Main Themes of 1 Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians fits well into the book of Acts 17:1-9. Paul arrived in the city from Philippi, where he had been arrested illegally and released when he informed the Philippian magistrates he was a Roman citizen. As is typical for Paul he visits the local synagogue and “reasoned from the Scripture” that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer, die, and rise from the dead. Luke indicates some Jews were persuaded, but also a “large number of God-fearing Gentiles and quite a few prominent women” (Acts 17:4).

Because of this success, the Jews stir up a mob to “start a riot” and drive Paul out of the town. They seize Jason, a prominent Thessalonian who was hosting Paul and Silas in his home. The Jews bring Jason before the city officials and claim Paul has been “turning the world upside down,” defying Caesar’s decrees and claiming there is another king, Jesus. Paul is forced to leave the city and these opponents follow Paul to Berea (Acts 17:10-15). Paul is forced to travel alone to Athens (Acts 17:16-34) and eventually to Corinth (Acts 18). Silas and Timothy returned to Thessalonica and re-joined Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:5). In 1 Thessalonians 3:6, Paul says Timothy had just “just now come from you” and reported good news: the church has continued to grow in faith and love and has stood against the attacks made against it. Timothy may have delivered a letter from the Thessalonians to which Paul now responds in First Thessalonians.

First, Paul must defend himself against unnamed opponents who are slandering him. Based on his defense in chapter 2, these opponents acclaim Paul has no divine authority and may be using the local church to enrich himself. It is true Paul was forced to leave Thessalonica under the cover of darkness (Acts 17:10), leaving Jason with some legal and financial burdens (Acts 17:9, Jason posted bail for Paul). Paul says his appeal to his readers did not “spring up from error or impure motives” (2:3) nor did he use the slick rhetoric of the Sophists to trick his readers into believing the Gospel (2:5). The church itself is a witness to Paul’s behavior in Thessalonica, so the opponents have no basis for making these charges.

Second, although Timothy gave an “encouraging report” (1 Thess 3:6-10), he also seems to have reported on two or three problems for the church. In 4:3-8 Paul deals with sexual immorality, encouraging people to control themselves and live in an honorable way. In 4:9-12 Paul instructs the Thessalonican believers to live a “quiet life” and to work to provide for their own needs. It may be the case some members of the congregation were abusing the generosity of others, no longer working while they waiting for the soon arrival of the Lord Jesus. In both of these cases, Paul encourages the readers to live lives which “win the respect of outsiders” (4:12).

Third, Paul addresses some concerns about the return of the Lord (4:13-5:11). Since Paul’s time was cut short, he may not have had the time to answer all the questions the church may have had about the imminent return of Jesus. What is more, some members of the church have died prior to the expected return of the Lord. Paul first must comfort the community by explaining that those who have died in Christ will certainly participate in the resurrection from the dead prior to the return of the Lord. In fact, they will rise first and join those who are still living as they are caught up to meet the Lord in the air (4:15). In chapter 5 Paul points out that the day of the Lord will come unexpectedly, so the “children of light” ought to live their lives in sober anticipation of the return of the Lord. Both of these teachings conclude with “therefore encourage one another.” This is the main point of any teaching on the return of the Lord, encouragement to living godly lives which “win the respect of outsiders” (4:12).

Although 1 Thessalonians is remembered as the “Rapture book” in popular teaching, the main theme of the book is “encourage one another.” Since the Thessalonian church was small and had to endure some pressure from both secular authorities and their cousins in the Jewish synagogue, they may have felt as though their new faith in Jesus was not worth the trouble. The congregation must comfort one another and encourage each member of their small group to continue living out their faith in Jesus as children of God.

8 thoughts on “Main Themes of 1 Thessalonians

  1. The way you said that they need to encourage one another more is exactly the thing that I thought of while reading through 1 Thessalonians. I find that Paul also continues to challenge the people when he tells them to love “more and more” (1 Thess. 4:10). He seems to know that they have been doing this well, but he also obviously wants them to continue to focus on loving each other. Longenecker states that by doing this Paul is “simultaneously” trying to “encourage and challenge the assembly” (Longenecker 70). I think this pushes the idea of encouragement. It seems that Paul tries to encourage the people through the letter as well as instruct them once again. He is obviously concerned with them living a way that would please God, and he seems to know that encouraging them and challenging them will push them to do even better.

