top of page

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

There’s certainly many different ways to preach from the lectionary. Personally, I usually find myself preaching from one of the assigned texts in isolation from the others. However, with a text like 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, it’s quite difficult to get the text in view. Preaching from Paul’s letters is not for the faint of heart. Those who do so ought to take adequate time to read the letter, beginning to end, alongside any subsequent writings included in a sequence. In this case, the preacher should not only read 1 Thessalonians, but II Thessalonians as well. This is important because Paul is often constructing an argument in his letters. His writing follows a particular kind of logic and without understanding how one passage fits within Paul’s larger logical scheme, the preacher might accidentally miss the big picture of what the text is trying to communicate. But what happens if you read the text in context, decipher Paul’s argument, understand what Paul is doing, but still struggle to find a way into the assigned text in order to preach it?

Here, the preacher might begin to extrapolate to the other assigned lectionary passages. Reading 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 within the larger context of first and second Thessalonians is good, but I think the most fruitful way to preach this text requires the preacher to read it in light of Exodus 33:12-23, Isaiah 45:1-7, Psalm 99, and Matthew 22:15-22.

The events of Exodus 33 occur right after the infamous “Golden Calf” vignette, but before God makes two new tablets for Moses and the people. God is mad at the Israelites and Moses intercedes on their behalf. Isaiah 45 references Cyrus, the king of Babylon which held Israel captive in exile. It seems as if Israel is at the mercy of Babylon, but the Lord addresses Cyrus directly as one who is in God’s control. Psalm 99 extols God as entirely exalted and holy. God is the “mighty King” who loves justice. The phrase “Holy is he!” punctuates the first five verses and the psalm itself ends with the confession that “the Lord our God is holy.” Matthew 22 includes the oft (mis)used passage in which Jesus tells people to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what is God’s. Paying taxes to Caesar does not threaten God’s Lordship. Caesar can claim whatever he likes, but the reality is that Caesar himself belongs to God. Caesar is exposed as a non-deity. How does 1 Thessalonians fit within all of these passages?

Each of these lectionary passages point to the existence of “power encounters” which invite idolatry on the part of God’s people. The powerful lure of the golden calf is contrasted with YHWH’s power and presence in Exodus. Babylonian power personified by Cyrus is challenged by YHWH who is shown to be the one who is really in charge. Psalm 99 contains an implicit assumption of the existence of earthly kings by praising YHWH as the one true and holy king. Jesus’ words in Matthew show that the emperor (Caesar) isn’t wearing any clothes. His power is a farce, so go ahead and give him what he thinks belongs to him. He himself belongs to God. 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 fits into this intertextual exploration as one more passage that references a power encounter. Paul writes: “For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised form the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming (vv. 9-10).” The church in Thessalonica has rightly identified that there is only one God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

What forces in the world invite Christians to ascribe Lordship to anyone or anything but Christ? Perhaps the best way to answer this question as a preacher is to first answer it for yourself. Scripture must make a claim on our lives before we can share that claim with others. Can you recognize the power and principalities at work in your life that tempt you to worship Caesar, Babylon, and Baal? We preach in a context in which many death-dealing powers claim Lordship for themselves.[1] 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 invites us to name the powers and then to tell the truth: Christ is Lord!

[1] Charles L. Campbell, The Word Before the Powers: An Ethic of Preaching: (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 2.