Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com. In this week’s Sunday School Lesson the Apostle Paul shows us faith that sets an example. The Thessalonians show us how to be examples of faith. Paul begins this letter with thanksgiving for how these Thessalonians have kept the faith and endured despite the suffering and persecution they have experienced. He compliments their faith, how they have turned from worshiping idols to the true and living God, how the whole region now knows of them, and how they have imitated him and ultimately Jesus Christ. These Thessalonians are doing the work. Paul pats them on the back for doing the work so well, and they deserve the accolades and compliments he bestows upon them. They are imitators of Christ. Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms:
This first letter to the church at Thessalonica is written by the Apostle Paul. While 1 Thessalonians is the thirteenth book of the Protestant New Testament, The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that this letter is the “oldest existing piece of Christian literature”. Additionally, the late Dr. Cain Hope Felder explains in True To Our Native Land An African American New Testament Commentary that
“Once readers of the New Testament realize 1 Thessalonians is its oldest document this letter takes on much greater significance for understanding the concerns and theology of the Apostle Paul.”
So this is just a reminder that the books of the New Testament are not ordered according to the date they were written. The NISB notes “this letter was written about 50 Common Era, some 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus and twenty years before the Gospel of Mark.” Dr. Cain Hope Felder notes that “1 Thessalonians was composed in the immediate aftermath of Paul’s first visit to Thessalonica, after he had established the Christian church on European soil at Philippi about one hundred miles away.” He notes that Paul, Silvanus (Silas), and Timothy enter Thessalonica, after having founded the church at Philippi (under some duress (1 Thess. 2:2)).” Additionally, I should note that the Thessalonians are mostly Gentiles (NISB) and they also face some kind of suffering or persecution from their compatriots (2:14) (Felder). So although this letter is very positive in tone and Paul seems delighted to write to the Thessalonians all is not well in Thessalonica. This newly formed Christian body of believers is experiencing some form of persecution or suffering and Paul is writing to reassure and encourage them. The NISB One Volume Commentary notes
“the positive tone cannot mask an anxiety over some unspecified persecution the young converts are facing, persecution that may or may not have been also responsible for Paul’s own hasty retreat from the city almost immediately after he founded the congregation.”
This church is facing persecution and Paul seems happy to send them a letter of encouragement.
This first chapter of Thessalonians deals specifically with thanksgiving. The NISBOVC explains that “the thanksgiving in 1 Thessalonians is unique in its unusual length. In fact, this section is so long that it may well be considered the main body of the letter.” So, this letter of thanksgiving is addressed to Gentile converts, whom Paul was forced to leave almost immediately after their conversion, and they are now facing persecution as a new congregation.
In this letter to the Thessalonians Paul encourages them to be an example of faith. What the Thessalonians show for us today is a faith that sets an example. Some important words to consider from this text include:
Review of Last Week and How it connects to this week
Last week’s lesson opened at 2 Corinthians 13:1 with verse one with Paul noting this as the third time he is coming to the Corinthians. Paul then quotes the law concerning witnesses, found in Deuteronomy 19:15 which says “A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained.” So perhaps Paul is telling them this is his third time and this time will be the third witness to establish guilt if necessary. I noted how Paul had just a few verses earlier in chapter twelve mentioned that “he feared perhaps there may be quarrelling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder there”. Paul was concerned. That was a pretty long list of things to be concerned about and it seemed that the church in Corinth had some of all of it.
In verse two Paul got to the point. He had previously warned those who sinned and all the others and now he was warning them again. This wasn’t the first time Paul has warned them. In fact, this wasn’t the second time he had warned them. So this time he was clear – “If I come again, I will not be lenient. I mentioned how my wife and I have five daughters. And there have been many times we’ve said “don’t make me come in there!” Verse two is the equivalent of Paul saying the same thing. Paul was telling them, if he has to come again it won’t be nice.
Paul continued in verse three seemingly in the same breath to say “since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me. I noted how Paul’s warning here reminded me that I recently heard someone tell a young person “you don’t believe cow horns will hook”. Paul had had about enough. He had been disrespected, he had been criticized and he had been insulted. And now, someone was demanding proof that Christ was speaking in him. I noted how we need to keep in mind that it was Paul who organized the church in Corinth in the first place and now someone wanted PROOF that Christ was speaking in him. Paul’s warning was so that “cow horns wouldn’t have to hook” when he got there. Verse three also dealt again with Paul’s theology of weakness. Just as Jesus Christ was crucified in weakness he was raised in power and strength.
