Overview of 1 Thessalonians



Over the past year we have preached through the Design for Discipleship series by the Navigators Organization, and we have had some great responses from people regarding their growth and understanding of God’s Word, as a result of the content.
We have explored foundational topics to our faith like “Who is God, Who is the Father, Who is Jesus, and Who is the Holy Spirit?” and what are their specific roles?, we’ve gone through topics like stewardship, missions, discipleship, sharing our Faith; what maturing in Christ is, faith and God’s promises, how to know God’s Will; Purity, living with integrity, Spiritual warfare and many more!
If you happened to miss any feel free to jump on our website and listen to the whole series or specific ones.
Today we start the last series of the Design for Discipleship curriculum, and rather than topical- we will end the series by working our way through the book of 1 Thessalonians over the next 6 weeks.
As I’ve been preparing for this series it is no surprise to me that God has us working through this book, at this time in our lives.
Not only will we gain insight into what was going on at the time of Paul’s ministry at Thessalonica, but we will see that ministry then is not too different than now.
And if you pray that God would open up your heart and mind to what He has for you in this series, you will leave changed each and every Sunday by the practical and foundational truths presented.
For the book of 1 Thessalonians there are three key words/phrases that sum it all up and I want us to remember them:
Holiness, Love & Future Hope
The purpose of today is to do a brief overview of the book and see the purpose and intent that the apostle Paul had in writing it.
And then next week we will dive into chapter 1.
The Christian life is often promoted as a lifestyle of constant success, comfort, happiness and peace, but the truth is there is hardship, suffering, struggle and anxiety in our lives as believers.
We should never paint the picture that the Christian life is perfect or stress free because it is not and those who have been living it for many years know that firsthand.
BUT I will say that through Christ we can receive the comfort and peace that we need, at just the right time that we need it!
Jesus did not say as we follow Him life gets easier, in fact, He said when we follow Him and live contrary to the world’s standards things get harder!
The apostle Paul, who witnessed the resurrected Lord and was given apostleship status by Christ in Acts 9, wrote the book of 1 Thessalonians.
In this book, he describes the Christian life and ministry in the way it was for him and his ministry team in Thessalonica.
He describes how through hardship there was also faithfulness that made a way to overcome trials and temptations.
All these things apply to us in the same way today.
There are a handful of terms that Paul uses throughout the book that I think would be worth explaining before we jump in to it:
“Wrath” or “Anger”
We may think of the wrath or anger that God has for sin or the ultimate punishment of the lost as in...
1 Thessalonians 2:16 NIV
in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.
Romans 1:18 NIV
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
but in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and 5:9 “wrath” refers to temporary/earthly judgment, which in turn is in the context of the final judgments that lead up to Christ’s return.
We often refer to this “wrath” as “the Tribulation” or “End Times”.
2. Faith, Hope & Love
These are often referred to as the “3 Theological Virtues”, they form the foundation of the Christian life in Paul’s letters.
Paul later writes this about them:
1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Thessalonians 1:3 NIV
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Faith is described by Paul as the starting point of the Christian life, as in the context of Ephesians 2:8:
Ephesians 2:8 NIV
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—
We see 7 times throughout 1 Thessalonians that this is the case.
b. “Love” (Agape- sacrificial love, Jesus showed this.)
The term “love” throughout 1 Thessalonians is side by side with faith and describes the relationship between believers in the Thessalonian church and in the work they do as a result of the knowledge of Christ, and faith in Him.
c. “Hope”
Hope turns all attention upward and forward to the return of Christ and ultimately the realization of the blessings that we have in Him.
We see this in 4 specifics verses but the hope is centered on a future hope, not temporary.
3. “Parousia” or “Presence, Coming or Advent”
The second coming of Christ is a major theme in every chapter of 1 Thessalonians.
Parousia can also refer to physical presence.
When Paul uses it in reference to Christ he is specifically talking about Christ’s “Messianic Advent" in glory to judge the world at the end of this age.
In other words He is talking about end times as it relates to Christ in being the one to initiate that time.
For the unsaved the return of Christ is a fearful thing but for the believer it is an object of hope and joy!
4. The last term used throughout the book of 1 Thessalonians is “Parakaleo” or “Encourage, Comfort & Console”
Just before Jesus’ crucifixion He promised His disciples that He would send a “helper”, the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit, as Christ explains, will:
teach them
John 14:26 NIV
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
ii. bear witness about Jesus
John 15:26 NIV
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.
iii. be with them forever (and every believer for that matter)!
