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It is apparent in many sections of 1 and 2 Thessalonians that false teachers strongly opposed Paul's teaching. For example, when he received Timothy's reports on the condition of the Thessalonian church, Paul learned that false prophets had entered the fellowship of believers and had spoken against some of his teachings. One of Paul's responses to this problem was to remind the Thessalonians to examine every prophecy they heard. Listen to his words in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 verses 20 and Paul instructed the Thessalonians to "test everything" and to "hold on to the good" because he wanted them to evaluate the content of every instruction they received.

They were to retain only the good, disregarding everything that did not comport with what they knew to be true from the Scriptures and from Paul's teaching. But the false prophets did not give up easily. Instead, they continued to teach and preach their false doctrines. In fact, they may have gone so far as to forge letters under Paul's name in an attempt to persuade the Thessalonians of their views.

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Paul was clearly worried about this type of activity when he wrote in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 verses 1 and Paul's concern with the problem of forgeries is also apparent in 2 Thessalonians chapter 3 verse 17, where he wrote:. Paul added words written by his own hand as a signature that distinguished his letters from forgeries, helping the Thessalonians to identify letters that were genuinely his and to reject false prophecy. This conflict with the false prophets raises another issue for us as we read Paul's letters to the Thessalonians: What were these false prophets teaching?

We cannot be sure of everything they taught, but when we recall the ongoing persecution in Thessalonica and examine the content of Paul's Thessalonian epistles, we may surmise that the false prophets had a variety of misconceptions about the second coming of Christ. Their central problem, however, was that they believed that Jesus would return almost immediately. In fact, as incredible as it may seem to us, some false prophets had even proclaimed that Christ had already returned. Listen to 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 verses 1 through Evidently, at least some of the false prophets had taught that the church of Thessalonica had already missed Christ's return.

It is possible that they drew these ideas from the civic cult of Thessalonica that worshiped Cabirus, a murdered local hero who was said to return to the world periodically; the false teachers may have applied this kind of outlook to the Christian faith by telling the Thessalonians that Christ had already returned. Whatever the source of these errors, Paul strongly condemned the false prophets, instructing the Thessalonians to hold fast to what he had told them about the return of Christ.

Now that we have seen how persecution and false prophecy had come to the Thessalonians, we should look at some practical ways these problems impacted the church. A number of significant concerns appear in Paul's letters to the Thessalonians, but we will focus on two: discouragement and irresponsibility. Let's look first at the Thessalonians' discouragement.

Usually, when Christians have believed that Jesus' return was just around the corner, they have inevitably been discouraged because Jesus has not appeared. In Thessalonica, many believers had oriented their entire lives around the immediate return of Christ. They had suffered and given up much for the sake of Christ. Yet, as the months went by, not only were they disappointed, but to make matters worse, a number of believers passed away.

Those who remained alive worried about the eternal fate of the departed believers.

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This confusion led to doubts, and doubts to discouragement. Listen to the way Paul gently corrected them in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 verses 13 and Paul assured the Thessalonians that although the departed saints had died physically, they were still alive with Christ, and they would accompany Christ when he returned.

In addition to discouragement and confusion, the message of the false prophets had led to irresponsible living. It really isn't hard to understand what happened at Thessalonica. Put yourself in their situation. If you believed that the world would end next month, would you still go to work, or repair your house, or build schools? If you were highly confident that Jesus would return in just a matter of days, normal activities would no longer seem very important.

This is precisely what happened in Thessalonica. The false prophets convinced some of the Christians there that they no longer needed to support themselves. Their attitude was "Why bother with work when Jesus is coming back so soon? Unfortunately, even after Paul had encouraged attention to daily affairs, some believers in Thessalonica still did not return to their responsibilities.

So, Paul addressed this subject again in 2 Thessalonians, but this time more strongly. In 2 Thessalonians chapter 3 verses 6 through 12 he wrote:. False prophecies about the imminent return of Christ had encouraged the Thessalonians to become lazy and idle. And idleness had led to other problems.

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So we see that in Thessalonica the problems were manifold but interrelated. Persecution had opened the door for misconceptions about the immediate return of Christ.

2 Thessalonians

And those false beliefs led to practical problems such as discouragement and irresponsibility. Paul hoped that his letters to the Thessalonian church would help them deal with these difficult problems. Now that we have seen some of the important issues that form the background to Paul's epistles to the Thessalonians, we are ready to look at the content of these letters.

What did Paul write to the Thessalonians? How did he respond to their complex problems?

Problems in Thessalonica

We will briefly explore each letter to the Thessalonians by summarizing the contents of their major sections. Let's begin with 1 Thessalonians. First Thessalonians divides into five main sections: First, a salutation in chapter 1 verse 1; second, a report of thanksgiving in chapter 1 verse 2 through chapter 2 verse 16; third, a discussion of Paul's absence in chapter 2 verse 17 through chapter 3 verse 13; fourth, Paul's instructions for the church in chapter 4 verse 1 through chapter 5 verse 22; and fifth, some closing remarks in chapter 5 verses 23 through As in many of Paul's letters, the first and last sections of 1 Thessalonians are fairly brief and straightforward.

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The salutation simply states that the letter is addressed to the Thessalonians and that it comes from Paul. Interestingly, it also mentions Silas and Timothy as co-authors.

Of course, Silas and Timothy did not share Paul's apostolic authority so it is on the basis of Paul's authority alone that this letter is included in the Bible. Nevertheless, the mention of Silas and Timothy points to the fact that Paul wrote this infallible letter from a truly human perspective. The closing section is also rather simple, including a benediction, a request for prayer, and a final greeting. But when we move to the second section of 1 Thessalonians we come to a more complex portion of the book.

This entire section reports Paul's gratitude to God and divides into three main parts. First, in chapter 1 verses 2 through 10, Paul explained that he thanked God for the Thessalonians' endurance through suffering. As we have seen, unbelieving Jews and Gentiles persecuted the believers in Thessalonica. But the believers did not waver in their commitment to Christ. Instead, their hope in him grew strong.

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Listen to Paul's praise for them in 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 verses 6 and In chapter 2 verses 1 through 12, Paul continued by expressing gratitude for the Thessalonians' firsthand knowledge of him. This was important because false prophets had subsequently challenged Paul's motives.

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In 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 verses 9 and 10 he wrote these words:. The false prophets had tried to discredit Paul by claiming that he had taken advantage of the Thessalonians, and that he had misled them and abused his authority over them. Apparently, at least some of the believers had begun to believe these false rumors. For this reason, Paul told them how happy he was that they had seen him with their own eyes.

And of course, he did so in order to remind the Thessalonians that they knew him well enough to reject the false accusations. In much the same way, in the third section of thanksgiving, found in chapter 2 verses 13 through 16, Paul gave thanks that the Thessalonians had recognized his authority. Listen to the way he put it in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse The Thessalonians had received Paul's teaching as the very Word of God, giving him confidence that that they would remain faithful to his teaching and reject the false prophets. Having motivated the Thessalonians to further faithfulness by telling them how grateful he was for them, Paul moved to the third major section of the epistle, chapter 2 verse 17 through chapter 3 verse In this material, he addressed the separation created by his travels.

This section also divides into three main parts. In chapter 2 verse 17 through chapter 3 verse 5, Paul assured the Thessalonians of his continued heartfelt concern for them.