In verse four Paul continued explaining his theology of weakness. Just as Jesus was crucified but lived in power, so too, Paul was weak but in dealing with the Corinthians would be strong by the power of God.
In verse five Paul exhorted the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they were in the faith. In verse two, someone wanted proof from Paul that he was in the faith. In verse five Paul turned the question back on them and told them to examine themselves! He continued – “Do you not realize that Christ is in you unless you fail to meet the test!” Paul wasn’t questioning their salvation. He was pointing out the obvious – that since Christ was in them it should be obvious that Paul was speaking for Christ. I noted also that the King James Version used the word reprobate. Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines reprobate as “Those who are passed over in their sinfulness by God and do not receive salvation. In medieval theology they are those of whom it is foreknown that they will not accept divine grace and will therefore die in a state of sin.” Paul was telling them they need to be concerned about their own salvation rather than trying to examine his worthiness.
In verse six Paul told the Corinthians that he hopes they would find out that we have not failed. In Paul’s mind, if they had failed he had failed. Paul was their Apostle and as such he was responsible for them. Conversely, if they were found in good standing Paul would be also.
In verse seven Paul continued with his hopes that they would not do anything wrong. He doesn’t want them to do something wrong just so he can prove his power in God. He wanted them to do right so he wouldn’t have to use his power in God.
In verse eight Paul acknowledged that he (and they) couldn’t do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. Paul wanted them to know that the truth was Jesus Christ appeared to be weak but arose in strength and power. And just as Jesus arose in power, Paul had the authority to use the power given to him by God as their Apostle.
In verse nine he declared “we rejoice when we are weak and you are strong.” In other words, he rejoiced that he may be seen as weak as long as they were strong in the faith. In fact, he said this is what we pray for, so that you may become perfect. It was Paul’s hope that they would become fully restored. Where there had been dissension, confusion, and rejection Paul prayed for a full and complete restoration to the fullness and wholeness of one another in Christ.
In verse ten Paul reminded them that he wrote those harsh words now so that when he arrived in person he would not have to use his authority for tearing them down but to build them up.
Verse eleven closed the lesson with Paul’s farewell. He reminded them to put things in order, to listen to what he had told them, to agree with one another, and to live in peace. These final verses of this chapter and letter end in a much different way than how the chapter began. It began harsh. But It closed in a much different tone.
Last week Paul was concerned about the church at Corinth. He wrote a harsh and stern letter to both defend himself and to warn the Corinthians to get things in order. This week’s lesson focuses on the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. He writes to encourage the Thessalonians and he provides a glowing example of how their faith leads to Holy Living. Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson “Be examples of the Faith”. Standard Commentary titles this week’s lesson “Faith That Sets and Example”. The scripture text comes from 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10.
What Takes Place in This Passage:
The Lesson opens at verse two with Paul noting how he, Silas, and Timothy always give thanks to God for all of the Thessalonians and how they mention them in their prayers constantly. Paul wants them to know that he is praying for them. If you really believe in the power of prayer, that is a comforting feeling. Not to minimize this but even if it’s only a cordial greeting it’s still comforting to know that the person who organized this church, the one who led you to Christ, is praying for you.
Paul continues in verse three letting them know that he remembers them. He remembers their work of faith, their labor of love, and steadfast hope in Jesus Christ. Listen; sometimes it takes work to have faith. Sometimes it takes labor to have love, and sometimes it takes patience to have hope. These are action words. These aren’t idle, passive words. They are active, vigorous, action words. So Paul lets them know that he remembers what they are going through. And he knows that they are doing the work; and not only that, but that they are doing the work before God. It’s good, to remember good things. These Thessalonians are doing good things and Paul wants them to know, that he knows.
In verse four Paul tells the brothers and sisters that God has chosen them. The King James Version uses the word election instead of chosen. Keep in mind that this is the earliest known Christian text. At this point, Paul isn’t trying to put forth a doctrine of election. He’s essentially telling them that God is on their side. They have been chosen and God is on their side. The NISBOVC explains “Paul claims his initial founding visit was the instrument by which God elected the Thessalonians, Gentiles heretofore being outside the covenant.” So at this point, the doctrine of election is not likely what Paul is thinking of.
