This is a study of 1 Thessalonians with a focus on exegesis. Sound principals of exegesis will be modeled for the student. Each passage will be examined extensively so the student is able to see the depth of possible study. The students will exegete the majority of the text of 1 Thessalonians. Methods for bridging the message from the Ancient text to the current culture and time of the student will be modeled by the teacher then demonstrated by the student. Historical issues will be examined closely. Special attention will be given to passages that deal with Holiness.
Exegesis leading to local application is a key skill for a pastor, the foundation of all teaching and preaching. 1 Thessalonians is a key book for understanding the Scriptural basis for Entire Sanctification. The historical background of 1 Thessalonians will setup a foundation for other NT books and letters. Since the book is quite short it is possible to do a complete historical and theological exegesis, with the aim of providing a strong foundation for sermons and a Biblical Theology of leadership.
Program Outcomes from APR SOO
CN-3 Ability to describe the basic content of the New Testament, identify the principal people and events and their roles in New Testament history.
CN-4 Ability to demonstrate understanding of the basic principals of biblical interpretation
CN-6 Ability to explain how the theological foundations of Christianity proceed from Scriptures.
CN-7 Ability to explain scriptural holiness from the Wesleyan-Armenian holiness perspective.
CP-2 Ability to communicate effectively in writing and orally with cultural relevance.
CP-3 Ability to prepare Biblical messages for effective and sound Bible preaching.
CP-4 Ability to teach the Word of God.
CP-5 Ability to plan, participate in, and guide others in worship.
CP-6 Ability to present the Gospel in a clear and Biblical way.
CH-1 Ability to take responsibility for one’s own spiritual growth with the goal of becoming like Christ.
CH-2 Ability to find, understand and utilize resources for one’s own spiritual growth in prayer, Bible study, and personal devotion.
CH-4 Ability to teach and model sexual purity.
CX-3 Ability to apply this current information to the ministries of the Church.
CX-4 Basic ability to analyze and describe communities and churches.
CX-5 Basic ability to identify elements of culture.
CX-7 Ability to distinguish between world views – Local, Biblical, and Western
CX-12 Ability to explain and effectively use missiological and trans-cultural principles to retain meaning across contexts.
Assessment and Evaluation
Primary Course Outcomes
Compare and contrast while role-playing, the difference between accountability and coercion or manipulation. CH-2 ACC
The student will explain the nature of growth in grace, leading up to and following salvation, leading up to and following Entire Sanctification. CN-16 DIS
The Student will demonstrate how to lead a person to Entire Sanctification CP-37 DIS
The student will write then share their conversion / spiritual journey narrative. CP-38 DIS
The student will explain how to present the necessary claims of Christ on a person. CP-43 EVA
Additional Course Outcomes
Demonstrate submission to those in authority within the Church. CH-6 ADM
Counsel / Listen
Demonstrate the ability to ask appropriate and reflective questions. CP-16 CON
Explain the biblical foundation of counseling and to explain the importance of knowing how to counsel people using the resources of the body of Christ. CN-10 CON
Explain the goals of a mentoring relationship. CP-62 LEA
Understand and articulate the importance of demonstrating the worth of each individual within the team. CP-76 LEA
Explain how the Biblical theology of stewardship applies to ministry. CN-31 MIN
Person and Family Discipline
The student will develop and demonstrate an effective system for personal spiritual development, holistic personal care and articulate the importance of accountability for these. CP-26 DPF
The student will explain why we need to pray. CN-43 PRA
The student should be able to explain what is an occasional prayer and what is unceasing prayer. CN-47 PRA
The student should explain the Church of the Nazarene / Biblical position on the issue of speaking/praying in tongues and be able to compare and contrast other positions on this issue. CP-94 PRA
Demonstrate the ability to apply the word to call for obedience or change in response to the sermon. CP-92 PRE
Demonstrate how the message (of a sermon) has impacted or changed the preachers own life. CH-41 PRE
Explain the theological reasons for God using preaching as the means to deliver the message of salvation. CN-42 PRE (Preaching is defined as a call to conform to Christ).
Explain various hazards to a healthy small group, such as: becoming too self focused, gossip: exclusiveness, eternal non-ending, general conversation without a focus, loss of purpose, power struggles between groups, thinking that just talking makes the group important, disconnected from the mission of the congregation and church. CX-17 SMG
Demonstrate an interpretation of Scripture that is in line with Wesleyan Arminian Holiness theology – be able to identify and articulate to a small group the Biblical foundations for the Wesleyan understanding of the doctrine of Holiness without proof texting. CP-108 SMG
Outcomes by total and percentage
Content- 10 27%
Competency- 14 38%
Character- 7 19%
Context – 6 16%
This course can be taught in several ways. As a whole semester or two trimester course, or as a module course in one week, or as a weekly course meeting a few hours each week. Each lesson is designed to be finished in one hour. The whole course is designed for 120 student hours, 40 hours of classroom time / teacher to student time and 80 hours of outside work individually and in teams or groups. If a week long module format is used, the 80 hours of outside work need to happen mostly (60 hours) before the class starts so that by the end of the module all graded work is completed.
