1 Thessalonians 1

Paul’s Relationship with the Thessalonians
1 Thessalonians 1 – 3
1 Thessalonians 1 – 3.

In ch.1 of First Thessalonians, Paul commends the saints for believing the gospel, and maintaining a bright testimony for the Son of God, in the midst of a pagan world. In ch.2, Paul reminds the Thessalonians of his behavior among them, to show that he loved and cared deeply for them. In ch.3, Paul explains that he greatly desired to see them again, and attributed the riots of Acts 17 to Satan's efforts to hinder him. Paul says that he was "bereaved" of their company, and "separated for a little moment in person, not in heart" (1 Thess. 2:17). This was to show that his sudden departure was no indication that he loved them any less. If anything, the epistle would show that Paul had a special place in his heart for new converts. It was Paul's great love for the Thessalonians that caused him to send Timothy back to Thessalonica while Paul was in Athens (1 Thess. 3:1). When Timothy returned with a good report, it caused Paul to praise the Lord, and beseech Him for an opportunity to return to Thessalonica in person. Nevertheless, Paul recognized that he would have to wait for God's direction. By the language of ch.3, it would appear that the timing of the first epistle was shortly after Timothy's return; "Timotheus having just come to us from you" (1 Thess. 3:6). Since Paul was only a short time in Athens, he probably wrote 1 Thessalonians from Corinth, where he stayed for eighteen months.

Thanks for the Thessalonians: Their Conversion and Testimony
1 Thessalonians 1
1 Thessalonians 1. In this first chapter we have a beautiful commendation of the young believers in Thessalonica. In this commendation we have a sketch of the qualities that ought to be found in every believer, from the early moments of their conversion. First of all, their consistent walk in faith, hope, and love were a source of thanksgiving in others (vv.2-3). Then, they became imitators of Paul and of the Lord Jesus (discipleship), and were characterized by joy in spite of persecution (vv.6-8). The testimony of their conversion was widely known and regarded. Finally, they had separated themselves to God from idols (sanctification), and were living in expectation of Christ’s return from heaven (vv.9-10).

Salutation (1:1)

1 Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus to the assembly of Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to you and peace. v.1 As usual when writing to an assembly, Paul includes with him at least one other brother, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses everything might be established. Paul includes with himself Silvanus or Silas, and Timotheus or Timothy. Both brothers were Paul’s travel companions and fellow-laborers in the gospel. When the saints in Thessalonica were saved, Paul recognized that it was a work of the Spirit of God. The Spirit formed a local assembly in that location! Paul did not refer these new converts to Philippi or Berea for fellowship; they had all that was needed in the word of God, and in the fellowship provided in the body of Christ. It is interesting that this is the only assembly addressed with that tender expression “in God the Father”. They were a young assembly, but they knew God as their Father, and His care was over them in a special way. Paul did not introduce himself as an apostle, and this is perhaps because he was writing to the new converts with the care of a father more than with the authority of an apostle. If the saints in Thessalonica were to carry on in the midst of persecution, they would need a fresh supply of “grace” or enabling power, and “peace” or a settled state of soul. Mercy is only added when an epistle is addressed to an individual, because the saints collectively are never looked at as an object of mercy, but of grace.

Paul’s Prayer of Thanksgiving (1:2-4)

2 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you at our prayers, v.2 A Source of Thanksgiving in Others. Paul was thankful for the Thessalonians, and he expressed that thanksgiving in prayer. The expression “at our prayers” indicates that the apostle and his companions had set times for praying. It is a healthy thing for each of us to have regular prayer times in our daily lives. How wonderful that these newly converted saints were a cause for thanksgiving in the heart of the apostle! We do not read of gift in this epistle, perhaps because they were so newly converted that gift was not yet distinguished among them. But this is something we can do, no matter how long we have been a Christian: we can carry ourselves in such a way as to be a source of thanksgiving in others! What a blessing even the youngest believer can be! The reason for the thanksgiving is expanded in vv.3-4.
3 remembering unceasingly your work of faith, and labour of love, and enduring constancy of hope, of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father; v.3 A Balanced Walk: Faith, Love and Hope. The saints in Thessalonica hadn’t been saved long (between two and four weeks), and yet their walk and ways were already a shining example.

The three things mentioned - faith, love, and hope - are the three great moral principles of Christianity; without which there would be no Christianity. Many times in the New Testament faith, hope, and love are put together (1 Cor. 13:13; Gal. 5:5-6; Col. 1:4-5; 1 Thess. 1:3; 1 Thess. 5:8-10; Heb. 6:10-12). Faith is implicit and complete trust in God: a total contrast to the unbelief and skepticism in the world around us. Hope for the believer is a deferred certainly; whether it be the hope of the Lord's coming, or of being conformed to the image of Christ, or of enjoying the glory of God. Love is a settled disposition of favor: something God has toward us, and what we ought to have toward our brethren. These three principles "now abide" (1 Cor. 13:13), and are necessary for the pathway.

