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1 Thessalonians

chapters  1 - 3

This letter is generally agreed to be the earliest of of Paul's letters that have come down to us.   Its date is perhaps 50 to 52 C.E.   According to Acts 17 Paul's time in Thessalonika was very brief.   This letter makes it obvious that the contact was much more significant,  and must have continued over a period of months rather than weeks.   Acts also has the idea that Paul always began his work in a new locality by going into the Jewish synagogue.   This letter,  written to former 'pagans',  doesn't give much support to that theory.

There is no particular problem on account of which Paul is writing,  except the problem that he can't be everywhere at once.   He has finally sent Timothy to Thessalonika on his behalf,  and is writing after receiving Timothy's reporting back.   The first three chapters are full of expressions of affection and gratitude.

From Paul,  Silvanus,  and Timothy to the church in Thessalonika,  established in God the Father and Jesus Christ the Lord:  grace to you and peace!

You are constantly in our prayers.   We thank God for your active faith,  your deeds of love,  and the firmness of your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.   We have no doubt,  friends,  that you stand in God's love and have been chosen by him,  because when we brought the gospel to you you received it not just as a formula of words but as power and as the Holy Spirit,  in complete conviction.   You took note of the kind of life we lived while we were there with you.   This was one way of teaching you,  and indeed you did imitate our example,  and the example of our Lord.   When you met persecution you stood up for the gospel,  in the joy of the Holy Spirit.   As a result you have become a shining example to the Christian people of Macedonia and Achaia.   Wherever we go they already know of your faith and don't need us to tell them about it.   They are spreading the story of how we came to you and the response you made  -  how you turned from idols to serve the living God,  and how you are now waiting for Jesus the son of God,  raised from the dead,  to appear from heaven and preserve us from the coming judgment.      [1:1-10]

As your own experience tells you,  my visit to you did bring results.   You know that I had a rough time at Philippi.   I suffered outrageous treatment there.   But God gave me the courage,  nevertheless,  to declare the good news to you,  even in the face of strong opposition.   My preaching is not prompted by delusion or baseness.   Nor am I motivated by any desire to deceive.   It was God who chose to entrust the gospel to me:  that is my motivation.   When I speak,  I speak to please God who tests our hearts,  not to gratify mortals.   As you well know,  and as God knows,  I did not seek financial gain among you,  nor did I look for personal status  -  though an envoy of Christ might be justified in expecting such honour.   I was loving with you,  like a nurse with children.   Indeed I care for you so much that I want to share with you not just the gospel of God,  but my own self as well.   You mean a great deal to me.      [2:1-8]

Do you remember how busy I was?   I worked day and night to support myself,  so as not to be any burden to you while I was bringing you the gospel.   You well know,  and God knows,  that all my actions were open and beyond criticism.   I spent time with you individually,  like a father with children,  urging and encouraging each of you to live a life worthy of your calling into God's kingdom of glory.   I am for ever grateful to God that when you heard the message you accepted it not just as a human word but as what it is  -  God's own word,  active within you when you respond with faith.      [2:9-13]

Verses 14-16 express a negativity towards  'the Jews'  which is alien to Paul.   Moreover they end with a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem,  and Paul died long before that happened.   We have to suppose that some later custodian of Paul's letter  -  before it began to be copied for wider circulation  -  took an opportunity to make an insertion,  to underline a point he felt worth making.   Antipathy towards  'the Jews'  became almost the standard Christian response a generation or so down the track.
After I had been away from you for a short time  -  separated in person but never in heart  -  I had a great longing to see you face to face again.   I tried hard to visit you once more,  but Satan prevented me.   Who are my pride and joyif not you?   You will be my claim before our Lord Jesus when he comes.   You are indeed my pride and joy.   When the separation became more than I could bear I decided to remain on my own in Athens,  and send Timothy,  my fellow worker for God and the gospel,  so that he might strengthen and encourage you in your faith.   Then you would not be shaken by the persecutions you are experiencing.   I did warn you when I was with you that this would happen,  and so it has turned out.   That is why,  when I couldn't bear it any longer,  I sent to assure myself of your steadfastness in faith.   I was afraid the tempter might have pushed you too hard,  and brought all my work to nothing.      [2:17 - 3:5]

But now Timothy is back,  bringing good news of your faith and love.   He says that you always think kindly of me and would love to see me,  just as I am longing to see you.   So in all our present difficulties I am reassured and heartened by your faith.   If you are standing firm in the Lord,  that puts life into me.   My gratitude to God overflows and I am filled with joy because of you.   I am praying most earnestly,  night and day,  to be allowed to see you again,  and to make up anything incomplete in your faith.      [3:6-10]

May God our Father himself,  and our Lord Jesus Christ,  open the way for me to come to you.   May the Lord make you increase and overflow in love for one another and for everybody,  just as my love flows out to you.   And may he give you holiness of heart so that you may be without reproach before God at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all who belong to him.      [3:11-13]

  paraphrase and notes by Evan Lewis


Making connections with Paul the apostle
What Paul did NOT write

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