Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tuesday in Easter 4: The Thessalonian guide to church planting

Opening Sentence
Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world. Psalm 19:4

Commemoration: Philip and James
Almighty God, who gave to your apostles Philip and James grace and strength to bear witness to the truth: Grant that we, being mindful of their victory of faith, may glorify in life and death the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 45

Lessons: Exodus 32:21-34, 1 Thessalonians 1, Matthew 5:11-16

The congregation at Thessalonica was planted during Paul’s second missionary journey, after the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and his separation from Barnabas in a dispute over John Mark. At the time of the writing of his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul is accompanied by Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy. It is believed by many to be the oldest of the New Testament documents, possibly written as early as 20-25 years after the death and resurrection of Christ.

The planting of the Thessalonian congregation is recorded in Acts 17:1-9. It is a mixed congregation of Jews and Greeks, including some prominent women and a man named Jason, who acted as host to Paul and Silas during their stay in the city. As Paul recounts in his letter, affliction and conflict accompanied the proclamation and reception of the Gospel in Thessalonica. A group of “jealous” Jews “formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason” (Acts 17:5). It is in Thessalonica that Paul and his companions are referred to as “These men who have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). The Greek term Luke employs for “turned the world upside down” is a form of “anastasis,” literally “resurrection.” Earlier on, when the original disciples were still in Jerusalem prior to the stoning of Stephen, Luke records that the leaders of the temple establishment were “greatly annoyed” with Peter and John “because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). By the time Paul and his company reach Thessalonica, the message that had at first “greatly annoyed” the Jerusalem establishment is now said to “have turned the world upside down,” and, much to the annoyance of the Jews in Thessalonica, the men who have been proclaiming it throughout the region “have come here also.”

The message of Jesus and the resurrection is bound to cause an uproar and those who proclaim it can expect fierce opposition. This was certainly the case with Paul and company in Thessalonica. Despite affliction, however, the Thessalonians received the message “with the joy of the Holy Spirit” and “became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” In spite of the fierce opposition, which included being dragged before the city authorities and charged with sedition (Acts 17:6-7), the believers in Thessalonica had persevered and become a model congregation, not only hearing the word, but putting it into practice.

The antiphonal structure of 1 Thessalonians 1:1-2:16 is an illustration of how a congregation is formed, nurtured, and grown. Paul offers the Gospel (1:1-5, 2:1-12); the Thessalonians receive it (1:6-10, 2:13-16). Not only do the Thessalonians receive the Gospel message, their testimony reverberates “in Macedonia and Achaia” and their “faith in God has gone forth everywhere,” so much so that Paul and his companions “need not say anything” (1:8). The Thessalonian congregation is a community invited into the faith by the proclamation of the Word, established in the faith by the reception of the Word, and sustained in the faith by becoming an incarnation of the Word. As it became an example to believers then, so it remains an example to believers now. The faith and perseverance of the believers in Thessalonica is precisely the kind of faith and perseverance required of us today if we hope to once again “turn the world upside down” with the Gospel of our crucified and risen Lord, Jesus Christ.


Christ is Made the Sure Foundation