I Thessalonians – Lesson One
DAY ONE: INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF THESSALONIANS
As Paul sat down to write his first letter to the Thessalonians, he found himself in a place where no parent ever wants to be. His children (baby converts) were in a very dangerous place, and he couldn’t come to them. He longed to protect and help them, but his way was blocked. And he didn’t even have a cell phone! He faced sleepless nights and anxious days as he waited to hear of their fate. When word finally came, it was good news and bad news. Paul will respond to all of the news in his letters. But for us today it is all good news. This letter gave Paul an opportunity to do important teaching on Christ’s second coming and gave encouragement on the joy of living the Christian life. This valuable teaching directly impacts us today. The letter also shows us Paul’s heart for his converts.
1 and 2 Thessalonians are among the first of many epistles that Paul wrote to individuals and churches in the first century. These two letters are of great importance, not only because they contain so much information about Jesus’ coming for the church and about the Day of the Lord, but also because they mention almost every major doctrine of the Christian church. We are in for a treat as we begin this study.
A. SETTING AND CIRCUMSTANCES – BIBLE MAP
Thessalonica was a key city in Macedonia in Paul’s day. It was located on a major road called the Egnation Way. This well-traveled road enabled the city to become a strategic commercial center. The highway connected Rome to the trade markets in the Orient. It also had an active sea port as it was located on a gulf off the Aegean Sea. This is one of the only ancient cities to survive to modern times.
In Paul’s day, Thessalonica had a population of about 200,000 people. The majority of the people were Greek but there were also many Romans who had settled there. A large community of Jews lived in this thriving city, so there was an active synagogue.
In the book of Acts we learn how the Thessalonian church was founded (Acts 17:1-15). In about A.D. 51 Paul visited this city on his second missionary journey. He followed his usual pattern of going to the Jews first by visiting their synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath. Paul, Silas and Timothy were traveling together and were initially welcomed by Jason and his fellow Jews. Jason was a relative of Paul according to Romans 16:21. For three Sabbaths, Paul was able to speak in the synagogue service, explaining how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies regarding Messiah.
The pagan Greek and Roman religions involved many forms of immorality. These sensual temptations appealed to some people but repulsed others. Many Greeks and Romans who were repulsed by temple prostitution and fertility rituals were attracted to the purity of the moral standards of Judaism. They frequented the weekly synagogue services. To this mixed audience of Jews, Greeks, and Romans, Paul taught the beautiful story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and moral teachings. Many Jews, God-fearing Greeks and prominent women became believers as a result of Paul’s passionate teaching.
This response to Paul’s teaching angered the unbelieving Jews. Paul was forced to leave the synagogue and continue his teaching at Jason’s private home. Eventually the opposition stirred up the city and a mob assaulted Jason’s house. Paul left by night and went 40 miles away to Berea. (See Bible Map) The ministry was going well in Berea, but a short time later the Thessalonian Jews followed Paul to Berea to oppose his work and he was forced out of town once again.
Paul left Berea to go to Athens but sent Timothy back to check on the baby Christians in Thessalonica. From Athens Paul traveled to Corinth. While he was there Paul received Timothy’s report, and he quickly wrote this letter to them.
B. QUESTIONS FOR STUDY OR DISCUSSION
1. Read Acts 17. Trace Paul’s Second Missionary Journey on a map in your Bible. Locate Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth.
2. When Paul preached to the Jews, he started with their Old Testament. Scriptures. When he preached to pagans, he started with creation. It is a good technique to start where people are. How can we know where to start with unbelievers today?
3. What are some possible responses that we can receive when we talk with people about Christ?
4. How are we to respond when we face opposition or rejection to our message?
5. Are we ever to try to force or coerce people to believe?
6. What did Paul do when “a door was shut” in a given city?
7. Why do you think Paul didn’t give up and go home?
8. Why did Paul start at the synagogue? (Romans 1:16)
9. What is your reaction when a door to ministry is closed to you?
10. What personal lesson can you learn and apply from Paul’s model?
DAY TWO: PAUL ADDRESSES FAITHFUL CONVERTS.
READ: 1 Thessalonians 1:1
A. PAUL SALUTES THE CHURCH.
In our technological age it may be hard to understand how anxious Paul had become. Today if we are concerned we pick up the phone and call, email several times a day or text repeatedly. We have the latest word instantly. In Paul’s day news traveled slowly and when a letter came (often hand delivered) it was packed with meaning and information. It was widely read and digested. Every word from the salutation to the closing signature was carefully chosen.
