By Justin Borger with assistance from Generous Giving staff
This letter was written by the apostle Paul to give thanks for the Thessalonians’ salvation, and to provide encouraging instructions concerning the hope Christians have in Jesus’ return and the resurrection of the body. Paul also included a number of other important reminders and exhortations, such as to refrain from sexual immorality, “to lead a quiet life” and to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Readers will find Paul’s emphasis on the daily tasks of stewardship and living a life that is pleasing to God both instructive and encouraging.
Our study of 1 Thessalonians consists of two parts. In the first section, readers will find our stewardship study notes. These notes analyze, in a passage-by-passage fashion, the implications of the book’s teaching for Christian generosity and related issues. The second section consists of short essays describing the book’s major stewardship themes. These notes and essays are not intended to be comprehensive explanations of Paul’s goals in writing this book, nor do they exhaust the book’s possible applications in matters related to stewardship and generosity.
While Generous Giving’s Bible study material will aid anyone who is searching the Scriptures for guidance, they may prove especially useful as sermon helps for pastors and as a resource for teachers, advisors and lay leaders interested in obeying and teaching the message of Scripture in matters of generosity and stewardship. We readily acknowledge our fallibility in writing these study notes, for they are the work of humans, not God. Please search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) as you read this material critically, carefully and prayerfully. May God bless you in your studies.
Passage-by-Passage Study Notes
1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 (Key Passage) — Thanksgiving: As usual, Paul opened his epistle with thanksgiving; in this case, offering praise to God for the Thessalonians’ salvation and spiritual growth. The apostle was especially encouraged by the reports he had received about the outward expressions of the Thessalonians’ faith, even amid suffering, and how their faith had become “known everywhere” (1 Thessalonians 1:8). Paul not only viewed thanksgiving as an essential Christian activity that must be constantly practiced in every situation (1 Thessalonians 5:18; 2 Corinthians 4:15), but he also viewed thanksgiving as the fruit of generosity itself—“You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11).
1 Thessalonians 2:6-7 — While Paul could have demanded his rights as an apostle and required the Thessalonians to provide for his material needs, he did just the opposite and treated his young converts “like a mother caring for her little children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). Our calling as Christian leaders requires us to practice self-denial as well as ceaseless concern for those who are under our care. We should not be aggressive or demanding when it comes to asserting our right to payment from church for ministry tasks. See 1 and 2 Thessalonians theme essay Self-Giving and the Gospel.
1 Thessalonians 2:8 (Key Passage) — Sharing Yourself: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us ...” (ESV). The power of Paul’s message was weighted with the authenticity of his personal ministry. Paul treated the gospel as a seed to be planted, and his life was fertilizer to be poured out on that seed without reservation. Paul’s words demonstrate the unmistakably intimate way in which he preached and ministered the gospel. Paul shared his “self” (1 Thessalonians 2:8); a word which in the original refers to the inner being or “soul” of a person. According to Paul, wherever we present the gospel we must also pour out our “self.” The biblical commentator William Hendrickson has noted that this statement about Paul’s deep love for the Thessalonians in verse 8 probably contains a “bit of irony.” Hendrickson suggests that in addition to speaking to sincere Christians, Paul was also addressing his opponents, such that the general meaning of his words in this verse can be paraphrased as follows: “Those who slander us are saying that we were out to get you, well, they are right, we were indeed yearning for you, but the purpose was not to take something from you but to share something with you. And that something consisted of nothing less than these two treasures: the gospel of God and our very souls ...” See 1 and 2 Thessalonians theme essay Self-Giving and the Gospel.
1 Thessalonians 2:9 (Key Passage) — Investing in the Gospel: This verse explains why the Thessalonians had become “so dear” (1 Thessalonians 2:8) to Paul and his companions, who had labored night and day on the Thessalonians’ behalf. Paul reminds them that he was not a “man of means." He often ran out of the basic resources he needed to live while he was on his missionary journeys. When this happened, he worked for a living by doing physical labor, so that he could earn enough of a living through tentmaking that he could pay for food, transport, and shelter while he taught and preached. The Thessalonians were dear to him for this very reason; they were his treasure because he had invested so much in them. Jesus’ logic in Matthew 6:19-21 is at work here. When we wonder to ourselves, “Why don’t I really care very much about the poor or about unbelievers who don’t know Jesus?” all we need to understand our apathy is the acknowledgment that we spend our time and money elsewhere. Give money to the poor and spend time doing evangelism, and you will suddenly find that you care a great deal more; for wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21). See 1 and 2 Thessalonians theme essay Self-Giving and the Gospel.
1 Thessalonians 2:13-14 — See note on 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10.
1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 (Key Passage) — Enjoying Others: Paul’s unblushing concern for the Thessalonians becomes even clearer in this passage. The Thessalonians are his and his companions’ “glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:20). The other-centered orientation of Paul’s “glory and joy” provides a much needed correction to the self-centered satisfaction we usually crave, even within the church and Christian ministry. Paul’s emphasis is on the good works and accomplishments of others, his glory being in theirs. Christian joy is a corporate matter which involves the Christian community as a whole rather than individual advancement alone. Christians must learn to take joy in things that do not directly belong to them. For example, Christians should rejoice in the achievements and blessings of other Christians. By extension, we should also learn to enjoy material resources that don’t belong to us, such as Creation itself, and other people’s possessions. We must learn that we don’t have to own things in order to enjoy them. See 1, 2 and 3 John theme essay Joy in Fellowship.
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (Key Passage) — Quiet Obedience: Anna Waring captured the heart of what Paul is telling us in these verses in two stanzas of her famous hymn: “I would not have the restless will that hurries to and fro, seeking for some great thing to do, or secret thing to know; I would be treated as a child, and guided where I go. I ask thee for the daily strength, to none that ask denied, a mind to blend with outward life, while keeping at thy side, content to fill a little space, if thou be glorified.” See 1 and 2 Thessalonians theme essay Quiet Obedience.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 — Paul teaches the Thessalonians about the resurrection of the body. Those who die before Jesus’ second coming have no need to fear, because “the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:15). Paul wrote this reminder about the resurrection because many of the Christians living in the first century believed in an imminent return. They thought that Christ would come back before any believers had a chance to die. When some did die, this caused alarm in the church, and so Paul reminded the Thessalonians that our hope does not rest in our present life but in the resurrection that is to come. To this day, Christians struggle with fears and anxieties as they see their own lives and the lives of people they love ebbing away. The apostle Paul invites us to remember the comfort and encouragement that the resurrection provides. When our lives revolve around our future resurrection, the realities of this present life are no longer the source or focus of our hope.