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  2. Living a life that is perfect is not possible but, living a life that will please God is. There are many ways of doing this but often we want to do what pleases our flesh rather than what pleases God. We often want to do what we want over what we should do or do what we are not supposed to do. 1 Thessalonians is a great example as to how God wants us to live out our lives. God uses Paul and speaks through Paul to try and get through to people. We also tend to tear others down over building them up. God wants us to grow together in His kingdom helping one another when they are in need. But we like to make ourselves feel better by making others look bad. In doing that we are not living in the honorable way that Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (ESV) as Paul says in Colossians 3:23 and we need to do so no matter when we think God is coming back. In doing this we can then “win the respect of outsiders” (4:12). By people living for God it then will be like a ripple effect for others in the body to do so. As everyone starts doing this then comes the encouragement for the community to better itself and to grow and strengthen it from helping each other.

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  3. I find it very interesting that back then someone could be forced out of a city because of an opinion without any factual proof. It seems most people in these times were sort of scared of the unknown and when something came about they didn’t know about, they automatically figured it is negative. In 1 Thess. 3:6-10, it seems as though the people of the church are being kind of arrogant about their beliefs. They seem to think because they are believers in the church, they do not need to partake in work like everyone else because God will provide for them.

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  4. 1 Thessalonians was an attempt to reconnect with the people of Thessalonica. Paul and Silas were forced to leave the church in Thessalonica because of the intense persecution. Christian citizens were accused of defying Caesar because they said the true king was Jesus (TTP, 61). When Paul sent Timothy to check on the people of Thessalonica, he gave a positive report. Paul and Silas are comforted by Timothy’s report because they feared that the newfound Christians would become unsettled in other’s opposition: “in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:7). The believers in Thessalonica had come a long way from their adulterous and polytheistic past selves (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10). Thessalonians lived in a culture that worshipped Greek and Roman Gods and promoted un-Christian like behaviors. Sexual immorality is one of the temptations that was common in Greco-Roman cities at the time of 1 Thessalonians (TTP, 62). The Thessalonians needed to live a life according to Jesus’ teachings, a life that would please God (TTP, 62). It is after Timothy’s report to Paul and Silas that Paul writes 1 Thessalonians, which is believed to be Paul’s earliest surviving letter (TTP, 61-62).

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  5. Paul’s theme in Thessalonians to encourage one another is extremely important for us to understand and take note of. You made a great point in connecting this theme even with the section of the return of the Lord because I had never heard any teachings making this connection before. It makes sense however, that Paul would want us to encourage one another to lead holy lives since he continually tells the church to do so, so that they may be found blameless on the day of the Lord’s return. This lesson was very needed for the Thessalonians at this time as well because of the persecution they faced, as well as the tense relations with non-believers in their community since they were not well respected. This all ties in with Paul’s urge in 1 Thess 4:10 to love each other and others even more than before. When we encourage and love each other we are living out life in Christ.

    This encouragement and love for one another also allows us to hold each other more accountable, because if you truly love your brothers you would want them to live holy lives and please the Lord and I believe that this is what Paul is trying to do through his encouragements in Thessalonians. As you have noted, the Thessalonians, although they had remained steadfast in their faith, there were still many moral concerns Paul had such as sexual immorality. Thus, Paul reminds them that they are to not partake in such sins and that they should control their bodies (1 Thess 4:3-4). Since this is clearly something that Paul has warned them about before ( 1 Thess 4:6-7) it is clear that Paul is keeping them accountable and reminding them of the consequences of their actions. This seems to play out throughout the rest of his theme of encouragement as well. Encouragement is a great way for us to learn to love one another better and keep each other accountable.

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  6. 1 Thessalonians 5:14-18 says,” And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This is a book of encouraging that Longnecker describes as being a letter filled with brotherly love and eschatological hope.
    Although 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 speaks of the rapture in a sense that Christ will return and resurrect Christians, and that the “dead will be raised”. For some reason I think that although the rapture is very clear and mentioned in Thessalonians, it was a book mainly meant for encouraging by instructing on certain ethical and eschatogical issues.

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