Understanding 1 Thessalonians – Part 1

Understanding 1 Thessalonians – Part 1

Paul’s First Letter to the Church at Thessaloniki
part 1

Watch the video teaching below:


As we begin our study of this wonderful Pauline letter we must remember that it is indeed a letter and actually not a book. It is written to the congregation at Thessaloniki and therefore the text must be expounded with this in mind. That is, we should not over complicate our understanding of it but simply endeavor to discover what the letter intended to say to old and young alike. By doing this we will honor Paul, the context and be encouraged by what he had to say to his readers.

Also, as we have noted in our introduction, in our previous podcast, the letter is general in content addressing many themes that are important to understand as we, like the believers at Thessaloniki, set out to follow Christ and end well.

A. The Greeting 1:1
Paul begins with his familiar greeting by affirming the congregations standing and position with God. They are in God the Father and in Christ Jesus and therefore he draws our attention immediately to the nature of the Godhead. Jesus then enjoys equality with God, something that He surrendered for a season in order to redeem the world from sin. Not that He ceased to be fully God but instead laid aside some of the attributes of divinity in order to become fully man. In his letter to the Church at Philippi Paul writes of this glorious truth (Philippians 2:5-7). To some extent this holds mystery, a fact that Paul acknowledges in his first letter to Timothy:

“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory.”
1 Timothy 3:16

Having asserted the nature of the godhead he then extends God’s grace and peace to the congregation. Our relationship with God, by Jesus Christ, is entirely rooted in His unmerited favor extended toward us which brings us, who were once His enemies, into a place of peace with Him. This is truly wonderful and the goal of our earthly pilgrimage.

It is worth noting that the congregation at Thessaloniki more than likely gathered in homes.

B. Paul’s commitment to the congregation 1:2
Paul is mindful of the healthy spiritual condition of the congregation and reminds them that it is with thanksgiving that he continuously prays for them. This certainly reminds us of our obligations to the local Body of Christ. Prayer is essential to its well being and we must shoulder this calling just as Paul did.

C. Paul’s thankfulness for the congregation 1:3-4
Paul is thankful for their testimony to biblical faith in that:

1. Their faith is active and productive.
That is, it is a work of faith and therefore produces results. We are certainly saved by faith alone in Jesus finished work on the cross on our behalf but we go on to validate this faith by engaging in works of faith in the life of the local congregation and the world (Ephesians 2:10). Another way of putting it is to say that good works are not the grounds of our salvation but they are certainly the evidence of it. James in his epistle reminds us of this ( James 2:17-20).

2. Their love for one another is sacrificial
Real love is not a fuzzy feeling or a hug but rather a labor! Love means learning to sacrifice and go out of our way for one another. This type of love is not often witnessed in many congregations but it was at Thessaloniki. Of course Jesus manifested it when He died for us on the cross and we can and should embrace the same attitude, but not many do! In his letter to the Philippians Paul reminds us of our obligations in this regard (Philippians 2:5-11).

3. Their hope is steadfast and immovable
The believers at Thessaloniki were convinced and fully assured of the hope of eternal life that would be fully ushered in by Jesus’ second coming. What makes hope certain in our lives, and thus enables us to be patient in waiting for the things we believe to materialize, is the fact that we have by the Spirit of God received a down payment or deposit of the things to come (Ephesians 1:13-14; Galatians 4:6; Hebrews 6:5).

4. Their election is sure
They are, as Paul puts it, the elect of God. We should not water this mystery down as many attempt to do. Without the drawing work of God in our lives none of us can be saved (John 6:44) and consequently God, by foreknowledge (1 Peter 1:1-2), draws some and others He never engages (Romans 9:14-16). Given the fruit of repentance and salvation Paul acknowledges that they are a part of God’s election. This gives him much joy. We too must make our election and calling sure by demonstrating the life of Christ (2 Peter 1:10).

May God by Jesus Christ bless this study to your hearts.

Malcolm Hedding