We must now examine the letter itself to see how it is that the inspired apostle expresses his care for the church at Thessalonica which had so recently come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
BRIEF OUTLINE OF THE LETTER
1.The salutation (I Thess. 1:1). In this verse Paul extends his greetings along with Silas’ and Timothy’s to the church at Thessalonica. He greets them with the usual apostolic blessing.
2.He expresses thanks to God for the church (I Thess. 1:2-10). In doing this, Paul mentions this fact not only (I Thess. 1:2), but recalls the reasons for this thankfulness. The church at Thessalonica believed the gospel and expressed this faith by works of love and patience (I Thess. 1:3). This was a demonstration of the power of the gospel whereby Paul had come to know that they were elect of God (I Thess. 1:4, 5). This convinced Paul that his labor among them had not been in vain for they had become followers of the Lord, having received the word (I Thess. 1:6), and had even become examples to the believers throughout the whole region (I Thess. 1:7, 8). This faith of the Thessalonians was so powerful, it caused them to forsake the world of idolatry and to believe in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and His coming again in judgment (I Thess. 1:9, 10).
3.Paul presents the defense of his ministry among the Thessalonians as his answer to the opposition generated by his enemies (I Thess. 2:1-12). He reminds them that he was not a coward, for after he was shamefully treated at Philippi, he still came to Thessalonica and boldly preached to them there in the face of contention (I Thess. 2:1, 2). The gospel that he preached was given them as a sacred trust from God and therefore he declared it to them not in deceit, nor corrupted it in any way so as to please men, but rather in sincerity for God Who trieth the heart is his witness (I Thess. 2:3-5). He then makes two significant points. First, while laboring with them, he did not require them to pay for his livelihood. Instead he worked at tent-making, even though it meant he had to work night and day. They should appreciate that this meant personal sacrifice on his part (I Thess. 2:6, 8, 9). Secondly, his method of labor was gentle and loving, as a nurse cherisheth her children (I Thess. 2:7), as a father comforts his children (I Thess. 2:11), while he maintained a good example, so that they could look to him for guidance (I Thess. 2:10, 12).
4. He reminds them of the effect the gospel had upon them (I Thess. 2:13-16). He rejoices with thanksgiving that they received the gospel, not as the word of man, but as the Word of God (I Thess. 2:13). By receiving the word, they joined the Christians in Judea who suffered at the hands of the Jews (I Thess. 2:14). He rehearses, further, that the Jews in Judea had killed the prophets, even THE prophet. Now, they forbid the gospel to be preached to the Gentiles, and in this way filled up the guilt of their sins, making themselves worthy of the wrath of God (I Thess. 2:15-17).
5. In this next section, Paul discloses his personal concern for the welfare of the church there, and he tells how he seeks their good (I Thess. 2:17-3:13). Even after he endangered his life by going to Thessalonica, Paul still desired to return to them for spiritual fellowship, but was hindered by Satan (I Thess. 2:17-20). Instead, Paul sent Timothy to comfort them (I Thess. 3:1, 2). He further explains that persecutions are divinely appointed and believers are to expect them. Nevertheless, he was much concerned to know how they withstood the tempter (I Thess. 3:3-5). Upon Timothy’s return and assurance that they were faithful, Paul is comforted and rejoices before God with thanksgiving (I Thess. 3:6-9). He reaffirms his desire to return to them and to strengthen them in their faith by a personal visit (I Thess. 3:10). In the meanwhile, he commits this desire to God in prayer and asks God to make them increase in love toward each other and to strengthen their faith until the Lord returns (I Thess. 3:11-13).
6. The apostle Paul explicitly instructs them concerning sexual purity (I Thess. 4:18). He presents this teaching as a commandment of God which they already know, since he had told them before (I Thess. 4:1, 2). The purpose of this teaching is their sanctification through abstaining from fornication (I Thess. 4:3). This includes a husband possessing his vessel (his wife) in holiness and not in the concupiscence (passions) of lust as the Gentiles do. This is an obvious reference to heathendom from which they were converted (I Thess. 4:4, 5). In addition, one may not defraud his brother (commit adultery secretly), because the Lord is the avenger. All such sins are contrary to God’s will, for He has called us to holiness by His Holy Spirit (I Thess. 4:6-8).
