The Church at Thessalonica

Much of the  N. T. teaching on the role and work of the local church is found in the life of the 1st Century churches. There is a pattern to follow. We strive to be the N.T. church in the 21st century.  That is possible because the word of God as revealed by the Holy Spirit is alive in every generation and perennially relevant and applicable.

  • In conjunction with our study of the People of God in our Sunday morning Bible Class, we will also look at some of the churches that are described in the N.T. – Some good, some bad; some like us. Our purpose is to learn from example and use the pattern to determine our responsibility as a church of Christ.

One important model provided in the Thessalonian church. What are the revealed characteristics of the church at Thessalonica of the 1st century?

There in no record of the # of members, their programs, where they assembled or the names of their leaders. However there are some spiritual qualities that are evident.

The Beginning of this church:

1)  The church at Thessalonica began through the work of Paul & Silas during Paul’s  2nd journey as recorded in Acts 17:1-4 – Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.

  • Paul reasoned for 3 Sabbath days with those who had assembled at the synagogue. The word for reasoned is the Greek word from which we get the English word dialogue – which indicates a discussion rather than a formal discourse. Paul fielded their questions.

a)  God expects Christians to be able to answer questions about the faith. Peter commanded believers to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).

2)  After a good beginning, persecution arose and the brethren sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. Having left the church at such a chaotic and difficult time, Paul remained concerned about their welfare. While at Athens he sent Timothy to encourage them and get a report on their status. 1 Thess 3:1-5 Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone,  2 and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith,  3 that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.  4 For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know. 5 For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain

a.  Timothy’ sent back good news. The church was strong, and was exhibiting the marks of true disciples – faith & love.  . 1 Thess. 3:6-7 6  But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you — 7 therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith.

I.  Paul’s Assessment of the church:  Timothy’s report prompted the 1st letter of Paul to the Thessalonian church. Notice how the apostle describes the status of this church: 1 Thess 1:2-4 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, 3 remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, 4 knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. Paul sees 3 spiritual characteristics that cause him to rejoice over this church- their 1) work of faith, 2) labor of love, 3) and patience of hope.

What does this tell us about the church at Thessalonica?

A.  A Working Church.. These 3 descriptive phrases point directly to the activity of the congregation. They were working and laboring, and patiently looking to Christ for the results. This is at the heart of an effective church. We have work to do. Paul enunciates not only the work itself, but the motive as well.

1.  John Wycliffe states…The order is logical and chronological: faith relates to the past; love to the present; hope to the future. We are motivated to work for God by what we believe about the past, by the love we have for Him (and each other) now, and what we anticipate (hope for) in the future. What was the labor and work the Thessalonians were busy with?

2.  They were busy making more disciples. Their effective ministry began in their willingness to receive the truth that Paul had preached. 1 Thess 2:13  “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.” The Thessalonian church had a marvelous twofold influence.

a.  Living the truth they had received…The believers at Thessalonica were completely convinced that Paul had taught them the truth. As the truth took root in their hearts they sought to follow Paul as Paul followed Christ. They spread the gospel was by living exemplary lives. Paul said of them, “Ye were an example to all that believe in Macedo­nia and Achaia” (1 Thess. 1:7). It isn’t the programs or creativity that gives a church a credible testimony. The Thessalonians were like Jesus Christ. They set a pattern for everyone else, including believers.

b.  Teaching (sounding out) the truth they had received… The second way of spreading the gospel is through the teaching of the Word. 1 Thess. 1:8 says, “From you sounded out the word of the Lord … in every place.” The Greek word for “sounded out” is exechetai, from which we get the English word echo. What does an echo say? Whatever was said before.. an exact replica.

1) A Christian’s testimony should never be independent of God’s Word. It should be only an echo of God’s truth.

2)  The Thessalonians had so fulfilled their responsibility to make known the word that Paul did not have to speak about their faith to others. 1 Thess 1:8  Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.”

