1 & 2 Thessaloniansby Sim Kay Tee
The atmosphere at the church's annual general meeting was adversarial. The founding pastor was furious with a young deacon who had questioned his motives in choosing to fund a certain programme. Standing up, he reproached the deacon. ″Young man, how dare you speak to me like that?″ he thundered. ″I started this church 40 years ago. This is my church! I will do what I believe is best for my church!″
Having founded the church in Thessalonica, Paul faced similar accusations of selfish, insincere, and deceitful motives. His critics also questioned his sudden departure and continued absence from the city (see Acts 17:1-10). As these false accusations affected the church, Paul had to respond to the attacks on his integrity.
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul includes a lengthy defence of his ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:1-3:10). He chooses not to assert apostolic authority despite having the right to do so (2:6). Moreover, he is careful not to claim personal ownership of the church he founded, unlike the pastor we met earlier.
Instead, Paul affirms that the church is ″in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ″ (1:1). In other words, the believers in Thessalonica ″belong to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ″ (v. 1, NLT). Through believing in Jesus Christ, the Thessalonians had become God's children and members of His family (John 1:12; Ephesians 2:19).
The Greek word for church, ekklesia, means ″an assembly or a group of people gathered together″. The same word was used to describe the riotous mob which attacked Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:32). However, it soon took on a distinct Christian meaning, coming to denote a gathering of believers in Christ. Literally, ekklesia means ″called out″. In His grace and mercy, God has called us ″out of darkness into his wonderful light″ to be His chosen people, His special possession (1 Peter 2:9). We are ″[God's] church, purchased with his own blood″ (Acts 20:28, NLT).
Paul also includes Silas and Timothy as co-authors of the letter.
Silas, or Silvanus, was one of the two men esteemed as ″leaders among the believers″ in Jerusalem who were chosen as emissaries to convey the decision of the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:22). He was also a prophet who encouraged and strengthened the believers, and even the apostle Peter esteemed him as ″a faithful brother″ (v. 32; 1 Peter 5:12). As Paul's primary co-evangelist, Silas co-founded the church in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-10).
Timothy was a young man whom Paul had met in Lystra at the start of his second missionary journey (Acts 16:1-5). He became a disciple of Paul, who called him ″my true son in the faith″ (1 Timothy 1:2). Timothy was often sent as Paul's personal representative to the New Testament churches, which spoke volumes of his pastoral gifts and abilities (see 1 Corinthians 4:17; Philippians 2:19-24).
After Paul was forced to leave Thessalonica, he sent Timothy there to strengthen the church. It was his protégé's report that prompted this letter (1 Thessalonians 3:2-6).
The first letter to the Thessalonians came from the church's pioneering pastors-three men who were well-known and highly esteemed. The church, however, belonged not to these human leaders, but to ″God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ″ (1:1).
In your experience, do church leaders tend to have a strong sense of personal ownership over the churches they serve? In what ways could this be a good or bad thing?
What does it mean for you to ″belong to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ″ (1 Thessalonians 1:1, NLT)? How would belonging to Christ affect the way you live?