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Thessalonians
Introduction
1 Thessalonians 1

This morning, we begin a new study. We finished The Story. But we have a little over 3 months left this year. So, I thought it would be good to study one of the shorter books in the New Testament. I love to dig around in Scripture. The Story was fun, hitting all the high points, but the real meat of Scripture takes some digging.

So, this morning, we begin a new study into 1 & 2 Thessalonians. These letters will work well in counterpoint to The Story. The Story was the big picture. Our study in 1 & 2 Thessalonians will be the big picture applied to a small group of Christians. We will see how The Story makes a difference in the everyday life of the Christians in Thessalonica; and I hope in our lives, as well.

Listen to the opening words of 1 Thessalonians. Listen for the emotions...

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

You can feel the connection between Paul and the Thessalonians.

--We give thanks to God always for all of you.

--We remember you work of faith.

--We remember your labor of love.

--We remember your steadfastness of hope.

--You imitated us as we imitated the Lord... that is connection.

--You are an example to believers everywhere.

--You are waiting for the Son from heaven.

I wish Paul could have written a letter like this to us. It would be nice to hear someone important commend us for our faith and love and hope. It would be good to know that we were an example to others! “Wow. I want to be the Thessalonians. Ooh, I want to know more about the Thessalonians.”

You are in luck that is what we are going to do this morning. We are going to learn more about the Thessalonians.

Let’s get started...

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We need to go to the book of Acts, chapter 17. In the book of Acts we find the backstory of the Thessalonians. But before we read Acts 17, we need a couple of facts about Paul. 1 & 2 Thessalonians are written by Paul.

Some Paul facts...

--Paul does not start the letter with any title. Although we know Paul was an apostle, he never uses it as an official title. Here at the beginning of this letter he is simply... Paul. Even that communicates his connection with them.

--The letter is not only from him. It is also from two of his fellow traveling companions; Silvanus or Silas and Timothy.

--That was how Paul operated. He always had a couple of other guys traveling with him around the Roman Empire. Paul’s team would go into a city and turn it upside down with the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Listen to how Paul and his team did this in Acts 17.

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Hang on, before we read in Acts 17... maybe a bit of geography and history might help. The ancient city of Thessalonica was located at the intersection of two major Roman roads, one east/west and the other north. Thessalonica was also a major sea-port. It was a major Roman city in Paul’s day, perhaps with a 100,000 people. It was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia. Today, the modern city of Thessaloniki is the second most important city in Greece and home to a million inhabitants.

Now, let’s go to Acts 17. Almost...

Paul is on what is called the second missionary journey. It is 50 AD.

Acts 17... for real...

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Acts 17:1-4 ...they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ." And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.

As Paul preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ, many listening to him felt a strange power grip them–the power that, Paul would tell them, was the Holy Spirit... at work. They believed. Faith began to grow in them! A community was formed. It must have been thrilling for Paul and Silas and Timothy to see the Spirit work in the heart of these Jews and then the Gentiles... Faith was on the move!

Acts 17:5-10 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, "These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus." And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea.

Jealousy is an ugly thing. Jason, evidently one of the early believers who had invited Paul’s team into his home, is dragged off to the city rulers. Accusations are made. Bail was set. Paul, to protect his new brothers and sisters, was forced to leave Thessalonica. But, there was not enough time to teach them all they needed. But a Spirit-filled community of believers was formed, even in the setting of persecution.

Paul goes on to Berea and then to Athens and then to Corinth, were he finds a home for two years. About a year or so later, while in Corinth, Paul sends Timothy back to Thessalonica to find out how they are doing. Paul is anxious. Lots could have happened. Lots could have gone wrong. Is everything alright? Timothy goes back to Thessalonica to find out. Timothy visits with them and then returns to Corinth to tell Paul.

That brings us to the letter of 1 Thessalonians.

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Timothy reports to Paul that most everything is going well their faith is strong. The Gospel is spreading. The Spirit is working. Their love is growing. But, but, something upsetting has happened. Something the Thessalonians did not know how to process.

Listen to chapter 4:13. I think this is the main reason Paul writes 1 Thessalonians.

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1 Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do, who have no hope.

One of their people had died. One of the believers was dead. Let’s call him... Nikios. That was a popular ancient Greek name. Nikios died. We don’t know how he died. But Nicki was loved. Then, Nicki was dead. This was a faith problem. This was an emotional problem. This was a challenge to their hope! What’s going to happen to Nikios?

