Two things you should keep in mind when reading Paul’s letters. He is both deeply theological and theoretical on one hand, and on the other he is intensely practical. He is able to grasp difficult topics. He can look into the Scriptures and pull out tricky concepts and ideas and then restate them in such a way as to make them practical. Meaning the church, every-day believers, are then able to take these heavy ideas and put them into practice. He can do both very well, and it is partly due to his background and now his mission that he can excel in both areas. He was a Pharisee which meant he had fantastic Bible training, this helped his theological side – and then after meeting Jesus and having his mind literally transformed he was able to make connection others had missed – because of his extensive Bible training. Now his mission, to plant and encourage churches, forces Paul to face a number of problems. Interacting with those issues allows Paul the opportunity to analyze and think through Biblical approaches to these issues.
Paul is like math. Algebra is a good example. In algebra you begin by learning all sorts of formulas. They look strange and not incredibly useful. After you learn formulas, how do you practice them? Your teacher gives you a sheet of problems – you usually just plug stuff in and find your answer. As your math skill improves and as you develop a better understanding of the formulas you are able to recognize when you need them. As you progress the problems get harder and more elaborate, but because you have formulas you are able to break it down and find your answer. This is the cycle of math – learn formulas, solve problems, learn more formulas, solve harder problems.
Paul is like math – and when reading his letters keeping this pattern in mind will help you understand why and what he is writing – he sees a problem and he going to try and apply a formula to help solve it.
Now the Thessalonian epistles are some of the more positive of Paul’s letters but I still believe the pattern holds up. To get a better idea of who he is writing to lets look at Acts 17:1-9
When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to sufferand rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.
But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they draggedJason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.
The founding of the church in Thessalonica was an exciting venture. There were dangers and emotions swelled high on both sides. Jealousy, anger were prevalent – I am sure a number of Jews felt betrayed as they watched some of their number convert to Christianity and believe in Jesus as the Christ. This would have made a great drama. But that was only a season. Thankfully incredibly trying and emotional taxing seasons do not last for long. Over time the situation cooled in many ways in Thessalonica and I believe this is where we begin to see evidences of the problems Paul addresses in his second letter to them.