Activities for this Class
Prior to Class
5% Before coming to the class the Student will read or listen to all of 1 Thessalonians six (6) times journaling their observations and documenting their reading / listening time by recording the date and time of reading in a notebook or if illiterate whatever means of recording is suitable to their situation. Students will also read or listen one (1) time and then journal observations about 2 Thessalonians, Acts, Galatians as well. If the student has the module course available in their language they will read or listen to the module before coming to class.
Students will be grouped into teams of 3 and if necessary one additional team of 4. These teams will work together the whole time during the class from the beginning to the last day. The list of questions for each passage will be provided to the team by the teacher. Each team will start and end their work with prayer, then answer questions about the assigned passage one student after the other each in turn. Each team member will read one question for the team to answer. One other team member will provide the answer to that question. The team will briefly discuss the answer and then another team member will read the next question in rotation. The team will have a person who records the answers. The person recording answers will change each period so that the whole team has practice recording in turn. Team members will rotate who reports results to the class or other teams.
- 15% Community Project. The students will work in groups of at least 2 but not more than 8 people to develop and implement a project for their community that is based on part of what they have learned from this book. Projects should take less than 1 month’s time but more than 2 days. This can be done before, during or after the class depending on the way the class is presented. Students will present a proposal to the teacher for approval and report on the progress of the project 1 month after it starts. Credit is given for the quality of implementation rather than specific results in the community. If at all possible the project’s plans and outcomes will be shared with the class.
The study of the book will happen during class time in the following steps.
- 20% Answering extensive questions about each passage of the book, working through all 5 chapters or as many as can be done to allow time for the team based activities.
The steps will be:
- Teacher announces passage and distributes questions to teams.
- Team answers questions.
- The teams will report answers, to the class (if small), or (if a large class) in groups of 3 teams to other teams.
- The teacher will lecture for 20 to 30 minutes on that same passage, showing how the teacher exegetes that passage and give additional information not found in the text itself. (This can be from the Teacher module or other additional information).
- Each evening the students will copy the notes from that day’s work for the team. These notes will be complied by the students into a commentary on 1 Thessalonians.
Passages will be small enough for the team to work through the answers within 20 to 25 minutes. The length of passages will depend on the education level of the students and their experience in reading. Non-literate students can listen to the passage read and then begin the process of answering questions. If the teams are slow in answering the questions, the teacher will have the teams answer fewer of the questions per scripture in each session, and then ask the remaining questions about the same passage in the following section. This way, the students learn to answer ALL the questions about a passage before moving on to the next passage. The teacher will restrict their model answers to the number of questions that the teams were able to answer. A single team lagging by one or two questions should not slow the class. The teacher will make the judgment based on the overall ability of the teams to respond to the questions and adjust the number of questions accordingly. It is expected that in most cases, the range of answers from the teams will cover the possible answers so that a full exegesis of the passages will have been done by the overall class effort.
- 5% Writing summary outlines of the whole book, individual basis,
- 5% Each student tells the summary story of 1 Thessalonians gathered from Acts, 1 and 2 Thessalonians to groups of 6 or 9 students using the following points,
- what led up to the writing,
- what is the purpose of the writing – what result was Paul hoping for,
- what was the actual result to the best of our knowledge.
- 5% Student draws two charts, one showing the conversion story of a Thessalonian believer, and the second showing their personal conversion / spiritual journey story. They share their story with the teacher or a small group.
- 20% Sermon preparation – individual work, the sermon will be graded on how well it calls listeners to make changes in their lives today in response to the teaching found in a passage from 1 Thessalonians.
- 20% Lesson Preparation – individual work, The student will name the age group for the lesson, the main point for the lesson, the teaching methods used in the lesson, and the way the students are expected to respond to the lesson.
- 5% The student will prepare a response to their local congregation (at home) based on one of the five categories of ministry found in Ephesians 4:11 He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, shepherds and teachers. For this exercise Apostles are cross cultural workers, prophets are those who exhort or encourage the people to obedience, evangelists are those who call unbelievers to follow Christ, shepherds are those who strengthen the spiritual lives of believers, and teachers are those who help us know the Father, the Son and Spirit more fully. The response will be given to the teacher for evaluation at the time set by the teacher near the end of class.
Outlines of the lessons presented.
- Introduction to Exegesis – Gathering reading reports.
- Introduction to 1 Thessalonians – Brief summary of content in lesson module as a review.
- Acts 17 – Exegesis
- Chapter 1 – Exegesis –
- Chapter 2 – Exegesis – how to make a basic sermon outline
- Chapter 3 – Exegesis – how to make a basic lesson outline
- Chapter 4 – Exegesis –
- Chapter 5 – Exegesis – how to exegete a local congregation
- Historical background – Ecclesia
- Historical background – The cities of Macedonian
- Historical background – Pagan worship in the Roman Empire
- Historical background – The unique situation of the Jews and worship
- Theological analysis – Chapter 1-2
- Theological analysis – Chapter 3-4
- Theological analysis – Chapter 5
- Local applications
- Personal response to the lessons
- Final exam – Student sermons
- Final exam – Student sermons
- Sharing Student spiritual life charts.
