The First Epistle of St. Paul to the Thessalonians
The Epistle’s Principal Topics
- Introduction (1:1)
- Giving thanks to God for Thessalonica’s believers (1:2 – 10)
- The apostle’s laborious service among them, their acceptance of the faith, and their endurance through suffering (2:1 – 16)
- His unrealized desire to visit them (2:17 – 20)
- His sending of Timothy to shepherd them and confirm them in their faith (3:1 – 5)
- The joy he experienced upon hearing the good news which Timothy brought concerning them (3:6 – 10)
- His prayers for them (3:11 – 13)
- His exhortation to the Thessalonians to adhere to a godly lifestyle, especially with respect to purity (4:1 – 8),
- And to love for one another (4:9 – 12)
- Revelation concerning the Lord’s Coming (4:13 – 18)
- Alertness and watchfulness in preparation for the Lord’s Coming (5:1 – 11)
- Instruction for holy living (5:12 – 22)
- Concluding prayer, salutation and blessing (5:23 – 28)
1. Introduction (1:1)
+ “Paul, Silvanus and Timothy”
In his epistle to the Thessalonians, St. Paul introduces not only himself to them, but also the brethren who served with him in that city; he used neither titles nor labels – he did not even use any of his favorite titles: “bondservant of Jesus Christ,” as he did in his epistles to the Romans (Rom. 1:1) and Philippians (Phil. 1:1), “bondservant of God,” (Titus 1:1) or “prisoner of Jesus Christ” (Philemon 1). This was because he was in no need of associating his name with his Lord, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, when writing to a Church that believed his message, and joyfully accepted the Lord Who sent him, believing on Him as Savior and Redeemer.
Most likely, “Silvanus” is the complete name of the abbreviated “Silas,” who accompanied St. Paul on his second (European) journey instead of Barnabas (Acts 15:40). Silas was a Roman Jew like Paul (Acts 16:37 & 38); he shared his imprisonment in Philippi and served with him in Thessalonica (Acts 17:4 & 10) – the Thessalonians knew him by both his abbreviated and complete names. Silas also served with St. Paul in Corinth – the latter mentioned him in the body of his second epistle to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 1:19). His name was subsequently dropped from St. Paul’s arena of epistles, activities and service – probably because he eventually went to serve with St. Peter (1 Peter 5:12).
Timothy had a Jewish mother and a Greek father; Paul met him in Lystra, at the beginning of his journey. Sensing his zeal, Paul chose Timothy to serve with him (Acts 16:1, 2 & 3 and 1 Timothy 5 & 6). It seems that his role in the Thessalonians’ service was not especially conspicuous; nevertheless, Paul chose to mention him in the body of his epistle, since he had sent him on an outreach mission to Thessalonica, bringing their news to him after Paul’s departure.
+ “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”
The Greek word “ekklesia” (for “church”) is defined as “a gathering or assembly of citizens convening in a public place for the purpose of deliberating.” Its use evolved to denote “the assembly of the Israelites (synagogue).” In the Christian context, though, it does not simply refer to “an assembly of citizens,” rather, it means the assembly of believers who live by the power and grace which God sent into the world through Jesus Christ. Despite its physical existence in the world, the Church lives through the Spirit, with principles and a lifestyle independent of those prevalent in the world.
+ “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”
Grace is not a human gift, since it surpasses all human and worldly capabilities; furthermore, it cannot be acquired through wealth or any other means. Grace is free – it is an expression of God’s abundant, overflowing, bounties. Similarly peace, which “surpasses all comprehension” and which defies all sources of fear and anxiety, is a free gift from God. This is the reason for St. Paul’s assertion that both grace and peace are from “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
2. Giving thanks to God for Thessalonica’s believers (1:2 – 10)
+ 1:2 & 3: St. Paul starts this epistle, like most of his other epistles, by thanking God for His work among the Thessalonians; he combines his thanksgiving with prayers for them, remembering their faith, love and hope, all of which was truly experienced: faith characterized by works in accordance with biblical instruction, rather than simple window-dressing, love characterized by commitment, labor, selflessness, and sacrifice, rather than a wagging tongue with hollow words, and hope steadfast in the Lord, enduring circumstances however severe the persecution or extreme the resistance, and bearing the fruit of undefeated patience, and unshaken confidence in anticipation of the Lord’s Coming.
+ 1:4 & 5: St. Paul refers to the Thessalonians as “brethren,” since they all belong to One “Father,” Who chose them before “the foundation of the world,” and Who predestined them “to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself.” (Ephesians 1:4 & 5) This was a testimony that the Bible which St. Paul preached to them was not simply words communicated to them, rather, it was inspired by the power anointed by the Holy Spirit Who, alone, is capable of opening the hearts’ eyes, of convincing the soul of the need for salvation, of granting obedience to His voice, and of transporting them from darkness to light. Thus, their lives were transformed. Furthermore, throughout St. Paul’s evangelization, he was filled with “assurance” since his following the Lord stemmed from his unprecedented encounter with the Lord’s Person, Who chose and called him to bear His name “before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” (Acts 9:15)
+ 1:6: St. Paul adds that, despite “much affliction,” the Thessalonians’ acceptance of the Faith was reinforced through the example which St. Paul and his companions demonstrated, by conducting themselves in accordance with what they preached, and in a manner befitting the Savior’s followers. The Thessalonians thus experienced the “joy of the Holy Spirit;” this is the true happiness associated with the peace of God which transcends all tribulation and suffering – those having been epitomized in the Jews’ persecution and resistance (3:2 – 4 and Acts 17:5).
+ 1:7 & 8: St. Paul thus addresses them saying, “you became examples to all in Macedonia [Philippi] and Achaia [Corinth]”……and “also in every place.” The word of the Lord, and the Faith, consequently spread far and wide; he therefore told them that he considered them to be co-evangelists along with his companions, to the extent that there was no need for St. Paul to preach to them, “so that we do not need to say anything.”
+ 1:9: St. Paul extols the Thessalonians, telling them that the other Churches glorify God in them, declaring how St. Paul and his co-servants came to evangelize them, and how they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” – serving Him and preaching His name.
+ 1:10: Now that the Thessalonians have experienced life in Christ, they contemplate the Faith’s ultimate goal, namely, citizenship in heaven. They therefore yearn for the second coming of the Son of God, Jesus Christ the Savior, from heaven (Philip. 3:20), proclaiming the resurrection of the dead and life of the coming age (Acts 1:11); they will thus be with Him forever, and be spared from the wrath awaiting those who reject the Lord’s salvation (1 Thes. 2:16). This wrath differs from the natural human anger, in that it is devoid of selfishness, personal enmity, and is against evil, rebellion, cruelty and oppression; furthermore, it does not oppose love, since love applies truth strictly, and does not waver when faced with vanity.
St. Paul finally exhorts them, in anticipation of the joyful end, to endure “the sufferings of this present time” and the tribulations of the last days, asserting that those “are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.“(Romans 8:18)