Over the last few years, personally and as a church, we have faced the reality of death and mortality on several occasions. I have performed more funeral services than I ever want to. I have been a part of moments where believers have passed in their sleep; I have been involved in services for children and even my family members, and death, no matter how it comes, makes you ask questions about what's next.
It makes you evaluate your life experiences and realize the met or unmet expectations of your life. This was true for the Thessalonians as well. They had heard the teachings of Paul regarding eternal life and the return of Jesus and had created expectations in their lives that if they were a believer, they would not experience death. So Paul uses this letter to teach them again about death, resurrection, eternal life, and the second coming of Jesus while comforting a hurting group of people.
This book was written around 51 AD, briefly after Paul established this church on his second missionary journey. During his second journey, He was imprisoned in Philippi and then miraculously freed from jail—only to be kicked out of the city. Then he came to Thessalonica, the capital of the province of Macedonia (northern Greece).
After only a few weekends of prosperous ministry (Acts 17:2), he had to flee from an angry mob. He moved on to Berea—again enjoying several weeks of ministry but soon driven out by the same Thessalonian mob.
His next stop was Athens, where he preached a good sermon but had mixed results. By the time he came to Corinth, he was in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling (1 Corinthians 2:3). At this point of the second missionary journey, it seemed that Paul was a very discouraged missionary.
But, while in Corinth, Paul was likely greatly concerned about the churches he had just founded, and he wondered how they were holding up. While he was at Corinth, Silas and Timothy came to him from Thessalonica with great news: the church there was strong. Paul became so excited that he quickly sent this letter to the Thessalonians, probably one of his first letters to any church. He wrote it just a few months after establishing the church in Thessalonica. After writing and sending this letter, Paul enjoyed a sustained and fruitful ministry in Corinth—and eventually returned to the Thessalonians.
We read about this church in Acts 17:1-9. Paul only stays a short time there because Paul himself is driven out of the city by persecution. This was a young church that had gone through a lot. At this stage in the church's development, they faced persecution from all sides: the Jews, the Greeks, and the Romans. A persecution that continued to increase over the years, but it meant that a lot of believers had been personally persecuted or even lost their lives. To become a believer in this stage and location really meant to give up everything!
I feel slightly convicted as I read and look at the lives and circumstances of these persecuted believer, and I ask myself about the resolve I have in my faith. Is there anything I could experience that would cause me to walk away from my faith? If there was, these believers were experiencing it, From crucifixion to the stoning of loved ones to beatings. However, these stories comfort me in knowing what God was doing in and through this group of believers.
It lets me know that God can still flourish if we ever experience this type of persecution in our country. In fact, we see an incredible expansion of God's kingdom during some of the fiercest times of persecution.
For the specifics of this letter, Paul focuses on two aspects: In the first few chapters, the Faithfulness of the Lord, and in the last two chapters, our watchfulness of the Lord. What a great writing combination for people going through so much.
As you go through difficulties, remember the faithfulness of God to be there with you and even the fact that Jesus himself endured hardships and eventually gave up his life for us, and finally, the realization that this isn't the best that we have coming, there is more, there is a day that Jesus is coming back. The things of this world will not be the struggles we continue with!
It is hard to read through this book and not get excited about what is to come. I encourage you, who have endured loss to read through this book and know that Paul's purpose was to encourage a group of hurting believers. Let his words also encourage you about the HOPE we have in him for what's next.
Now for a couple of specifics out of chapter 1
I love the 3 things that Paul thanks the Lord for when it comes to the Thessalonians, in verse 3
"Your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in Jesus."
I want to be spoken about me, and I pray it is something that each of you desires as well.
Verses 6-8 talk about their growth and story. In verse 6, "severe suffering" is what they were going through, but Paul goes on to say that their faith, despite that, became known all over.
What an encouraging thought for us as we walk through persecution and suffering that just like God used the story of this church, he can use you and me, and our stories don't always have to be easy roads and smooth sailings, but rather encouragement comes from faith that born in suffering.
In passing, we see Paul again brag on the story of their transformation to say You once worshiped idols, but now you worship the one true living God. Let me remind you that you, too, can be set from your past, and your faith and story can encourage others, the world, and your world.
On that note, we want to hear your story. We are always looking for ways to highlight the activity of God in our midst, and if you have something to celebrate, let us know by filling out the form at www.heritageag.org/mystory.