For the next few weeks, the New Testament readings in our lectionary come from Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Thessalonica. Written between 50 and 50 C.E., during Paul’s second missionary journey, the letter’s purpose is to express Paul’s thankfulness for the loyalty and faith of the Thessalonians, and to deal with some of their problems. It’s theme: how to “lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (2:12). It is the oldest New Testament document surviving in its original form.
Some Christians had quit their work to await in idleness the second coming of Christ, an event they expected at any moment. In the interim, because their more level-headed and industrious brethren had to support them, their pagan neighbors began to ridicule the Church. Paul specifically directed the Thessalonians “to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we charged you; so that you may command the respect of outsiders, and be dependent on nobody” (4:11-12).
Because one of the chief industries of the ancient Macedonian seaport of Thessalonica was the weaving of goat’s-hair cloth, from which tents were made, Paul was able to find employment there at his trade of tentmaking (Acts 18:3). His hours, however, we evidently long, for he says, “we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:9).
Thessalonica is located on the coast of northern Greece. (Most of the ancient city lies in ruins beneath the modern town of Thessalonkiki.) Paul converted many people there, but some Jews stirred up a mob and charged the house where Paul had been staying. He wasn’t there, so they took the homeowner before the city council and charged him with treason for giving allegiance to Jesus as king. The council threw out the case, but believers convinced Paul to leave town that night. Paul visited the church again and wrote the people two letters (First and Second Thessalonians). The letters show that the believers were confused about the Second Coming and about what happens to people who die before Jesus returns.
Proper 24: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 – Paul, Sylvanus, and Timothy write to the congregation in Thessalonica, giving thanks for a new and fruitful ministry. Everywhere the faith of this congregation is being praised: how they turned from idol worship to be servants of the living God and wait expectantly for the coming of his son Jesus.
Proper 25: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 – Paul reminds the church in Thessalonica of the relationship he established with them when he was in their midst. He, with Sylvanus and Timothy, speak of their frank and fearless preaching of the Gospel.
Proper 26: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 – Paul rejoices that the congregation at Thessalonica received God’s message as what it truly is, the Word of God at work in those who hold the faith.
Proper 27: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 – Paul explains that the congregation in Thessalonica should not grieve for those who have died as Christians. Paul’s vision of the coming of Christ is dramatic; both the living and the dead will be united in Christ at the Lord’s coming.
Proper 28: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 – Paul reminds the Thessalonians that the Day of the Lord Jesus Christ will come unexpectedly. They are to live in faith and love, knowing that God has not destined them for the terrors of his wrath but to receive salvation.
- How are the issues facing the church in ancient Thessalonica similar to our church dynamics today?
- What can we learn from this letter today?