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Introduction to 1 Thessalonians

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I. Introduction

!!A. One of my favorite little sayings or proverbs goes something like this: You know that there is no such thing as a wasted life. At the very least you can be used as a bad example!

B. This morning, we are embarking on a series in the epistle to the Thessalonians which portrays a church which is quite the opposite of that little maxim. We are going to study a letter, written to a church which was a good example to others. In some respects, our church has similarities to this church. It was a church body that was newly formed. It was a church body that had believed and embraced the proclamation of the word of God. It was a church body under persecution by some who tried to stop it. It was a church body whose primary teacher dearly loved the flock with the affection of a parent for a child. It wasn’t a perfect church. It had some issues that it needed to address. But all in all, it was a church, whose response to the gospel and continued faithfulness to Jesus Christ set itself forth as an example to be emulated.

C. Proposition

This morning I am going to introduce to you Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. We are going to study six facets of its background critical to its interpretation, in order to help you better understand the occasion that prompted the letter, and to help you make proper application as we go through this series together.

D. Epistle to the church of Thessalonica [Read v. 1] {159}

1. Typical of epistle during the period – salutation, body, concluding remarks (greeting)

2. Epistle vs. Narrative

a) Always interested in genre of literature

b) Recipe vs. Robber’s note (interpreted differently)

c) Narrative:

(1) Usually about what God is like, what God has done

(2) Generally not prescriptive for us

(3) Example: Gospels and Acts, much of OT

d) Epistle

(1) Written to a church or individual

(2) Occasional: usually addresses a problem or issue

(3) Also, tractate – has an ongoing value beyond the occasion.

(4) Teaches us how to live as individuals or as a church.

e) As we develop the teaching in this epistle, I particularly want you to pay attention to how the instruction to the Thessalonians can be applied, first to you as an individual, and then collectively to us as a church.

II. The Authors (v. 1a)

A. Paul

1. Brief Biography:

a) Born into a Jewish family in Tarsus, Cilicia – a Roman citizen.

b) One-time prominent Pharisee, student of Gamaliel (probably a member of the Jewish ruling body in Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin)

c) Well-known persecutor of Christians for several years after Christ’s ascension (Acts 8:1-3; 9:1; Gal 1:14)

d) Converted to Christianity when he met the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus and deemed an apostle with the same gifts and authority as the eleven who walked with Jesus (Acts 9) [Approx. AD 35].

e) After going away and learning the faith for three years, he became part of the church at Antioch in Syria

f) Known as the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” and being sent out by the church at Antioch, he went on three missionary journeys, the last of which landed him in jail in Rome.

g) Everywhere he went, he established new churches along the way.

h) He was released from jail, eventually went to Spain, and was finally executed by beheading in Rome under Emperor Nero’s reign.

2. Involvement in this letter

a) Really the main author of this letter

b) See 2:18, 3:5, 5:27

B. Silvanus (called Silas by Luke in Acts)

1. Prophet in Jerusalem church, co-authored and distributed the decree of the Council (Acts 15:22-23, 32-34)

2. Chosen to go on 2nd missionary journey with Paul when dispute arose between him and Barnabas over John Mark

3. With Paul as far as Corinth (1 Thess 1:1, 2 Thess 1:1; Acts 18:5)

4. Probably older and more mature than Timothy and more of a peer with Paul

5. Like John Mark, eventually ends up with Peter (1 Pet 5:12)

C. Timothy

1. Young disciple of Paul whom he enlisted on the 2nd missionary journey (Acts 16:1)

2. Traveled extensively with Paul from this point on

3. Called Paul’s “true child in the faith” (1 Tim 1:2) and “beloved son” (2 Tim 1:2)

4. Mentioned in all but 2 of Paul’s epistles

5. Sent to straighten out the church at Ephesus and called to Paul in his last days.

D. Authenticity

1. Externally

a) Found attributed to Paul in two early collections (Marcion and Muratorian Canons)

b) Possibly cited by Irenaeus (AD 180), definitely by Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian (AD 200)

c) Not challenged until 19th century

2. Internally

a) Paul’s name (1:1)

b) Couldn’t be written after Paul died (see 4:17)

So we will follow the millennia of tradition and accept that this is a letter written, or at least dictated, by the Apostle Paul.

III. The Recipients (v. 1b)

A. The Assembly Indicated

1. Called “the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”

2. Term “church” (ekklesia) simply means assembly

a) Different assemblies in Thessalonica (Jewish Synagogue, Rotary Club, Kiwanis)

b) In Acts 19:30, same word to describe a riotous assembly

3. Early designation (pre-technical)

a) Initially, term had to be defined by its location (1 Thess 1:1, 2:14; 2 Thess 1:1)

b) Later, became a technical term for a Christian assembly

4. Here, even “the church of the Thessalonians in God” might describe Jewish Synagogue

5. This assembly is those who are in a relationship with God and with the Lord Jesus Christ.

So the recipients first were residents of the city of Thessalonica who assembled themselves together based on their relationship to God the Father, a relationship entered into because of their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

B. The City’s Importance

1. Thessalonica

a) Founded near a city formerly known as Therma or Therme (due to warm mineral springs nearby)

b) On the northernmost point of the Gulf of Thermopolis (Thermaic Gulf?) (northern portion of Mediterranean Sea).

