And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, 13 so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints. 1 Thessalonians 3:12
Both Paul’s letter to Thessalonica are part of what we call Paul’s Second Missionary Journey, in which he was accompanied by Silas and Timothy. He went to over eight churches on that trip, including revisits to churches he planted in Galatia the first time around.
Both letters document how the Gospel sped through Europe, although not without opposition, suffering, and even internal conflicts. Paul personally bore the marks of such suffering as a result of his beating in the jail in Corinth prior to reaching Thessalonica. Neither Paul nor his companions tried to conceal the trials that would surely accompany becoming followers of Christ. No small part of that suffering came from Jews who did not recognize the Christ who stood, and then hung before them!
Indeed, Paul had to leave Thessalonica before doing everything he planned. Paul had desired to return, but he never did, citing how Satan hindered him. He does not elaborate on just how, but it happened none the less.
Paul’s Roman citizenship was critical in his ministry. As such, he had inherent protections that kept him from complete failure. If he had been just another Jew, he would have simply rotted in a jail somewhere or been executed by the Jews.
Capitalizing on being Roman, he would take his message to places like Thessalonica; a Roman capitol of the province, the residence of the Roman proconsul, a busy harbor town, and communication center.
Luke records in Acts 17:2 that Paul’s preaching there lasted only “three Sabbaths.” The Jews undoubtedly threw him out, and he moved on to spend most of his time preaching to the Gentiles, a pattern he often repeated and even proclaimed. He’d give the Jews a chance but would go to the Gentiles when rejected.
He was in Thessalonica for an extended time as evidenced by two gifts of money from Philippi. The Gentile church there had a joyous, active faith and even began far-reaching missionary work of its own! Paul held them up as “an example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia,” essentially all of Greece.
While joyful and earnest, their faith was not mature by the time Paul was forced to leave.
Although Paul had moved on physically, his heart remained in Thessalonica. In his first letter to them he wrote that he was “bereft (of them) in person…not in heart” (1 Th 2:17). Paul was concerned for his young children of the Gospel. He knew well that philosophers, cultists, and quacks roamed from town to town in search of audiences, fame, money…maybe all that and more. He was concerned that his friends there would fall prey to these charlatans.
Paul sent Timothy to check on them. This was a great sacrifice for Paul, who depended on him greatly! Timothy returned with the good news that the Thessalonians remained strong, freeing his mind to concentrate on his work in Corinth, where he spent two years.
So 1 Thessalonians is a long thanksgiving for the news Timothy brought back to him. This was followed by admonitions suggested by Timothy.
First was the matter of sexual purity. Thessalonica was a Greek harbor town and a center for commerce. It was a happening place! Such purity was a novelty in this environment and difficult to maintain.
“Normal and prudent” business practices were actually dishonest and hard to overcome. The Thessalonians has some bad habits to break.
These challenges gave Paul concern that their initial, fervent faith and work would degenerate into irresponsible enthusiasm. Care for the afterlife does not relieve one of earthly responsibilities. Their hope was not to be used to simply leave fulfillment in God’s hands. Part of that issue also became a preoccupation with calculating Jesus’ return.
Paul also had to address the normal frictions any community endures, even those of faith! Still, 1 Thessalonians is one of only a few letters that offers food for the hope of God’s people!
The value of this book to us today is its message of patience on God and the comfort of knowing the fate of those who die in the faith. Like those Thessalonians, we are besieged with concerns over when Jesus will return. Our faith can sometimes have its basis in predicting Jesus’ return instead of His saving sacrifice. We have the same distractions as the churches of 2000 years ago! Like all of Paul’s letters, we can read 1 Thessalonians to reinforce the assurance of our eternity with Christ!