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1 Thessalonians 1:1-4: Hope for a Hopeless World

“Thessalonica was originally an ancient town named Thermai, meaning “Hot Springs.” In time it became an important city because of its strategic location near the Aegean Sea. In the Roman Empire, it became the capital of the province of Macedonia and its largest city with 200,000 people. Thessalonica stood on the Via Egnatia, the Roman highway to the East, making it an important city of commerce. In Paul’s day it was a self-governing community with enough Jews in residence to warrant a synagogue.” (Acts 17:1). –

The background for this letter is found Acts 17:1-15. God established this church through Paul's and Silas' ministry during Paul's second missionary journey. It was a church of believers who suffered for their faith (Acts 17:5-10; 1 Thess. 2:13-16; 2:3-4; 2 Thess. 1:4-10). Even though Paul had been with them for only three Sabbaths (Acts 17:2), he had clearly seen them remarkably established in solid biblical doctrine (see 2 Thessalonians 2:5).

“On his second missionary journey while Paul was in Troas, God showed him a vision of a man from Macedonia saying, “Come over and help us.” Paul and Silas went, stopping first at Philippi, where they preached, and a church was formed. After spending a night in prison for driving an evil spirit from a girl, Paul and Silas were forced to leave Philippi. They went down the road to Thessalonica. For at least three Sabbath days Paul reasoned in the synagogue with those present, and many believed the gospel. However, he probably ministered in Thessalonica for a longer time than just three weeks in view of what he wrote that he had done there. Those who responded to the message of Christ’s sufferings and resurrection were Jews and God-fearing Greeks. There were also some leading women of the city and many idol-worshipping pagans.” –]

“Many of the places where Paul preached have crumbled into ruin, but Thessalonica is still a thriving, bustling metropolis. It was then the capital of Macedonia, but it is now in Greece proper, and is called Salonika. We sometimes get very distorted conceptions of these early Christians; there's a tendency to regard them as always triumphant, always waging the battle with vigor, and always winning great victories in Christ's name. But they also had very severe problems, some of which are reflected in this letter. It was written about 50 A.D., and may well be the first part of our New Testament to be written. Most scholars feel that the gospels were written about this same time or shortly afterward, though some hold that the gospel of Matthew, and perhaps of Mark, appeared about 43 or 45 A.D. At any rate, this letter is at least one of the earliest Christian writings.” –Ray Stedman

Paul has many pleasant memories of the days he spent with this church. Their faith, hope, and love in the face of persecution were a great testimony to their perseverance. This is a warm letter of consolation, commendation and exhortation as he commends them for remaining steadfast in affliction. Paul refers to them as “his hope, joy and crown of rejoicing" (2:19,20). Paul’s work among these infant Christians was richly rewarded. His affection for them is seen in this letter, as he encourages them to grow in their new-found faith, to increase in their love for one another, to rejoice, pray and give thanks for all things. He gives them clear instructions about Jesus’ return, consoling them about their loved-ones who have died in Christ.

Verse 1a: “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy.”

“Paul” was an remarkable servant and apostle of Christ, but he usually did not work all by himself. Whenever he could, Paul worked with a team. Here Paul mentioned the men with whom he worked.

“Silvanus” (also known as Silas) was a long and experienced companion of Paul. He traveled with Paul on his second missionary journey and was imprisoned and set free with Paul in the Philippian jail (Acts 16:19-30). When Paul first came to Thessalonica, Silas came with him (Acts 17:1-9).

“Timothy” whom Paul refers to as, “my true son in the faith.” (1 Timothy 1:2) was a resident of Lystra (Acts 16:1-3). He was the son of a Greek father (Acts 16:1) and a Jewish mother named Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5). From his youth he learned the Scriptures from his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15). Timothy was a trusted companion and associate of Paul, and he accompanied Paul on many of his missionary journeys. Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians on a previous occasion (1 Thessalonians 3:2).

Verse 1b: “to the church of the Thessalonians…”

The word “church,” The word church in the New Testament is translated from the Greek word ekklesia (and its alternate spelling ecclesia) which comes from two words ek meaning “out” and kaleo meaning “to call.” Ekklesia, means called out ones. For example, “So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church (ekklesia) and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). In 1 Corinthians 15:9 Paul says that he had persecuted the church [ekklesia] of God.” The Greek ekklesia is the basis for our English words ecclesiastical, “pertaining to the church” and ecclesiology, “the study of doctrine concerning the church.”

