The Sunday Lesson
I publish a short Sunday Lesson on, well, Sundays. It’s an observation or an idea or an application from something I’m studying. I feel deeply blessed and deeply responsible for writing this. I schedule the posts to publish at 1:35, after you’re home from church. Don’t worry about the time if you miss it: just enter your email address into the bar at the top of any screen and you’ll receive notification when I publish something new. I entertain all comments and try to respond to them all. Be patient and forewarned that I reserve Sundays for my family. It’s a work in progress, but a goal we’re all growing into. So, if I don’t respond, I’m probably playing chess with my daughter or watching lousy TV with my wife. On an outstanding day, I might catch a couple innings of Braves baseball. With my wife, of course. It’s Sunday.
I’m reading through Paul’s letters in the order that he wrote them starting with Thessalonians. There is a general agreement that of Paul’s surviving letters, this was the first, written about 50 CE, twenty years after Jesus died and rose. Paul writes in the recognizable fashion of an educated Roman. He struggles a bit, I think, to introduce himself, always seeking to shrug off his reputation with the early Christians. He humbly acknowledges the Thessalonians and recounts their achievements and godly character. You see it immediately in his introduction: Paul lists no less than ten traits the Thessalonians are known for. Here are the opening verses:
We always thank God for you all, mentioning you in our prayers continually. We remember before our God and Father how active is the faith, how unsparing the love, how persevering the hope which you have from our Lord Jesus Christ.
We know, brothers loved by God, that you have been chosen, because our gospel came to you not only in words, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with great effect. And you observed the sort of life we lived when we were with you, which was for your sake. You took us and the Lord as your model, welcoming the word with the joy of the Holy Spirit in spite of great hardship. And so you became an example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia since it was from you that the word of the Lord rang out—and not only throughout Macedonia and Achaia, for your faith in God has spread everywhere.
We do not need to tell other people about it: other people tell us how we started the work among you, how you broke with the worship of false gods when you were converted to God and became servants of the living and true God; and how you are now waiting for Jesus, his Son, whom he raised from the dead, to come from heaven. It is he who saves us from the Retribution which is coming. (The New Jerusalem Bible)
So…the converts in Thessalonika are:
Active in faith
Unsparing in love
Filled with the Holy Spirit in power and effect
Recognizing Paul, the apostles, and Jesus as models
Welcoming the Word with joy in spite of hardships
Filled with a faith that is known throughout Greece
Known to be servants of the living and true G
Waiting for Jesus’ return
I’m not even through with the first chapter’s introduction, and I’m already knee-deep in meat. Reading through this list, I wondered what Paul would write about me? Or my Sunday School class? Or my church? Would he make a list about me like the one he writes here? Or would it read something more like:
“And to Dennis Mitton, I am thankful to G the Father that he is able to mow his lawn with such straight lines. All while drinking coffee by the gallon.”
And to my church:
“And to you local Christians, I commend your faithfulness to attend church regularly, so long as everyone in attendance agrees with you. Glory to G!”
I talked to Mal about this and we agreed, well, we convinced ourselves, that there is a righteousness in the mundane, in raising children, in being a part of a church community, and, c’mon, even monks mow the lawn. The point is not that the Thessalonians were terrific and you’re just plain lousy. The point is that Paul recognized the Thessalonians as people who considered their faith seriously and joyously served the living G. The point is that this is the low bar of Christianity.
I’m not trying to parse your life and decide how you compare to the Thessalonians. That’s between you and your Savior, and me and my Savior. I only encourage you to find time alone – using Jesus as a model – and seek an active faith and unsparing love.
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Thanks and blessings!