"These 'Letters to Recent Converts' show an intense personal relationship, for Paul had been away from Thessalonica only a short time. But he was still in communication, writing about 250 miles away as messengers brought word of the personal and doctrinal struggles of the new members. Thus he taught Church doctrines and encouraged living by Christ's standards. Paul created relationships similar to the powerful ones that the Savior created while on earth. The opposite of distant abstractions, these letters reach out not only with the truth, but also with an intense desire that these converts live up to the truth.
Sent from: Paul, at Corinth, joined by Timothy and Silvanus (Silas).
Sent to: Converts at Thessalonica, largest city in northern Greece.
Date: Probably early in A.D. 50.
Purpose: To express gratitude for their faithfulness and give encouragement after Timothy and Silas brought word from them.
Purpose: To express gratitude for their faithfulness and give encouragement after Timothy and Silas brought word from them.
Main themes: The meaning of conversion; missionary leadership; Church standards of living; resurrection and Christ's coming.
Background: The City
"Today, Thessalonica is the largest city in northern Greece, a busy port and manufacturing and marketing center with a population of nearly half a million. Similar economic forces made it a major business and political center in Paul's time, though the population was not as great. It was the capital of Roman administration in northern Greece, the province of Macedonia. And Strabo says that Thessalonica was 'more populous than the other' Macedonian cities." (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 69-70.)
1 Thes. 1:3 your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope
Almost in passing, Paul gives us an interesting version of the "faith, hope, and charity" theme. He reminds us that individual faith takes work, that hope requires patience, and that charity is really a labor of love. Indeed, the seed of faith cannot be planted without first breaking through the encrusted surface of disbelief; it cannot sprout without the necessary ingredients of living water and the light of the Son of God; it will never survive without regular weeding and nourishing. The process of building individual faith requires continual effort. The more we work at it, the more we develop it.
Our hope is to be centered in Jesus Christ. Specifically, our faith gives us the hope that someday we will be raised up in a glorious resurrection by the atoning sacrifice of the Savior. This hope becomes an anchor to the soul (Heb. 6:19). But it requires patience to stay anchored amidst the oncoming storms of mortality, especially when the storms seem so imminent and the resurrection so distant.
Finally, the truest expression of charity is found in the labors of love performed for our fellowmen. Any love which never finds expression in good works is not charity.
John A. Widstoe
"Love is the beginning and end of God's labor for man. Whatever is of God is founded in love. It is this principle that supports every doctrine and activity of the restored gospel...But, love is a positive active force. It helps the loved one. If there is need, love tries to supply it. If there is weakness, love supplants it with strength. The loved one is upheld; she may lean safely upon the shoulder of true love. This applies to any human venture or relationship. Love that does not help is a faked or transient love." (An Understandable Religion [Independence, Mo.: Zion's Printing and Publishing Co., 1944], 72.)
Neal A. Maxwell
"...those who have prevailed 'by the patience of hope and the labor of love' will hear in the final judgment these glad words, 'Well and faithfully done; enter into my joy and sit down on my throne.' (Hymns, no. 217)" (Cory H. Maxwell, ed., The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 358.)
1 Thes. 1:5 our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power
Paul's incredible missionary success could not have been possible had he not taught by the power of the Holy Ghost. Paul and his companions 'had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God' (Alma 17:3).
"The power of the word of God lies not in its sophistication nor in its appeal to the worldly-wise; rather, the power flows from God through his appointed spokesmen to those who will receive it. 'For our gospel [comes] not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance' (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Paul wrote to the Corinthians: 'And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God' (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
"In that spirit, Brigham Young described the manner in which his heart was stirred and his soul converted through simple testimony: 'If all the talent, tact, wisdom, and refinement of the world had been sent to me with the Book of Mormon, and had declared, in the most exalted of earthly eloquence, the truth of it, undertaking to prove it by learning and worldly wisdom, they would have been to me like the smoke which arises only to vanish away. But when I saw a man without eloquence, or talents for public speaking, who could only say, `I know, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of the Lord,` the Holy Ghost proceeding from that individual illuminated my understanding, and light, glory, and immortality were before me. I was encircled by them, filled with them, and I knew for myself that the testimony of the man was true. . . . My own judgment, natural endowments, and education bowed to this simple, but mighty testimony' (in Journal of Discourses, 1:90)." (Robert L. Millet, Alive in Christ: The Miracle of Spiritual Rebirth [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 85 - 86.)
Bruce R. McConkie
"For a text I take these words, written by Paul, inspired by the Holy Ghost: '. . . our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance. . . .' (1 Thes. 1:15.)
"Thus, the gospel had by the Saints of old included, first, the word, that is, the doctrines, principles, and laws, the statutes and judgments of the Lord, which if a man obey, he shall surely live everlastingly; and it included, second, the power, the saving grace, the gifts of the Spirit, the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, and that abundant testimony in which true Saints so delight.
"Paul also said that these things-the word and the power, which taken together comprise the true gospel-that these things were 'the gospel of God, . . . Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord'; that of this 'gospel of Christ' he was 'not ashamed, . . . for,' said he, 'it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.' (Rom. 1:1, 3, 16.)