Paul calls this church by the name of the physical location of the city: “the church of the Thessalonians.”

Paul was only in the city a short time when he founded this church because he was forced out by enemies of the Gospel. Yet the church continued alive and active. Though Paul had to suddenly leave this young church, his deep concern for them prompted this letter. This church was a struggling, yet vigorous church that was only a few months old, made up of Christians who had just come to Christ under Paul's ministry. This is a wonderfully revealing letter, showing the heart of the apostle toward these new Christians, and also showing the struggles that were present in the early church.

Timothy came with news about the church at Thessalonica. He told Paul and Silas that the church was strong but that there was much persecution. Some people were saying bad things about Paul and his friends. These people claimed that Paul’s intentions were false. Then the Christians had many questions and were in need of more teaching.

Verse 1c: “in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“you who belong to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1c: NLT).

This church not only had a physical address (Thessalonica) but it had a spiritual address as well: “in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This means that the church is an assembly of those who believe in Christ, and belong to God. God started that church by the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul and his friends brought the message about Jesus Christ but the power was from God.

Acts 1:8, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Your church is not just the church in your city, ie., “The Church in Chicago, Houston, or Denver” but it is “the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.” In this day of the “emerging church,” the “Willow Creek” model, the “Saddleback” model, and with the proliferation of denominations in our world, Jesus said, “I will build MY church…”(Matthew 16:18). Let’s get out of His way and allow Him to build His church…The Holy Spirit said in Ephesians 3:21 NLT, “Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” Jesus not only came into the world to die on the cross for our sin, but He also came for the purpose of calling out, establishing, building, teaching, and equipping His church in order to carry out His Kingdom business in this world.

Which is the true church? When Paul says “To Him be Glory in the church” (Ephesians 3:21), he isn’t simply ascribing glory to God, he’s saying that the glory of God is revealed in and through the church. Which church? I was an atheist when I came to Christ through the ministry of the Olivet Baptist Church in Lynwood, California (a Los Angeles suburb). I went to a Baptist college, Baptist Bible College, Springfield, Missouri. I have pastored several Baptist churches. But is the Baptist Church the true church? Possibly! Any church that is founded upon the word of God, with an adherence to the fundamentals of the faith is a true church.

The basic beliefs that make up a local church:

The Trinity: God exists as a unity of three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Person of Jesus Christ: - His virgin birth, perfect life and sacrificial death. Jesus is completely God and completely man in His incarnation and throughout eternity.

The Second Coming: -Jesus Christ is coming bodily to earth for His church and to rule and judge.

Salvation: -It is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Scripture: -It is entirely inerrant and sufficient for all Christian life

We must differentiate between the local church and the family of God, the body of Christ. All believers are in the family of God, sometimes referred to as the Universal Church. This will be the true church when it is assembled in heaven, “You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23 NLT). The body of Christ consists of all those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.

In our text we are dealing with a local church, an assembly of believers in a particular location.

The local church is a group of happy, Holy Spirit indwelt believers, who allow themselves to be the minds through which Christ can think; hearts through which Christ can love; hands through which Christ can work; feet by which Christ can go, and voices through which Christ can speak as we go into all the world to make disciples.

The church is the living body of Christ on earth. The local church is an assembly of obedient believers, called together for the purpose of exalting the Savior, edifying the saints, equipping believers, and evangelizing the world.

The church is a covenant band of saved sinners who have been supernaturally converted from unbelief to belief in Jesus Christ our God and Savior.

When we look at some churches, for example, the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas which advocates picketing fallen soldier’s funerals. This church could not possibly be God’s church! The true church is a showcase of God’s love, mercy, and grace.

Verse 1d: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Grace,” charis was a common Greek salutation that meant “greeting” or “rejoice.”

“Peace,” eirene is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word shalom meaning “favor,” “well-being,” and “prosperity.”

Paul used both words when he greeted the recipients of his epistles. God’s grace is the basis for and leads to our peace. When you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, He gives you grace that leads to peace with God.