Introduction to Exegesis
We believe that the Bible is inspired by God. That the letters and documents found in Scripture have authority over our lives. But what does that mean? We know from Jesus own warnings that there will be false teachers, weeds in the field that look like good plants but are not really. The apostles warned against false teachers many times. How do we know if we are teaching what is right or if we are mistaken? As teachers and preachers we have more responsibility to make sure we are accurate when using the Bible. Scripture is not interpreted privately or individually. It is interpreted according to the guidance of the church, the whole Body of Christ, using the best history, grammar and theology we can use. The best way to make sure a teacher is correct is to have others carefully examine what he or she is teaching. Each believer should measure our words against what they also read in Scripture.
During this class we are going to learn how to carefully study scripture and turn it into a good sermon, lesson or personal application to our own life or the lives of other believers. We will learn to listen to others and let them correct us when they find an error. We will listen to the traditions of the Church to make sure what we teach is in line with what Christians believe. We need to make sure we are not teaching a new doctrine or another Christ. We do need to find new ways to say the old truths. Each culture will use different ways to say the truth, but the truth remains the same.
The student will build their own personal commentary and exegesis of each passage in cooperation with their team and the other teams. Overall, skill in exegesis is more important than the answers to the specific questions. The Big Picture of the text must not be lost in the details. We are concerned to help the student gain skills in careful observation and interpretation in the context of 1 Thessalonians. The teacher should allow other group members and other teams to correct a misunderstanding before the teacher addresses a specific misunderstanding. The following steps are helpful.
The steps for exegesis are:
Read carefully – Sentences, Paragraphs, discourses, whole chapters, and whole books.
Find cross references – other scriptures that give us background to the place we are reading or that expand or predict or fulfill the passage.
Ask questions – many questions about the passage – list your observations.
Summarize or say in your own words what the author wanted to say to the people who first read the writing. What was their situation, what problems did they face, how would they have felt about the message?
Describe the theology, teaching and principals, found in the passage.
Apply those principals, teaching, or theology to everyday life in your congregation. This should be common ordinary actions that people do everyday. The point is to show how the passage speaks to their daily life.
Create a lesson or sermon that shows people how they should change their thinking and their actions because of the teaching of Scripture.
Questions that can be used to clarify the passage.
- Grammar and story references
- Repetition of words – look for words and phrases that repeat.
- Contrasts – look for ideas, individuals, and or items that are contrasted with each other. Look for differences.
- Comparisons – Look for ideas or individuals who are compared to each other. Look for similarities.
- Lists – any time the text mentions more than two items identify them as a list.
- Cause and Effect – look for these kind of relationships.
- Figures of Speech – Look for expressions that convey an image, using words other than the normal literal sense.
- Conjunctions – Notice terms than join units, like “and,” “but,” “for.” Note what they are connecting.
- Verbs – note if a verb is past, present, future, passive or active and such.
- Pronouns – Identify the person or thing that each pronoun refers to.
- Questions and Answers – Note if the text is built on a question answer format.
- Dialogue – Note if the text contains two or more people speaking to each other. Identify who is speaking and to whom.
- All the possible relationships mentioned in each passage,
- who is speaking,
- who is being spoken to
- who is being spoken about
- who is the implied audience
- All the possible relationships mentioned in each passage,
- Means – note if the sentence talks of something being done by means or the action of someone or something. Note what is done and who does it and how. You can usually put the phrase “by means of” into the sentence.
- Purpose / Result statements – These often tell why something happens. A purpose is the reason behind an action and comes before the action showing direction. The result is the effect of an action comes after an action and shows what happened.
- General to specific and Specific to general – Find the general statements that are followed by specific examples. Also find the specifics that are later summarized by a general statement.
- Conditional Clauses – These show that results will follow when the person doing the action has properly followed what they should do, or in a negative case, has followed what they should NOT do. If you…. Then…. sometimes the “then” is left out.
- Actions / Roles of God – What does this passage say that God is doing? What roles or positions does he take?
- Actions / Roles of people – What does this passage say that the people are doing? What roles or positions do they take?
- Emotional terms – Does the passage have terms that show emotional energy? Like relationship words, Father, Son, Husband? Does it contain pleading, anger, joy, fear or other emotions?
- Tone – what is the overall emotional tone of the passage? Happy, sad, urgent, instructional, others?
- Connections to other paragraphs and episodes – How does the passage connect to the passage before and after it?
- Shifts in the story / pivots – Is this passage a key transition or turning point to understanding a dramatic shift in the story or teaching?
- End points or character changes – Does the passage shift back and forth between two scenes or characters, or ideas?
- Chiasm – Does the passage have any chiastic arrangements that would reflect the following pattern, a b c D c’ b’ a’ ?
