Paul’s epistle to the Thessalonians is just as relevant today as it was when Paul first penned it, because God’s truth endures to all generations (Psalm 100:5). Even though Paul’s Thessalonian congregation may have lived centuries ago, many of the problems they faced were like the problems we face.
His epistles to the Thessalonians were among Paul’s first. Galatians may have pre-dated them, but Galatians was a general epistle, written to the people of a region. The Thessalonian epistles were Paul’s first church epistles, so these two books give us a glimpse into Paul’s pastoral heart.
So what do you teach a brand new church full of Jews, Gentiles formerly proselytized to the Jewish faith, and Gentiles who were once idolaters? Everything you can. When you look at the letters written to the Thessalonians you find that Paul covered nearly every major doctrine of the faith. His strong desire was that this church be firmly rooted in the truth. Like the church he’d established at Philippi, the church at Thessalonica was a pioneering work. It had to stand if it was going to thrive and continue.
How Did Paul Arrive in Thessalonica?
Paul, Silas, and Timothy came to Thessalonica as a result of the Macedonian call: “Come over into Macedonia, and help us” (Acts 16:9). Originally intent on traveling into Asia, Paul and his entourage changed their plans in response to the call and headed to Macedonia, a region that lied north of Greece
The city of Thessalonica still exists today as Thessaloniki. It is one of those few cities that has survived New Testament times into the present. Today it is second in commercial importance to Athens. In Paul’s day it was the capitol of the Macedonian region with a population of about 100,000 consisting mostly of Greeks, but it also had a strong Jewish population (decimated by the Nazis in WWII), and fair number of Romans. Many veterans of the Roman army retired there most likely because of the natural thermal springs the region was known for. The springs were like ancient Jacuzzis, good for aching joints and muscles.
But Thessalonica was the second city Paul and his crew visited when they arrived in Macedonia. Their first stop was the city of Philippi where they met Lydia, a seller of purple (Acts 16:7-15). (This purple, also known as Tyrian purple, was a highly coveted dye. In Paul’s day an ounce this dye was worth four ounces of gold. So, Lydia was likely a woman of means.) Lydia is credited as being the first convert of Europe. Granted, Cornelius the centurion of the Italian band was also European, but he was converted in the Holy Land. Lydia was actually converted in Europe. Like Cornelius, she was a proselyte to the Jewish faith and a seeker of the true God of the Bible. So, when she heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, she readily accepted.
Paul’s Modus Operandi
Preach to the Jews First, and Then to the Gentiles
As was Paul’s habit, he went to the Jews first, which was how he met Lydia, and then to the Gentiles. By doing this, he immediately had access to an audience that already had an understanding of many of the basic doctrines of the faith. From there, he could build and use those foundational doctrines to lead people to Christ. When Paul preached to people who were coming out of idolatry and had no biblical background, Paul usually started teaching his audience that God is the Creator of all things. From there he would establish the fact that because God is Creator of all, He alone is worthy of all worship.
End Up in the Local Jail
As was also his habit, it was not long before Paul ended up in the local jail for preaching Christ (See Acts 16:6 and following), but while he was there, God used him to convert the Philippian jailer and his household. So, between the conversion of Lydia and the Philippian jailer, Paul ended up with enough to start a church at Philippi.
Establish Works in Major Metropolitan Areas
After gaining their freedom, Paul and his entourage headed to Thessalonica, bypassing some cities along the way, but there was a reason for that. It was not that Paul had no concern for the people in these other cities. It is very likely he preached and witnessed as he made his way to Thessalonica (100 miles away), but his strategy was always to establish a strong work in metropolitan areas and trust the members of that work to spread the word of the Gospel. Given that metropolitan areas naturally made contact with people from all over the known world, it is a very effective strategy. It is also very convicting to us as believers. Paul’s strategy naturally assumed that the people in the works he established would actively propagate the message. Biblically, it is the duty of every believer to do the work of an evangelist.
To be continued…