About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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My Commentary On 1 Thessalonians  

Introduction and chapter 1

ch. 1:1      ch. 1:1-10

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This commentary is based on the New International Version of the Bible, 1994 addition, and therefore all quotes will be taken from this version.  Chapter titles in this commentary correspond with section titles from the NIV which makes for easier reading and study.


Thessalonica was the capital of the province of Macedonia.  Paul first visited this city in and around 50 to 53 A D.  This letter and the letter to Galatians are probably the earliest books in the Bible.  The story is told in Acts 17:1 through 9.  The city was once called Thermo because it had hot springs.  The city was a Roman free city, meaning it fell in line with Rome and needed no army to keep it in line. The city is located in present day Greece.


Paul’s first trip to this city was cut very short.  The text says that he taught in the synagogue for three weeks.  Because some claimed he was teaching that there was another king, instead of the Emperor of Rome.  He therefore escaped from the city by night.  He proceeded on to Berea and then to Corinth.  Paul had great concern for these people, as he did for all of the people he won to the Lord.  His fear was that they might not be able to withstand the persecution that arose in the city due to his visit.  Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica to check up on them and they were doing very well under the circumstances.  Paul was most concerned with their faith, if they still trusted in Jesus.  The church was even growing in numbers despite the persecution.  Timothy met up with Paul at Corinth and told him the good news.  In Acts 18:5 you can read of this account.


We learn from 2 Corinthians that the Macedonians, which would include Thessalonica, were extremely poor yet very generous in their giving.  Paul hoped their example would encourage other churches in the area of giving as well.  


Paul wrote this first letter to the Thessalonians from Corinth near the end of 50 to somewhere around 53 A D in response to some false teaching about the return of Jesus.  In three short weeks, and, in his very first visit with these people, Paul taught these believers all about the return of Jesus.  This tells us how important of a subject this was to Paul.  It should be important to us as well.  


Paul’s Introduction (ch. 1:1)


It's clear that Paul wrote this letter. His Hebrew name was Saul, but in the Gentile world he called himself Paul.  It's a bit speculative, but the Hebrew name Saul to Romans was a feminine name, which Paul might not have wanted to associated himself with.  Maybe for this reason he called himself Paul, which means "little", or short in stature.  


Paul opens his letter by telling us who the letter was written, that is, the church at Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus.  Paul, in all of his letters makes the point that God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are unrepeatable.  Paul, and all Christians believe that God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For Christians, there is no other God.  Christians do not believe in a generic god. 


Note the word "church".  It's translated from the Greek word "ekklesia", which means a group of people who have been called out, or, set aside, from the general population for a specific purpose.  In this instance the group is those who have been set aside for Jesus in the city of Thessalonica.  They have been joined to one another for both fellowship and functioning as members in the Body of Christ.  The concept of church, or, ekklesia, as Paul  and other Christian Jews would have understood it was founded in the Hebrew word "synagoge" which the word "synagogue" is derived.  In short, church,  ekklesia, or, synagoge, for Paul and others has little resemblance to what church is today.  Church was not a place to go to worship.  It was family.  It was a community of God's people, set aside from the rest of the world to be His representatives to all nations.  All of what family and community means is what church meant to Paul.  Church was a socially, culturally, and politically distinct society where individuals could find peace, security, 
comfort, stability, financial and social help, along with all that we would understand to be part of a well rounded family or community of people.  

“Grace and peace to you”, Paul says to his readers, something that they would surely need lots of due to the persecution they faced on a daily basis.


The term "grace" has two uses in the New Testament.  One is well known, and that is "God's unmerited, or undeserved favour that He extends to us.  The other is "the ability that comes from God to do His will."   This second understanding of grace is less known.  It is this grace the Paul is most likely speaking of here.  These people were going through major trials, and they certainly needed God's grace, or his ability and strength to survive these trials.  


The term "peace" also has two aspects to it.  One is that we have peace "with" God, meaning, we are no longer enemies to God since Jesus has reconciled us to God.  The other aspect of peace is that we have peace "in" God, meaning, we have a measure of inner peace that can only come from God.    


We should note that both Silas and Timothy were with Paul at the time of this writing.  Both men often accompanied Paul on his trips.  Silas took Barnabas' place after Paul and Barnabas had a dispute that caused them to go separate directions, that is, separate geographical directions, not spiritual directions.  Paul considered Timothy a son in the Lord since he knew him from a youth.    



Thanksgiving For The Thessalonians (ch. 1:2 - 10)


In verse 2 Paul tells his readers that they, meaning Timothy and Silas, constantly remember them in their prayers. 


In verse 3 they thank God for them each time they pray for these people.  Paul says that they “remember before God and Father their work that was a result of their faith, and their labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ”.  Note here that Paul uses the words faith and love in the same sentence.  These two words Paul joins together many times in his letters.  You have faith in Jesus, that is to say, you trust him for your life, and as a result you love those God has placed you with. Love is an outworking, a product of the trust we have in Jesus.  To the degree we love, is the degree in which we trust Jesus for our lives. To love as Jesus wants us to love does require real faith, or true trust.  We cannot love on our own as Jesus would have us love.  Love is not a feeling.  Love is actions performed to both to the loving and the unloving.  


Paul also remembers these people’s endurance.  This endurance is in light of the persecution they were going through because of their faith in Jesus. They were enduring these hard times because of the “hope that they had found in Jesus”.  This hope, I believe, is the hope of the resurrected life that would be theirs at the return of Jesus.  The word "hope" is often used in conjunction with the return of Jesus in the New Testament.  Not all of us have suffered such times where we need to endure as these people did, but in this day and age, I believe the day is coming in the western world where we will suffer for our faith. 