- Inclusio – Does the passage open close with similar statements or events?
- Connections to other books – cross references mentioned or implied in the text.
- Motives and attitudes – of the writers and the implied motives and attitudes of the people who got the letter.
- Historical References
- Who was the author?
- What was his background?
- When did he write?
- Who was the author?
- What was the nature of his ministry?
- What kind of relationship did he have with the audience?
- Why was he writing?
- Who was the Biblical audience?
- What were their circumstances?
- What was their relationship to God?
- What kind of relationship did they have with each other?
- What was happening at the time the book was written?
- Other historical / cultural facts that might shed light on the book?
- Theology of the passages – what do we discover about God and how He is working?
- Biblical theology specific to this letter – what is the writer teaching?
- About Jesus?
- About God the Father?
- About the Holy Spirit?
- About Salvation?
- About Idolatry.
- About Holiness?
- About Sin?
- About the Second Coming of Jesus?
- Biblical theology specific to this letter – what is the writer teaching?
- Biblical theology – what are the broader theological implications of this passage in the context of,
- Other writings by the same author?
- Other writings of a similar nature (epistles, or gospels, historical narratives etc)
- all of scripture?
- Sociological / cultural implications from the passages – what can we tell about
- local culture?
- church culture?
- Family roles?
- Economics / business relationships?
- Other relationships?
- Pastoral implications, how are Paul and his team functioning as ministers in this passage?
- What tone does Paul use in this letter?
- How does Paul bring up potential problems?
- How does he address sins within the congregation
- What does Paul’s addressing the whole congregation rather than a pastor / leader imply about the way to address problems?
- Problems addressed, changes expected.
Other skills we will use in this class.
Teams of 3 to 4 will work the following ways.
- Teams of 3.
- A team forms by first facing each other so that they can see each other clearly.
- The team prays for each member before working.
- The team selects a spokesperson for this session. The other two people will take turns being spokesperson in the following session. Every team member must take their turn in rotation being spokesperson.
- The person to the right of the spokesperson reads the question.
- The person to the right of the reader answers the question briefly.
- Speaking no longer than 1 minute each, the other two make any observations they have on the answer.
- The person selected as the spokesperson for this session writes down the answer and observations.
- The Spokesperson reports for the team during the reporting session.
- During the next team session another person takes the role of spokesperson.
Reading the scripture out loud to the class and to your team.
Reporting out loud in front of the group.
When reporting the student will state the question then the answer from the group for that question.
Introduction to 1 Thessalonians
(For reading or Listening before Class)
The background for 1 Thessalonians is found in Acts especially in chapter 17.
Saul (his Hebrew identity) who was also called Paul (his Roman identity), (Acts 13:9), was on his second missionary journey (about 52 AD). Paul’s dual identity was a great advantage for his work in preaching the Gospel to both the Jews and the Greeks (gentiles). He had two legal identities and these enabled him to move smoothly and easily between the two groups. Roman citizenship was rare in those days and being born a citizen was even more rare. Some people had become citizens through special acts like fighting in the army or purchasing citizenship but even fewer were citizens by birth. (Acts 22:25-29).
Paul had new companions on this second missionary journey because John Mark had abandoned them at the start of the first journey (Acts 13:13) and Paul refused to have him join the second trip. Barnabas disagreed and returned to his home place of Cyprus taking John Mark with him. (Acts 4:36 and 15:36-40). Paul chose Silas who was also called Silvanus (showing that he had a Hebrew and Roman identity as well) to help him take the message of the Jerusalem counsel to the churches of Galatia. Paul found Timothy in Derbe and Lystra and had him join their team. This made a strong team who had dual identities, both Jewish and Roman, enabling them to move easily in both legal settings. This was the team who brought the Gospel to Macedonian.
Philippi was the first city they preached in. They experienced strong persecution, but were able to establish two congregations. Persecution was a constant theme of Paul’s ministry. After being sent out of Philippi the team went to Thessalonica. Paul focused on preaching to the Jews first, using the synagogue system. This gave a natural entrance into a city since the Jew’s religion was the only one permitted to worship freely apart from the local gods and the gods of Rome. Paul preached in the Synagog for three sabbaths. After preaching to the Jews and being rejected Paul turned his attention to the Gentiles. His stay in Thessalonica was likely between 4 to 6 months.
Unbelieving Jews started an intense persecution and Paul and his team were forced out of the city and even chased from the nearby city of Berea. The new believers were tossed on their own resources to survive in a hostile environment. Paul sent Timothy to find out if they had remained true to the faith. Timothy reported to Paul that they had stayed faithful but had areas that needed correction and instruction. Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians to help with those areas.
Scholars widely agree that 1 Thessalonians was one of the first letters written by Paul Possibly only Galatians is earlier, but that depends on the circumstances or reasons why Galatians was written. In any case one of these two letters was the first and they were written within months or at the most about a year and ½ of each other. Paul’s visit to Thessalonica was likely from December 50 to May 51 A.D. He likely wrote the letter to the Thessalonians just a few months later from Athens.
