LETTERS OF ST. PAUL: 1 Thessalonians
We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers… 1 Thes 1:2
The first letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians was probably the first book of the New Testament to be written. None of the books have a seal of dating, but since it was most likely composed in 50 or 51 A.D., it pre-dates the earliest gospel (which was most likely Mark). Thus, its placement after Go-Eat-Pop-Corn (that is, Galatians-Ephesians-Philippians-Colossians) is due to the later editing and collecting of the books of the New Testament canon.
As in many of Paul’s letters, he first greets the church of the Thessalonica (Grace and Peace!; 1:1) But, he also gives them a big A (Affirmation), praising them for being good examples to the other churches in their region (Macedonia) and the rest of Greece (Achaia). In fact, everybody seems to know about them (1:2-10). His salutation is followed by a bit of biographical information. Paul recalls how he journeyed to Thessalonica after visiting Philippi, which was also along the Via Egnatia trade route (from the Adriatic to the Black Sea). Philippi was not real hospitable, and despite opposition, Paul and his companions ended up preaching at Thessalonica (2:2). He acted “gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children” (2:7). Yet, Paul did not hesitate to prod them, “as a father treats his children” (2:11). This motherly and fatherly concern kept Paul “eager” to see them and compelled the sending of Timothy to encourage them in the midst of their afflictions (3:3).
This concern also gave Paul the impetus to exhort and instruct them in the rest of the letter. Paul initially gives them some fodder for ethical sustenance: be chaste and loving in action (4:1-12). Then he addresses their concerns that those who have already died may not get to see God. It seems that people expected the Jesus’ imminent return. But they thought that the Lord would gather only those who were currently living. So, Paul assures them not to worry, since “we shall always be with the Lord” (4:17). Paul throws in a further reflection on this second coming, what he then refers to as the “day of the Lord”: no one knows when it will come, so stay awake and sober (5:1-10). Far from being a call to head for the hills, this conviction provides all the more reason to “encourage one another and build one another up” (5:11) and to live in harmony with one another (5:12-22). Paul ends the letter as he began: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (5:28).