When Timothy’s report came back to Paul, the news was mixed. The good news was that the church was surviving and even thriving. The bad news was that Paul’s reputation had been smeared, and false teachers had brought alarming confusion about Jesus’ return. They desperately needed a word from Paul.
B. PAUL FOLLOWED THE ANCIENT LETTER-WRITING FORMAT.
- Name of the Writer Paul & his Traveling Companions
- Name of the Recipient The Thessalonian Church
- Formal Greeting Grace and Peace
- Ch. 1 — Paul Encourages New Believers.
- Ch. 2 – Paul Explains His Actions & Motives.
- Ch.3 — Paul Expresses Joy Regarding the Good News.
- Ch. 4 – Paul Explains Christ’s coming.
- Ch. 5 – Paul Exhorts Believers to be ready.
- Personal Messages and Prayer
C. PAUL DESCRIBES THEIR NEW POSITION IN THE SALUTATION.
There is a new entity – This letter is written to the church, not the synagogue. We begin to see the transition from Jew to Gentile as the major force in building the church and spreading the gospel.
There is a new person to be worshipped – It acknowledges both God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is deity. This is a major shift in Jewish thinking.
There is a new doctrine – Christianity teaches a grace that brings eternal peace with God. The Jewish sacrificial system had a temporary and limited peace with God. Jesus has done what the Law of Moses could not do.
D. QUESTIONS FOR STUDY OR DISCUSSION
1. Describe the art of letter writing that you were taught in your home or school experience.
2. In your opinion, which is most effective – communicating verbally or in written form?
3. Explain the doctrine of grace as you understand it.
4. What is the belief that is necessary for every Christian? (Romans 10:9)
5. How do you personally treat the salutation as you study Biblical epistles?
6. Write a personal note to encourage someone this week.
DAY THREE: PAUL EXPRESSES GRATITUDE FOR FAITHFULNESS.
READ: 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3
A. PAUL REJOICES AT TIMOTHY’S REPORT.
It is not easy to raise children. We can pour our lives into their training, teaching, and nurturing, but they don’t always make the choices we would like when they are out of our sight. When we hear that they are making good choices, we rejoice and praise God for his faithful help in the process.
Paul is no different. He rejoices at their progress. Rather than being a source of worry and heartache, these believers have become a bright spot in Paul’s missionary efforts. They are making good choices. Would that all children could turn out so well!
B. PAUL FAITHFULLY PRAYS FOR THEM.
Obviously Paul is a faithful prayer warrior in his busy life. He remembers to appeal to God on behalf of the Thessalonians. It is comforting when someone reminds us that we are prayed for regularly.
C. PAUL PRAISES THEIR STRENGTHS.
Three things stood out to Paul as he remembered them fondly:
Their work was produced by faith.
They had turned from idols and pagan morality to follow God. This transformation was miraculous and showed a solid faith.
Their labor was prompted by love.
In the midst of persecution they had begun serving Christ out of love for their savior and love for their fellow man.
Their endurance was inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
They did not falter in their new lives. They were waiting for Christ to return and wanted to be found worthy.
No wonder these believers were thriving. When our lives are built on the Christian graces — faith, love and hope – all based on Jesus Christ, we are standing on a firm foundation.
D. QUESTIONS FOR STUDY OR DISCUSSION
1. What are the three Christian graces in 1 Corinthians 13:13?
2. In your own words, describe what each one means in your Christian life.
3. Why do you think Paul always tells his converts that he prays for them continually?
4. What are some ways that we can keep Jesus’ “soon coming” in our daily focus?
5. Who do you pray for regularly? Do you tell them?
DAY FOUR: PAUL RECALLS THE NEW BELIEVER’S EXPERIENCE.
READ: 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6
A. THEY REPONDED TO GOD’S WORD.
How is it possible that people grounded in Judaism or raised in pagan idolatry can become faithful Christians in a short time?
Paul remembers with thanksgiving how they came to be a part of God’s elect people. They were truth seekers or as some Gentiles were called, “God-fearers.” They had open hearts to listen to the kind of logical truth that was powerfully presented by Paul verbally and supported by Scripture. Acts tells us that Paul reasoned with the people. This kind of teaching involves discussion – questions and answers. Since God knew their hearts, he empowered Paul in a special way to teach mightily, while the Holy Spirit worked in their own hearts to confirm that this was God’s truth.
