LESSON 1 - 1 Thess. 1:1-10 - A DYNAMIC CHURCH
INTRODUCTION: Today we will began a new quarter in the Books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. 1 Thessalonians is unique in having been the very first of thirteen Epistles to be written by the apostle Paul over a 15-16-year interval. Most scholars believe this letter was written in early-51 A.D., during Paul's 15-month stay in Corinth. During the second missionary journey between 49 and 50 A.D., after Paul and Silas had been ordered to vacate the city of Philippi (where they had been arrested, beaten, jailed, and freed by an earthquake), they traveled 100 miles westward to the city of Thessalonica, which was then a free city in the Roman province of Macedonia (see map). With an estimated population of 200,000 people, Thessalonica was a strategi-cally located Aegean seaport about 185 miles north of Athens, Greece. While in Thessalonica sometime in 50 A.D., Paul was permitted to preach the gospel of Christ in the local synagogue on three successive Sabbaths, and made a sizeable number of new converts, primarily among Greek Gentiles who attended the synagogue because they were sympathetic to Judaism (proselytes). The local Jewish leaders, infuriated by these conversions, caused such a conflict that Paul and Silas were compelled to leave Thessalonica and make their way to the City of Berea, about 45 miles to the west inland. At Berea, Timothy joined Paul and Silas, and Paul made a side trip to Athens (see Acts 17 generally). At some point, after all three of them rejoined in Corinth, Paul sent Timothy to assist the church at Thessalonica, and this letter is thought to have been prompted by the favorable report he made to Paul upon his return to Corinth.
Read 1 Thess. 1:1 - FROM PAUL, SILVANUS, AND TIMOTHY
1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
Note: From this very first letter to a church, we will see Paul begin to establish the theological underpinnings that characterized all of his letters and have since become foundational doctrines to all Christian faith and belief.
v. 1a: "Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy" - "Silvanus" is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Silas. He was a key leader of the Jerusalem church whom Paul selected to accompany him on his second missionary journey (Acts 15:40) and Timothy, half-Jew and half-Gentile, was converted by Paul at Lystra on the first missionary journey and joined Paul on the second journey (Acts 16:1-3). While Silas and Timothy are named in the salutation, the letter is thought to have been wholly written by Paul.
v. 1b: "To the church of the Thessalonians" - The "church" (Gk. ekklesia, lit. assembly or gathering) did not refer to a building or particular meeting place but an assembly of Christian believers who gathered together for prayer and mutual support-fellowship.
v. 1c: "in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" - This name signified being in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and with God the Father as sovereign creator.
v. 1d: "Grace to you and peace" - "Grace" acknowledged that they had received the free gift of eternal salvation; and "peace" denoted the well-being derived from this new relationship with God.
Read 1 Thess. 1:2-3 - WE GIVE THANKS FOR ALL OF YOU
2 We always give thanks to God for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; 3 constantly keeping in mind your work of faith and labor of love and perseverance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father,
v. 2: "We always give thanks to God for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers" - Paul starts out on a positive note, giving thanks and prayers for "all of you," which would have included the disorderly members mentioned in Timothy's report whom Paul encourages the church to admonish later in this letter (5:14). Paul, who had a keen understanding of human behavior, knew that if you started out by praising people for what they were doing right, they would more readily accept criticism later to correct what they were doing wrong.
v. 3a: "constantly keeping in mind your work of faith" - This isn't works-based righteousness or works that produce salvation but the outpouring of faithful service that's a natural byproduct of faith.
v. 3b: "labor of love" - work doesn't seem so burdensome when it's done out of agapē (unselfish and unconditional) love but is something that's done willingly and gladly, with enthusiasm.
v. 3c: "perseverance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father" - This is a strong statement about Christians. The "perseverance" is the kind of Spirit-led patience and endurance that enables a Christian to keep on going even in difficult circumstances and the "hope"-i.e., eternal salvation made possible by Jesus' sacrifice-is the expectation of something that we're certain about. Taken together, this is what gives Christians the unique staying power to keep on keeping on. It's what keeps driving us on to finish whatever efforts we start!
Read 1 Thess. 1:4-5 - GOOD NEWS CAME TO YOU IN POWER
4 knowing, brothers and sisters, beloved by God, His choice of you; 5 for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sakes.
v. 4: "knowing, brothers and sisters, beloved by God, His choice of you" - We all benefit from a good dose of encouragement from time to time and here, we see Paul assure the Thessalonian believers on two things-that they are:
• "beloved by God" (v. 4b) - The word for "beloved" (Gk. ēgapēmenoi) means a kind of love that takes delight in the person loved, like that of a mother toward her newborn baby. This is the special kind of love that God has for believers who are now his own children.
