What does 1 Thessalonians 1 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
Thessalonica was a major city of Greece, a hub of culture and commerce. Paul had visited this city during his second missionary journey (Acts 17:1–4), establishing groups of new believers there. That success was not without hardship, as Paul experienced significant backlash from the people of that region, most especially from Jewish critics (Acts 17:5–9). As a result of that controversy, he moved along to Berea, where he found the Jewish population to be much more receptive to his message (Acts 17:11).

Despite suffering persecution and trials, it seems that the church in Thessalonica flourished. In this, his first letter to the Christians of Thessalonica, Paul seems thrilled to hear good news about their growth. These believers are not only thriving, spiritually, they are working hard to spread the gospel to the rest of the world.

This opening chapter is relatively short, only ten verses, but it sets the tone for the rest of Paul's letter. The primary message of this passage is that Paul has heard good things about the churches of this region. For this reason, Paul praises God—saying he "constantly" mentions them in his prayers to God. Part of the reason for this praise is given in later passages, such as chapter 2. Not all cities responded to Paul's message as warmly as Thessalonica. This contrast between apathy—even abuse—and loving support certainly made an impression on Paul.

Paul's introduction here also sets the stage for the rest of the content of his letter. With a general background of praise and support, Paul will address concerns expressed by the Thessalonians themselves. These include unfair attacks from outsiders, rumors about Paul himself, questions about the return of Christ, and other matters. Paul will also address a few spiritual areas in which the Thessalonians need to be corrected.
Verse Context:
First Thessalonians 1:1–3 identifies the writer as Paul, along with two missionary companions, Silvanus and Timothy, as he addresses the church at Thessalonica. Paul sends his greetings and expresses his gratitude for the way his readers were responding to the gospel. He specifically mentions three excellent qualities his readers exhibited: their work of faith, their labor of love, and their steadfastness of hope. The believers demonstrated the pattern of grace that Paul describes in Ephesians 2:8–10. God's grace had saved them when they put their faith in Christ instead of endeavoring to be saved by their own efforts, and the same grace had produced in them the good works God had intended to produce in their lives.
First Thessalonians 1:4–10 expresses Paul's confidence in the fact that God had saved his readers. He presents convincing evidence that they belong to God. He recalls how they had responded when they first heard the gospel, what kind of individuals they had become as a result of believing the gospel, and how effectively they had spread the gospel. He sums up their experience as having left paganism behind to serve God and to look forward to Jesus' return.
Chapter Summary:
First Thessalonians 1 records the apostle Paul's greetings to the Christians at Thessalonica. Thessalonica was the second city Paul preached in, after receiving a call to present the gospel in Macedonia. Philippi was the first city in Europe to receive the gospel from Paul. Both churches received a letter from Paul, but 1 Thessalonians, written around AD 51, was among the earliest of Paul's New Testament letters. In the first chapter, he expresses his gratitude for the Thessalonian believers' spiritual progress, and gives a brief background of what had happened during his visit to their city. He commends them for their spread of the gospel, their exemplary faith, and their turning from idols to serve the true God and to wait for Jesus' return.
Chapter Context:
The first chapter of 1 Thessalonians is mostly praise for these believers, from the apostle Paul. Paul is clearly delighted to hear that they have grown in their faith and begun to spread the gospel. Chapter two will continue reminding the Thessalonians about their prior experiences with Paul, and it includes more of his praise for their excellent efforts. Later chapters will address the questions lingering in the minds of these passionate Christians. Of particular interest, among these, are concerns related to the return of Christ. Paul will also address some areas where the church needs to improve, spiritually.
Book Summary:
The apostle Paul's second missionary journey included a visit to the prominent Greek city of Thessalonica. This stood alongside a major land route and boasted a busy seaport. A number of individuals believed Paul's message (Acts 17:1–4), but an angry mob forced Paul to leave the city after his brief stay. Later, while in Athens, Paul received a glowing report: the believers at Thessalonica were growing spiritually and serving God fervently. However, they had questions about the Lord's return, including what happens to a believer who dies before that day. And, as all churches do, they had some areas in which they were falling short. In Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, written about AD 51, he addresses these developments. Paul expresses gratitude for the Thessalonian believers' spiritual progress, and frequently makes references to Christ's impending return.
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