John 14:16 NIV
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—
c. When Paul uses the verb “Parakaleo” throughout his letter he is referring to words like (imploring, exhorting, strengthening and building up:
1 Thessalonians 3:2 NIV
We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith,
1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
The Holy Spirit is the great encourager of the church and we will see that Paul, through his writing, acknowledges this truth.
Now that we have looked at some key terms used throughout this book for us to be on the lookout for we need to answer the questions;
Why did Paul write this book?
Who was he writing it to and why?
A few years after the apostle Paul’s conversion to Christ he went on 3 missionary journeys in order to plant churches and spread Christianity.
Just after his first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-14:28) a council on apostles and church leaders met to verbally rejects the false teachings of the legalistic Judaizers.
“Judaizers are Christians who teach it is necessary to adopt Jewish customs and practices, especially those found in the Law of Moses, to be saved.”
This was known as the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-35)
Between the 1st missionary journey and the Jersualem Council Paul wrote the letter to the Galatian church, warning them of this legalism.
After the council had made their decision through a written statement, Paul’s desire was to go back around and revisit the churches that were planted.
Acts 15:36 NIV
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.”
Because they both could not agree on who they would take with them, they decided to part ways and partner with other men for their ministry going forward.
Paul chose Silas, and along the way met a young believer named Timothy when they were in Lystra.
They took Timothy and went on Paul’s second missionary journey, one night Paul got a vision from the Lord to cross the sea into Macedonia and preach the gospel there (Acts 16:9-10).
They arrived at Philippi, where the Lord softened hearts and many accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 16:11-15).
However in Philippi there were those who were spiritual opponents that drove the city officials against Paul and Silas, so they were arrested, beaten and imprisoned. (Acts 16:16-24).
After the Roman jailer and his family came to Christ; Paul, Silas and Timothy left Philippi and traveled to Thessalonica to proclaim the coming of the Messiah at the Jewish synagogue in the city (Acts 17:1)
READ ACTS 17:1-10
The truth of the gospel that was preached won many hearts to Christ, especially those God-fearing who had hung around the synagogue for years but were not officially converted to Judaism.
When the Jewish leaders at the synagogue saw that their own parishioners and the gentiles were converting to Christianity they became jealous and angry. (Acts 17:5).
The Jewish leaders rounded up a group to search for Paul but couldn’t find him so they went and found some new Thessalonians believers, and threatened them, saying they were guilty of association. (Acts 17:6-7).
They were saying that they were supporting another king (Jesus), over Caesar.
Because of the tension that was going on and potential for political fallout for the new believers in Thessalonica Paul and Silas were forced to leave by night. (Acts 17:9-10)
It had been a few months that they had been gone and couldn’t bear not knowing how things were going for the new church in Thessalonica so Paul and Silas sent Timothy there to check on the situation.
The reason that Paul and Silas sent Timothy instead of going themselves is that a legal pledge was made by a friend of theirs in that city by a man named Jason (Acts 17:9) that most likely involved the promise that Paul and Silas, who were the perpetrators, would not return to the city.
When Timothy returned to Paul and Silas to give the report on the church at Thessalonica, they were both encouraged to hear of their spiritual health in spite of the persecution they faced from the Jewish leaders.
In response, the three of them wrote a letter to the Thessalonian Church from the city of Corinth, where they currently were.
The letter was to affirm their steadfast faith, to challenge them to excel more and to inform them about what to expect in the future pertaining to the Lord’s return.
Chuck Swindoll sums up the letter to the Thessalonians in this way; live in faith, love and hope in light of the past and in view of the future.
The letter could be broken down into two sections:
Turning from the past to the present (1-3)
Paul mentions their faith, love and hope; their accepting of the gospel; their faithfulness in life and ministry to pursue holiness; the example and reputation they’ve set for those around Macedonia; Paul reminds them of his ministry there with them; he encourages them to endure suffering in the work of the ministry as he did; and encourage them to keep on growing in Christ.
Living in the present for the future (4-5)
In chapters 4-5 Paul challenges them to continue living holy lives in light of the hope of Christ’s return; he addresses purity head on as they live in a culture of promiscuity; he encourages them to live a life of example to outsiders; and he reminds them of the wrath that they have been rescued from, the resurrection from the dead and reunion with fellow believers when Jesus returns. And at the end of the letter he ends with a rapid fire exhortation to live in faith, love, and hope in light of the past and in view of the future.
1 Thessalonians is the perfect book for us during this time of unrest in our world, and I would encourage you each week to read through it.
It will not only be relevant but it will challenge us to live lives pursuing holiness, love and a future hope!
Next week we will dive into chapter 1, don’t miss out!
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