Paul used the same structure as an ordinary letter written at that time though longer than most ordinary letters. He writes to the whole Church and expected that the letter would be read out loud to the whole congregation of believers. The letter was carried by Timothy who visited them at least once before the letter was written and then returned to Paul with the news that Thessalonians were still strong in their faith in Christ.
The letter is a cooperative letter written to the whole church from the whole team. In this case, Paul Silvanus and Timothy. The team is greatly concerned that the Thessalonian believers may have fallen away from Christ due to the intense persecution they were receiving. Paul and his team are praying night and day for them and they send Timothy to find out how the new believers are holding up under the stress.
Timothy found that the Thessalonians were excited about their faith. They preached the gospel all over Macedonia and stayed faithful even when they were persecuted. They loved one another and worked hard for Jesus while they waited for him to return. They held on to the hope of Jesus return and the resurrection from the dead. They imitated Paul and his team.
We observe the Pastoral response of Paul to the persecution of the team and their expulsion by the community. It was important that the Thessalonian believers remember clearly that the team had acted in total faithfulness and purity. Paul points out that they told the new believers about their treatment in Philippi. Their message came from God and was delivered in total purity and faithfulness to the Thessalonians. But even more than purity, the message was delivered in love! Deep affection! Self-sacrificing love! The persecution did NOT come because of sinfulness or selfishness.
Paul spends a great deal of time emphasizing the purity of the team which indicates that the team members were victims of gossip from those who drove them out of town, (Acts 17:13). Likely, the gossips had said they only brought the Gospel in order to make money from the believers. Paul’s reminder of their actual behavior was enough to steady the new believers in their faith, not just in Christ, but in Paul’s team who they were imitating. Paul wanted them to continue to imitate the team and not to yield to the temptation of money, flattery or praise as they also preached the Gospel.
Paul also would have wanted them to understand that what they were suffering was not just what Paul experienced but what all believers, even the first believers in Judea experienced. This kind of persecution was not unique to Macedonia and in Achaia, or Asia Minor but happen everywhere the Gospel was preached. The opposition of the Jews in Judea is a mirror of the opposition of the pagan Thessalonians to the new believers. Some have accused Paul of anti-semitism, but this is a misreading of the text, the situation and Paul’s pastoral intention. Notice that Paul does not compare the actions of the Jews in Judea with the actions of Jews in Thessalonica. His comparison is with the actions of their “fellow countrymen.” The actions of the Jews in 2:15 are simple history of the Jews at that time (as recorded in Luke – Acts), but Paul’s point is NOT that the Jews are worse, but that they are the same as the countrymen of the new believers. Paul could have emphasized that the Jews were leaders in the action against the team, but he does not. He points out the parallel actions of both pagan Thessalonians and unbelieving Jews. This shows that persecution will come from all peoples regardless of where the Gospel is preached. This type of preparation for suffering was essential if the Thessalonian believers were to continue their work of proclaiming Christ widely throughout Macedonia and Achaia.
Timothy’s report was positive in most aspects, but there was still something lacking in the faith of the Thessalonians. Paul is sure that if he can reach them, he will be able to perfect that which was lacking in their faith. Paul’s prayer in 3:11-13 is a bridge into the doctrine of Entire Sanctification. We are able to see clearly that even though the Thessalonians were strong Christians, had real faith and were strongly reaching out with the message of Christ, they still had evidence of a sinful nature that needed to be cleansed. This showed itself in several ways, the need for love to increase and overflow, the need for blameless holiness in preparation for the return of Christ. They needed to overcome sexual temptation, exercise brotherly love, live quietly and work hard so their needs would be supplied. This would keep their reputation in the community. They had a false theology of the resurrection so that they thought those who died in Christ had perished. This tempted them to grieve without hope. But a correct understanding of Christ’s return would be like armor protecting them from the judgement to come while they advance the Kingdom.
They needed to honor those who ministered the Gospel and be at peace among themselves. There is a series of brief statements that should lead to peace in the congregation. Then comes a summary jewel near the end.
5:23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here Paul pronounces a blessing as an answer to his prayer in 3:11-13. Notice that, “He who calls you is faithful, who will also do it.” God would answer Paul’s prayer and blessing with a work of His own!
The Theology of Entire Sanctification or Christian Perfection is strongly backed by the whole setting, theology and expectation of Paul in 1 Thessalonians.
- The Thessalonians were strong Christians,
- Paul was deeply concerned that they might backslide and that his work would have been in vain (2:19-20; 3:5).
- They had something lacking in their faith that Paul felt he could correct if he could reach them. (Christian Perfection).
- This was mainly in overflowing love and blameless holiness.
- This would prepare them for the return of Christ.
- Paul prays for this (3:11-13) and then pronounces a blessing for it, (5:23) and trusts God to accomplish it (5:24). His expectation is that they can experience the blessing immediately.
