Thessalonica was a city in Macedonia in the north of Greece. Paul planted a church there during his second missionary journey, and soon after he wrote the church two letters that have been preserved in the New Testament.
Background to 1 Thessalonians
Paul’s work in Thessalonica had been very fruitful, particularly among the non-Jewish population. This success stirred up the Jews’ jealousy and opposition, and in the end Paul was forced to leave the city (Acts 17:1-9). On arriving in Athens (in Achaia, the south of Greece), Paul sent his fellow worker Timothy back to Thessalonica to give additional help to the young church (1 Thess 3:1-2). Meanwhile, Paul went across to Corinth (also in Achaia), where Timothy met him after returning from Thessalonica (Acts 18:1-5; 1 Thess 3:6). Timothy brought good news. The church in Thessalonica had grown much in only a short time, and had been so zealous in spreading the gospel into surrounding districts that Christians everywhere were praising God for it (1 Thess 1:6-9; 3:6). All this was in spite of the constant persecution that the church suffered (1 Thess 2:13-16). In response to this good news, Paul wrote the letter known as 1 Thessalonians. He thanked God for the good news Timothy had brought concerning the Thessalonians, and encouraged them to maintain their enthusiasm and steadfastness. He also gave instruction in matters where the Christians’ understanding was still uncertain. These included aspects of Christian behaviour and the nature of Christ’s return.
Contents of 1 Thessalonians
In an opening expression of joyful praise, Paul thanks God for the Thessalonians’ response to the gospel and their ongoing enthusiasm and growth (1:1-10). He reminds them of his own work in Thessalonica, and urges them to be honest and straightforward in all the work they do (2:1-12). He reminds them also that people who serve Christ can expect opposition (2:13-16). Paul points out that he wanted to return to Thessalonica, but when he was unable to, he sent Timothy instead. He rejoices at the good news that Timothy has brought back (2:17-3:13). He goes on to give teaching about Christian behaviour in matters relating to marriage and work (4:1-12), and corrects some misunderstandings that people had concerning Christ’s return (4:13-5:11). He closes his letter with a collection of brief statements on a variety of matters relevant both to individuals and to the church as a whole (5:12-28).