1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
This week we are going to begin a look at the book of 1 Thessalonians that will take us right up to the beginning of Advent. Now you may be asking “Why Thessalonians?” “What is so special about Thessalonians?”
Well the first reason is that it is what the lectionary follows for these last few weeks leading up to Advent and it made sense to follow the continuity the lectionary provides. Second is something that came out of reading through the letter to prepare for the series. The Letter to the Thessalonians is a letter that Paul writes out of encouragement to a church that needs a spark. The Thessalonians give us an example of church, and Paul adds on to that example to continue teaching us about Christ and about God’s call and plan for us.
Our church today does a lot of good in the world. I can spout off lists of stuff that this church is doing and an even longer list the Global Methodist church is doing and an even longer list of what the church universal is doing. However, all the good we do and the level of spirituality does not keep us from persecution. Sometimes people see what they want from the church and they try and shove us under the rug. It is our response through our continued faith, hope, and love that continue the example we are to set.
As we read through Thessalonians in the next five weeks you will notice quite a bit of praise from Paul for what they do. Like in our passage we read today Paul says, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord when you accepted the message that came from the Holy Spirit with joy in spite of great suffering. As a result you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The message about the Lord rang out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia but in every place. The news about your faithfulness to God has spread so that we don’t even need to mention it.” Paul spends time affirming this church. However, we will read passages in this letter where Paul warns them and tells them not to stray from this belief or their current values. Paul notices what is happening in Thessalonica and to the people in the church there and he warns them to remain vigilant.
So then why read it?
Well it is a reassuring book. Paul is reassuring the Thessalonians that what they are doing is correct. He has further teachings for them, but he wants them to know that what they are doing is a good job. He is comforting them. Letting them know and understand spiritual and prayerful presence. This is a message we must understand in our church. We are a church in our present time 2000 years removed from Jesus and from the New Testament church, and it can be tough. However, we must be encouraged in the work that we are doing.
Now if we are going to examine the letter to the Thessalonians we are going to want to know some things about these people Paul is writing to and why Paul is even writing to them. We need some historical background that will carry us through this series. Some aspects of this will come up quite a few times over the next couple weeks, and it all plays into what is being written in the letter.
The Thessalonians reside in the city of Thessalonica which was, and still is for that matter, a major city in the Northern region of Greece known as Macedonia. It was a busy travel and trade city which made it a popular place to live. Because of its position as somewhat of a hidden port on the Aegean Sea it was perfect as a naval station for the Romans and therefore was a great trade port as well. It also was along many big trade routes in ancient Rome that made it a valuable city. This attracted many different people to the city. Romans, Greeks, Jews, and all other people from many different facets.
Paul’s connection to Thesalonica rests in his stop there to minister and help plant the church in Thessalonica. When Paul came to Thessalonica he had a brief ministry where he taught the people in the city. That was before he was driven out by the Jews in the city. However, even after Paul was driven out the Christian church in Thessalonica thrived and grew. So much so that Paul wanted to go back, but he couldn’t so he sent Timothy. That is where we get the background for how this letter came to exist. Timothy comes back to Paul and reports on what is happening and how the church is doing.
It seems that the Thessalonian Church is being persecuted not just by the Romans who do not like the Christian Church, but also by the Jews who are trying to convince them that the way they are on is not the true way. And that is where we get this introductory passage we get today. This passage works almost as a Pauline example of how we should carry ourselves.(1)
Paul typically begins his letters with a welcome followed by some sort of Thanksgiving to God and in this passage he is thanking God for the work the Thessalonians have done, for their faith, and for their commitment. It seems that the Thessalonians have taken what Paul has taught and put it into action so far. This first chapter in a way lets us see where Paul commends them.
So what do we learn? What are the Thessalonians doing well? What is Paul thanking God about them for?
Well in verse 2 and 3 Paul says, “We always thank God for all of you when we mention you constantly in our prayers. This is because we remember your work that comes from faith, your effort that comes from love, and your perseverance that comes from hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father.” Paul sees a group of people who though they may experience persecution and hard times they are still strong with God. They are doing God’s work. Paul is thanking God for what they are doing and using the triad we see him use often, faith, hope, and love.
This is a community whom Paul has heard witness, from Timothy, of their commitment to God, and their commitment to the work that God is calling them to do.
This week in our church is Laity Sunday. This is the week where we acknowledge all of the work that all of you do not only in the church, but in your daily lives. Laity are the backbone of the church. Without laity the church would just be a bunch of clergy arguing about whose turn it is to preside at communion or preach. The laity truly bring the work to life outside of the church walls. Much like I stand here on Sunday mornings and interpret scripture for you. You are all called to do the same for others.
Paul’s commendation to the people in Thessalonica is for their behavior as Christians. It is about their lifestyle demeanor. It is about the way they conduct themselves as children of God and as those receiving and living out the call God has for them. Much like we do in our churches today.
The message here in this passage lies in verse 6. Paul spends the first few verses thanking God for what the Thessalonians have done and commending the Thessalonians for their work. In verse 6 as I read earlier Paul says, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord when you accepted the message that came from the Holy Spirit with joy in spite of great suffering.” This is our example. It is that line “in spite of great suffering.” At this point in the letter we are not sure what the Thessalonians have gone through, but we can understand from Paul’s wording that it probably was hurtful. However he continues to commend them for their faith.
As laity in the church you are all called to be those examples of faith for others. Your work does not end as soon as you walk out those doors. No!!! Your work is only beginning. You leave church on Sunday and you seek your continued growth in God through your faith.
John Wesley, one of the founders of our current denomination, was a firm proponent in what was known as the fruits of faith. Going back to what I talked about from James last week in our works showing our faith. The Thessalonians give us an example. The faith, hope, and love, as Paul puts it, of the Thessalonians show us a way to live as Christians.
Now I am starting to ramble so lets cut to the chase. How can we do this?
It is about the ways in which we grow and mature our relationship with God. How are we doing that? There can be several different ways.
The first is through study. We have Sunday School and Church on Sundays, but what was during the week are you in Christian study. John Wesley loved the idea of small groups. Groups of 8 or so people who got together kept each other accountable, learned together, and were in missions together. I encourage you al to do the same. I encourage you all to find a group of individuals and get together for study and discipleship amongst each other.
Next through helping others. We are called out into the world to be God for other people. Whether we are doing mission projects on our own, with a small group, or with our church we should be out there helping others. Find ways to get involved in mission, both through the church and through your own avenues.
The last one I have for you today is through your witness. This is evangelism in a way, but evangelism, unfortunately, is not as glamorous a word as it once was. However, that does not delineate the fact that we should be out witnessing to people and bringing them to Christ.
These are just a few ways in which you as laity are the church.
As we move through 1 Thessalonians I encourage you to begin to form yourself in this way that Paul is commending here. As we go through you will notice who the Thessalonians’ strength leads to how they can overcome adversity.
Remember: You are God’s mission to the world. You are the hands and feet of Christ reaching out to the world.
(1) Pieces taken from NIB Bible Dictionary Volume 5. Articles “Thessalonians, First Letter to” and “Thessalonica”