I am fascinated by the juxtaposition of modern high-rise apartments and under-the-ground ruins. I’d love to go there someday.
After Paul and Silas fled from Thessalonica to Berea, about 40 miles, they were joined by Timothy. However, their ministry there was again disrupted by the trouble-making Jews from Thessalonica. Once again, Paul needed to leave quickly and quietly. Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea while some of the Berean believers got Paul safely to Athens. When they returned to Berea, they gave Silas and Timothey an urgent summons from Paul for them to join him in Athens (Acts. 17:10-15).
Paul had a pastor’s heart. He yearned over his new converts, longing to be able to remain with them and teach them, and comfort them in their suffering. He worried about what the angry Thessalonian Jews would do to the new believers. So Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to encourage the believers there and to bring back a report about their welfare. Since Timothy had not been there with Paul and Silas, it was safer for him to be the messenger.
When Timothy returned to Paul from Thessalonica, the report (I Thess. 3:6-7; Acts 18:5) relieved Paul’s worry and gave him cause to be very thankful. In response, he sat down and dictated this letter, which is full of his love for the believers as well as his instructions to them. If we remember that Paul’s letters were very personal, an outpouring of his heart for God and for the people he served, it will change the way we see these letters. They are not simply dry works of doctrine and lectures. They are the overwhelming expression of Paul’s regard for the people, and a direct report of the work of the Holy Spirit in Paul’s heart. What excitement must have been stirred whenever a letter arrived at any of Paul’s churches!
The clear purpose, from the context of I Thessalonians, was to record the reactions of the writer and to meet the needs of the readers. First, Paul records his joy at the good news Timothy shared concerning the faith and courage of the people. Read Chapter 1 and, understanding the background, see if it doesn’t bless you to rejoice with Paul in the maturity and strength of the Thessalonian Christians.
A second purpose was to refute the false charges and slanders against Paul and Silas that the angry Thessalonian Jews were circulating. They were accused not only of heresy against the Jewish faith, but also of insurrection against the authority of Rome. This last accusation could have gotten them imprisoned or killed, which is apparently what the Jews had in mind. The attacks were personal as well, an effort to discredit Paul and Silas in their character in order to cause division between them and the new believers. They used such things as the Philippian offerings sent to Paul to accuse Paul of being in it for nothing more than personal gain. They also accused him of cowardice in leaving secretly rather than facing his accusers, and Paul’s defense is simple: His efforts to return had been hindered, and he sent Timothy in his place. It must have been very hard for him to let Timothy go, having loved him as a son.
A third purpose of the letter was to address specific needs in the church, which you’ll find in the final two chapters of the book.
Next: The place and date of I Thessalonians.