Reading the letters preserved in the New Testament is like listening to a one-sided telephone conversation. Not knowing for sure what the other person is saying, it is possible to make a solid guess if you listen well to the responses of the person near you. So when we read these letters, we don’t know for sure why the author chose to write what he did, but if read carefully, the letters give good clues.
Paul and Silas were in Thessalonica sharing the gospel of Jesus with those who would listen in the synagogue. Acts 17 records that there were a number of people who became followers of Jesus but then opposition arose and Paul and Silas had to leave town in a hurry.
Paul is concerned the opposition they encountered might detour the new believer from their commitment to follow Jesus. When he realized he would not be able to return to Thessalonica to check on the infant church, he sent Timothy to them. It seems Timothy has just returned (3:6) with news of their well-being and Paul is eager to commend them.
He begins by noting the changes he and others observed in the new believers…
As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ … As a result, you have become an example to all the believers in Greece—throughout both Macedonia and Achaia. And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God. And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead.1 Thessalonians 1:3, 7-10
What were the qualities Paul and others saw in this new group of believers? Faithful work, loving deeds, enduring hope, faith, anticipation of Jesus’ return…all markers of a vibrant faith that became an example for many others. People couldn’t stop talking about the changes they observed.
There was a song I used to listen to as a teenager. Amy Grant sang it and the refrain said, “When people see you change, don’t expect them to applaud. Just keep your eyes on Him and tell yourself, ‘I become the word of God’.” The new believers in Thessalonica certainly knew what it was to face opposition. Some of them had already been brought before the city council, forced to post bond before they could leave. The Jews who opposed Jesus continued to cause trouble for them. They knew opposition.
But they also knew what it meant to persevere and grow in spite of hardship.
What are the markers of your faith? Are you growing in loving others? Doing good deeds? Living with hope? Anticipating Christ’s return?
Or have you lost hope in the midst of trying times? Paul told the new believers why he sent Timothy. It goes like this:
We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith, and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through.1 Thessalonians 3:2-3
Who is your Timothy? Is there someone you can turn to when life gets chaotic? What will you do to restore your hope so you can look forward to the coming of Christ?
Oh yes…Paul’s favorite encouragement in this letter is this: Christ is coming soon!! My encouragement to you…
Christ is coming soon!!