- The auditorium hums with conversation. There is a sense of anticipation in the air. When the lights dim voices hush and all eyes turn toward the stage. It is simply adorned with a lectern and after a brief introduction, the speaker appears. He is of average height with silvery hair and a neatly trimmed goatee, adorned in an ensemble taken from the Swiss Alps; an artist’s shirt, vest and knickers. He stands at the podium and speaks with clarity, authority and passion. I would not be able to quote to you word for word on what Francis Schaeffer spoke on that day. But I do remember the question at hand, “How then shall we live?” As Schaeffer looked out over the course of Western Civilization he was alarmed by its eroding foundation. His challenge then was that Christians must decisively engage the culture and redirect it back to God. He was not compelled by high moral standards but by what he felt the Scriptures exhorted us to do and he was concerned that the Church-at-Large was not living up to that mandate.
Like Francis Schaeffer, the apostle Paul was concerned for the churches he planted and how they interacted with their culture and one another. The church at Thessalonica is a good example of this. Paul had a brief but powerful ministry in this illustrious city according to Acts 17:1-10. One can still see evidence of its glory and power today as its main thoroughfare, the Egnatian Way, is still its main thoroughfare, passing by ancient ruins and modern shops alike. Paul followed his usual routine when he arrived there, first attending the local synagogue and engaging the devout Jews in discussions about the Scriptures (Ac. 17:2-3). There was a positive response from some as well as from “God-fearing Greeks”, those Gentiles who worshipped the God of Israel rather than engaging in the polytheism of their fellow countrymen (Ac. 17:4). However, just as soon as the church began to grow, opposition arose as well. A mob forms in the market place and storms the house of Jason who was one of the church leaders (v. 5-6) looking for Paul. While Jason is being questioned, Paul and Silas are escorted out of town (v. 10) to nearby Berea.
In spite of the short time Paul ministered there, the church at Thessalonica appears to have survived and thrived. Paul hoped to return there, but circumstances both great and small prevented him, so instead he relied on some of his co-workers, such as Timothy, to oversee the spiritual growth and nurturing of the Thessalonians. The two letters we have from Paul to the new converts here are on the whole very positive. They include thanksgiving for the believers (1 Thes. 1:2-10; 2 Thes. 1:1-12), an overview of their history and relationship with Paul and Timothy (1 Thes. 1:1-2:12, 2:17-3:10), instruction on godly living (1 Thes. 4:1-12; 2 Thes. 3:6-15), teachings on doctrinal issues (1 Thes. 4:13-18), the expectation of suffering and why it occurs (1 Thes. 2:13-16), explanations on the second coming (1 Thes. 5:1-11; 2 Thes. 2:1-12) and several exhortations, words of praise and prayers (1 Thes. 2:13-16, 3:11-13, 5:12-28; 2 Thes. 2:13-17, 3:16-18). While the overall tone of both letters is positive, the second letter has a greater sense of urgency in that some behavior and attitudes of certain believers in the body is causing problems. Paul repeatedly reminds the Thessalonians to “remember” and asserts there is much they “already know” and for that reason this behavior should not continue.
What seems to be causing problems within the Thessalonian church has been described as a negative mind-set towards holding a job. It has been speculated that some believers stopped working with the expectation that Christ’s return was imminent. This left other believers with the burden of caring for them. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart offer a scenario that is more accurate. Thessalonica being the chief city in Macedonia was populated by wealthy Greek aristocracy, who in general had a “disdain for manual work”. These believers seem to be using the return of Christ as an excuse to not do their part so Paul addresses the teachings that are encouraging this behavior. Paul states the Christ’s return is as sure as the believer’s salvation, but that the most must be made of the time while we’re waiting. Rather than retreating and waiting behind closed doors (so to speak) the church should be compelled into action, especially in proclaiming the Gospel message.
How do you spend the days when you are planning a special vacation? You are probably making sure you have secured lodging, put together the clothes to bring, and read up on the place you will be going. The same can be done as we await the Lord’s return. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and challenged them to be engaged in the Lord’s work and to be ready (1 Thes. 4:16-5:3; 2 Thes. 2:1-2). How about you? Do you need to be challenged as the Thessalonians were? Are you ready?
- Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
- November 1, 2015
Ready for the Road Ahead began as a bulletin insert in 2010 and has since grown into a weekly on-line Bible lesson. I love to teach and have taught in both church and school settings. I hope these articles will both encourage and equip you as you follow Christ.