Sunday, August 23, 2015
I was discussing our church with my dad. He is a committed Christian, a deacon of many years in his church, a veteran Bible study leader, and someone whose theology is very practical. As we talked and I described where I believe God wants us to focus, I admitted I was having trouble bringing my ideas together.
When I told him we’d be looking Paul’s Thessalonian letters, he said without hesitation, “How a ‘Prescription for Life’?” Brilliant! Thanks Dad.
Pharmacist and students in the pharmacy school worship in our church family. Among us are doctors who write prescriptions for patients. And every one of us has been to the doctor and had a medication prescribed.
Over the next seven weeks, we will hear ideas, actions, and life-orientations prescribed from God’s word. The purpose of this Biblical medicine is spiritual fitness. We want to be healthy in our faith. We want our witness to the Gospel to be robust. When we say, “Jesus is Lord, his coming signals the inauguration of the Kingdom of God, and people can have life in his name,” we want to know what we mean. We want to know the implications of living out such statements. We need to understand what it means to follow Jesus.
The first prescription in this program is an assigned reading. Read 1st Thessalonians, 2nd Thessalonians, and Acts chapter 17. This prescription has unlimited refills. You cannot take this too much.
In 1st Thessalonians 1, the three authors, Paul, Silvanus (called Silas in the book of Acts), and Timothy, express their profound thanks for the church in Thessalonica. Specifically, they write, “We always give thanks to God … remembering … your work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3). If you are familiar with 1st Corinthians 13, often referred to as the Love Chapter, you recognize the ending - faith, hope, and love. These virtues, absolutely necessary for a disciple of Jesus, are highlighted in 1st Corinthians 13 and also here in 1st Thessalonians 1. The church in Thessalonica was marked by these virtues and by actions that were fueled by their faith, their hope, and their love.
The New Testament is full of letters written by Paul in association with Silas and Timothy. These are the earliest New Testament documents with 1st Thessalonians being the first New Testament book written, sometime between 10-20 years after the resurrection.
The book of Acts tells the narrative of the early church. When you follow the prescription and read 1st & 2nd Thessalonians and read Acts 17, you will see the story told in different ways. Luke, the author of Acts and one of Paul’s travel companions, had an audience in mind when he wrote and he highlighted certain elements in the story to appeal specifically to his readers. These matters aren’t emphasized the same way in 1st Thessalonians because there, Paul, Silas, and Timothy write in a different style to people in a different situation.
In Acts, Luke takes the account of the growth of the Gospel in Thessalonica to promote the way of Christ to his readers. We, a 21st century congregation, read 1st Thessalonians and Acts to enlarge our understanding of the faith. The way of Christ is the way of holiness.
With that extremely short introduction, we turn to Acts 17. and as we do, keep in mind those values in 1st Thessalonians 1:3 – faith, hope, and love.
After Paul and Silas[a] had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah[b]to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This is the Messiah,[c] Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.” 4 Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. 6 When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers[d] before the city authorities,[e] shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also,7 and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” 8 The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this, 9 and after they had taken bail from Jason and the others, they let them go.
10 That very night the believers[f] sent Paul and Silas off to Beroea; and when they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so.
Take note of Jason. The church was obviously small – small enough to assemble in one person’s home. In first century Thessalonica, the houses were smaller than what we see today. It was not a large community.
However, by the time Paul riled people to the point they would lay hands on him with harmful intentions, the church probably did have 20-30 people or maybe more. Jason was wealthy enough that he had a home large enough to accommodate such a group. Imagine your home with 20-30 guests who come every week. He had financial means.
Another indicator of this is the way it ended for Jason. The synagogue leaders and the street toughs they brought together were able to manhandle Jason, drag him from his home, and convince city officials to formally arrest him. These opponents from the synagogue were savvy enough to work the crowd and the political system. But Jason was just as resourceful.
Whether he was supported by someone wealthy or on his own he could work the system, he managed to get bail, pay it, and be freed from incarceration. The last we see of him, he is free after being roughed up. We know the church in his house grew and thrived because of what we read in 1st Thessalonians.
These Thessalonian Christians, probably led by their host, Jason, were minorities. Thessalonica was a pagan city whose residents either did not understand or acted openly hostile toward Monotheism. The synagogue was monotheistic but opposed to those who saw Jesus as the Messiah. The church, and by association, Jason was in a precarious position. And they flourished. How?
This is the second prescription. They and he welcomed the madness. They knew that after Paul left, after Jason was bailed out jail, after everything cooled, the tensions with their neighbors would simmer with the potential to boil over again. They knew this and yet they did not throw in the towel on Christianity. Instead they lived the faith so vibrantly, Paul and his colleagues held the Thessalonians up as the model of a true church.
First Thessalonians 1:6-9:
You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 9 For the people of those regions[b] report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God.
As we read 1st and 2nd Thessalonians and Acts, we invite the craziness, the pain, the confusion, and the truly lost people in the world to come in among us. We open our arms because the Holy Spirit has filled us with grace. We open our hearts because we know what a mess each of us were before Christ came into our lives. We open our lives because that is what Jason and the Thessalonians did in welcoming Paul, Silas, and Timothy.
The chairwoman of our board of elders, Patricia, is not going to be arrested for her commitment to God in the life of HillSong. Our Sunday school teachers will not have their property vandalized because they teach the Bible here. I am not going to have my words censored. Persecution today doesn’t look like that, at least not in the United States. It does in other places, but not here, not in Chapel Hill. Opposition to the Gospel does not come in the forms that it did in 1st century Thessalonica.
But it does come. The same enemy who riled up those street toughs to give Jason the heavy-handed treatment is lurking all around us. The devil doesn’t want to see our church proclaim the Kingdom of God any more than he wanted to see Jason’ home be the base for the Christian witness in the city of Thessalonica. Our enemy will try any number of strategies to get us off the track Christ has laid for us.
Knowing this, knowing that people lost in sin are in chaos, we enter the mess and we do so willingly. We embrace the madness because we have faith in our Lord. As verse 9 says, we serve a “living and true God,” as opposed to the empty ideologies and philosophies espoused by people in our era of history. We have that faith.
We also have hope. Verse 10, Jesus is resurrected and has already rescued us from the wrath to come. The end of the age will be a time when everyone who has ever lived has to face up to the eternal consequences of rebelling against God and living in sin. However, the risen Lord calls all who are his to join him as sons and daughters of God in the resurrection.
We have faith, we have hope, and we can welcome those who are burdened with the madness of a life without God because we have love. We know it was love that sent Jesus to the cross to die for our sins. That love beats in our hearts. That’s why as a church we are ready to be a safe harbor for lost people, a place of welcome, comfort, and peace for those whose lives are chaos.
So this it then, this is our prescription for life?
We are to take 2 doses of Thessalonians, one portion of Acts, and we are to embrace people whose lives are falling apart?
Well, … yes. This is a partial description of the disciple life. We’ll add to it next week.
Until then, you have the doctor’s orders, and this comes from the Great Physician. He is the way, the truth, and the life.