Thursday, August 4, 2016

Introduction to First Thessalonians Bible Study

I have to start this introduction by saying that Jen Hatmaker is my hero and I would like to be her when I grow up. I am telling you this because you need to know that I just finished reading her first book, A Modern Girl's Guide to Bible Study: A Refreshingly Unique Look at God's Word. In it, she gives some great suggestions for expanding the study of God's word. To that end, we are going to start with some introductory stuff because Jen says it's vital to our understanding of the entire book we are studying and I am NOT going to argue with Jen Hatmaker.

First, to get a good idea of what was going on at the time of Paul's first visit to Thessalonica, we should turn to Acts 16-18 and read up. In Acts 16, Paul wasn't actually in Thessalonica yet but it's important to the story. He was actually in Phillipi with Timothy and Silas. They had some success introducing many people there to Jesus but something happened that looked like a big old interruption to their mission. A girl who was demon possessed came along shouting about who they were and what they were doing. Paul got fed up and called the demon out of her. Now, one would think that anyone seeing that nearby would be glad she was no longer hosting a demon. But this was a slave girl who made her master a lot of money by telling people's fortunes. So clearly no one was happy. And Paul ended up in prison with Silas by his side.

This story means so much more if you read it yourself. Here is Acts 16:22-34-

"A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. 23 They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. 24 So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.

25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. 26 Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! 27 The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted to him, 'Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!'

29 The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.' 32 And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. 33 Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. 34 He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God."

I love that in the midst of a big and terrible interruption, Paul and Silas showed such huge faith in God and took advantage of the opportunity to share Jesus with the jailer. More lives were saved that day because Paul and Silas were willing to say YES to Jesus wherever they were. This speaks volumes to their characters and helps us understand more about the author, Paul. It helps us see his heart for Jesus so that we can go on to read 1 Thessalonians through that lens.

Anyway, moving Acts 17, after being released from prison at the end of Acts 16, Paul and Silas traveled on to Thessalonica. There, they stayed for at least three weeks but possibly longer. Paul did what he always did- he argued for Jesus in the synagogue for three weeks straight. Eventually though, Paul and his group had to be snuck out of Thessalonica at night because things were happening. You can read about it in Acts 17.

It wasn't until Paul was in Corinth in Acts 18 that he finally sat down and wrote First Thessalonians. His purposes for writing this letter are outlined throughout First Thessalonians like this:

1. He starts the letter telling the Thessalonians how happy he is with their faith and the growth they've shown. (1 Thessalonians 1)

2. He then points out some false accusations made against him, arguing against them. (1 Thessalonians 2:1-3:13)

3. He goes on to explain the reasons he has for not coming back to visit them as he longs to do. (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18; 3:10)

4. There are some things that the Thessalonians are doing and ways they are choosing to live that aren't quite in line with Jesus. Paul needs to show it to them so they can correct it. (1 Thessalonians 4 and 5)

Tomorrow, we'll dive into 1 Thessalonians 1 and start reading. I can't wait to start this book with you. I am already praying that Jesus will do big things in this one. I am looking forward to learning more about Jesus alongside you. See you on Monday!

And until then, remember to have a blessed day and be a blessing to someone else today!

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