The Church of the Thessalonians (1)
C. E. Hocking, Cardiff
For helpful analyses of the contents of the first and second Epistles to the Thessalonians, readers should consult Mr. A. G. Clarke’s outlines that appeared in volume 13 part 6 page 178 and volume 14 part 1 page 20 respectively. For a profitable treatment of the church at Thessalonica as revealed in The Acts, the article by Mr. J. H. Large in volume 15 part 5 page 130 should be re-read.
The series projected under this general heading will treat initially the church from without. Articles will develop
- The Background, referring in particular to The Acts.
- Some Lessons in Planting a local church based on 1 Thess. 2. 1-16.
- The Model Church and its aggressive witness in the Gospel, based on 1 Thess. 1, and,
- Its persecution placed as it was in an antagonistic, Christ-rejecting community, as seen in 1 Thess. 2, 3 and 2 Thess. 1.
- Its perplexities regarding the future, 1 Thess. 4, 5, 2 Thess. 2, and finally
- Its moral and spiritual problems, 1 Thess. 4, 5 and 2 Thess. 3.
The remaining articles will deal with the church from within sketching
1. THE BACKGROUND
The planting of the church at Thessalonica and the letters addressed to it all fall within the second missionary journey of Paul, Acts 15. 36 to 18. 22; this took place in 50-53 a.d. On this missionary journey only, Paul was accompanied by Silas.
Thessalonica was in Macedonia where the apostle’s work was very fruitful. The churches established in this area caused him the least trouble and were obviously very dear to his heart. The memorable occasion of the first visit by Paul was marked by both triumph and testing; triumph in the establishing of a colony of heaven and testing through opposition from men. In the record of Acts 17 we are told that Paul presented first the scriptural proof that the Messiah must suffer and rise again and secondly, that Jesus was in fact the Messiah. This resulted in a sharp division among the Jews, only a few of whom were persuaded. Many of the Greek proselytes believed, however. This for a mere three sabbaths’ work was fruit indeed! It would appear that Paul and his companions continued the work in the city to the Gentile populace at large for some time following this. The church at Philippi, which had been planted earlier, had opportunity during his stay here to have practical fellowship with the apostle, Phil. 4. 16. His stay was sufficiently prolonged firstly for the apostle to take up employment, and secondly for his Tree time’ to be used in the hand of God to lead many idolaters to Christ, 1 Thess. 2.9; 1. 9-10; 2. 14. Ultimately, through the jealousy of the Jews who were so angered at his success, the city was set in an uproar and Paul’s ministry had to be terminated. But the work still went on!
Fresh opportunity for witness was opened to these indomitable souls on arrival at Berea. But this proved short-lived. The persecuting Jews of Thessalonica, following hard on the apostle’s heels, forced him to move on again. However, Silas and Timothy were able to stay on. His next port of call was Athens and whilst here Paul was joined again by Silas and Timothy. During his brief stay at Athens the apostle’s concern for the work at Thessalonica became so great that he decided to send Timothy back, his own return being obstructed, 1 Thess. 2. 17 to 3. 3. Derided by the philosophers, Paul journeyed on to Corinth where both Silas and Timothy rejoined him bringing rich supplies from the Macedonian churches and encouraging news of the continuing grace afforded the believers, Acts 18. 5; 2 Cor. 11. 9; 1 Thess. 3. 6-7. Obviously some little time had elapsed since Paul’s visit, for some of the believers had since died, 4. 13, there had been opportunity for active brotherliness to others in Macedonia, 4. 10, the news of their faith had spread widely, 1. 7-8, and Timothy had visited them and returned. The many references to Paul’s ministry among them indicate the comparative nearness of the event, however (see for example 1. 5; 2. 1, 5, 9,10, 11; 3. 4; 4. 2).
The Two Epistles
As insurmountable obstacles prevented the apostle’s return at this time, 2. 18, he now took up the pen and wrote the first epistle. In it he assures them of his love, 2. 17-20, encourages them in their persecution, 3. 6-8, defends his conduct among them and also explains the reason for his continued absence, 2. 1-10,17-18. He uses the occasion to warn them of the need to flee their former heathen vices, 4. 1-8, to rebuke indolence and disorder, 4. 11-12; 5. 14, to comfort them regarding the loss of their loved ones by recording a revelation of the divine purpose for the future, 4. 13-18, to exhort them to watch and wait in the light of the Lord’s return, 5.1-11, and in all departments and aspects of the assembly activities he desires spiritual concord, 5. 12-24.
It seems that the letter had a salutary effect on the majority and was the means in God’s hands of furthering the work. However, Satan is ever active and it was not long before a fresh problem faced this young church. Whilst the general circumstances of the church are the same (compare 1 Thess. 3. 3, 4 with 2 Thess. 1. 3-7), news which he had received gave him cause for concern. The apostle takes up his pen once again and writes the second epistle in which he corrects faulty interpretation of future events, chap. 2, and practical error in the walk of some, chap. 3. The new state of agitation seems to have been the product of errorists either claiming a fresh revelation, or seeking by authoritative teaching to convince or maybe even suggesting their authority for such to be in some letter of Paul’s, 2 Thess. 2. 2. Like all second epistles the ministry here is of a supplementary nature, compare
|I Thess.||1.2-3;||1.4;||2.6;||2.12;||5.14;||5.25;||5.27; with|
|II Thess.||1. 3;||2. 13;||3. 8;||1. 5;||3. 6-12;||3. 1;||3. 17.|
‘The epistles are hardly equalled in that direct, easy, conversational manner’ which is a feature of them. They are among the most personal in the N.T. We might note the main
Distinctions of ministry
|I Thess.||2 Thess.|
|His anxiety is caused by circumstances.||His anxiety is caused by doctrinal considerations.|
|Comforts them, like a man bereaved himself.||Corrects mistaken notions.|
|Here mistake re dead saints.||Here an error re living saints.|
|Hopeless sorrow.||Baseless fear.|
|The Parousia.||The Epiphany of His Parousia.|
|Meeting the Lord in the air.||Manifested in glory with the Lord to the world.|
To be followed by ‘Some Lessons in Planting’