Thessalonica was the capital and principal city of the Roman province of Macedonia. With a population of about 200,000, it held great potential for the gospel. A church planted there could reach out to the entire region and even the world, for it was both a busy sea port and a major stop on the Via Egnatia, an important Roman highway.
When the Apostle Paul arrived in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey with his partner Silas, they had just come from Philippi where they had been beaten and jailed for preaching the gospel. As Paul preached in the local synagogue of Thessalonica, many people were saved and a church was formed. His plan was probably to stay for a while to train leaders and to strengthen the new church, but the house where they were staying was mobbed and they had to leave the city (see Acts 17:1-10). Some time later Paul, Timothy, and Silas (called Silvanus in v.1) sent this letter back to the church to encourage them and to correct some doctrinal misunderstandings.
In this introductory chapter Paul recalls how the church was started. Many of the original converts in Thessalonica had been idol worshipers before they heard about Jesus. Paul remembered how they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (v.9). At great risk and personal sacrifice, Paul and Silas had taken the gospel to them (see 2:2, 2:9), and now these Thessalonian believers were repeating the pattern: someone sacrificed to get the gospel to them, Jesus had transformed their lives, and now they were sacrificing to get the gospel to others.
According to Paul, they were sending missionaries north to the region of Macedonia and south to the region of Achaia. They were doing such an effective job that he considered them to be an example of how to reproduce missionary-minded, gospel-focused churches (v.8).
The final verse of this chapter hints at the doctrinal issue Paul would address later in the letter, the second coming of Jesus. He encouraged the church to keep spreading the gospel until Jesus comes (v.10). That is the mission of every church and every church member today, too. Until He comes, we are to go — go with the gospel, go in the power of the Holy Spirit, go to the ends of the earth, go make disciples, go plant churches.
Someone needs you to go to them today and tell them about Jesus. You can’t spell “gospel” without “go”. So let’s get going!