Wednesday June 3, 2020
1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 2 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, 3 remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, 4 knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.
5 For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. 6 And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit,
7 so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. 8 For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. 9 For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
In this letter to Christians in the city of Thessalonica, Paul is complementing them for their visible faith. I’ve divided his words into three sections, each adding an important thought. Much of what he tells them can encourage us as well.
In the first section, Paul begins by saying that good behavior like theirs leads him to give thanks and prayer support for them. We are encouraged by this to give thanks for one another and to pray for one another. The other side of this coin is for us to do something which will encourage others to give thanks and prayer support for us. This is not so we can be puffed up. It is for God’s use and glory. Every prayer that gives thanks to someone for being an example of Jesus is a bit of glory for God.
Paul then affirms that their saving relationship with God was not shallow. They weren’t just agreeing with words and promises. Good behavior was visible to others. Paul especially complimented their patience. I think he meant they did not get frustrated and stop when they hit roadblocks.
In the second section Paul describes the origin and nature of their faithful behavior. They were empowered to act with the help of the Holy Spirit. There was power in their actions, beyond what they could have done alone. For some of us, shelter in place is giving us time to ask the Holy Spirit to enter us and assure us and empower us more completely. Moreover, their expression of faith was not casual. They were joyous about their new faith. And they did not take the easy path. They faced opposition and did Christian work regardless.
In the third section, Paul describes the fruit of their faithful behavior. Others saw or heard about them and they became examples that encouraged others. Paul explained that their reputation spoke so clearly that he did not have to do all the work of convincing others. This is really true at First UCC. Our mission work, our music, and our community meals show faith that we pastors could never convey with words.
The point is that what we are seen doing has a huge effect of what others think. Good behavior convinces other of the truth of our faith. Bad behavior does the opposite.
Here is an example. In the 1960s there was growing opposition to the war in Viet Nam. However, some of the anti-war group expressed themselves in ways that alienated those who they hoped to influence. I was in college at the time and a debate was scheduled on campus between anti-war and pro-war supporters. I went into the auditorium to hear the debate. There were news media in attendance. As a group, both the debaters and the audience were dressed neatly. The debate began with both sides stating their positions.
Then, 5 minutes into the debate, 4 people dressed as hippies came in. They walked down the center aisle and sat in the front. Two young men and two young women. The men were dressed in torn, dirty, and flapping clothes. They had long hair and tattoos, not usual at the time. The women were also disheveled and tattooed and their clothes were equally torn and dirty. They were obviously braless. I was on the aisle but could not tell which smelled most unwashed as they passed; I’m guessing they all were competing.
Immediately the newsmen sprang into action. Cameras began flashing and others with camcorders followed and proceeded them down the aisle. The debate was mentioned on the evening TV news. There were hundreds of neatly dressed people in the auditorium. All the video coverage was on these four. They made the issue a debate over cultural norms of appearance rather than about the war. This kind of confrontation simply hardened the positions of both sides. During the democratic convention of 1968, the sides came into more and more extreme conflict.
Behavior has a huge effect on the opinions of others. I hope escalation does not take over in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. I pray the legitimate issues don’t get lost in divisive behaviors. I pray we do not harden into irreconcilable positions on this as well.
In the Roman empire there was a great deal of suspicion and hostility about the growing Christian faith. Good behavior by the Thessalonian Christians, according to Paul, changed minds and gained converts throughout the region. Nero’s violent persecution of Christians did not have its intended effect. It hardened the view of Christians that Rome and the Roman system was wrong. By patiently continuing to act non-violently, Christians won over others until the Roman Empire converted.
For all of us today, how we respond to the Coronavirus pandemic will influence what others think of us and our faith. May our love for one another continue to show.
Stay in touch. Share your needs. Let us help.