Exploring the Scripture
According to many scholars, the letter to the Thessalonians was written around 50 CE, the earliest of Paul’s letters. It predates the Gospels and is the most ancient of all the New Testament writings available. Acts 17:1-10 provides Luke’s account of organizing the church in Thessalonica, the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia. This letter supports some of that history. Although Acts suggests Paul first preached to the Jews, Thessalonians was written mainly to Gentile Christians, who faced persecution for their faith.
The letter lists the authors as Paul and his missionary companions Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy. Characteristically, the letter begins with thanks for the church members’ faith, steadfastness, and missionary zeal. Thanksgiving and joy are obvious throughout the letter, a pastoral message of support and encouragement for a congregation Paul loved and prayerfully supported.
Paul’s memory of the time he spent among the Thessalonians presents a remarkable snapshot of a dedicated, compassionate community of faith. He affirmed God’s love for them and called them “chosen.” The Gentile Christians would have known enough about the Jews to recognize the importance of being God’s chosen people. The Jews traced their elect status to God’s covenant promise to be their God if they would be God’s people. Paul extended that covenant relationship to the Thessalonians. This letter is the first written record we have that affirms the Christian faith community has inherited the privileged status of being numbered among God’s chosen people.
He remembered their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope,” Christian virtues coupled with Christian action. He stressed the gospel was not just a set of beliefs but a faith strengthened by the Holy Spirit’s presence, “with full conviction,” to help sustain their efforts. It was not human speech that caused their conversion, but rather the Divine voice and Spirit’s action among them.
Paul referred to himself as a model for them to follow but qualified it. With Jesus, he is a faith model amid suffering, which they, too, experienced. In accepting persecution fearlessly, they inspired others to endure faithfully in Macedonia, Achaia (Greece), and “every place your faith in God has become known” (v. 8). For the first time in our written record, we read the example of Jesus Christ is a key witness in spreading the gospel, but so is the courageous, undaunted example set by Christ’s disciples.
In the last two verses, Paul summarized the heart of the gospel that had transformed the Thessalonians. They had turned from worshiping idols to worship the one true and living God. They had embraced Jesus as God’s Son, crucified, and resurrected. They awaited Christ’s return to rescue them from the “wrath (judgment) to come.” Paul and the early disciples believed God’s judgment was imminent. The letter moves from the opening statement of thanksgiving and remembrance to Paul’s advice and teaching. Then, Paul returned to the doctrine of the last days and Second Coming.
Community of Christ disciples and friends now face the challenge of survival in a society indifferent and often hostile to our cherished values and beliefs. Paul’s letter reminds us to hold fast to the heart of the gospel and continue to be a community that shares God’s love in the world.
Project Zion Podcast
Co-hosts Karin Peter and Blake Smith consider how this week's scripture connects to our lives today.
- Thanksgiving and joy permeate this writing from a spiritual father to his beloved children in the faith.
- Paul praised the Thessalonians for their work of faith, the labor of love, and steadfast hope, Christian virtues coupled with Christian action.
- Christians inherited the coveted status of being God’s chosen people.
- The example set by Christ’s disciples is vital in spreading the gospel.
- Monotheistic worship and affirmation of Christ as God’s Son, crucified and risen, are the heart of the transforming gospel.
Questions to Consider
- How would Paul characterize your congregation about Christian virtues coupled with Christian acts?
- What does it mean today to be among God’s chosen, covenant people? How is that idea helpful? How has it been abused?
- What example are you setting? How is it spreading the gospel?
- In one sentence, summarize the heart of Christ’s message from your faith perspective. Would others understand and be changed by that sentence?