Overview of Epistles to the Thessalonians
and Study of 1 Thessalonians 1-5
December 11th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

Click here for a print- friendly version

Overview of Epistles to the Thessalonians

Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia and an important city at the center of Roman transportation and commerce. Paul and his colleagues set up the first church in Thessalonica, but had to leave town quickly under threat of death, as described in Acts 17:1-10. Consequently, Paul had not had the opportunity to explain everything to them about the faith. The New Testament includes two letters from Paul to this group which complete the orientation and address a number of misunderstandings. We will look at one of these letters per day for the next two days.

As with a number of the topics in the New Testament, many of these misunderstandings are ones that continue in our church and culture today. Consequently, these letters continue to have value to us. There may be some topics or themes that are no longer relevant, but the main themes from these two letters remain important: Encouragement, hope, persistence, and preparation.

References used for the analysis of this book include the following:

  • Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version , Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993
  • Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 (with commentary from an inter-denominational team of experts)
  • Men's Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993 (with daily devotionals from Godly men)
  • The New American Bible, Sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Bible Publishers, Wichita, KS, 1970
  • Morris, The Reverend Leon, The Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians, Inter-Varsity Press, Grand Rapids, MI 1984
  • Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005
  • “Sermon Library,” Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT www.norotonchurch.org/sermons/min_sermons.html

1 Thessalonian 1-5 (Minor Corrections Required)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

- Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (MSG)

Summary of Chapters

Paul’s opening re-establishes his relationship with the Thessalonians by recalling their time together. He then addressed the questions and falsehoods that he had heard about.

In chapter 1, Paul greets the Thessalonians and praises them for their faith – which he says is known all over the world. Paul reviews the results of his previous visit in chapter 2, emphasizing how he had addressed them with sincerity and gentleness but never requested a salary or stipend or donation. Paul also explains that he wanted to visit them again “but Satan stopped us (1 Thes 2:18 - NIV).”

In chapter 3, Paul reviews the reasons for sending Timothy to visit, and expresses his joy over hearing a positive report. Although the Thessalonians have been strong in their faith, Paul takes a few lines in chapter 4 to remind them to be careful in certain areas, such as sexual immorality. He says they have shown great love for one another but urges them to do more:

    Make it your ambition to live a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

    1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NIV)

Paul also explained that Jesus will bring the faithful to him when they died – they would not have to wait for the second coming, as some people had suggested. Paul continues on a similar theme in chapter 5, noting that we do not know when Jesus shall return, but we should always be faithful and ready.

He then gives final instructions for this letter, emphasizing the right way to live with each other by loving, respecting, and forgiving. No matter what happens, Paul says they should always be joyful:

    Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

    1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

Reflection and Application

Paul appears to be addressing questions regarding false beliefs and false accusations that had been circulating among the Thessalonians. There is no mention of a letter, so Paul’s comments are presumed to be based on oral reports from Timothy and possibly other sources.

Paul’s comments reveal some of his views on how best to educate believers. He knew he was not responsible for persuading people – this was the role of the Holy Spirit. Paul was confident that his role was to share his knowledge of the Truth and let the Spirit do the rest. You may notice as you compare different letters that Paul modifies his method depending on the situation and his audience, but he never watered down the Gospel and was true to the Word.

Paul addressed the topic of working with one’s hands in chapter 4 because there apparently had been some idle but able people depending on the church for handouts. Paul knew that it would be difficult for the Thessalonians to be models of faith if they were not respected in their community, so he encouraged them to work hard.

In the final chapter, Paul provided many words of encouragement. If you are looking for guidance and ideas on how to encourage others then conduct a close analysis of chapter 5 and observer the following themes of encouragement (1):

  • Build each other up
  • Respect leaders
  • Live in peace
  • Encourage the timid
  • Help the weak
  • Be patient
  • Resist revenge
  • Be joyful
  • Pray continually
  • Give thanks
  • Do not put out the Spirit’s fire
  • Do not treat prophecies with contempt
  • Avoid every kind of evil
  • Count on God’s constant help

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What is your favorite type of work to do with your hands?
    2. If we are to rely on the Spirit to persuade people then how do we know when to pause in our evangelizing to a particular person?
    3. Which of these words and phrases of encouragement would fit best with the situations where you want to be an encourager?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we acknowledge you as the source of Truth and know that it is the work of your Spirit that brings people to the Truth. Help us to do our part by telling the Truth.

    Prayer Concern
    Craftspeople and Artisans who work with their hands


    (1) Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 p.2177

    Looking Ahead
    Tomorrow's reading: 2 Thessalonians (Just a Friendly Reminder)

    Comments and Questions
    Please add your thoughts to our Comments page or send your comments and questions to the author at ted@listeningforGod.org or share your comments or question via the Listening for God Twitter account

    Click to follow Listening for God(@listeningforgod)