Monday, October 17, 2011

Born out of Weakness

Paul begins his letter to the Thessalonians with great praise for what God has done among them.  He rejoices over the Thessalonians "work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ".  He also recalls how the Holy Spirit came among them with power and conviction; evidence that they had been chosen by God to receive the gospel.  Furthermore, the Church at Thessalonica appears to have been the model church of the region as Paul says they "became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia" and that their "faith in God has gone forth everywhere".

Remarkably (but not surprisingly if one is familiar with Paul's pattern of ministry), this incredible Church was founded in Paul's weakness and humiliation.  Paul writes in 2:2 that he and his co-ministers had come to the Thessalonians after suffering and being shamefully treated in Philippi.  It seems likely that this refers to the episode in Acts 16 where Paul is imprisoned, freed by God through an earthquake, baptizes the jailer and his household, and then demands to be escorted out of the city by the magistrates.  Acts 17 then tells us that Paul went on to Thessalonica only to face much opposition there as well.  The picture of Paul's preaching in Thessalonica, then, is one of a man who has been repeatedly rejected and humiliated but refuses to stop preaching.

And a church, a healthy church, an exemplary church is born out of that preaching.  No glitz.  No glamor. No big production or impressive display.  Quite the opposite.  The power of God's Word is made all the more evident by Paul's weakness.  Paul says his preaching among the Thessalonians was gentle, "like a nursing mother taking care of her own children".  This nurturing image continues in the next verse as Paul says "we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves."

Perhaps the second of these is the harder of the two for many Christians these days.  I know many people in my church are eager to share the gospel.  I'm not share how many of us are eager to share ourselves; to give up our free/family time to spend time with a neighbor, to get tangled up in our co-worker's complicated problems, to see the drunk down the street as a person rather than a threat.

To keep sharing the Word and sharing ourselves.  Can Church really be so simple?  It may be a testament to just how far we have gone astray to think that it had to be anything else.

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