- Paul points to some ethical issues that were evidence of their need for the Perfecting of their Faith. (cpts 4 & 5)
- In chapter 5, Paul uses the command form in order to reveal the inability of the Thessalonians to obey these commands without help from God who would Sanctify them wholly.
- Rejoice always
- Pray without ceasing
- In everything give thanks
- The failure to follow these commands reveals an attitude of the mind or heart that needed cleansing, or immediate action by God Himself to correct.
- Many of these ethical issues dealt with a deeper heart issue and not just understanding or comprehension.
- For example, “Rejoice Always” is only possible if the heart is filled with the Spirit of God. The sinful nature tends to complain, grumble, and fault find. Rejoicing is a spirit of faith in God’s providential guidance of the events of our lives. We can rejoice because we know that God is at work in all things to shape us into the image of Christ. The person with a carnal heart doubts the work of God, complains at the suffering we all experience, and believes that their judgement about “what I need” is better than God’s.
- For example, “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you.” Puts thanksgiving on the level of a command so the unthankful person is disobeying. Obedience to this command takes the type of deep faith that sees God at work even when you are painfully rejected by your neighbors. In the context of Thessalonica the believers suffered intense persecution. They are to view this persecution with thanksgiving. A person with a carnal selfish heart is not able to do this, but returns evil for evil. Paul specifically forbids this. “See that no one returns evil for evil to anyone, but always follow after that which is good, for one another, and for all.” Paul sets the expectation for a Christian attitude so that the Thessalonians could see their deepest motivations were not right.
- Lack of thankfulness, joylessness (grumbling complaining), returning evil for evil, and such are attitudes that cannot be grown out of, they are indicators of a problem that can only be solved by cleansing by the Holy Spirit into the Mind of Christ. Their presence is truly a lack of the faith, which is the means that God uses to apply the Holy Spirit and give the Mind of Christ.
Teaching about the Second Coming (Parousia) of Christ is found throughout this letter. It is specifically taught or mentioned four times with an extended teaching in 4:13 – 5:9
We see this first in chapter one where the idea is of the Son who rules in heaven while waiting to return and exercise “wrath” on his enemies, (1:9-10) “…how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.“ (WEB) “Son from Heaven” is an echo of Daniel 7:13, and an echo of Acts 1:9-11, Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father to rule over the nations and from the Father’s right hand will return in “wrath” against the enemies of God.
In the second reference in 2:19-20, the Thessalonians themselves are the Hope, Joy and crown of rejoicing by at the general resurrection of the dead and the return of Christ. Paul foreshadows his teaching in 4:13-18. The Hope – is that the Thessalonians will remain faithful to Christ and so become a source of great Joy that they have be found worthy of the righteous resurrection. Then Christ will give Paul a “Crown of Rejoicing” which likely includes the eternal joy of fellowship with Christ and the “Well done you good and faithful servant,” from the lips of Christ himself! Thus the return of Christ is a time of great rejoicing for all those who remain faithful in Jesus, and have been fruitful in bringing others to Christ.
The next mention of the return of Christ is in Paul’s prayer in 3:11-13. The Thessalonians lacked something in their faith that could be repaired “the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we also do toward you, to the end he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” (WEB) Thus, love and holiness are the right preparation for the return of Christ with all his saints. In this section there is the hint that right relationships before Christ’s return will be continued after the resurrection. Eternal living in harmony needs a loving character that is blameless in holiness. Holiness in this sense is both the right attitude of the heart – love for another, and right actions – blameless. These are essential to eternal living where there can be no space at all for harmful words, actions or thoughts.
Lesson 3 Exegesis of Acts 17:1-10
Lesson 4 Historical Background
Ecclesia – the idea of a citizen forum in a Greek City State – with parallels drawn from Paul’s use of the term in relation to the Thessalonian believers.
The originally an Ecclesia (called out ones) was the decision making body of a Greek city/state. Citizenship was attached to property ownership and only men could be citizens. The term itself originally pointed to the way that the groups were assembled for voting on important issues. When a decision needed to be made the leaders would send out a person to walk through the city (polis) and call citizens to a meeting. The men (citizens) who came to the meeting were able to vote on the decision. Thus the ones who responded to the call became the ecclesia – the decision makers. William Mitchell Ramsay, expands on Paul’s use below.
“THE CHURCHES. In Lukan and Pauline language two meanings are found for the term Ecclesia. It means originally simply “an assembly”; and, as employed by Paul in his earliest Epistles, it may be rendered “the congregation of the Thessalonians.” It … describes the assembly of this organized society, to which any man of Thessalonica may belong if he qualifies for it. The term Ecclesia originally implied that the assembled members constituted a self-governing body like a free Greek city (polis). Ancient religious societies were commonly organized on the model of city organization. The term was adopted in the Septuagint, and came into ordinary use among Grecian Jews.
Gradually Paul’s idea of “the Unified Church” became definite; and, with the true philosophic instinct, he felt the need of a technical term to indicate the idea. Ecclesia was the word that forced itself on him. But in the new sense it demanded a new construction; it was no longer “the church of the Thessalonians,” but “the Church in Corinth;” and it was necessarily singular, for there was only one Church.
