Mining the Word
I’ve been thinking about how to make the vision of ‘Thoughts from Canaan’ a reality. In other words, how can I better help you grow in knowledge and grace? (I am open for suggestions, by the way)
One of the features I’d like to introduce is a series of articles I’m calling, ‘Mining the Word.’ The goal, in these posts, is to examine scripture in some depth. In doing so, I hope to teach good methods for Bible study as well as glean some real gems from the word of God.
Throughout this series, I’ll link to other articles, commentaries, videos, and books that have helped me as I’ve done my own study.
I’ll also let you know what verses we’ll be covering so that you can read ahead and do your own study along with me.
I’d love feedback on the format and content so feel free to leave a comment or send me a message.
Like I said earlier, my goal is to help you grow in knowledge and grace. I pray that this well be a help in your journey.
Introducing 1 Thessalonians
We’re beginning this series with the little, unassuming, first letter from Paul to the congregation at Thessalonica. You may wonder why we’re starting here rather than one of the ‘more important’ books like Romans or John. Don’t get me wrong, I love Romans and John – as well as all of the other books in scripture. But I think sometimes we get so involved in one book (or even one passage) of scripture that we neglect to search out the gems in lesser-read mines.
And in case you didn’t know, the first letter to the Thessalonians is probably (there is some debate) the first book written in the New Testament. This means that, in this book, we catch an early glimpse of Paul, the Gospel, and the Kingdom. This is a book that was written before any of the gospels, before any of Paul’s other writings, and certainly before the mysterious book of Revelation.
In this book, we hear Paul lay out some of the most basic pieces of the Christian life: holiness, love, resurrection hope, the Kingship of Jesus, perseverance during struggles. It’s all here in the little book of 1 Thessalonians.
Join me in listening to this book, that we might hear what God is still saying to his Church.
1 Thessalonians begins, like an e-mail, with its ‘From:’ field filled in with “Paul and Silvanus and Timothy.” And not only do the authors name themselves but, unlike some of Paul’s other letters which bear multiple names, this letter uses the plural ‘we’ and ‘us’ throughout.
With that said, it’s one thing to know the names of its authors, it’s another to know who they are. So who are these men?
Paul was the self-proclaimed ‘apostle of Gentiles’ (Romans 11:13). Steeped in the Judaism of his day, he trained under the prestigious teacher Gamaliel, and earnestly advocated for a Pharasaic understanding of Israel and God’s work through her. He opposed the early Christians vehemently – so much so that he was present for the first Christian martyrdom (outside of Jesus himself).
And yet, God had plans for him.
So while on a mission to Damascus, Paul received a ‘revelation of Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 1:12) which led him to begin preaching the very message he had originally set out to destroy. He spent three years in Arabia and Damascus, briefly met with Peter at Jerusalem, and then spent over a decade in the ‘regions of Syria and Cilicia’ (See Galatians 1). Through all of this, Paul received his orders and gospel from Christ himself, not from any human authority. He makes this point very clear while defending his gospel in his letter to the congregations in Galatia.
As a missionary who focused on Gentiles, Paul was at the center of the debate about what Gentiles need to do in order to be included in God’s people. This question was eventually settled at the Jerusalem council which found that Gentiles don’t have to be circumcised (among other things). Paul set out with his associate Silas (whom we’ll meet in a moment) on a mission trip into Asia Minor and Greece. It was on this journey that Paul and Silas founded the congregation at Thessalonica (See Acts 17:1-10).
Unfortunately, not everyone was happy with their work and eventually, a mob drove them out of town. It wasn’t long after this that Paul, Silas (or Silvanus), and Timothy penned this letter. It was about the year AD 49 or 50.
Silvanus is the Latin form of the Aramaic name, Silas – itself a form of the Hebrew Saul. Silvanus is first introduced as a prophet in Acts 15 (the Jerusalem council I mentioned above) where he was assigned to accompany Paul to Antioch in order to carry the council’s pronouncement on Gentile inclusion into God’s people. He joined Paul on his second missionary journey through Asia Minor and Greece and so, experienced the same hardships and joys as Paul on that journey. Silvanus is one of the co-founders of the congregation at Thessalonica.
Very little is known about Silvanus outside of the handful of references in Acts and the letters of Paul. There is a theory, based on a reference to him in Peter’s first letter, that he eventually joined Peter and ministered alongside him (See 1 Peter 5:12).
Timothy was a young convert whose mother and grandmother were believers but whose father was a Gentile. Timothy accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey and he’s often mentioned with Paul in his letters. Later in his ministry, Timothy became one of the leaders at the congregation in Ephesus. It’s here that he received Paul’s two pastoral letters addressed to him. We know more about Timothy than Silvanus but far less than we know about Paul since he left no existing writings.
The city of Thessalonica was originally founded in the fourth century BC and named for its founder, Cassander’s wife, Thessalonice. It eventually became the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia and became a ‘free city’ under the Emperor Augustus. As a ‘big city’, it was fairly cosmopolitan and had a mix of different cultures, religions, and languages. This was not an easy city to be a Christian with opposition coming from both Pagan and Jewish sources.
But in spite of the opposition, the Church grew here. As we’ve already noted, the congregation at Thessalonica was founded by Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy around the years AD 49-50. However, opposition from the local synagogue drove Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy out of town. As a result, there was a real concern that the new Christians would wither on the vine. Fortunately, as we’ll see in the letter, that was not to be the case.
As we examine this letter, we’ll learn some very interesting things about these early Christians. As you read through the letter, note all of the ways Paul describes them. One thing you’ll probably notice is that he has very little to chide them for.
This is not a letter of correction. Instead, it appears to be a letter of friendship and encouragement.
For Next Week…
Next week, we’ll begin digging into the first chapter of this letter. In particular, we’ll be looking at verses 1-4. Read all of 1 Thessalonians this week and listen to what Paul is saying to this newborn congregation. Then, reflect on how his message is still applicable today – in your own life, even.
For anyone wondering what commentaries I’m using as we work through this letter, here are three of the big ones:
1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary by Ben Witherington III