In 1 Thessalonians we are privileged to see the remarkable ministry of St. Paul in action in a different church, the Church at Thessalonica. While for so much of 2 Corinthians Paul’s focus was on his ministry and how he has served, needing to defend his apostolic ministry against those who would undermine his ministry, the focus on 1 Thessalonians 1 is equally on the Church at Thessalonica.
Often, we have a tendency to read Paul’s epistles the wrong way. We scour the chapters for verses of theological nuggets with which to construct our fortresses of theology. In such a theological scavenger hunt, we gather spare parts for the Frankenstein theology we are attempting to create, and we often miss Paul’s real message. We must remember that in the original manuscripts (and in fact not until centuries later) there were no chapter or verse divisions, but only an organic whole, which cannot be dismembered. In Paul’s letters, the primary theological meaning is incarnated in the connected lives and ministry of Paul and the churches as expressed in the entire letter and relationship, not just in Paul’s direct commandments. Wouldn’t it be odd, and sadly dehumanizing, if the only relationship we had with our parents were at the end of their commandments to us?
Just as St. Paul is an example for us to imitate, so is the Church at Thessalonica. In the first place, they became followers of Paul and his co-laborers, as well as of Jesus Christ. From the beginning, we learn that the Thessalonians were humble, which is a chief virtue in the life of any disciple of Jesus Christ. Humility makes all else possible because one who is humble is open to the leading of the Good Shepherd and has learned to offer up self without reserve to his Master. This humility is not the kind of false humility that says, “I am submitted to Jesus only, but I refuse to submit to any human authority.” Such a life is a lie because it is Jesus who has ordained leaders in the church, such as Paul. So the Thessalonians are worthy of imitation because they have learned to follow. Therefore, blessed are those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Second, the Thessalonians received the word in much affliction and with the joy of the Holy Spirit. As a result of their humble spirit, the Thessalonians were able to receive the word of God when Paul brought it to them. Notice again that their humility and submission is to a living human authority through whom Jesus always comes, not through a disembodied Jesus Christ that is only a phantom in the individual believer’s mind. At this point in the life of the Church, the New Testament Scriptures were not yet even written: the Thessalonians received the word from God’s appointed minister. During affliction, these Thessalonians did not turn back to themselves but instead to God and His Word, and they did it with joy, the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit. It really does sound, in their faith and joy in affliction, as if they have learned well from both Jesus and Paul.
Because of their humble reception of God, who comes through both His Word and His ministers, the Thessalonians became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia. From these Thessalonians the word of God sounded forth not only in the surrounding regions of Macedonia and Achaia but also to “every place.” Their faith in God has also gone out so much that Paul doesn’t even have to tell others. So pleased was God with the humble and faithful reception of Him by the Thessalonians, that the Word of God and their faith are still sounding forth in the world today. Today, Monday in the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity in 2013, the Word of God and the humility and faith of the Thessalonians is sounding forth to millions of Christians. So exalted have they become in their humility that they have literally become a part of the Word of God, 1 Thessalonians, and their lives still speak to us today. No wonder we confess that we believe in the Communion of Saints!
But the Thessalonians are only part of an unbroken chain of faithful Christians who imitate their Lord and submit to Him when He comes in both Word and Church. This living faith, this imitation of all godliness, is passed down from Jesus to Paul to the Thessalonians to Macedonia and Achaia to many others to us to our children and to many others. I’ve often made the point that we are to be a church of disciples who make disciples.
How blessed it would be if others today could speak of you and me and other Christians in the way in which St. Paul speaks of the Thessalonians! What would it take for us to live such humble and faithful lives that someone would say that Good Shepherd Reformed Episcopal Church in Tyler, TX so faithfully received the Word and followed Christ, Paul, the Thessalonians, and all other godly leaders that their faithfulness was known in Dallas and Houston?
Whatever it takes to have such humility and faith, I desperately want it for myself, my family, Good Shepherd, and the one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church wherever she is found.
Prayer: Father, thank You for sending Your Son to us in love and through two millennia of godly disciples of Your Son. May I so humbly and faithfully accept You today that I would become an example and encouragement to all who know of me.
Points for Meditation:
- Identify and reflect on godly men or women in your life (past or present) whom you may fruitfully imitate.
- Have others heard of Christ through your example, whether by word or deed? Meditate on why this has or has not occurred.
- Are there any ways in which you have not been willing to humbly accept God through His Word or Church?
Resolution: I resolve to humbly and faithfully receive God today, whether He comes in His Word or in His Church.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day