By Jack Wilkie
The New Testament makes a few key principles very clear. We are to have faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to provide our salvation. We are to love God and one another above ourselves. We are to prepare for the day when Christ returns. While there are other ideas that need to be understood and practiced, we certainly can’t ignore these foundational principles. However, sometimes we may have a proper faith without a proper active love or a proper understanding of Biblical doctrines. 1 Thessalonians is a very good reminder of the need to grow continually in all areas.
Background Information
The church in Thessalonica was started by Paul and Silas in Acts 17:1-10. We read there the account of how they went to the synagogue first and found some open hearts. They were also able to convert a “large number” of those outside the Jewish community before some of the Jews and men of the city formed a mob to stop the Christians. This led to the arrest (and eventual release) of a man named Jason and a night escape by Paul and Silas. So, this congregation began under very difficult circumstances, and Paul references this in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 2:2, 2:14, and 3:4. This all occurred around 49-50 A.D. while Paul was on his second missionary journey. He wrote this epistle in 51 A.D. from Corinth.
Key Themes
Three themes stand out in Paul’s writing as we read through the text. First, he is thankful for their faith and commends them for remaining steadfast in the truth that they were taught through difficult circumstances. The Thessalonians had gained a reputation for their faith (1:8) and Paul was proud of them for that. In commending them he calls them his hope, crown of exultation, glory, and joy. He recounted his work among them in chapter two and in chapter three we see that he sent Timothy to check on them. After working to help bring them the Gospel, he was overjoyed to hear that they had held onto the faith that he had taught among them. A second theme is based in Paul’s exhortation for them to grow in their love and, by extension, grow closer together and closer to Christ. One of the prayers in the book shows him asking the Lord to help their love increase and abound (3:12). In 4:9-10 he acknowledged that they practiced love, but that they also needed to “excel still more.” Their faith was exemplary and the fact that they remained steadfast through hard times showed their strength, but they still had room for improvement in their walks with regard to love and holiness, particularly in the area of sexual immorality (4:3-7). The third theme we’ll look at here is the topic of a false teaching that the Thessalonians were dealing with. The text hints at this theme a little in chapter two when discussing the work Paul and Silas had done among them and how they had received the Word of God and accepted it. However, we don’t see it fully developed until 4:13-5:11. There was apparently some confusion concerning the resurrection and the end times, and Paul wanted to make sure they had a proper understanding of it.
Key Verses
2:13 connects the discussion of Paul’s work among them with the discussion of their faith and loyalty to the Gospel. 4:1 is especially important because it captures both the commendation and the exhortation present in the book. In it Paul gives them credit for walking the Christian walk (“just as you actually do walk”) but also urges them to excel still more. 4:9-10 is important for the same reasons. 4:13 is key as it serves as the transition into the section on the return of Christ. Prayers for the congregation are referenced in 1:2-3 and 2:13 and another prayer is written out in 3:11-13. These give us a look into the author’s mind as to how he felt about these Christians and what he felt they needed.
Key Words
The original Greek word isn’t translated consistently in the NASB or NKJV, but excel, increase, or abound appears three times (3:12; 4:1, 10). Faith and love each play a role in the text of this epistle as two of the themes discussed here revolve around them. Finally, the coming of Jesus is referenced in every chapter, although the specific word coming isn’t mentioned in the first chapter.
1 Thessalonians is a short five-chapter read, but it is packed with practical points that we should all strive to understand. Take some time to get to know this epistle and look for other key words, verses, and themes to help in your study. We all need to be able to grasp the concept of the need to excel still more beyond a steadfast faith into a love that works toward holiness.

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