The new usage grew naturally in the mind of a statesman, animated with the instinct of administration, and gradually coming to realize the combination of imperial centralization and local home rule, which is involved in the conception of a self-governing unity, the Universal Church, consisting of many parts, widely separated in space. Each of these parts must govern itself in its internal relations, because it is distant from other parts, and yet each is merely a piece carved out of the homogeneous whole, and each finds its justification and perfect ideal in the whole. That was a conception analogous to the Roman view, that every group of Roman citizens meeting together in a body (conventus Civium Romanorum) in any part of the vast Empire formed a part of the great conception “Rome,” and that such a group was not an intelligible idea, except as a piece of the great unity. Any Roman citizen who came to any provincial town where such a group existed was forthwith a member of the group ; and the group was simply a fragment of “Rome,” cut off in space from the whole body, but preserving its vitality and self-identity as fully as when it was joined to the whole, and capable of re-uniting with the whole as soon as the separating space was removed. Such was the Roman constitutional theory, and such was the Pauline theory. The actual working of the Roman theory was complicated by the numberless imperfect forms of citizenship, such as the provincial status (for the provincials were neither Romans nor foreigners ; they were in the State yet not of the State), and other points in which mundane facts were too stubborn ; and it was impeded by failure to attain full consciousness of its character. The Pauline theory was carried out with a logical thoroughness and consistency which the Roman theory could never attain in practice ; but it is hardly doubtful that, whether or not Paul himself was conscious that the full realization of his idea could only be the end of a long process of growth and not the beginning, his successors carried out his theory with a disregard of the mundane facts of national and local diversity that produced serious consequences. They waged relentless war within the bounds of the Empire against all provincial distinctions of language and character, they disregarded the strength of associations and early ties, and aimed at an absolute uniformity that was neither healthy nor attainable in human nature. The diversities which they ejected returned in other ways, and crystallized in Christian forms, as the local saints who gradually became more real and powerful in the religious thought and practice of each district than the true Christian ideas; and, as degeneration proceeded, the heads of the Church acquiesced more and more contentedly to a nominal and ceremonial unity that had lost reality.
As is natural, Paul did not abandon the old and familiar usage of the term Ecclesia, when the new and more technical usage developed in his mind and language. The process is apparent in Gal. 1:13, where the new sense occurs, though hardly as yet, perhaps, with full consciousness and intention. Elsewhere in that letter the term is used in the old sense, “the Churches of Galatia.” In 1 Cor. 1:2 the new sense of Ecclesia is deliberately and formally employed. (St Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen, Sir William Mitchell Ramsay, pgs 124 to 127, slighted edited and abbreviated).
The Geography and Cities.
Located on the northwest corner of the Aegean Sea, the kingdom of Macedonia rose to prominence under Philip II and his son Alexander the Great. The region was a crossroads of land routes from the Adriatic, the Danube and Thrace, and its ports offered access by sea to the East. Several of Paul’s references to Macedonia, in his second letter to the Corinthians, suggest a playful rivalry in ministry between the churches of Macedonia and the churches of Achaia (2 Cor 8:1; 9:2-4; 11:9-10).
Macedonia was dismembered by Rome in 167 B.C. And reorganized as a Roman province twenty years later, ruled by a proconsul in Thessalonica. The Romans divided Macedonia into four regions, each a genuine subprovince with a separate ruling council. The Roman province included most of the northern Albania. Macedonia was an important land route between Asia and the West. Its principal cities included Neapolis, Philippi, Amphipolis, Apollonia, Thessalonica, Berea. Macedonia had suffered in the Roman civil wars but prospered under Augustus.
Amphipolis. This city was enclosed on three sides by the curving Strymon River, giving rise to its name (“surrounded city”). The Greek general and historian Thucydides was exiled for failing to rescue Amphipolis from a siege in 422 B.C. Paul passed through here as he followed the Egnatian Way from Philippi to Thessalonica on his second missionary journey. Amphipolis was thirty-four miles southwest of Philippi and twenty-one miles northeast of Apollonia.
Apollonia. The Apollonia mentioned in Acts 17:1, south of Lake Bolbe, was one of a number of towns of this name in the acient world. Paul passed through this small town on his second missionary journey, as he followed the Egnatian Way from Philippi to Thessalonica. Apollonia was about twenty-one miles southwest of Amphipolis and about thirty miles east of Thessalonica.
Brea. A city of southern Macedonia, Brea lay in the foothills of Mount Bermium. It lay about fifty miles southwest of Thessalonica. It was a prosperous town with a Jewish population. Paul and Silas came to Berea after being forced out of Thessalonica (Acts 17:10). They left Berea for Athens, in the province of Achaia, where Timothy met them. Paul and Silas probably stayed in Berea only a few days. According to Acts, the Jews in Berea were more open to the gospel than were those in Thessalonica, and many believed. Paul and Silas were forced to leave Berea by their opponents, who stirred up the populace against them (Acts 17:11-14). Sopater, one of Paul’s friends and fellow travelers, was from Berea. Later tradition states that the slave Onesimus, mentioned in Philemon, became the first bishop of the church in Berea.
