This is a letter from Paul, Silvanus and Timothy to the church in Thessalonica. It is one of the most encouraging and affirming of all Paul’s letters and in it you can see his real affection and admiration for the Thessalonian Christians. Paul says he had been worried about the faith of the Thessalonians but was reassured by Timothy, who went to visit them and reported back to him that it was strong and secure. Paul does offer them advice, but it falls much more strongly into the category of ‘continue as you are’ than the need for them to change, as it does in most of the other letters.
13But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. (1 Thessalonians 4.13–14)
16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5.16–18)
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5.23)
Paul is probably the best–known of all the early Christians. Before encountering Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, he was a zealous Pharisee who sought to maintain the purity of Judaism. After his experience on the Damascus road, he turned his zeal to proclaiming Jesus Christ among the Gentiles. This brought him into conflict with some other early Christians, not least Peter, who thought that followers of Jesus should convert to Judaism. He travelled around the Roman Empire (though primarily in Asia Minor – modern-day Turkey – and Greece) proclaiming the good news and founding communities of Christians as he went. He also wrote a large number of letters, 13 of which are preserved in the New Testament. 1 Thessalonians is one of these.
Silvanus is assumed to be the Silas referred to in Acts, who accompanied Paul on his first and second missionary journeys. He is first mentioned in Acts 15.22 where he was selected by the Jerusalem church to accompany Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch. From there he travelled onwards with Paul. He was with Paul in Philippi where they were both imprisoned but freed by an earthquake. He is mentioned as co-author of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and also mentioned in 2 Corinthians (1.19) and 1 Peter (5.12).
Timothy was born in Lystra in Asia Minor of a Jewish mother and Greek father. Acts 16.1–3 recounts his meeting with Paul in Lystra and Paul’s desire to take him with him on his journeys. Paul often sent Timothy to communities he had founded to take letters to them and so that he could report to Paul about what was going on, as indeed he did with the Thessalonians (see 3.2 and 3.6). Two letters in the New Testament (1 and 2 Timothy) are reputed to be letters of encouragement from Paul to Timothy in Ephesus. Christian tradition identifies Timothy as the first Bishop of Ephesus.
The Thessalonians seem to have been confident and strong in their faith.
There will be names you will not know; don’t worry if you can’t place them all. The key ones are given below.
Macedonia, Achaia, Judea, Macedonia, Philippi
Day of the Lord, Gentiles, Gospel, idols