Then the Holy Spirit enabled these believers to know that they were accepted by God and were indeed God’s elect or God’s chosen sons.
This model is repeated for us today. The Holy Spirit empowers teachers today to give out the gospel with understanding and deep conviction. The Holy Spirit also works in the hearts and minds of truth seekers to receive the gospel with assurance that it is the word of God. Those who believe and receive Christ can be sure that they are among the elect people who are adopted into God’s eternal family. (John 1:12). God always responds to people who genuinely seek truth.
B. THEY WITNESSED CHRISTIAN LIVING.
The Thessalonians had a truly valuable gift as they began their new lives. Paul, Silas, and Timothy modeled the Christian life before them. Since this life was vastly different from normal Greek life, it was important and extremely helpful to see lives that pleased God lived out before them on a daily basis. Today we still need Godly pastors, leaders, and ordinary Christians to model the transformed life that is taught in Scripture.
C. THEY LIVED OUT THEIR CHANGED LIVES.
Another proof of their salvation (election) was the story of their growth. They did not take baby steps and then fall down when suffering came. Instead, they boldly forged ahead to live their new lives and speak out God’s truth, even though it involved suffering. It is easy to live out our faith when people agree with us, but the test comes when there is serious opposition. Jesus learned obedience in suffering as did Paul and his companions. Paul rejoices that these new converts are following this pattern.
They received the new Christian teaching with the joy of the Holy Spirit within them and lived it out to the glory of God. This showed that they trusted God’s judgment and that His ways really work.
D. QUESTIONS FOR STUDY OR DISCUSSION
1. How does the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 illustrate
God’s faithfulness to truth seekers?
What did God promise to those who seek God? (Deuteronomy 4:29)
2. What are some of the teachings of Scripture that are counter cultural or controversial in today’s world?
3. What did Jesus say about the response to His truth in any age? (John 8:31-32)
4. Who is your role model in Christian living?
5. What evidence is there that your lifestyle model influences others?
DAY FIVE: PAUL REVIEWS RESULTS OF THEIR EXEMPLARY LIVES.
READ: 1 Thessalonians 1:7-10
A. THEIR REPUTATION SPREAD WIDELY.
The Thessalonians were considered by Paul to be a model church. What does a “model church” look like? Today many churches work hard to become successful. Success is usually measured by large numbers of weekly attendees, beautiful buildings, and innovative programs.
Paul points to the Thessalonian church as a model for all of the provinces of Macedonia and Achaia. The church was like a lighthouse for believers far and wide. It was measured in a different way.
B. THEIR SUCCESS INSPIRED MANY.
What made this church successful?
- They had been transformed by the Word of God and were now people of great joy and holiness. Their love for each other was growing steadily.
- They were eager to share the good news with everyone, even though not everyone received it well. Their opposition and even suffering did not dampen their zeal.
- They waited expectantly for the return of Jesus to rescue them from the wrath to come. This great hope was inviting to hopeless people. The idol worshippers did not serve a living and true God, a real person who proved his power by raising Jesus from the dead. These unbelievers had no hope and no promises for future deliverance.
- The joy of the Lord is our strength. It comes from our relationship with Jesus, not from our circumstances in this fallen world. Even persecution from fellow Jews or influential pagans could not take their joy away.
C. QUESTIONS FOR STUDY OR DISCUSSION
1. How did Jesus say that Christians would be known? (John 13:35)
2. Which of the marks of success above do you think are most lacking in your church today?
3. Which is most lacking in your own life?
4. Do people consider you to be an unusually joyful person?
5. What has changed the most in your life since you became a Christian?
6. What is different in your life from your worldly neighbors or friends?
Love believers in Thessalonica were great models of faith, love, and hope. These are the cardinal virtues of the Christian life and the greatest evidences of true salvation. They are also the virtues that lead to fruitfulness.
PRINCIPLE FOR THE WEEK
Love for God and love for people will always bear eternal fruit.
Show God’s love to someone that He will send your way this week.
Encourage one person – verbally or in a written form.
About the author
LaWanda Neel is a lifelong Bible student. She has served as a Teaching Leader for Bible Study Fellowship and has conducted studies for neighborhood and church groups. She is now retired and lives with her husband in Lakewood, Colorado. She spends time reading, studying, teaching, writing, traveling all around the world and entertaining her five grandchildren. This is her third Weekly Word series for Thrive Ministries. Contact her for questions or comments at [email protected]View all articles by: LaWanda Neel
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