Neapolis. Located in modern northern Greece, Neapolis served as the port of Philippi ten miles to the northewest. It is situated on a neck of land between two bays of the Aegean Sea. The Egnatian Way, the Roman military road and trade route that connected the Adriatic Sea with the Aegean Sea, met the Aegean in Neapolis. This helped make Neapolis a very important port. Paul landed here on his second missionary journey, responding to the call to come to Macedonia (Acts 16:11).
Philippi. In 360 B.C. Philippi was founded by and name for Philip II of the kingdom of Macedonia. Located on a Macedonian hilltop next to a broad plain, Philippi oversaw the main road from Europe to Asia Minor. The gold mines that had made it an important city were exhausted by the time the Romans took control in 168 B.C. In 42 B.C., after defeating the assassins of Julius Ceasar here, Antony made Philippi a Roman colony and populated it with veterans of the battle. After his victory over Antony eleven years later, Octavian also settled some of his veterans here as well as a number of Antony’s supporters. This double colonizing of the city, and the frequent passages of troops through it in the following years made Philippi one of the most Roman cities in the East.
Philippi was in many respects a miniature Rome. The plan of the city was distinctively Roman: the famed east-west route, the Egnatian Way, passed through the center of the city and formed its main axis. The bema, from which Paul and Silas were judged, is on the north side of the 300-by-150 foot forum at the center of the city. The town’s 1,000-foot high acropolis towered over the forum. A large Greek theater was built into its eastern slope. Latin, not Greek, was the language of the city: 86 percent of the inscriptions found here dating to the era are in Latin. Augustus granted it the ius Italicum, meaning that the colonist enjoyed the same rights of ownership as if their land was on the Italian soil. But a strong local population remained.
Political officials in Paul’s day were for the most part descendants of the original Roman colonists. Some may have come from the few native families whose loyalty to Rome and influence had gained them Roman citizenship and a share in governing.
Luke correctly observers that Philippi, a Roman colony, was a city in the first district of Macedonian (Acts 16:12). This is the only city whose Roman colonial status is mentioned in the New Testament, and the only city whose technical status is introduced in Acts. This may be because Paul’s treatment here related directly to the city’s special status (see chapter seven on Roman law).
Paul ministered here on his second missionary journey, speaking first to some devout Jews at a prayer meeting by the by the side of the river Gangites (Acts 16:3). Lydia of Thyatira was the first convert (Acts 16:14). The conversion of a slave “fortune teller” led her masters to stir up a riot against Paul and Silas (Acts 16:16-40). The church at Philippi was the first established by Paul in Europe. It frequently sent gifts to Paul (Phil 4:14-17; 2 Cor 11:9). The letter to the Philippians is in part written to thank them for this assistance. Paul later visited the Philippian Christians and observed Passover here (Acts 20:6).
Thessalonica. Founded in 315 B.C., Thessalonica was named for the half sister of Alexander the Great. The city was of great strategic importance, situated on important trade routes and possessing a fine harbor. In Paul’s day it was, along with Corinth, one of the two most important centers for trade in Greece.
The Romans made Thessalonica the capital of the province of Macedonia. The Roman general Pompey made it his headquarters in his civil war against Octavian. Later the city went over to Octavian, and after his victory he made it a free city. This meant that it could retain a Greek republican form of government and the right to mint coins. Further, Rome could not put a military garrison within its walls. Other sources confirm the accuracy of the comment in Acts that the town’s rulers (known to have numbered five or six) were known by the unusual title politarchoi “city authorities” (Acts 17:6, 8).9
Only a handful of cities in the Roman world surpassed its population of around 200,000. Its inhabitants included handworkers, traders and orators from Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt and Italy, but Greek culture predominated. The two Thessalonian delegates who helped Paul take their donations to Jerusalem seem to reflect this diversity: one had a Latin name, Secundus, and one a Greek name, Aristarchus (Acts 20:4). We know little about the Jewish residents of Thessalonica, except that Paul found a synagogue here (Acts 17:1).
Paul commends the believers here for rejecting “idols” in order to serve the true God (1 Thess 1:9-10). Dionysus was worshiped both in a public cult with a state-appointed priest and in private associations. In addition, devotees of the Egyptian cult of Isis and Serapis, including wealthy Romans of high status, met in a house for religious and social purposes. Paul ministered here with considerable success on his second missionary journey. A “great multitude” of converts to Judiasm became Christians, along with some Jews and some prominent women (Acts 17:4 NASB). Paul left Thessalonica after the city officials took a pledge from Jason (Acts 17:9). Later Paul wrote two letters to the city.” (The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era Exploring the Background of Early Christianity. James S. Jeffers, 1999, InterVarsity Press, ISBN 978-0-8308-1589-0 pages 281-284)