Here in the lives of the Thessalonians, faith is connected with their service; “your work of faith”. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). With faith, our lives are full of fruit pleasing to God, because faith works (James 2). Love is also connected with service; “and labor of love”. Divine love is the proper motive for Christian service (Gal. 5:13). Hope is also connected with something practical; endurance. Living with the assurance of the return of Christ and of our future with Him results in consistency in our pathway; the “enduring constancy of hope” (see also Rom. 8:23-25). The proper hope of the believer is the coming “of our Lord Jesus Christ”. It isn’t so much about escaping the weariness of the pathway, but the joy of being with our Savior, the Person! These three moral principles – and evidences of divine life – were not only observed and remembered by Paul, but also they were seen “before our God and Father”. But it was the third feature (hope) that the enemy particularly attacked among the Thessalonians. Notice in 2 Thess. 1 that faith and love are mentioned, but not hope. And as the second epistle unfolds, we find that they had been troubled about the Lord’s coming.
4 knowing, brethren beloved by God, your election. v.4 A Part of God’s Sovereign Purpose. Paul viewed the saints in light of God’s sovereignty. It was really a work of God that the Thessalonians were saved. It gave Paul tremendous joy to think of these dear ones as those that God had chosen; as “brethren beloved by God”. Paul was not afraid to remind the Thessalonians of this as well. Sometimes we think that we should avoid the subject of election with new believers because it is so debated among Christians. But Paul didn’t avoid it. Election is a truth that should be taught to babes in Christ. It has a remarkable way of stabilizing and comforting the soul. The outward evidence of the Thessalonians’ election is seen in v.3.

The Thessalonians’ History and Testimony (1:5-10)

5 For our glad tidings were not with you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance; even as ye know what we were among you for your sakes: v.5 The Testimony of Paul and His Companions. The Thessalonians had been thoroughly converted through the “glad tidings” of Paul, which were with them “in word” (i.e. the spoken word preached), and also in practical reality, which gave weight to his words; “in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance”. A person’s actions often speak louder than their words. This is the case in the gospel. Certainly, we need to use words, as Paul did. But our words need to be coupled with a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. If we do this, it will be a living witness to the unsaved of the joy that faith in Christ brings. The “much assurance” that Paul refers to is the persuasive power of his personal testimony; “even as ye know what we were among you for your sakes”.
6 and “ye” became our imitators, and of the Lord, having accepted the word in much tribulation with joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that ye became models to all that believe in Macedonia and in Achaia: 8 for the word of the Lord sounded out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith which is towards God has gone abroad, so that we have no need to say anything; vv.6-8 Discipleship, Joy, and Testimony to Believers. These young believers began to imitate Paul in their conduct, just as he often asked the saints to do. Many times over Paul exhorted the saints to be followers of him (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:6; 2 Thess. 3:7; 3:9). Paul could say this without being vain or fleshly, because he was led of the Holy Spirit to speak this way. Sometimes, whenever possible, when exhorting the saints to follow his example, Paul would add “as I am of Christ”. Christ is the ultimate example. Therefore, imitating Paul, the Thessalonians also became imitators “of the Lord”. There was tremendous opposition to the gospel in Thessalonica, as we read in Acts 17, particularly from the less-noble Jews. Nevertheless, the saints there “accepted the word in much tribulation with joy of the Holy Spirit”. By faith they received the Word of God. The persecution they endured seemed to test the reality of their conversion, and show that nothing could squelch the joy that results from walking in the Spirit. The Thessalonians became a testimony, whether or not they were conscious of it or not; “models to all that believe in Macedonia (northern Greece) and in Achaia (southern Greece). The same word of the Lord that they had received “sounded out” from them to every place that knew of them. It began with their local region (Macedonia), then it spread to nearby Achaia, and then everywhere. Already they had become a channel of blessing to others. In fact, the news of their conversion spread so fast, that Paul had no need to tell people! As an important Macedonian trade hub in the first-century Roman world, news would have travelled fast about the remarkable conversion – and moral change – among this small band of former-pagans turned Christian.
9 for they themselves relate concerning us what entering in we had to you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, 10 and to await his Son from the heavens, whom he raised from among the dead, Jesus, our deliverer from the coming wrath. vv.9-10 Their Conversion and Expectation. The second hand accounts that Paul and the others heard from afar about the Thessalonians’ conversion was an encouragement. Perhaps Paul didn’t realize at the time (Acts 17) what an impact his three-week visit (“our entering in”) would have in that city, and in the whole region. Truely, Paul and his companions had “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). The conversion was stark. They turned “to God from idols”. Notice that the positive side of separation comes first; “to God”. But then the negative side followed; “from idols”. What a change this must have been! The numerous idols they had previously served were dead and false-gods, but now they served the One “living and true God”. But more than this, they received a hope they would change the focus of their lives completely. Rather than seek pleasure and satisfaction here in this world, now they would “await his Son from the heavens”. This is the normal hope of the Christian; waiting for the return of Christ, as He promised in John 14:3, “I will come again and receive you unto myself”. It isn’t so much the event that we are waiting for, but the Person. As far as the details of the Lord’s coming, the Thessalonians did not have a detailed knowledge yet, and this epistle fills in some of the details. But they were waiting for God’s Son, and their eyes were focused on “heaven” as opposed to earth. Notice that the resurrection is brought in. We are waiting for a risen Lord; One who has conquered sin and death. Although Paul had only been with them a short time, he was able to teach them something of prophetic events: of the impending wrath, and of the Lord’s coming for His saints to deliver them from the time of judgment on this world.