Everyone can use a little encouragement. When the famous painter Benjamin West was a boy, he decided to paint a picture of his sister while his mother was out. Gathering some bottles of ink and paper, he soon made an awful mess in the house. When his mother returned, she saw the mess but also her son’s attempt at making art. Instead of scolding him, she picked up the portrait and declared, “What a beautiful picture of your sister!” and kissed her son. West later recalled, “With that kiss I became a painter.”
PAUL’S ENCOURAGEMENT OVER THE THESSALONIANS
Encouragement is so valuable that even the apostle Paul needed it. Having recently arrived in the decadent port city of Corinth, the apostle could only have been discouraged by his recent experience as an evangelist. Landing in Greece at the city of Philippi, he had gained noteworthy converts such as Lydia and the Philippian jailer. But after a false arrest and savage beating, Paul and his colleagues were asked to leave the city (Acts 16:11–40). Moving along the Aegean coast, he next came to Thessalonica. After preaching in the synagogue there, some Jews and “a great many” devout Greeks came to faith in Christ (17:4). This success roused the anger of the Jewish leaders, who raised a disturbance against the Christians, so that once again Paul left town after only a short stay. On the apostle went to Berea and then Athens, where he preached a famous sermon on Mars Hill but once again had to leave only a small band of converts behind.
From Athens, Paul sent his young assistant Timothy back to Thessalonica to minister to the believers whom they had left there (1 Thess. 3:1–2). Shortly after Paul arrived in Corinth, Timothy returned with news that lifted the apostle’s spirits: “Now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love … we have been comforted about you through your faith” (vv. 6–7). “For now we live,” Paul exclaimed, “if you are standing fast in the Lord” (v. 8).
Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians to express his joy in the believers’ faith. Based on information from the book of Acts, scholars date this letter during the year A.D. 50 or 51, making it one of the oldest New Testament documents, with only Galatians and James likely to have been written earlier. First Thessalonians is one of Paul’s most encouraging writings, expressing his relief and joy. Leon Morris comments:
[Paul] wrote in exultation of spirit, having just heard the good news of the way in which they were standing fast. He wrote to let them know how thankful he was. He wrote to let them know of his tender concern for them. He wrote to encourage them in the face of the opposition, even persecution, that still confronted them. He wrote to give them fuller information about matters in which their zeal had outdistanced their knowledge. He wrote to put them further along the Christian way that meant so much to him and to them.2
These are matters in which we, too, need to be encouraged and instructed, for which purpose the Holy Spirit inspired 1 Thessalonians and preserved it for many generations of Christians.
Richard D. Phillips, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2015), 1–2.
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Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking. Answers are provided in the form of quotes from respected authors such as John Piper, Max Lucado and Beth Moore.
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