Let’s read between the lines a bit. Let’s speculate... Let’s make some assumptions. Let’s back fill The Story... into Thessalonica in 50 AD with dead Nicki.

--Paul had most certainly told them that Jesus was the Christ.

--Paul had most certainly told them that Jesus had traveled from heaven to earth begin the healing of the world.

--Paul had most certainly told them that Jesus died on the cross to create a new covenant; a new people; a new kingdom.

--Paul had most certainly told them about the resurrection of Jesus to a new life.

--Paul had most certainly told them about how Jesus was currently sitting on a throne beside YHWH ruling until all his enemies were conquered.

--Paul had most certainly told them about the Spirit being poured out on all flesh, even the Gentiles; which were most of them.

After telling them all this, Paul most certainly told them that Jesus was going to return to earth to restore creation!

But, either Paul did not tell them, or they didn’t remember, what would happen if someone died before Jesus returned. I suspect, the Thessalonians thought, they all would live until Jesus returned. They believed that Jesus was coming again, soon. They would all join Jesus on the New Earth. Perhaps, they believed the Spirit would keep them alive until the return.

So, they were confused when Nick up and died. Was Nick going to miss out on the New Earth. Perhaps, Nick had done something wrong. Was the whole thing a joke? Was Nikios going to miss out on walking in the cool of the evening with their God.

This was a theological problem... what happens if we die before? This was an emotional problem... what about Nicky is he going to miss out? This was a challenge to their hope... is everyone who dies before Jesus comes back, left behind?

It was an eschatological dilemma!

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Here’s why I think the letter of 1 Thessalonians is all about this eschatological dilemma; about hope.

In every one of the 5 chapters in 1 Thessalonians Paul mentions hope!

1 Thessalonians 1:10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.

1 Thessalonians 3:13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

1 Thessalonians 4:16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

1 Thessalonians 5:23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul is writing to the Thessalonians to build up their hope! “Wow! I’m glad we are studying 1 & 2 Thessalonians. I think I can use a little hope building, myself! You?”

Now that we know a bit more about Paul, and Thessalonica and the Thessalonians and Nikios, let’s dig into those first few verses again...

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(explain what we have learned so far)

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Here is were it gets fun; preacher fun. Paul points to their faith and love and hope. That rings a bell... faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is... love. That’s 1 Corinthians 13.

1 Corinthians 13:13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Something like 4 years after Paul writes 1 Thessalonians he writes 1 Corinthians. Notice the difference... to the Corinthians he tells them about faith, hope and love. But, to the Thessalonians Paul tells them about faith, love and hope. The order is significant. The Corinthians needed love, they had become hateful. The Thessalonians needed hope because Nikios had died. That is preacher fun.

Let’s make it more fun... Watch what Paul writes to the Galatians... At just about the same time.

Galatians 5:5-7 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?

The Galatians needed some faith. They were having an intellectual/faith problem with the Law. So, to the Galatians it is hope, love and most importantly faith!

It even works with Peter. His readers needed all three!

1 Peter 1:21-22 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.

Here is the point I want to leave with you as we begin our study in 1 & 2 Thessalonians.

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The Christian life is composed of three essential elements... faith, love and hope. These three spiritual components are what our lives are based upon. Sometimes we need more faith. Sometimes we need more love. Sometimes we need some hope!

--The faith brings us into the covenant. Faith knows God. Faith works on our theology! Faith makes us strong!

--Love is the glue of our community. Love is the power of the kingdom! Love make us effective!

--Hope keeps us going. Hope wants to be shared. Hope keeps us healthy

All three of these are crucial. If we are lacking any of the three we become lopsided; we are off balance... we are crippled. The three work interactively to keep us strong; to keep us effective; to keep us healthy.

I don’t care who you are, that was fun!

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We can identify with the Thessalonians. Tragedy makes us re-evaluate our theology. When a loved one dies, we evaluate our hope. “I don’t understand... how could this happen... what does that mean?”

That is why I am excited about the next few weeks as we dig into 1 & 2 Thessalonians. We are going to build our Faith, expand our love and explode our hope!

1 Thessalonians 1:3 ...remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tim Stidham

Los Alamos Church of Christ

September 23, 2018



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