Our Heritage of Faith, Our Timeless Guide

  • Steve Hatter
Open Bible

The new year 2022 is off to a wild start with more national political division, pending Supreme Court decisions, more Coronavirus, increasingly uncertain economics, and wars and rumors of wars. The days are stressful and anxiety-producing, so we all want both perspective and assurance to help us navigate and not sin under pressure.

Praise our living and loving God that Christians have the Bible—His Word—to give the perspective and assurance we need! Believers just like us have gone before experiencing like circumstances, and so we have their story and how God spoke to them through the inspired writers of Scripture, like the Apostle Paul. We can go straight to those sacred texts for help! Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica is a perfect example.

Paul wrote First Thessalonians to encourage the believers in the church at Thessalonica to grow in holiness so that they might be blameless when Christ returns. Paul’s eschatological focus was in response to reports from Timothy of problems in the church, including confusion some were expressing regarding Christ’s return (3:10; 4:13; 5:1–2).

Health and Problems at Thessalonica

Catching up with Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:5), Timothy updated him on the Thessalonian church (1 Thess 3:6). Timothy reported that generally, the church community was doing well. However, some problems required Paul’s attention. Certain members expressed confusion over what would happen to those fellow believers who had passed upon Christ’s return (3:10; 4:13). Also, Timothy related to Paul a question about the specific timing of the day of the Lord (5:1, 2). These are topics people are especially interested in today, are they not?

There were other related vulnerabilities. Paul was made aware of concerns regarding the length and intensity of persecutions the Christians in Thessalonica were experiencing (3:3, 4). They also missed Paul’s presence and expressed disappointment that he had not yet returned to see them (3:6–10). Another problem demanding attention involved some in the church depending on the wealth of others for support rather than earning their living (4:10–12; 5:14). These concerns were potentially rooted in erroneously thinking about the future. Again, the ongoing pandemic has raised similar questions in today’s churches.

Paul’s Response: Pastoral Explanations

Paul proved eager to encourage the embattled and discouraged believers at Thessalonica. His inspired letter, though profoundly eschatological in its doctrinal emphasis (4:1–5:22), was also wonderfully pastoral in tone. Paul sought to repair the hope of struggling Thessalonian Christians in the wake of unexpected deaths of beloved people in their congregation. Thus, Paul’s eschatology reassured them that both the dead and the living were destined to be saved at the second coming (4:13–5:11): “With the sound of the trumpet of God,” “the dead in Christ will rise first.” “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds” (4:16, 17).

Paul then transitioned into more in-depth explanations regarding the day of the Lord (5:1–11). Here Paul sought to both reassure and exhort. His reassurance was meant to focus them on walking well in the here-and-now vice unnecessarily expending emotional capital on the specific timing and nature of Christ’s return: “concerning times and seasons, brothers” “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (5:1, 2). Instead, Paul exhorted them to grow in holiness so that they might be found blameless on the day of the Lord. Be assured in your salvation in Christ, Paul asserted, for “you all are children of the light,” (5:5) and “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:9).

With these strong doctrinal assurances, Paul urged them to “keep awake and be sober” (5:6) while they encouraged one another in the difficult work of the Gospel. Paul reminded them that persecution was normal, and even refining, for the Christian (3:3, 4). Moreover, Paul argued for the recently converted Thessalonians—living in a predominantly pagan community—to seek sexual holiness (4:3–8), and those idle members should be motivated to serve God, themselves, and the community in gainful employment (4:9–12). Finally, Paul likely wished to undo the Thessalonian’s heavy dependence on him by urging the church to respect and defer to its own ministers (5:12, 13). Here he also emphasized Timothy’s credentials (3:2) and his presenting of the missionaries as a reliable team.

Even as Paul offered reassurances undergirded by sound doctrine, he also warned of the destiny of God’s enemies. Alongside strong assurances of the sublime future promised to believers secure in Christ, Paul pointed to horrors of impending wrath for those not yet saved by grace, through faith. Like a loving parent, Paul made clear the difference between the grace they were beneficiaries of and the price of unbelief: “The Lord is an avenger” (4:6), who will bring “sudden destruction” (5:3) to those who “are drunk at night” (5:7). Paul closed his appeal to holiness with a final reassurance: “He who calls you is faithful, he will surely do it” (5:24).

As I read and reread this wonderful epistle, it’s as if Paul was writing to AGC in January of 2022! But that is how God’s perfect Word works. Trust in His Word!