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What makes 1 Thessalonians unique?

This short letter provides a close look at the personal relationship Paul had with the Thessalonian church. More than half the letter is devoted to his prayers and thanksgiving for their faith. Paul writes like a pastor who is concerned for his congregation and thankful for the time he has spent with them. He repeatedly uses phrases like "You know" and "You remember," and then reminds the Thessalonians what they have learned from him. This makes it clear that Paul is writing to people who are already followers of Jesus Christ.


Why was 1 Thessalonians written?

Paul wanted to greet the Thessalonians and thank them for their faithfulness. He also wanted to let them know that he intended to come and see them again (3:11). Apparently some of the Thessalonian followers had questions about what would happen to followers who had died before Christ came back again (sometimes called the "Second Coming"), so Paul included an answer to this question (4:13-18). He followed up his advice by reminding them to be on the lookout for Christ's return at all times (5:1-11). As in most of his letters, Paul offers advice about how to live in a way that pleases God (4:1-12).


Scholars debate whether or to what extent Paul is writing to defend himself, perhaps against accusations that he was profiting from his ministry and neglecting the congregations he had established (see e.g., 2:3, 5,6). When one takes into account the complex rhetorical techniques of ancient letter-writers, however, it seems unlikely that this would have been Paul's primary concern. Regardless of how precisely one chooses to identify the rhetorical form Paul is using, it is safe to say, in general, that Paul's intent was to "exhort" or "encourage" and to "build up" (5:11) the Thessalonian believers. Beverly Roberts Gaventa summarizes Paul's purpose this way:


Having received the report of Timothy about the continuing faithfulness of the Thessalonians, Paul writes to consolidate or confirm that faithfulness. He does so by recalling the initial visit he and his coworkers made to Thessalonica and the close personal relationships they established, by celebrating the response of the Thessalonians to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and by urging behavior that marks the Christian community as distinctive but not closed. All of these concerns he locates firmly in the realm of God's power, a power that brings faith into existence and will sustain believers until and beyond the return of Jesus Christ. (7)


What's the story behind the scene?

The author of ACTS describes the time of Paul's ministry among the Thessalonians (Acts 17:1-10). Just how long he stayed in Thessalonica is not clear, but Paul says in this letter that he worked long and hard to support himself (2:9) while starting the church in Thessalonica. This suggests that he must have stayed for at least several months.


Thessalonica, the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia in northern Greece, was located on a major east-west highway. Many of its people had worshipped idols before becoming Christians (1:9). But now they were faithful to the Lord, and because of them the Lord's message had spread everywhere in the region (1:7, 8). This letter may be the oldest of Paul's letters found in the New Testament, and may even be the earliest of all the New Testament writings.


How is 1 Thessalonians constructed?

The letter can be outlined in the following way:


The Thessalonians' Faith and Paul's Work (1:1-3:13)

Paul sends greetings to the followers of Christ at Thessalonica. He thanks them for becoming examples of faithfulness and love for all the followers throughout Greece. He praises them for turning away from idols and facing mistreatment because of their faith in Christ. Paul reminds them about how hard he worked when he was staying with them and giving them God's message. Although Paul's co-worker, Timothy, has given Paul good reports of their faith, Paul now hopes to visit them once again.

Christian Living and Christ's Return (4:1-5:22)

Paul reminds the Thessalonians that God wants them to be holy, which means treating one another with respect and avoiding immoral behavior. He then explains what will happen when Christ returns, a day Paul encourages the Thessalonians to be watching for at all times.

Final Greetings (5:23-28)

Paul's warm greetings show how much he loved and appreciated the Thessalonian Christians. He prays that God will help them remain holy until Christ returns again.


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