I need to emphasize the phrase "works produced by faith".  This is important due to the fact that we should understand that good works don't, or can't save us.  It is true faith, or trust in Jesus that saves us.  That being said, once we have true faith, that faith should motivate us to do good works.  Works that count, therefore follow faith.  These works don't precede faith.  


We see three important words in verse 3.  They are, faith, love, and hope.  That being said, these three words are secondary to the point Paul is making.  The three more important words in context are, "work", "labour", and "endurance".   Evangelicals have stressed faith, hope, and love, but we also need to stress, the work, labour, and endurance, that should result from faith, hope, and love.     


Paul says in verse 4 that God has chosen these people.  Is this speaking of predestination?  I don't believe so.  God chooses all to salvation, but not all accept His choice.  Once we do accept His choice, then we can say God has chosen us.


When Paul first came to the city of Thessalonica he preached the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles, but first to the Jews, as was his practice.  He says here in verse 5 that this preaching was not “in word” alone, but in the power of God which comes from the Holy Spirit.  This only makes sense.  Paul preached Jesus, a man that he claimed to be God and a Messiah, who died and rose from the dead.  If Paul’s preaching was merely words, then his words would sound quite foolish.  But there was a demonstration of power that came with Paul’s preaching.  This power could be seen in miraculous signs and wonders, as well as the inner conviction of the Holy Spirit to those who heard the good news. 


Paul spoke with “deep conviction” which is very evident in all that we read in Paul’s writings.  The more you learn about Paul, who he was, how he lived his life, you see a man with very deep conviction. 


In verse 5 he says, “You know how we lived among you for your sake”. Paul’s way of living can be seen clearly in the second letter that he wrote to the Corinthians.  As he wrote this letter to the Thessalonians, he was in Corinth, a place where there were many problems to solve within the church.  The way he lived among people was a selfless way of life, taking nothing from them, but giving all he had to them.


In verse 6 Paul says that the Thessalonians became imitators of us and the Lord.  He goes on to say, “in spite of the severe sufferings they welcomed the message with joy given by the Holy Spirit".  I need to comment on the phrase where Paul says that these people imitated him and his companions.  Some Bible teachers make too much out of this.  They use this verse to prove that we are to submit to another man's authority in Christ, and we are to imitate another man as these people imitated Paul.  The question needs to be asked, "What does Paul mean by the word imitate?"  Without going into great detail here, Paul uses this word in other passages as well.  What Paul is really saying is to imitate his trust in Jesus, his good moral character, and things like that.  He is not saying that these people should imitate him in other ways, such as where he lives, things he likes and dislikes, and so on.  That becomes a dictatorship.  He is speaking of character issues.  Besides this, the phrase goes on to include Jesus as one to be imitated.  In the final analysis, we are to imitate the character of Jesus, not His ministry, or anything else, just His character.  If for some reason Paul did something outside of the character of Christ, I'm sure he would want no one to imitate that.     


The believers are to be commended for their new found faith in Jesus.  It didn't take long after handing their lives over to Jesus that they suffered greatly by those in their community.  Again, we see this account in Acts 17.  Becoming a Christian in these days was a very serious decision.  I would suspect that under the same circumstances today, many, if not most, would not decide to become Christians.     


We see in verse 7 that Paul really felt good about these people.  He says that these believers “became a model for all of the believers in Macedonia and Achaia”. He says that the “Lord’s message rang out from them,” as sated in verse 8  They were obviously very evangelical in their faith, spreading the good news to whom ever would listen.  But even more than the verbal message they preached, their lives backed up their message.  2 Corinthians 8 shows this to be true.  These people lived out what they believed.  In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians he uses the believers at Thessalonica as an example of how Christians should live, which includes financial giving to the poor.


In verses 9 and 10 we see that the reception of the gospel in Thessalonica was well known by everyone in the surrounding region.  Wherever Paul went, he said that he did not have to tell others about them, because the news of the Thessalonians becoming Christians spread quite fast in the region.  Part of what was spread across the countryside was that these people “turned to God from their idols”.  Along with turning from idol worship to Jesus, it is said of these people that they were “waiting for His Son from Heaven”.  They had a strong sense that Jesus would one day return to take them away.  This can be seen later, because one of Paul’s concerns for them had to do with the return of Christ and some bad teaching that was being taught among them.


The return of Jesus was important to these people, as it was to Paul, and as it should be to us.  Part of both letters to the Thessalonians contained teaching on the return of Jesus, something the text says that Paul spoke lots about to them in person.


We read the words, “who will rescue us from the coming wrath” in verse 10.  We see two things here.  One is that Paul, along with most Christians back then, viewed their salvation as a rescue.  They believed that they were rescued from their sins, from the world around them, and from God’s wrath, much like one being rescued from a house that is on fire.  Secondly, Paul is convinced that there is a day coming when God’s anger and wrath will be poured out on those who have rejected His salvation that came through Jesus.  Here Paul says that Christians will escape this day of wrath.  We see this day of wrath in the book of Revelation.  


One thing modern Christian should take more seriously is the idea that we need to escape from the grip of the world.  We don't think much in these terms because we are too much in love with this world.  The Bible clearly teaches that the devil is the god of this world.  It also teaches us not to love the world, or the things that are in the world.  The first letter of John speaks much about this.  When speaking of the world, I am not talking about creation.  I am talking about the "world system". This is what the Bible means when it uses the word "world".  It's clear from New Testament teaching that the devil is the prince of this world.  That being said, we know that Jesus is the ultimate authority in the world, as we also see in the book of Revelation.   

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