During the season of Advent I am translating the weekday epistle readings from the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.
Monday, 30 November 2020 1 Thessalonians 1
1. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the Thessalonian church: Grace and peace to you in Father God and Lord Jesus Messiah.
2. We always give thanks to God for the memory of you, continually making our prayers for you.
3. Remembering before our God and Father your faithful work, the labor of love, and hopeful patience in our Lord Messiah Jesus.
4. Knowing he chose you, our brothers and sisters who have been loved by God.
5. Because our gospel came not to you only with words, but with great conviction, in power and the Holy Spirit. You know so much of what happened to us while among you, all on account of you.
6. You became imitators of us and the Lord, welcoming the word with the joy of the Holy Spirit in the midst of great distress.
7. So that you might become an example to all those believing in Macedonia and Achaia.
8. For the word of the Lord has resounded from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place where your faith in God has gone. There is no need to have you speak anything.
9. For they tell about you, about what kind of welcome we had from you, and how you converted from idols to serve the living and true God.
10. And to wait for his son out of the heavens, the one whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, the one who will rescue us from the coming wrath.
Whatever else the Thessalonians may have gotten wrong, they clearly impressed not only Paul and his traveling companions but also the other churches with their readiness and eagerness. It is locked up in the idea of welcome. For Paul this has a powerful meaning, as any student of the letter to the Romans can attest to. It is not merely perfunctory. It is a spiritual reality.
Verses 2 and 3 focus on remembering. In verse 2 it is a noun — “our memory” of you. Paul remembers them, and what they mean to him, and this focuses his prayers. Then in verse 3 he uses memory again — this time a participial verb where Paul remembers what they had done when he prays to the Lord. He remembers to pray for them.
Look carefully at the list of three things in verse 3: faithful work, labor of love, and hopeful patience. We can see our old friend the triad of faith, hope, and love, albeit it slightly dressed up and modified. Faith is about the work–commitment. Love is now also about the work, the reason we work is not the work itself or ego driven success but our love for others. Hope is what keeps us at it without giving way to our lesser nature. The idea of work weaves itself throughout both First and Second Thessalonians. Here it is a commendation. By the time Second Thessalonians closes, it is a rebuke, as if these once hard working people had lost their way with poor theology.
The most powerful idea here is that of conversion in verse 9. Converting from idols to the One True God and with that conversion begins the waiting game: waiting for Jesus to rescue from wrath.
The coming of Jesus is the theme looming over the entire epistle but he dallies around before he gets to it. I think there is a reason for this. It presents a certain clunkiness to the text; like someone beating around the bush before he gets to the point, which doesn’t emerge again in fullness until chapter four. I have some ideas about that but I will save them for later.
Questions For Application
- When was the last time you welcomed someone into your life? Home? Church?
- Who do you imitate? Why?
- The Thessalonian disciples threw down idols to follow Jesus. What are you still clutching ahold of that keeps you from following Jesus fully?
- Who should be locked away in your memories to pray for, but you have forgotten?