Verse five continues the same thought about election or their chosen-ness. Paul explains how the message of the gospel came to the Thessalonians. Paul’s gospel message came in power and in the Holy Spirit, and with full conviction. In other words, Paul’s gospel message was not weak. Paul’s gospel message didn’t consist of mere words. Paul’s message was made of the Holy Spirit and power and conviction. It seems to me that if you have a real message from God then these are the ingredients that the message ought to consist of. Paul continues, by reminded them that they know what kind of persons they proved to be when they were with them. Paul, Silas, and Timothy evidently demonstrated this power and presence of the Holy Spirit with full conviction when they were with the Thessalonians.
Verse six reminds the Thessalonians that they became imitators of Paul, Silas, and Timothy and of the Lord. Listen, they imitated them and the Lord despite being in a pagan city, despite being in the midst of idol worshipers, and despite being persecuted. Paul says they did this with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.
In verse seven Paul gives the Thessalonians an enormous compliment. He tells them that they are an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. If you are an example to all the believers in the place where you live, that’s high praise, that’s saying something, and that’s a pretty high standard.
In verse eight Paul explains why he can give them such high praise. Paul explains that the word of the Lord has come forth from them not only in Macedonia and Achaia but in every place their faith has become known. The faithfulness of these Thessalonians is known far and wide. There “fame” is spread abroad. Listen, these Thessalonians deserve their pat on the back. They were being persecuted! But they didn’t give up and they didn’t give in. They persevered and kept the faith and endured the hardship of living a faithful life in Christ. They deserve this praise and it’s clear that Paul is proud of how they are holding up.
In verse nine Paul reminds them of how far they have come. Paul tells them the people of all those regions report what kind of welcome Paul, Silas, and Timothy had and how the Thessalonians turned from idols to serve the true and living God. Keep in mind Paul had to leave Thessalonica almost immediately after establishing the church. So their welcome was not an easy joyous one. But these Thessalonians have thus far held up the banner, they’ve kept the faith and Paul is delighted to write to encourage them further.
Verse ten closes this lesson with an “apocalyptic climax” (NISBOVC). Here the Apostle Paul encourages them to wait for God’s Son from heaven who will rescue them from the wrath that is coming.
Decades ago when I was a brand new private in the United States Army I could do a MEAN imitation of Drill Sergeant Law. Some things you never forget. MSG Law was a short black man and built solid as a rock. He could do pushups for days, he could run and sing cadence and never get tired or give out of breath. He had a distinctive voice. He talked kinda quiet, until he didn’t. And then everybody knew who he was and where he was. All of the young men in my platoon did our best to imitate MSG Law.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I could do a MEAN imitation of Drill Sergeant Law. But the real question, is how my imitation of Jesus?
Key Characters in the text:
Paul – Formerly a leading persecutor of Christians from Tarsus who became the Christian Apostle to the Gentiles (Townsend).
Gospel – The central message of the Christian church to the world, centered on God’s provision of salvation for the world in Jesus Christ.
Election – God’s choosing of a people to enjoy the benefits of salvation and to carry out God’s purposes in the world (1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Peter 1:10). This doctrine has been of particular importance in Reformed theology.
Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas:
1. It’s been said that “you can imitate but never duplicate”. When it comes to Jesus imitation is the key and duplication is the goal.
1. The Thessalonians turned from idols to worship and serve the true and living God. Are their idols in our own lives that we should turn from?
2. The Apostle Paul profusely thanked the Thessalonians for their faithful living despite persecution. Are there persons we can thank or at least acknowledge for holding up under pressure?
How should we be examples of faith? We demonstrate faith in a number ways we take for granted each day. For example, when we sit in a chair we have faith that the chair will hold our weight. When driving vehicles we have faith that other drivers actually know how to drive. Saving faith is belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If we want to be examples of faith, that’s the kind of faith that sets a good example and one that we all should follow.
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:
Next week’s lesson comes from 1 Peter first chapter. In this lesson we’ll explore the Christian call to living a holy life. Next week we explore how faith leads to holy living and show faith in action. Next week’s lesson is titled “Live Holy Lives and “Faith That is Focused”.
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