• "His choice of you" (v. 4c) - Paul is telling them that God chose them, not arbitrarily, but with a purpose in mind. The word "choice" (Gk. eklogé) literally means to elect, and the doctrine of election or predestination rubs some Christians the wrong way. But when C. H. Spurgeon was questioned over this, he prayed, "Lord, please save all the elect, and then elect some more."
v. 5a: "for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction" - Paul referred to his message with the possessive "our gospel" because it was for him personally and for every other saved sinner to also believe and proclaim. The word used for "gospel" (Gk. euaggelion [yoo-ang-ghel'-ee-on]) literally translates to good news, and it is, Amen?
• While the gospel is proclaimed through the medium of the "word," it comes "in power" with the "Holy Spirit," which, in turn, indwells each believing person "with full conviction." This premise of salvation is a fundamental benchmark in the Christian life: This Spirit-driven inner-assurance of every Christian believer that he or she has crossed over to a new life having an absolutely certain future-i.e., the guarantee of eternal life in heaven with Christ. This conviction makes it possible for us to be joyful even in the midst of difficult trial. So, Christians always have cause to rejoice. Amen?
v. 5b: "just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sakes" - The "word" that Paul and his associates had preached in Thessalonica was 100% authentic. And it was authentic because they were focused upon pleasing God rather than the people to whom they were preaching. They used no flattering words to manipulate those hearing them and asked for nothing from them materially. In fact, the three missionaries worked to support themselves so that they would not impose any financial burden on the people they were trying to reach. The Thessalonians obviously noticed all of these things, and it gave them confidence that Paul and his associates were telling them the truth. This was one of the great attributes that explains the huge success of Paul's ministry efforts-that he and his missionary team were credible witnesses for Jesus Christ.
Read 1 Thess. 1:6-7 - YOU BECAME AN EXAMPLE
6 You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word during great affliction with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
v. 6a: "You also became imitators of us and of the Lord" - Becoming an "imitator" is a learned skill. You don't have to a natural speaker or have a commanding presence to be an effective evangelist. In the case of the Thessalonians, they watched Paul, Silas, and Timothy; they listened to them and paid close attention to the way they interacted with other people. Jesus Christ Himself offers the supreme example in terms of the character, attitudes, and moral integrity that all of us need to adopt. But men and women in our churches and in various ministries can be good practical models for us to emulate in the real world.
v. 6b: "having received the word during great affliction with the joy of the Holy Spirit" - the "great affliction" was an apparent reference to hostile reaction of Jews outside the church who were trying to disrupt Paul's efforts in Thessalonica to share the gospel with Jews and the Gentile sympathizers. Even in the midst of their persecution, the spread of the "word" (i.e., the gospel message) was accompanied by the "joy" imparted by the work of the "Holy Spirit," which went even further to validate that Paul's message was a true work of God.
v. 7: "so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia" - The word Paul uses for "example" (Gk. tupos) literally means an exact model forged by repetition, as with a stamp struck by a die. Paul is saying the Thessalonian's Christian witness was such a strong model that it had become an encouragement to believers in the regions beyond them.
Read 1 Thess. 1:8 - FROM YOU THE WORD HAS BEEN DECLARED
8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place the news of your faith toward God has gone out, so that we have no need to say anything.
v. 8a: "For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you" - The "word of the Lord" refers to the gospel message which Paul had originally planted in Thessalonica. That it was being "sounded forth" tells us that the gospel was reproducing itself-spreading-like ripples in a pool. This is a great testimony showing how the power of God's Holy Spirit can move once it's turned loose.
v. 8b: "not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place the news of your faith toward God has gone out" - While the text doesn't clarify exactly how the gospel was sounded forth, it was most likely news carried by word of mouth from one person to another, then to another, and so on. Added to that, the strategic location of Thessalonica as a seaport provided an ideal platform from which the news of the gospel could be launched in several different directions at once.
v. 8c: "so that we have no need to say anything" - Paul's comment here was intended as an overstatement that could be paraphrased: You are doing such an outstanding job, that I can't add anything that you should be doing differently.