3) 1 Thess. 1:9 shows how the believers in Macedonia and Achaia responded to the Thessalonians’ testimony:  “They themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God” (v. 9). The latest news around town was “Have you heard what happened at Thessalonica? Many people turned to God from idols.” The incredible thing was that Thessalonica was only fifty miles from Mount Olympus—the sup­posed residence of the Greek gods. Although they had been raised from their earliest years to believe in a plurality of gods, within three successive Sabbaths an entire community of people dropped their idolatrous system to serve the living God. That kind of turnaround makes news. What does this community say about us?

B. A Surrendered Church: Verse 6 of chapter 1 says, “Ye became followers of us, and of the Lord.” The Greek word translated “followers” is mimetes, from which the English word mimic is derived. The Thessalonian Christians weren’t just talkers; they were imitators.

1.  Not only are Christians to be collective representatives of Christ on earth but also individual representatives. The pursuit of every Christian is to be like Christ.

a.  That’s the key to unity in the church. If all of us were like Christ, we’d have no problem getting along with each other. But unfortunately, we are not always in tune with one another because we are not all following Christ. A. W. Tozer said that if a hundred pianos were merely tuned to each other, their pitch would not be very accurate. But if they were all tuned to one tuning fork, they would automatically be tuned to each other. Similarly, unity in the church isn’t the result of running around and adjusting to everyone else. Rather, it is becoming like Je­sus Christ. The Thessalonian church was surrendered to Christlikeness, which had been demonstrated in the lives of Paul, Silas, and Timothy.

C.  A Suffering Church: 1 Thess 1:6 says, “Ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the Word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit.” The Thessalonian church didn’t have it easy. In fact, any church that is saved and surrendered to Christ is going to have a diffi­cult time. Yet even in persecution they experienced the joy that the Holy Spirit provides – an inward joy not dependent on circumstances.

1.  Acts 17 records the resistance they encountered:  Acts 17:5-6 “The Jews who be­lieved not, moved with envy, took unto them certain vile fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city in an up­roar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them [Paul, Silas, and Timothy] out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come here also”.  Persecution began immediately for that church.

2.  1 Thess. 2:14-16 reviews the persecution the church had experienced: “Ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus; for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecut­ed us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men, forbid­ding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always; for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”

3. The church that is working and surrendered to Christ is going to antagonize the world. Consequently, suffering will come. Jesus put it this way: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. … If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18, 20).

4.  Wouldn’t it be great to be persecuted for being Christlike?  be­cause we’ve turned the world upside down? If unbelievers got irritat­ed about us (assuming that it wasn’t for being unnecessarily offensive), it would probably mean that we were correctly preaching the gospel in a manner that exposes sin. The church that confronts the world is going to suffer.

D.  An Anticipating Church: 1 Thess. 1:10 says the Thessalonians had turned from idols to serve God “and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivered us from the wrath to come.”  The Lord’s church has always lived in anticipation of Jesus’ return.

1.  Notice how this contrasts the attitude and lifestyle of the world. Peter said, “There shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his com­ing?” (2 Pet. 3:3-4). Some people today claim to be Christians, but they don’t ever talk about the return of Christ. It has little impact in their daily lives.

2.  Christians should be anxiously waiting for Christ’s return. An­ticipation of the future motivates us to live godly lives for His service in the present. The last recorded words of Jesus are these: “Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Rev. 22:12).

3. 2 Peter 3:10-14 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.  11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,  12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?  13 Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.  14 Be Steadfast Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless;

E. A Steadfast Church: 1 Thess. 3:8 says, “Now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.” Paul was saying, “When we got the message that you were standing fast in the Lord, we were really living! That report made our day!”

1.  Standing fast in the Lord means two things:

1)  not wavering doctrinally and

2) maintaining a steadfast love.

A person can stand fast doctrinally but dry up spiritually. That is why a Christian needs to stand fast in terms of love. Unfortunately the church at Ephesus didn’t. Our Lord reproved them, saying, “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (Rev. 2:4).

Conclusion: How do we measure up to the model that God has placed before us? This church can reach the potential that God has placed before it, but only if you are personally responsible to God.

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