Paul begins his Greeting in I Thessalonians 1:1 “…to the church… in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…” and this speaks deeply to me. It reminds me that a church is in God and Christ. My church being in God, enclosed and surrounded by the Trinity is a great comfort to me and is not the imagery I usually have of a church. The other imagery I like which shortly follows in I Thessalonians 1:3 is in the Thanksgiving and is where Paul ties actions to things that people often associate with thoughts or feelings today: “…calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father…” Paul appears to remind us in every sentence that we show faith, love and hope through our actions.
In I Thessalonians 2:9-10 Paul remarks, “You recall, brothers, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers.” This selfless integrity that Paul points out, that they worked while continuing to spread the gospel, that they labored “night and day” so that they would not burden believers, is not a bragging point. I believe it is meant as a reminder of who Paul was but also that if you are a believer, you should be setting an example. Your behavior and actions should be speaking for you and Paul firmly believed that if you could work you should as he demonstrated repeated in his letters. He even loops back to this again later, warning against laziness or idleness because of the imminence of the Parousia in I Thessalonians 4:11-12, “…and to aspire to live a tranquil life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your [own] hands, as we instructed you, that you may conduct yourselves properly toward outsiders and not depend on anyone.” Although this might sound as if it advises against charity it does not. It is only laziness in believers it speaks against. Paul wants those who are capable of working to work but to understand that they are all responsible for each other. In I Thessalonians 4:9-10 it says, “On the subject of mutual charity you have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another. Indeed, you do this for all the brothers throughout Macedonia.”
Freedom comes up a lot in Paul’s letters, and it appears to be something that is both liberating and misunderstood in Paul’s time and ours. While the start of his General Exhortations focuses on holiness, I wonder if what Paul addresses stems from a misunderstanding of the freedom they have received in the crucifixion of Jesus. One example that sounds like they interpreted the freedom in Christ as the freedom to do as they want can be found in I Thessalonians 4:7-8 “For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not a human being but God, who [also] gives his holy spirit to you.” In this, it sounds like Paul is trying to remind them that God did not call them to freedom from the Law so they could do impure things but instead so that they could receive the Holy Spirit and be in relationship with God.
I particularly like that he circles back to what he began with in his Thanksgiving at the end, changing the actions into armor in I Thessalonians 5:8-10, “But since we are of the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet that is hope for salvation. For God did not destine us for wrath, but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live together with him.” Lastly, the final directions that Paul gives are beautiful if not challenging. It perhaps emphasizes again that the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice was a reorientation and restructuring of all existence, our own and the worlds. God was countercultural then and is countercultural now. It is not about doing our own will but the will of God.
I Thessalonians 5:14-22 “We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all. See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good [both] for each other and for all. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Jesus Christ. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterance. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.”