c) Mount Olympus visible to the SW

d) Cassander named it in 315 BC for his wife, Alexander the Great’s half-sister.

e) Thessalonike (victory of the Thessalians)

2. Importance

a) Important city in the Roman province of Macedonia

b) On the Egnatian Way, linking Europe and Asia

c) That, and its seaport location made it important city of commerce

d) Cicero spoke of it as “lying in the lap of the Roman Empire”

e) When the Romans conquered Greece in 168 BC, made the capital of one of the four Roman districts of Macedonia

f) In 146 BC, it was made the capital of the entire province, becoming the seat of the Roman governor.

g) In the civil war between Caesar and Pompey (49/48), it sided with Pompey, but during the final struggle of the Roman republic, in 42 BC, it stood on the side of Anthony and Octavian. Because of its loyalty, Caesar Augustus made it a free city permitting it to be self-governing.

h) It had no Roman garrison stationed there. Citizens could hold public assemblies and appoint magistrates (called politarchs in Acts 17:8 – this title was challenged by skeptics until inscriptions were found confirming it).

C. The Circumstances Involved

1. Acts 17:1-15 {107}

2. Paul’s Second Missionary Journey {see map}

IV. The Date and Place Inscribed (Acts 18:12-18)

A. Place – Corinth

1. Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica (1 Th 3:1-3) [and Silas probably to Berea]

2. When Timothy returns, Paul is so excited that he writes to them (1 Th 3:6; Acts 18:5)

B. Date

1. AD 50/51

2. The date of the letter can be determined with a fair degree of accuracy since it falls within Paul’s period at Corinth.

3. The reason we can date it so precisely is because of the intersection of biblical history with secular chronology, which helps us date the proconsulate of Gallio.

a) According to an inscription at Delphi, Gallio was proconsul during the twelfth year of Claudius’ tribunicial power and after his twenty-sixth proclamation as Emperor.

b) We know that this was before August 52, when the twenty-seventh proclamation had already been made.

c) Proconsuls usually took office in midsummer, however the inscription indicates that Gallio had referred some questions to the Emperor and this would have required some time.

d) Thus, Gallio most likely took office in AD 51.

4. It is not possible to say exactly when Paul appeared before Gallio, but Acts 18:12–18 suggests that this happened shortly after Gallio assumed office and probably towards the end of Paul’s eighteen months in the city.

5. It is most probable that 1 Thessalonians was written shortly after Paul’s arrival in Corinth and it may therefore be dated around January or February AD 50.

V. Purpose

A. To encourage the new believers in Thessalonica to persevere in godly behavior in the midst of persecution by the Jews and pagans;

B. To answer questions regarding the Second Coming and the fate of dead saints at that time.

C. To assure them of Paul’s integrity and his love for his disciples.

VI. Outline and Content

A. Greeting (1:1)

B. Prayer of Thanksgiving (1:2–10)

C. Paul’s Mission Work in Thessalonica (2:1–16)

D. Paul’s Present Relationship to the Thessalonians (2:17–3:13)

E. Practical Exhortations (4:1–12)

F. The Parousia (4:13–5:11)

G. Further Practical Exhortations (5:12–22)

H. Conclusion (5:23–28)

VII. The Salutation (v. 1c)

A. Two Greek words representing one Greek and one Hebrew greeting.

B. This greeting would become a typical Pauline salutation, yet with deeper theological meaning than either term used in the traditional way.

C. Grace

1. Would typically mean

2. In Christian circles, however, it refers to God’s unmerited favor toward someone

3. It is most significantly manifested in the sending of God’s Son to offer Himself as a sacrifice for man’s sins against Him.

4. God’s grace applies to all men

a) To those who refuse to acknowledge Him as God and Sovereign, it is known as common grace (Mt 5:44-45)

b) To the elect, it is salvation grace – grace, which is activated through faith, that delivers them from the penalty of their sins against Him.

5. In his salutation, Paul reminds his readers of the manifold grace that God has bestowed in their lives, releasing them from their bondage to sin, and freeing them to serve Him with joy.

D. Peace

1. The second term is the Greek translation of the Hebrew shalom.

2. Shalom typically refers to physical blessing or material well-being.

3. But with Paul, when linked to grace, it reminds the reader of two aspects of peace

a) First is peace with God. Through the gracious act of God to provide a Savior and to grant repentance and faith, those who were once enemies of God have made peace with God.

b) Second is the peace of God. When one has made peace with His Creator, then he possesses an inner tranquility that cannot be shaken. A decade after this epistle was penned, the Apostle referred to this as the “peace that passes understanding.”

VIII. Conclusion

If you are here today and you have never made peace with God, your Creator, then I want to urge you not to delay in doing so. You can have the guilt and shame of your sins washed away, cleansed because of Christ’s death on the cross in your place. Tell God, I know you are holy and I am not. I know that I am guilty before you. I believe that you sent Jesus Christ, your Son, to pay my debt. Forgive me of my sins because of what He has done for me. Cleanse my soul. Make me a new person. Teach me how to live for you. If you are not sure, or if you have questions, see me afterward, but don’t delay.

If you know Christ, rejoice that He has freed you from bondage. Praise Him all this week for His goodness and faithfulness toward you. And also, thank Him for beginning this work here in the Antelope Valley. Ask Him to do great things through us, not for our sake, but for His own name’s sake.

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