Some people aspire to climb Mt. Whitney; others to write the Great American Novel. My desire has been to know the seven letters of Paul so well that they would become like old friends—familiar, trusted and treasured. The past ten years I’ve been on this quest and the latest deep dive has been in I Thessalonians. Each time I emerge in new awe of what Paul wrote, how he communicated and what he understood of God’s nearness.
Because it’s the first letter written in early Christianity, I Thessalonians has significant historical meaning. But that’s not why I’ve grown to treasure it. Rather, what makes it so meaningful is Paul’s understanding of the power of the Holy Spirit to help people grasp what is real and what is sham.
Here’s a brief example, early in chapter 1. Paul writes:
5 For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true. (NLT)
Look at the realness of the Holy Spirit to Paul, which can come only from his own life experience of feeling the ‘knowingness’ that we all do when something is truly of God. Paul had been the recipient of the Holy Spirit’s direction, inspiration, and power for years by the time he wrote the Thessalonians. His is the voice of authority. And Paul knows these new converts have experienced it as well already. He appeals to their memory of this to distinguish any draw of the false gods of the pagan world so many were leaving behind, and the ‘somethingness’ — the actuality– of the world of Spirit, a world they couldn’t perceive with their senses. Think how comforting this reminder must have been for people facing social, political and even physical persecution for their decision to become a Christian.
This is the world the Bible opens to us as well, the world of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, clarity and power.
You may recall that Paul had visited Thessalonica on his second missionary journey but had to escape in the middle of the night when – once again—there was major civil unrest started because of his preaching and teaching. The letter is the result of asking Timothy to check on the new converts and see if they had collapsed under the opposition faced from pagans furious over his new teachings.
What a relief when Timothy reported back of their steadfastness, courage and even alertness to danger. Wow – that every Christian community could model those early Macedonians. Their reputation had grown far beyond Thessalonica and was even inspiring others to hold their ground and withstand the opposition surrounding them. Paul’s gratitude comes through in such deeply affectionate writing that one feels we’re almost reading a personal letter between the closest of friends.
Studying I Thessalonians to understand it’s underlying message, the issues those early workers were facing, how the lessons they learned can impact our lives today, a new glimpse into the nature of the Holy Spirit – these are just some of the reasons studying the Scriptures gets richer daily.
If this interests you, you’ll find a new audio talk on I Thessalonians resulting from this study – an offering of love to everyone that follows the Master’s command to continually ‘search the Scriptures’ (John 5:39).
Image: Triumph of Titus and Vespasian by Giulio Romano