes about 5 years later.


He praises the Thessalonians' faith in the midst of suffering (1:6).  They have probably endured some persecution as evidenced by the events of Acts 17.  Paul reaffirms his own and his team's (Silas and Timothy) sincerity in ministering to the church.   They did not accept donations from the Thessalonians, but provided for their own needs by working (2:9).  Nevertheless they apparently received some financial assistance from the Philippians (Phil 4:16). 


Paul and his companions desire to return to Thessalonica and are praying that they will be able to do so (1 Thess 2:17, 3:13).  Paul's pastoral affection for the Thessalonians evident in the letter reveals his intense personal connection with them and his profound understanding of his Christian commitment.  Timothy's good report about the Thessalonians increases Paul's desire to return and his love for the church (3:6-10).


Paul inserts a prayer (3:11-13) in the middle of 1 Thess to transition between the two parts of the letter.  The first part (1:1-3:10) deals with Paul's relationship with the Thessalonians.  In the second part (3:14-5:28), Paul exhorts the Thessalonians in their faith and teaches them.


Paul begins the teaching part by calling the Thessalonians to "abstain from sexual immorality" (4:3).  Most of the Christians at Thessalonica were Gentiles and former pagans.  Much of the pagan worship in the city involved sexual rituals.  Paul's teaching calls for a radical rejection of this accepted part of Thessalonian culture.  Next Paul gives a detailed teaching about death and the Second Coming.  When Jesus returns, Christians who have died will rise from the dead and Christians who are alive will be "caught up in the air" with the Lord (4:17).  Paul calls for vigilance in awaiting the Lord's return.  Then Paul instructs the Thessalonians to respect their spiritual leaders and to pray with joy and thanksgiving (5:12-22). 


 He ends the letter with a blessing prayer (5:23-24) and a few closing comments (5:25-28).  1 Thessalonians deals with an array of issues and gives us a taste of Paul's early missionary work.


By Mark Giszczak


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