"That is, God himself, the Father of us all, created the gospel; it is his plan of salvation through which all his spirit children, Christ included, have power to progress and become like him... This gospel is thus the plan and system of the Gods whereby believing men may be saved, and its chief characteristic is power: power to do all things necessary for the benefit and blessing of God's children in this life, power to save them in eternal glory in the life to come." (Conference Report, October 1968, Afternoon Meeting 133-134.)
Bruce R. McConkie
"Paul tells us that the gospel comes to men in two ways-in word and in power (1 Thes. 1:5). The word of the gospel is written in the scriptures; the power of the gospel is written in the lives of those who both receive and enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1998], 237.)
Loren C. Dunn
"Truly the gospel comes, as Paul said, not only in word, 'but also in power,' the sanctifying, cleansing, soul-enlarging power of the Holy Spirit (1 Thes. 1:5).
"After the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Brigham Young had a dream in which Joseph Smith appeared to him with the following advice: 'Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits; it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness and build up the kingdom of God. Tell the brethren if they will follow the spirit of the Lord they will go right. Be sure to tell the people to keep the Spirit,' he said. (Elden J. Watson, comp., Manuscript History of Brigham Young 1846-1847, Salt Lake City, 1971, pp. 529-30.)" ("The Spirit Giveth Life," Ensign, May 1979, 71-72)
1 Thes. 1:6 ye became followers...having received the word in much affliction
"Those who [who heard Paul preach but] did not believe were so incensed that they not only forced the departure of the missionaries from Thessalonica and Berea, their next stopping point (Acts 17:10, 13-14), but they also persecuted the Thessalonian converts as they struggled to get established. There are many references to these afflictions in Paul's letters to this branch. (1 Thes. 1:6; 2 Thes. 1:4.) One of these incidents involved Jason, a convert who had offered hospitality and perhaps a kinsman of Paul. (Rom. 16:21.) The Jews in the city who 'believed not' gathered an unruly mob and assaulted his house, searching for Paul and his companions. Unable to find the missionaries there, they seized Jason and took him before the 'rulers of the city'-politarchs. (Acts 17:5-9.) There they charged him with harboring those who were guilty of treason, who proclaimed another king, 'contrary to the decrees of Caesar.' (Acts 17:7.)" (Robert L. Millet, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 148 - 149.)
"The blend of joy and persecution challenges all who are comfortably converted, for in Greece great spiritual power was generated in conflict. Paul said that the Thessalonians became his and the Lord's 'followers,' a term (mimetes) that specifically means 'imitator' in Greek literature. Paul wrote with years of experience in facing antagonism, rejection, and violence. And the new Christians proved themselves worthy of such leaders and of Christ himself in making their love for the gospel first and what might happen to them secondary. Modern missionaries know many who reverse these priorities-converted but cowardly. Such decisions for the Lord are not easy, but the Saints' intense love for one another is increased by their suffering together for the high ideals of the kingdom." (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 74 - 76.)
1 Thes. 1:6-7 ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia
Joseph B. Wirthlin
"Paul rejoiced in the fact that his teachings to the Thessalonians had not been meaningless words to them, for they had listened with great interest, and what was taught to them produced a powerful desire for righteousness in their lives. He was explicit in stressing that the Holy Spirit also gave them full assurance that what was taught was true. He did not hesitate to say that his life, as well, was further proof to them of the truthfulness of the message. He was pleased that they had received the gospel message with joy and happiness, despite many hardships. Finally, he noted what must have been their crowning achievement-that they were inspiring examples to all their neighbors. He paid tribute to them when he told them that wherever he traveled, he found people telling him about their remarkable good works and faith in God. From them, the word of the Lord had extended to others everywhere, far beyond their boundaries." (Finding Peace in Our Lives [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 99.)
1 Thes. 1:8 Macedonia and Achaia
Macedonia and Achaia were the northern and southern provinces, respectively, of Ancient Greece (see map 13 of 1999 edition or map 20 of 1979 edition).
1 Thes. 1:9 ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God
When Paul began preaching in Thessalonica, he taught for three straight Sabbaths in the synagogue (Acts 17:2-3). Those in attendance included Jews who had previously been scattered into Gentile lands and those native Macedonians who had been raised to believe in all of the Greek Gods. These Greeks were interested, for whatever reason, in the Jewish religious tradition and also attended the synagogue. Ironically, Paul had more success among this latter group. As Richard L. Anderson notes, "The Thessalonian church was surely numbered in the hundreds. The predominance of Greeks among them is indicated in Paul's recollection of 'how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God' ("1 Thes. 1:91 Thes. 1:9)." (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 70 - 71.)
1 Thes. 1:10 to wait for his Son from heaven
"We can see by the foregoing quotations, that the second coming of Christ formed a prominant point in the teachings of this apostle; that he kept it so continually before him, that in nearly all his epistles he makes mention of it, though he lived two thousand years before that important period; but notwithstanding his great distance from it, still in his estimation it was none the less important to himself, nor to the saints of his day. It was in view of this coming of Christ that he admonished the saints, comforted those who were in affliction, warned the unruly, encouraged the weak." (Millenium. No. V., Evening and Morning Star, vol. 2 [June 1833-September 1834], Vol. Ii. May, 1834. No. 20. 155.)