1 Thessalonians Thoughts #1: Reputations
Technically, you shouldn’t read someone else’s letter. If the envelope doesn’t have your name on it, you should generally leave the envelope alone.
This letter was from Paul, Silas and Timothy to the Christians in Thessalonica – so it was a group letter to a group, so it is less private – perhaps a little like a post on a group page.
As you read the opening chapter of 1 Thessalonians, you get the sense of the relationship between the writers and the recipients and hints about the characters involved and the events in the background. This letter hasn’t come down the centuries in a vacuum; the context for the letter is given in the book of Acts.
(Primarily, I think) Paul is writing to a group of Christians that he has spent time with and knows:
We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.
I am not sure if this is hyperbolic or literal – but with the “always”, “all” and “continually” we get the impression that the Thessalonians are important to the writers.
Some beautiful sentence structure here with reference to:
…your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have the three pairings – work/faith; labour/love; endurance/hope – that give us three groupings. We have faith, love and hope being produced, prompted and inspired – as you might expect – but we also have work, labour and endurance which paint a practical picture of the Thessalonians and the action that sprang from their faith, hope and love.
This balance of faith and action seems to be evidence that:
…our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.
Their conversion was more than intellectual assent; it was a firm belief that had a necessary outworking. The “power … the Holy Spirit and deep conviction” must have been apparent in their response – and however this was initially apparent, it turned into this culture of work, labour and endurance.
This next quote reminds me of “Highlander” when Sean Connery’s character explains to the Christopher Lambert character that they are both immortal, but the immortals are generally trying to blend in:
You know how we lived among you for your sake.
In the account in Acts they were there for two or three weeks and stayed with someone called Jason.
You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
The “severe suffering” here could perhaps be reference to this opposition to the gospel:
… they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”
So it all got a bit political and Paul and his team were moved on to Berea, the next town. The opposition caught up with them there, which may be evidence for this claim:
… you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.
With the mobs, riots and politics, it seems likely that the whole region would be aware of the events in Thessalonica.
Paul clarifies what the reputation of the Christians in Thessalonica was:
… you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
They had changed the focus of what they were living for. They were not serving “idols”; whatever they had loved or revered before was now no longer so prized. The waiting for Christ’s return was central as they thought this was imminent – and so the focus was on eternal things. What “the coming wrath” is, I am not sure.
I think the theme of this opening chapter is perhaps reputation: “the beliefs or opinions that are generally held about someone or something.”
From Paul and his team’s point of view, the Thessalonian Christians had a reputation for faith, hope and love, evidenced by work, labour and endurance which was a result of power, the work of the Holy Spirit and conviction.
Outwith the church, they had the reputation of being sympathisers to political radicals, harbouring troublemakers with their own reputation for causing trouble all over the world. I think this characterisation is interesting as in our own day there is a propensity for the world to say “so, what you’re saying is…” before misrepresenting one’s beliefs: “They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”
More widely, they had the reputation of being full of faith. Interestingly, Paul says “your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it”- so strong was this reputation.
I am skipping ahead a bit – but this verse has a good solution to any issues with reputation:
…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
1 Thess 4: 11-12
Good advice for anyone .