1 Thessalonians

This may be Paul's first letter. (Some Bible students think that Galatians was first.) However, one thing is clear. This book certainly shows things that were near the start of his work. We see his two main responsibilities. There was his missionary service. And there was his care for believers.

Paul wrote to encourage new believers. Some people opposed his methods. But Paul tried to show that they were right. He explained the importance of a good Christian life. And he corrected some wrong ideas about two events. First, about what happens when Christians die. Second, about what will happen when the Lord Jesus comes back to earth again.

There are three main subjects. And Paul tells us what they are in 1:3. He thinks that the Christian life should be:

A Work of Faith (Chapters 1:1−2:16)

The Thessalonian church had a faith that led to action. [Note: This referred to the group of believers at a place called Thessalonica.] Paul was grateful for their ‘work of faith’. This passage shows Paul's own work of faith too.

Paul brought people to Christ (1:1-10). This is about the new Christians at Thessalonica. There were five important things about them:

  • God chose them (1:4). Salvation does not begin with our response. It begins with God's choice.
  • Paul encouraged them (1:5). But it was not just his words. It was the work of God's Holy Spirit. This work in them helped to make them strong. And it encouraged them.
  • They suffered much (1:6). God's word changed lives. When this happened, some people would oppose them. And this always happens.
  • God used them (1:7-8). The believers became examples (1:7). Their lives showed the power of the gospel (1:8).
  • They were different people (1:9). They turned away from dead idols. And they turned to the living God.

Paul's ambitions (2:1-16). Paul had three great ambitions. They came first during all of his missionary career. His ambitions were:

  • to please God (2:1-4). This ambition came first (2:4). He had had physical dangers of various kinds (2:2). People had said bad things against him (2:3). And there was only one reason why he could continue. It was because he wanted to please God more than anything else (2:4).
  • to help people (2:5-12). Some people opposed him. (Maybe they were Jews. Read Acts 17:5-9,13.) They suggested bad things about him. They said that he was leading people into wrong ways. And that he was trying to get their money (2:5). Paul said that this was not true. He and the other workers were helping the Thessalonians. Paul and the other workers were loving and caring for them. So they were like mothers (2:7). And they were like fathers when they trained them (2:11-12).
  • to declare truth (2:13-16). Some men and women accepted the truth of God's word. But Paul returned to the subject of suffering. People who believed the word and declared the word would have persecution. It had been like this all through the Jews’ history (2:15). And now it was happening to him. He had constant persecution (2:16).

A Labour of Love (Chapters 2:17-4:12)

Paul explained four great parts of love that shows in actions. He had proved that it was:

Love that lasts (2:17-3:10). He wanted to see these Thessalonian believers again (2:17). But the devil (Satan) opposed him (2:18). And Satan still does this when we want to help other people. It is only one of his tricks. (Read 2 Corinthians 2:11.)

Paul and his readers were apart. But their love for each other was still just as strong (3:1-10). Paul had had much persecution. But the believers had been a comfort to him. And this was because they were staying strong when things were hard (3:7-8). He said ‘We have so much joy because of you’ (3:9). It can be the same for us. Our reactions in hard times can affect other people.

Love that has no limits (3:11-13). Paul prayed for the believers. He wanted their love to grow ‘for each other and for all people’ (3:12). Love refuses to have any limits. And love like this is the sure sign of a holy life (3:13).

Love that makes a person more and more holy (4:1-8).[Note: The word for ‘holy’ means ‘to be for God's use only’.] Paul's teaching was not just about things that the mind believes. It was about practical behaviour. He said ‘We taught you how to live’ (4:1). ‘God wants you to be holy’ (4:3). God wants to use believers in the world. But this is their responsibility too. Christians must be holy because God is holy (5:23; 1 Peter 1:15). Christians say that they believe in a holy God.

[Note: Here, the word ‘holy’ means ‘without sin’.]

So he or she cannot be happy to live a life of sin Paul was very practical. Here, as in other verses, he talked about sex (4:4-8). The Holy Spirit lives in believers. And he helps to keep them away from sin (4:7-8).

Love that keeps believers close together (4:9-12). This love kept them away from evil. But it also kept them close together. They needed each other very much (4:9-10). However great love is, there can always be improvement. And Paul says ‘We encourage you to love each other more and more’ (4:10).

Paul cared about those who were not believers too. The two things had equal importance. First, there was a responsibility to care for believers. Then, their lives should bring respect from those who do not believe (4:12).

This would demand honest work as well as right words (4:11). Greek people were proud. People who worked with their hands were not worth anything to them. But Paul did not think like them. He thought that this work as an opportunity from God. It was a chance to serve God. (Read Colossians 3:22-25.)

Courage Because of Hope (Chapters 4:13−5:28)

Paul had mentioned the Lord's return before. (Read 1:10; 2:19; 3:13.) Now he spoke about it in more detail. In modern times, we do not hear much about this subject. And this should not surprise us (2 Peter 3:3-4). Paul made three statements about the return of Christ.

It brings comfort when someone dies (4:13-18). We are not sad like those who do not believe. They have no hope (4:13). The truth about Christ's return brings comfort (4:18). We remember that we will be together again (4:14). Everybody will see that Christ's return will be a wonderful day. His return will be a great day of victory (4:16). People in the world believe that death is the end. But this is not right. Believers who die are just asleep (4:14).

Its time and its date are unknown (5:1-7). Many people waste time. They try to discover the exact moment when Christ will return. (Read Matthew 24:3; Acts 1:7.) But God will not tell us the date (Mark 13:32-33). However, we do know something that is certain. He will return when we do not expect him (5:3-4). And we must be ready for his return (5:5-7). We must not live like some people. They do not care about Christ's return.

It demands a holy life (5:18-28). This final passage is about daily life. We belong to the light (5:5). We belong to the day (5:8). This refers to goodness. The night and darkness (5:5) refer to evil.

Paul spoke again about faith, about hope and about love (5:8; 1:3). There were several brief commands. And someone has suggested something about them. Perhaps they were instructions for new believers. In this form, they could learn them more easily. There are similar lists in other letters too. Two examples are Romans 12 and 1 Peter 3.

The instructions emphasise something again. It is the practical nature of the Christian life. Being holy is not about nice ideas. It is about matters of real life. People who are holy will:

  • encourage each other (5:11)
  • have love and respect for each other (5:12-13)
  • advise and warn in a kind way (5:14)
  • have goodness that is not selfish (5:15)
  • have a constant grateful attitude (5:16-18)
  • recognize when something is right or wrong (5:19-21)
  • have pure moral lives (5:22).

There is only one way to make this possible. God demands it (4:3-8).

So God will do it (5:23-24).

Paul ended what could be his first letter with some greetings (5:25-28).