As Paul settles into this letter to the new Christians at Thessalonica, themes of love, adversity and joy appear. As we read, we are forced to imagine what it must have been like to live in a time when the revelation of what Jesus had done for mankind was still a new idea. To say that He disrupted the religion, society and culture of the time is an understatement.
Verses 1-12: Integrity in intention
When Paul first came to Thessalonica to teach and convert, he was coming from a violent atmosphere at Philippi. The Word of God was not well received there. Despite this experience, Paul and those with him pressed on to Thessalonica.
He makes the point that the Word of God is pure and honest; when properly delivered in love, it will not typically incite violent conflict. Yes, people will resist when they do not want to believe, but vehement resistance is typically the result of wicked hearts, not the Word of God.
Paul seems concerned that the conflict at Philippi gave some the impression that they delivered the gospel in a brash or antagonistic manner. On the contrary, Paul defends the delivery of the gospel through the Thessalonians because they can bear witness that the gospel was delivered in humility, gentleness and truth. Paul stresses how all of it leads back to God: back to the idea that we follow and obey Him.
Verses 13-16: The Judeans condemned
Paul commends the Thessalonians’ conversion in that they accepted the gospel as information direct from God and not from man. Their acceptance and obedience is commendable because they, like new Christians in Judea, are having to contend with opposition from the Jewish population. Paul is not hesitant to include the facts that these same opposers killed God’s prophets, killed Jesus Christ and also persecute new believers.
Verses 17-20: Together with Christ
This chapter concludes with a sentiment of longing from Paul to see the new Christians at Thessalonica again. But even if Paul, Silas and Timothy are prevented from seeing them again, they can all rejoice in the knowledge that they will be in the presence of Christ when He returns. At this time, many expected that Christ would come back in their lifetimes, perhaps very soon. The last two verses of this chapter contain that sense of urgency.
As we close out tonight’s study, think of the powerful effect Christ had on the world. God’s Word enacted in Christ produced conflict, derision and love at the time. The conflict arises when people resist the truth and do not want to believe because believing means changing.
The power of God’s plan is such that it never has decreased in message or impact. Whether we want to or not, we still must contend with the cross and its’ meaning today.