Everyone can use a little encouragement. Encouragement is so valuable that even the apostle Paul needed it. Having recently arrived in the decadent port city of Corinth, the apostle could only have been discouraged by his recent experience as an evangelist. Landing in Greece at the city of Philippi, he had gained noteworthy converts such as Lydia and the Philippian jailer. But after a false arrest and savage beating, Paul and his colleagues were asked to leave the city (Acts 16:11-40). Moving along the Aegean coast, he next came to Thessalonica. After preaching in the synagogue there, some Jews and “a great many” devout Greeks came to faith in Christ. This success roused the anger of the Jewish leaders, who raised a disturbance against the Christians, so that once again Paul left town after only a short stay. Then Paul went to Berea and then Athens, where he preached a famous sermon on Mars Hill but once again had to leave only a small band of converts behind.

From Athens, Paul sent his young assistant Timothy back to Thessalonica to minister to the believers whom they had left there (1 Thess. 3:1-2). Shortly after Paul arrived in Corinth, Timothy returned with news that lifted Paul’s spirits: “Now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love…we have been comforted about your faith” (1 Thess 3:6-7). For we now live,” Paul exclaimed, “if you are standing fast in the Lord” (1 Thess 3:8).

Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians to express his joy in the believers’ faith. Based on information from the book of Acts, scholars date this letter during the year A.D. 50 or 51, making it one of the oldest New Testament documents, with only Galatians and James likely to have been written earlier. 1 Thessalonians is one of Paul’s most encouraging writings, expressing his relief and joy.

First Thessalonians follows the ancient practice of first identifying the author(s): “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy” (v. 1). These opening words remind us that this book is not an abstract theological treatise, but a letter. The teaching given here is not intended for highly trained specialists but for ordinary Christians of all kinds. The letter served to bridge the gap of space between apostle and church for the sake of ministry. The same letter bridges the gap of time between Christians today and the apostles who were charged to provide the foundational teaching of doctrine and practice for the followers of Christ.

After identifying the senders, ancient letters typically stated the recipients. Paul addressed this letter: “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1). The Greek word for church is ekklesia, which has the general meaning of “assembly.” In the Greek society of Paul’s audience, this word evoked images of the great democratic assemblies in which free citizens met for shared rule. Speaking generally, an ekklesia was any body joined together for political, social, or other purposes. The Christian church is a unique kind of assembly that has turned to God through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul’s later writings will convey the distinctiveness of the church by referring to his readers as “saints,” that is, holy ones who have been separated by God for faith, godliness, ministry, and worship in Christ’s name.

Having identified himself and his partners, and then having biblically defined his audience, Paul concludes his salutation with an expression of divine blessing. Writing out the encouragement that they had given to him, Paul encourages the Thessalonians with God’s rich blessing: “Grace to you and peace” (v. 1). Paul interjects theology into all his greetings, and here he notes the two great themes of salvation: grace and peace.

When we think of the peace of Christ’s salvation, we should first think of receiving peace with God. The Bible shows that mankind’s greatest need is to be restored to a relationship of peace with the God whom we have alienated and offended by our sin. The great problem of humanity is not caused by illiteracy, disease, or bad government. Our true problem is that, having rejected God’s rule, we are at war with the sovereign Creator. Paul writes that “sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law nor can it do so” (Rom. 8:7). As a result of our guilt for breaking God’s law, all men and women are justly condemned under God’s wrath (Eph. 2:1-2). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Paul laments, with this dreadful result: “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

With the great problems of alienation and condemnation, our great need is the peace with God that Jesus came to provide. Jesus reconciled sinners to God by dying to pay the penalty for our sins, so that through faith we may be justified before God. Along with peace with God, Jesus ministers the peace of God in our hearts. Jesus gives a true and abiding inward peace, producing unity and harmony among men and women. Inner peace comes only through the resurrection power sent by the exalted, reigning Jesus Christ, who restores us to God and gives us His own peace. Peace with God comes by confessing your sin to God, trusting Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for your salvation, and surrendering your life to “the God of peace,” who will “sanctify you completely” through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:23).

It is wonderful to know that we can have peace with God and especially encouraging to know that this peace comes as a gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. This is why Paul blesses the Thessalonians with the greeting, “Grace to you and peace.” It is by grace that we receive the peace of God through Jesus Christ.

One way for us to think about grace is as a description of what God is like. Grace is often defined as “God’s” unmerited favor.” This is true, but it doesn’t go far enough. Grace is God’s favor to us when we have merited His condemnation. We have earned God’s hatred and wrath, yet He causes us to be forgiven and makes us His precious children. God gives that which is most precious to Himself, His only Son, that He might remove our guilt on the cross, reconciling us to His love. The measure of God’s grace is the costliness of His gift, and in the giving of Jesus to die for our sins, God has shown Himself to abound in grace for sinners.

How encouraging it is for beleaguered Christians today, like the Thessalonians of old, to know that our salvation is the free gift of God, according to His sovereign and eternal plan of grace. We may therefore rely utterly on God’s grace, giving God all the glory for our blessings in Christ. Though we have all sinned, believers “are justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).

Finally, grace is God’s power working in us for newness of life. Later in this letter, Paul will exhort the Thessalonian believers to live in a holy manner that pleases the Lord. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification,” he will announce, “that you abstain from sexual immorality” and “that no one transgress and wrong his brother” (1 Thess. 4:3-6). The Thessalonians were no longer to live in the sinful and harmful manner in which they had previously lived as unbelievers.

If you will look in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the Bible you will gain from Him the greatest encouragement of all as God’s grace invites you into His heavenly peace. For when you look to Jesus, the “star” of all history looks back to you with grace, revealing Himself as the Savior who died for your sins. Jesus invites you to believe in Him, to enter the church over which He is Lord, and encouraged by His grace, to extend His offer of peace to a sinful, broken world.

1 Thessalonians 1:1 Study Questions:

The church in Thessalonica is probably not many months old. Already they have faced great difficulties; they have been persecuted, and some have died. By way of rooting them firmly in the gospel, Paul reminds them of what happened when he arrived and preached there. What does Paul remember thankfully about the Thessalonians?

Do you know peace with God? Are you conscious of His favor and love? Do you love Him in return, longing to do His will and know Him better?


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