Study 1 THE APOSTLE PAUL’S FIRST LETTERS
THE LETTERS TO THE THESSALONIANS
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: Acts 17: 1-10
Although the Apostle Paul must have written hundreds of letters during his lifetime, only thirteen are stamped with the seal of divine authority, and were included in Scripture. These two Letters to the Thessalonians were written when the Apostle was about 46 years of age, approximately 16 years after his conversion, and they were written from Corinth while he was on his second missionary journey. They are personal, intimate letters that were addressed to the Church at Thessalonica and were intended for public reading. Most of the members had been converted through Paul’s ministry (Acts 17:1-10). When the Apostle refers, in 2 Corinthians 11:28, to the constant burden that he carried with his daily “concern for all the churches”, doubtless one of these burdens was his letter-writing. Most of Paul’s letters were dictated to someone who wrote on a scroll, and if the letter was long, a number of these small sheets would be joined together. When the letter was finished Paul usually added a final greeting and his own autograph (2 Thessalonians 3:17).
Why did the Apostle Paul write these two Letters to the Thessalonians, and what is their special value for us today?
1. He wrote out of a loving concern, to encourage and strengthen the Christians of Thessalonica, warning them of dangers to avoid.
They were young believers, just ”infants in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1). Until quite recently they had been completely heathen, but through the preaching of the Gospel had been soundly converted, so Paul was writing to strengthen them in the Christian faith. Reading the letters one soon learns that these young Christian’s were experiencing terrible persecution by the Jews and opposition from the world. Then there was another problem: enemies had been slandering Paul, to the extent that some of them had written letters which purported to have come from Paul himself. Paul felt compelled to write to these young believers to encourage them and warn them of future perils.
What is the value of these Letters for us? We also need constant encouragement and warning because we are surrounded by a pagan world. Sometimes we have doubts and we may be suffering from opposition and persecution.
2. He wrote to establish them in the great doctrines of the Faith.
These Letters are not primarily doctrinal treatises, yet they are full of doctrine! For example, in the First Letter alone we have references to Election (1:4); the Holy Spirit (1:5-6; 4:8; 5:19); Assurance (1:5); the Trinity (1:5-6); Conversion (1:9); the Second Coming (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:14-17; 5:23); the Christians walk (2:12; 4:1); Sanctification (4:3; 5:23); Resurrection (4:14-18); the Nature of Man (5:23). The great need today is for doctrinal teaching and preaching, because very few Christians are well-grounded in the great doctrines of the Faith. You may remedy this! Will you set out to master these doctrines? Take your Bible and make the Thessalonian Letters your point of departure as you study.
3. He wrote to them to impress the responsibility of breaking away completely from the old life now that they had become Christians.
These young converts were far from perfect, and until quite recently they had adopted the world’s standards of life and morality. So in 1 Thessalonians 4 the Apostle pleads with the believers to be pure, and tells them that God’s will is that they should be sanctified (1 Thessalonians 4:3); God had not called them to be impure but to live holy lives (1 Thessalonians 4:7).
4. He wrote to amplify his teaching on the Second Coming and to correct false views and wrong practices they had been confronted with.
There are over twenty references to the Second Coming in these two Letters and it is important to notice three things that Paul emphasised:-
- (1) He distinguished between Christ’s coming FOR His own to claim His Bride before the Great Tribulation, and Christ’s coming WITH His own in Judgment - the Day of Christ (or the “Parousia”); and the Day of the Lord, when He will come to bring deliverance to Israel, judge the nations and set up His kingdom.
- (2) He set their minds at rest about the Rapture, and their loved-ones who had died. It is important to read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
- (3) He warned them against date-fixing and dogmatism, and showed that belief in the Second Coming should have a direct bearing on life and conduct.
5. He wrote these Letters because the Holy Spirit led him to write them.
Paul was the writer, but God the Holy Spirit was the Author. They were written in Paul’s style and they give us a portrait of the man himself, but behind all his writing was the Holy Spirit - look up 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21. God superintended the writing of these Letters, which are necessary for the completion and unity of the whole Bible.
What is their value, then, for us today? Because they are divinely inspired they are timeless, they are never out-of-date, and therefore they are profitable ”for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).