Have you ever spent significant time studying Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church? Most of us have not. It is often a forgotten letter lost in the pages between Colossians and 1 Timothy. However, this week in the Center for Pioneer Church Planting our missionary trainees discovered many of the riches of this letter as well as why it is important for pioneer missionaries to know.
As missionaries we can learn a lot from this letter. Some brief observations are listed below:
- A church can be established in a very short amount of time. It seems that Paul and his team were in Thessalonica for only 3 Sabbath days – 2-4 weeks (Acts 17:2-3).
- However, further teaching and instruction was needed. Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica not long after they left to “exhort and establish” them in their faith (1 Thess 3:2). Now Paul and his team are writing a letter to this newly planted church reminding them of the instruction they were previously given (1 Thes 4:1-5:28).
- Even in the face of persecution new believers can have a widely known gospel impact. The Word of God was going out from this new and persecuted church throughout Macedonia (the Roman province it was located in) all the way to Achaia (about 200 miles away) (1 Thess 7:8).
- Paul’s missionary team was very intentional about their motives and conduct among those whom they were planting a church. They are described in following ways: pure, “approved by God”, “entrusted with the gospel”, speaking to “please God”, did not use “words of flattery”, did not “seek glory from people”, did not “make demands”, labored and toiled, worked “night and day” so they were not a burden while they proclaimed the gospel, “holy and righteous and blameless” (1 Thess 2).
- We learned about the heart of a missionary team for churches the Lord has allowed them to plant. Paul describes this by using phases like, “being affectionately desirous of you”, “we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves”, “you are our glory and joy”, “like a nursing mother taking care of her own children”, “like a father with his children”.
- We also get a peek into Paul and his team’s teaching ministry among them. They proclaimed the gospel of God (1 Thess 2:9) as well as “exhorted and encouraged and charged” the Thessalonians to “walk in a manner worthy of God” (1 Thess 2:12). Furthermore, we discover some of the practical instruction that Paul’s team gave in their short time with Thessalonian believers (see 1 Thess 4:1-5:28).
- Finally, it is important to note that the overwhelming flavor of this letter is to encourage the Thessalonian believers to continue in the faith and love they are standing so steadfastly in and to grow in it. Paul clearly wrote this letter to encourage the new and heavily persecuted church. In fact, there are no corrections or rebukes of any kind in this letter – a good lesson for those who will most likely plant churches where persecution is expected.