New Testament | Study Guide

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New Testament | 1 Thessalonians | Summary

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Summary

  • Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy write to the ekklēsia, or church community, of the Thessalonians.
  • Paul praises the Thessalonians for their faith.
  • Paul notes he was worried that the Thessalonian community might have turned away from their faith, but writes that Timothy has visited the Thessalonians and reported back with "the good news of your faith and love" (1 Thessalonians 3:6).
  • The letter encourages them to practice holiness and honor, a practice that will make them stand out from the gentiles and mark them as followers of God.
  • Although some community members have died, Paul reminds the rest of the resurrection and Jesus's second coming.
  • The "day of the Lord" will be a time of final judgment that will come suddenly and unexpectedly; Paul compares it to a thief and to labor pains.
  • He advises them to remain attentive, to "put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation" (1 Thessalonians 5:8).
  • Paul prays that "the God of peace himself" will bless them, he requests their prayers, and he asks them to greet the members of the community.

Analysis

This fairly brief letter has an overwhelmingly positive tone, and it appears that Paul considers the gospel mission in Thessalonica a success. His lengthy thanksgiving in Chapter 1 summarizes the positive outcomes of the community's commitment to their newfound Christ-belief, including their ability to serve as a good example for other groups in Macedonia and Achaia. This idea of modeling committed faith allows Paul to articulate a link between the Thessalonian Christ-believers and Paul himself. In the letter he points out parallels such as being willing to suffer for one's faith (1 Thessalonians 1:6 and 2:2) and abounding in love for others (1 Thessalonians 2:7–8, 10; and 3:12).

When Paul does address problems in the Thessalonian ekklēsia, or faith community, he seems to be expanding on or clarifying ideas that he presented while he was in the city. Based on the advice in the letter, scholars can reconstruct some sense of the circumstances the Christ-believers were facing. Because it advises them on issues of sexual behavior, there may have been some particular situation that was a challenge in Thessalonica.

The other major problem in Thessalonica seems to be that some members of the community have died, and Jesus has not returned yet, even though Paul's initial gospel proclamation probably suggested that Jesus was returning imminently. Again, Paul suggests a shift of focus to spiritual realities. He advises keeping their focus on the resurrection of Jesus, which is a model for the resurrection that all believers will experience at the end of time. Even if the parousia or second coming is delayed, when it happens both the living and the dead will be raised.

The concept of the parousia reverberates throughout the letter. The authors look ahead to the day when their praise for the Thessalonians will become "boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming" (1 Thessalonians 2:19). The similes of a thief and of labor pains highlight the fact that the second coming will be sudden and perhaps even frightening. The letter includes a powerful metaphor of battle armor, which the authors use to illuminate something about the Christ-believers' way of life in the world. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy present them as embattled and perhaps even in danger from various spiritual threats. Hopelessness is just one such danger. The Christ-believers must also prepare themselves to reinforce their faith and love. Paul grounds faith, hope, and love (later, these are recognized as the cardinal virtues) in Christ but also in the community.

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