Read 1 Thess. 1:9-10 -THEY THEMSELVES REPORT ABOUT US
9 For they themselves report about us as to the kind of reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is, Jesus who rescues us from the wrath to come.
v. 9a: "For they themselves report about us as to the kind of reception we had with you" - The "they" identified here refers to people from Macedonia (to the north) and Achaia/Greece (to the south) who had been influenced by the example set by the Thessalonian believers. The "kind of reception" refers to the authentic proclamation of the word-the gospel truth.
v. 9b: "and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God" - As mentioned in the Introduction, the bulk of those in Thessalonica converted by Paul and his team were Greek Gentiles with pagan backgrounds who had become interested in the teachings of Judaism in the local synagogue, though there may have been some Jewish converts as well. The fact that these Greek Gentiles had turned away from worshipping inanimate, dead idols to the worship of the Living God is a key to understanding what happened in Thessalonica: after these people accepted the gospel, others around them began to notice a radical change in the way these new Gentile believers were living their lives-the visible working of the Spirit in them, and they were attracted to it. We call this "lifestyle evangelism." It's powerful and it still works today!
Comment 1: These pagan Greek Gentiles in Thessalonica are very similar to a growing segment of the American population today: people who've never been to church, have never read the Bible, and know very little about the Living God. Those who live in Baxter County are our mission field-we are the light, and like the Thessalonian believers here, we need to invite them to come and see.
v. 10: "and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is, Jesus who rescues us from the wrath to come" - The verb "to wait" used here, (Gk. Anamenó) literally means to actively wait with intensity. Paul emphasized this in his preaching for two reasons: (1) the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead confirmed His status as the Son of God, and in turn, it authenticated the proclamation of the gospel by apostles like Paul; and (2) Christians should look forward to Christ's Second Coming because they would be delivered from the judgment that the non-believers would experience in the end times. Paul will address and explain this point in greater detail later in Chapter 5.
Comment 2: Consider the chronology here: what just two people-Pau and Silas-were able to accomplish over a span of about three weeks before being forced to leave a city a little larger than Springfield. After only a matter of months since they initially planted the gospel in Thessalonica, it was spreading hundreds of miles into Macedonia and Greece. Does this cause you to think about what we-as Christians and as a church-are doing (or not doing) in 21st Century America?
APPLICATION-What it takes to be a dynamic church:
1. A "church" isn't a building or even limited to a particular location. A church can consist of any group of Christian believers who gather together for prayer, worship and fellowship. The idea here is that the "church" needs to get out of their pews and comfort zones in order to go out and share their witness with the lost wherever they live. This should be the leading edge of the evangelistic outreach efforts of any church anywhere.
2. Christians are equipped with above-average staying power because they have "perseverance and "hope." Christians are uniquely equipped by the power of the Holy Spirit. With patience and endurance, we are able to persevere and deal with difficult circumstances, and at all times we carry our Hope with us, which is the certainty of eternal life. Taken together, these two things give Christians the special ability to step out of their comfort zones and keep on keeping on.
3. No matter what's going on around them, Christians always have cause to rejoice. Every Christian believer is empowered by the Holy Spirit with the inner-conviction that God has us covered no matter what's going on around us. Knowing this, when we venture outside our comfort zones for the sake of the gospel, we should be prepared to face criticism, opposition, and even persecution.
4. Being an "imitator" of an experienced Christian witness takes practice. You don't have to be a natural speaker or have a commanding presence to be an effective witness for Christ. Trying to be like Christ in terms of character, attitudes, and moral integrity is a good starting place. Then on a practical level, like the Thessalonians, we need to model ourselves for the task by carefully observing experienced Christians who serve in our church or Christian ministries we're involved in.
5. As witnesses for Christ, a few determined people can make a big difference. In the case of Paul's small group over the course of a few weeks, their efforts caused the gospel to start spreading outward for hundreds of miles, simply by word of mouth. Since the Holy Spirit that convicted Paul's audience is the same Spirit that indwells each of us, the same approach can work for us today.
6. The lost people living all around our church are very similar to the pagan Gentiles of Paul's time. Many of these people are what we would term spiritually ignorant-they've never really attended a church, they have never read the Bible, and they worship modern day idols like pleasure, entertainment, sports, and material possessions. We need to tell them that there is more to "life" than what they simply see, hear, and experience around them. Our duty as Christians is to proclaim the truth, not success. God will produce the results.
PRAYER: Father, we come to you this day, thanking You for your mercy and the underserved grace You have given us as children of your kingdom. We are especially thankful that You've given us this church as a place where we can worship and serve You. Lord, one of the things that I noticed in today's lesson was what can be accomplished for the gospel by a small number of very dedicated people in a short period of time. It should challenge me and everyone else hearing this lesson. I was impressed by what Paul said about being imitators, and what he said about sounding forth the gospel, like expanding ripples in a pool. So, Lord, I pray that everyone here this morning will think and pray about what we can do to sound forth the gospel outside the doors of this church. Please, God, help us and equip us to do these things, and when You do, we will give You all the credit and praise. For it's in the name of Jesus I ask these things, AMEN.