“Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ“
To the church of the Thessalonians
The word “church” means called out ones. Paul calls this church by the name of the physical location of the city – “the church of the Thessalonians.” The word “church” carries the idea of an assembly. Not every gathering of religious people is a church. There were a number of “assemblies” in the city of Thessalonica. Cults gathered around the gods of the pantheon. Ancient labor unions gathered behind the ideology of their craft.
This gospel team of Paul, Silvanus and Timothy traveled over the Roman Empire starting churches. After they started a church, they turned the leadership over to local people to continue indigenously the work in their area. These churches became self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating after he left. The Thessalonians, as we shall see, not only reached their own area but much of the Roman Empire.
The Thessalonian church was born on Paul’s second missionary expedition. The second missionary expedition began out of a crisis between two team members at the close of Acts 15. Paul and Barnabas had a full-fledged feud over John Mark joining the team. John had defected from the previous mission and Paul would have no more of him. Paul and Barnabas broke up their team over him, Barnabas taking Mark with him. Silvanus joined Paul’s team and they left for Antioch, Paul’s home base.
After Antioch, the team moved east to Lystra where they singled out another team member, Timothy. The team of three moved from Lystra going Northwest to the city of Troy, in Northeast Turkey today. In Troy, Paul received a vision to go to Macedonia. They crossed the Aegean Sea into the continent of Europe. This was Europe’s first exposure to the gospel. At this point Luke the physician joined the team (Luke changes from “they” to “we” in the book of Acts). Now the gospel team had four members: Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke.
The team landed in the city of Philippi, in the province of Macedonia. There they led Lydia to Christ. They ran into conflict with the city officials and were beaten and cast into prison. With bleeding backs, they fled Philippi and went about a hundred miles to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1,2). The team spent at least three weeks there, maybe much longer. Paul reasoned with them for three Sabbath days out of the Scriptures (Acts 17:3). There was no convert there before he came, but he left many Christians when he departed. They got out of town by night.
The team left Thessalonica and moved into Berea (Acts 17:10). They left there and went to Athens (Acts 17:17). In Athens, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica because he heard that they were under frightful persecution. Timothy troubleshot the situation and came back to Corinth with a report for Paul. . Timothy told Paul how the Thessalonian believers stood up boldly to abuse.
Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians from Corinth in response to Timothy’s report, about a year after he left the city of Thessalonica. In this book, Paul gives details of the church, the Rapture and future issues. Since some died in persecution, Paul writes of their future resurrection.
Every church has a history.
The history of local churches is interesting. Why did it start? What drove those who launched the church? We can find the history of the Thessalonian church in Acts 17:1ff. It became an outstanding church of the New Testament. Do you know the history of your local church? Did your church start on biblical principles? Most churches start with a passion to reach those in their community for Christ.