When Nancy and I had our children, we used a birth method that capitalized on the human tendency to respond better when the goal is getting tangibly closer while not pronouncing specifics on the progress. I would say, “Honey, just think, we are going to be holding our daughter soon” and “I can see the top of her head – she’s on the way” Anyone who has run a marathon says the same thing (at least from what I’ve heard second-hand): when you are about to give up, it is encouraging to know that one of your goals is in sight.
As we begin to study the book of 1 Thessalonians, we will see this truth come alive. The young church in Thessalonica is confused and discouraged because they had heard that Jesus would be coming back and setting up his kingdom. People had assumed it would be soon, certainly within their lifetimes. Then a church member died and questions began to arise about how that event squared with the return of Jesus. Would that person miss out on the 2nd coming because they were already dead? How did the increasing hostility and persecution from Rome and Jews in their town fit with God’s promises to them?
This letter from Paul is the very first one he wrote that is included in the Bible. It challenges them to keep their eyes on the eternal prize even while the circumstances around them grow increasingly difficult. It also gives us great insight into the second coming of Christ and how that event can encourage believers to live holy lives and not be distressed by either the thought of death or by hardship in this life.
Read Acts 17:1-15
- Can you imagine why the Jews in Thessalonica (the ones who didn’t believe Paul’s words) would be so antagonistic toward this new faith?
Read 1 Thessalonians chapter 1
- Paul is clearly thrilled that these young believers have grown in their faith. In verses 4 and 5, Paul mentions the following characteristics about God’s posture toward this church: they are loved by Him, chosen (or elected) by Him, recipients of God’s demonstrative power, guided by Paul’s servant leadership. How do you think these things helped this young church to survive and thrive in the early days. How can these same truths help you when you are struggling with issues of faith?
- This church was having their faith challenged by persecution and death that went against things they had assumed to be true. What are some areas that have challenged your faith?