Week 48: November 26-December 2
Topic: 1 Thessalonians & 2 Thessalonians
Thessalonica was one of the cities where Paul got run out of town after sharing the Gospel and beginning to see the fruit of the Word in action. It was a seaport which made it an important city during its time where it also served as a communication and trade center. Located in Macedonia, Thessalonica was the capital city of its area and had a population of about 200,000. The Christians of Thessalonica heeded Paul’s words in these letters as they were one of the strongholds of the church for several centuries. Paul proclaimed Jesus to both the Jewish and Gentile communities in Thessalonica, but the predominant makeup of the church was Gentile converts. Paul writes both of these letters to encourage the Christians who faced various challenges. The second letter takes a more end times or eschatological nature for the primary section of the book. The first letter more encourages the Christians to stay strong. Paul may have been able to encourage the Christians with many of the things in this first letter in person had he not been thrown out of town quickly.
Paul tells his story of ministry to the Thessalonians as he begins the first letter reminding them how much he gives thanks to God for them. Paul spends a little extra time than he would normally spend telling this story and then also expressing his thankfulness for these people. I think it is great that we are looking through these books during the time of Thanksgiving here at Peace. It gives us an extra opportunity to remember with thanksgiving the saints that God has placed around us. These may be the people we see at church on a regular basis, but it may be the family member or friend that took the extra time to share the message of hope and faith with us. It may be the people we’ve had the opportunity to tell our story of hope and faith. We give thanks for the blessings that those people are and continue to be for each of us as we follow the journey God has in store for us. One of my favorite verses in 1 Thessalonians is 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” I love this verse especially thinking about the people God puts into our lives and creatively thinking about ways to encourage and inspire each other. Some of the phrases that have stuck the most for me over the years that I’ve heard are those encouraging words that people were speaking life as they told them to me. The other part to this verse is Paul reminds us that we’re already engaged in building people up. The challenge is to go bigger! Find even better ways or more people to speak life into. Encouraging them not only in faith but the rest of the small tasks that we find ourselves doing through life.
When we enter into the second letter, we find ourselves in a slightly different place that Paul is teaching. He has gone to look towards the end of times to give the people strength as they face a myriad of different struggles even death as a result of their faith. It’s the same reason why it’s helpful every once in a while to turn to the end of the story when you’re reading. We need the sneak peak of Revelation to remind us how the story ends. I think about all of the Disney movies that I watched as a child. All of them had a fairly predictable plotline looking back. The movie starts out great then some trouble in various degrees is introduced, but at the end every piece of the puzzle is put back together for a magical ending that leaves you with a great feeling. We don’t always get to have those Disney movie kinds of lives. Sometimes things just go hard and don’t come to a nice resolution in about an hour or so. The people of Thessalonica are more in one of those pickle situations that aren’t going to resolve during their lifetime. They are going to be the ones facing hardship as a result of their faith. The takeaway I get from this letter is to stand firm in faith and be ready for the day when Jesus comes back as it could be any time now. A final note: Paul in the original letter actually took the time to write part of the ending greetings to the Thessalonians. This you can see in the last couple of verses where he talks about his distinctive letters. He would normally have an assistant who would do the majority of the conversion from thought and speech to paper. Paul was capable of writing with his excellent education, but would have relied on some help to produce this letters efficiently. This still brings the words of Paul as his words to us today.