A Commentary by John Stott
1 Thessalonians: Introduction (continued).
1. Narrative (1 Thess. 1:1-3:13)
Paul reminds the Thessalonians:
1). of their conversion and subsequent evangelism (1:1-10).
2). of his and his fellow-missionaries’ conduct during their visit and subsequently (2:1-3:13).
11. Exhortation (1 Thess. 4:1-5:28).
Paul urges the Thessalonians:
1). to sexual self-control (4:1-8)
2). to brotherly love and daily work (4:9-12)
3). to steadfastness in bereavement (4:13-18).
4). to righteousness in view of the unexpectedness of the Parousia (5:1-11)
5). to fellowship and worship in the church (5:12-28)
This kind of analysis is entirely appropriate if our interest in the letter is historical, even antiquarian. But the *Bible Speaks Today* series is above all concerned with the contemporary application of the biblical documents. So in our study of 1 Thessalonians we shall be asking ourselves what lessons it is legitimate to draw from this letter for local Christian churches today.
For 1 Thessalonians opens a window on to a newly planted church in the middle of the first century AD. It tells us how it came into being, what the apostle taught it, what were its strengths and weaknesses, its theological and moral problems, and how it was spreading the gospel.
What is of particular interest, because it applies to Christian communities in every age and place, is the interaction which the apostle portrays between the church and the gospel. He shows how the gospel creates the church and the church spreads the gospel, and how the gospel shapes the church, as the church seeks to live a life that is worthy of the gospel. This theme suggests a different analysis:
The Gospel and the church.
1). Christian evangelism, or how the church spreads the gospel (1:1-10).
2). Christian ministry, or how pastors serve both the gospel and the church (2:1-3:13).
3). Christian behaviour, or how the church must live according to the gospel (4:1-12).
4). Christian hope, or how the gospel should inspire the church (4:13-5:11).
5). Christian community, or how to be a gospel church (5:12-28).
It seems certain that Paul, Silas and Timothy were still in Corinth when the Thessalonian’s response to Paul’s first letter arrived. For he stayed in the city about two years (Acts 18:11, 18). The news they received was mixed, as is clear from Paul’s second letter which it prompted. On the other hand, he and his co-workers were deeply thankful to learn of the Thessalonians’ growing faith and love, and of their perseverance under persecution (2 Thess.1:3-4). On the other hand, there was cause for anxiety because the church was being disturbed in three particular ways. First, the persecution was so severe that Paul felt the need to explain why God allows his people to suffer for the kingdom and how he will put wrongs right when Jesus comes (2 Thess. 1:5-10).
Secondly, the Thessalonians were in danger of being deceived by false teaching, which had reached them through a communication which purported to come from Paul but was a forgery (2 Thess. 2:1-3a). In particular they were being told that the day of the Lord had already come. So Paul needed to remind them of God’s eschatological calendar, and especially that the revelation of Christ would be preceded by the rebellion of Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:3b-12).
Thirdly, the group of ‘idlers’, who (for whatever reason) had given up their work, had not all followed Paul’s instruction to return to it. So he had some stern words in his second letter to and about this disobedient minority (2 Thess.3:4-12). Paul also entreated the Thessalonians in this as in all matters to be loyal to his teaching (2:13-15). And he took the opportunity to express both his continuing prayers for them (1:11-12; 2:16-17; 3:16-18) and his need for their prayers (3:1-3).
All three chapters of the second letter allude to the Parousia. Indeed Paul sets the current problems of the Thessalonian church firmly in the context of the historical process and of its climax when Christ comes. As in his first letter, his preoccupation is still the church and the gospel, but now he relates them more clearly to the unfolding of history. He writes in turn about the revelation of Christ (chapter 1), the rebellion of Antichrist (chapter 2), and, in the light of these, the responsibility of Christians meanwhile (chapter 3).
Tomorrow: 1 Thessalonians 1:1a 1). Christian evangelism or How the church spreads the gospel.
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|