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Lesson 1: The Gospel Comes to Thessalonica *

Introduction: How do you react when someone brings a new idea to you? What about when someone suggests that you need to make changes in your life? What if someone warns you about something terrible in your future if you do not change? We begin our study of 1 and 2 Thessalonians: Paul's letters to the believers in Thessalonica. In these letters Paul brings a message that he is concerned they will not believe. When a lawyer wants to test the truth of what a witness says, the lawyer asks questions about perception and motivation. Paul, sounding like a lawyer, argues why the Thessalonians should believe him. Let's dive into our study of the Bible and learn more!

  1. Motives

    1. Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1. Who is writing this letter to the church of the Thessalonians? (Paul, Silas and Timothy. In the rest of this lesson I'll refer to them collectively as "Paul.")

    2. Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-4. What is Paul concerned about? (That the church members will doubt him.)

      1. What concerns does Paul raise? (That his message is wrong or his motives impure. He says that he is not trying to trick them.)

      2. Why would Paul write this kind of thing? (It must be that some were questioning Paul's motives and the accuracy of his theology. His defense shows us the nature of the attacks made against him.)

      3. Let's go back to the questions I asked in the introduction: when someone tries to convince you to agree with them, do you consider their motives? (I do - especially if I do not know the person very well. But, this might be the result of my legal training.)

        1. Think about this a minute. We all know people who are wrong because they are not very smart, their emotions overtake their logic, or they are uneducated about the issues. How do you compare those kinds of people with those who are trying to trick you? (We have the lowest opinion of tricksters! The other people are just wrong, but deceivers are evil.)

      4. What does Paul say about his motives? (His motive is to obey God.)

  2. Motives Clarified

    1. Re-read 1 Thessalonians 2:2. Paul refers to an event in Philippi. Why? (This is part of Paul's argument about his motives. Let's explore what happened in Philippi.)

    2. Read Acts 16:9-10. Whose direction is Paul following here? (He believes God is directing them to Macedeonia.)

    3. Read Acts 16:11-12. How does this fit into God's direction? (Philippi is the leading city in a district of Macedonia.)

    4. Read Acts 16:13-15. If you were Paul, would this confirm God's directions to you to go to Macedonia? (You meet the right people and they offer to let you stay with them. Everything is going great!

    5. Read Acts 16:16-18. How do you explain that a demon would give this message? Didn't we learn last quarter that we can discern spirits by their message?

      1. Why do you think Paul was troubled? Was it day after day of shouting? Was it that a demon was handling their publicity?

    6. Read Acts 16:19-23. What kind of justice do they have in Philippi?

      1. If you were Paul, would you begin to doubt your vision?

      2. Has Paul done anything wrong?

    7. Read Acts 16:24-28. Assume you are Paul, this is your story and you are writing in Facebook what happened to you in the last two days. What would be the tone of your note? (One disaster after another! First harassment, then unjust beatings, then imprisonment, and then an earthquake. If any of your friends clicked, "like," you would feel like kicking them.)

    8. Read Acts 16:29-34. Now, what do you say about the vision? How does this change your Facebook entry?

    9. Read Acts 16:37-40. Just a footnote here. What did Paul believe about Christians asserting their legal rights?

      1. Who is encouraging who? Who was beaten? (Paul was beaten and he is doing the encouraging.)

    10. Read Acts 17:1. This brings us back to Thessalonica. How do you think Paul felt? (He was probably still suffering from his beating!)

      1. If you knew this background, what would you say about Paul's motives? Is he a trickster? Is there any reason to say he is motivated by anything other than the will of God? (Paul knew that sharing the gospel was dangerous. He could lose his health or his freedom.)

    11. Read 1 Thessalonians 2:2. What is the reception to the gospel in Thessalonica? ("Strong opposition." In this new town, Paul knew he was facing danger.)

  3. The Message

    1. Since we have seen that Paul has only pure motives, let's look at his message. Read Acts 17:2-3. What is Paul's message to those in Thessalonica? (The gospel!)

      1. Why do you think Paul went first to the Jews? (The Old Testament predicts Jesus. If they believed the Torah, then they should believe in Jesus.)

      2. Was Paul going to church on Sabbath simply because that was when the synagogue was meeting? (No. The text says worshiping on Sabbath was Paul's "custom." It was his regular practice.)

    2. Notice that Acts 17:3 says that Paul explained to them why the Messiah would suffer. Read Jeremiah 23:5-8 and Isaiah 9:4-7. Do these verses refer to Jesus? (Yes.)

      1. What kind of Messiah do you think the people would prefer - One who suffered or One who triumphed?

      2. Can you see the obstacles which Paul had to overcome? He was preaching a Messiah who was murdered by Rome!

    3. Review Isaiah 53 and read Isaiah 53:5. How should Paul make his argument? How do you think he explained these apparently conflicting pictures of Jesus?

    4. Read Acts 17:4. Who are these "God-fearing Greeks?" (Read 1 Thessalonians 1:9. These are Gentiles who had "turned to God from idols." Some commentaries suggest that they had accepted the teachings of the Old Testament, met on Sabbath with the Jews, but were not full converts to Judaism.)

    5. Read Acts 17:5. This should be familiar to Paul. Why are the Jews jealous? (Two things. First, the Jews are probably hoping that these Greeks would fully convert to Judaism. Now, Paul has convinced them of something else. Second, Paul argues that the Old Testament predicted Jesus. Jesus is the fulfilment of the sanctuary service and the other prophecies. These Jews reject that and think Paul is starting another religion that is taking away from their religion. We can see why Paul is concerned about whether people believe his message.)

    6. Read Acts 17:6-8. Paul's opponents round up a mob of bad characters to start a riot, and then get the government involved on their side. What does this teach us about the strength of their religious arguments? (Resorting to violence and the strong arm of the government shows that your attempts to persuade through logic and reason have failed. They use terror and force to protect their religious views.)

    7. Look again at Acts 17:7. What do you think these Jews believed about the Messiah - suffering or triumphant? (They undoubtedly believed the Messiah would be triumphant.)

        1. What does that say about their argument here? (Purely disingenuous. They were accusing Paul of things they hoped would happen!)

    8. Friend, what about you? Do you believe in the books Paul wrote in the New Testament because they are "part of the Bible," or do you have an independent personal trust in them because of what Paul suffered to deliver his message from God? If you are not sure about the truth of the gospel, will you accept it right now?

  4. Next week: Preserving Relationships.
* Copr. 2012, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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