“When Paul took and put together these two great words, grace and peace, charis and eirene in Greek, he was doing something very wonderful. He was taking the normal greeting phrases of two great nations and molding them into one.” –Wm. Barclay

Verse 2a: “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers.”

Thanksgiving and prayer were frequent in Paul's opening:

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Romans 1:8).

“May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:3,4).

“Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:15,16).

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now" (Philippians 1:3,4).

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you” (Colossians 1:2,3).

“I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers” (Philemon 1:4)

“Christians differ in attainment, but there is always something of Christ in each, and hence always something for which to thank God, since Christ is the oil that feeds the lamp of praise.” –W.E. Vine

When Paul prayed for people and churches, it wasn't necessarily a long time of intercession. He often simply made mention of a church or a person in prayer (Romans 1:9, Ephesians 1:16, Philemon 1:4).

Whom do you have in your life for whom you are thankful? Mention them in your prayers! Wife, husband children, brothers and sisters, friends, pastor, teacher, et al.

Verse 3a: “remembering without ceasing…” “Every time we think of you, we thank God for you”(MSG). “We never fail to recall.” “We cannot forget.”

Constantly bearing in mind, recall to one's mind, to keep in mind, exercise memory, call something to mind or recollect. The present tense signifies that this was their lifestyle. The meaning is not that this memory occupied the missionaries to the exclusion of everything else but rather that their remembrance of it constantly recurred.

“Notice that memory, thanksgiving and prayer belong together. For it is when we remember people (their faces, names and needs) that we are prompted both to thank God and to pray for them.” –John Stott

Verse 3b: “your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father…”

“How you put your faith into practice, how your love made you work so hard, and how your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ is firm” (Today's English Version).

“Your work produced and characterized by the faith which is yours” (Wuest).

“Not merely faith, hope, and love. It is faith which works, a love which labors, and a hope which endures” (Stedman).

Paul was constantly remembering three things: Verse 3 NLT: “As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“your work of faith,” -your faithful work, service rendered to the New Testament church, the Kingdom of Christ, work that is produced by faith. That is, the reality of the faith of the Thessalonian believers was manifested by the Christian work which they readily engaged in. As Leon Morris observes, "true faith is busy.”

“labor of love,” -your loving deeds. Happily working because of their love for Christ and each other. There’s was a love that was always giving, a love which holds nothing back. In other words, their love for Christ and, for one another, was displayed by their willingness to work hard for their Lord and His church.

“patience of hope,” -enduring hope. They endured under tribulation and trial, motivated by their love, resulting in hope, which gave them an assurance of the future. Though the believers at Thessalonica were severely persecuted for their faith, they kept on serving God and proclaiming the gospel while keeping their hope squarely focused on Christ. It is essential to understand that the Christian’s hope is not like that of ordinary people. Rather ”hope” is “a confident expectation,” not unfounded optimism which we often mean by the word. More particularly, the Christian’s hope is directed toward Christ’s second coming (John 14:1-3). This hope gave them the strength to persevere in their new Christian beliefs and behavior in spite of the persecution.

How did Paul become aware of the qualities he describes here? 1 Thessalonians 3:6 AMP, “But now that Timothy has come back to us from (his visit with) you, and has brought us good news of your (steadfast) faith and (the warmth of your) love, and (reported) that you always think kindly of us and treasure your memories of us, longing to see us just as we long to see you.”

Verse 4: “knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.” “We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people” (NLT).

“Brethren, that you who have always been loved by God and at the present time are the objects of His affection.” –Wuest

David Guzik writes: “Paul reminded them that God loved them (beloved)

and that He chose them (election). The two go together. When we love someone, we naturally choose them.”

“Brothers loved by God, we know that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” –D. Edmond Hiebert

“Election” (choice) in Greek is ekloge referring to a believer's election by God. The Thessalonian believers were the elect, chosen of God solely by His sovereign, loving purpose, apart from any human merit or wisdom. God in eternity past sovereignly chose them (as well as all believers) for salvation, drawing them to Himself in time, by the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you” (John 15:16). Paul wrote, “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Ephesians 1:4).

We will never understand God's election this side of heaven, but we should not ignore this important doctrine taught throughout Scripture. Paul was able to recognize that the Thessalonians were chosen by their response to the gospel as discussed in verses 5-8. Stated another way a changed life reveals Gods choice and our faith.

**Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB).**

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