7. We are to work to provide for our daily needs (I Thess. 4:9-12). He gives this instruction in the setting of brotherly love (I Thess. 4:9, 10). Labor is a private matter (be quiet, do your own business). By doing this they will be a good example to outsiders and also have sufficient material needs for themselves (I Thess. 4:11, 12).
8. He now instructs them concerning those in their midst who had died and of whom they were afraid that they would be left out in the coming of the Lord (I Thess. 4:13-18). There is sorrow when a loved one dies, yet in that sorrow there is hope (I Thess. 4:13). Christ died and rose again, even so all who have died in Christ shall arise (I Thess. 4:14). The order is important. Negatively, the living saints will not prevent (precede) the ones who have died. Positively, Christ will first raise up those who have died in Him; then the living ones will be translated immediately, “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” This will be public and well announced, for the Lord will come with a shout, the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God (I Thess. 4:15-18).
9. Paul gives specific instruction about the return of Christ and the correct way to watch for Him (I Thess. 5:1-11). He will come suddenly, unexpectedly, as a thief in the night (I Thess. 5:1, 2). Those who are in darkness will think He will not come, and they will be complacent in their evil ways (drunken); but He will suddenly appear and destroy them (I Thess. 5:3, 7). As the children of the light, we should not sleep, but watch, be sober, look for His coming as a soldier prepared for battle (I Thess. 5:4-6, 8). The motive of this watch is that when Christ comes, we will receive our full salvation in Him; that is, we will live together with Him. This is reason to comfort and to edify one another (I Thess. 5:9-11).
10. In conclusion, Paul exhorts them on a variety of subjects (I Thess. 5:12-22). They are to esteem very highly those office bearers who labor in their behalf (I Thess. 5:12, 13). They are to warn the unruly that they not render evil for evil, but, contrariwise, they are to comfort and uphold all the rest no matter what their degree of spiritual growth (I Thess. 5:14, 15). It is their privilege to rejoice, pray without ceasing, quench not the spirit, despise not prophesyings, hold fast that which is good, and finally abstain not only from evil, but also the very appearance of evil (I Thess. 5:16-22).
11. Once again he offers a prayer to the faithful God for their sanctification, including their whole spirit, soul, and body to be preserved blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus (I Thess. 5:23, 24).
12. He expresses final requests (I Thess. 5:25-27). These include a request that they pray for him (I Thess. 5:25), greet each other with a holy kiss (I Thess. 5:26), read this epistle to all the brethren (I Thess. 5:27).
13. He blesses them with the usual, “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” (I Thess. 5:28).
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What was the city of Thessalonica like when Paul arrived there on his second missionary journey?
2. Give a brief review of Paul’s missionary labors in organizing the Thessalonian church. (See Acts 17 and references in the letter itself.)
3. What prompted the uprising of the Jews against Paul as he labored in Thessalonica? Give some details of this history.
5. Demonstrate from this letter that the church at Thessalonica, though young in faith, was a good example of Christian conduct. How do we account for this sudden change? (See I Thess. 1:2-10.)
6. How does Paul show bravery and diligence to preach the gospel when he was determined to return to Thessalonica? What lesson is there in this for us?
7. What lesson can a preacher learn from this letter in how to engage in pastoral care in a congregation that is young in Christian faith?
8. Review the problems that were evident in the church at Thessalonica and show how Paul deals with each of them?
9. Show from this letter that Paul expresses warmth and love for the church. How did Paul also show this to them in very deed?
10. In I Thess. 4:9-11 of this letter we are urged to work to provide for our daily bread. What abuses might Paul have in mind that he intended to correct?
11. Show that Paul’s teaching concerning “our being caught in the air to meet the Lord” (I Thess. 4:13-18) cannot possibly refer to a rapture as the premillenarian teaches.
12. Give some specific suggestions concerning that which we can and should do as we watch for Christ’s return.