Many years ago as a younger man I was leading a teen missions trip to Scotland, doing VBS ministry on the English Channel beach in Scarborough by day, while doing concerts at night with the musical group of high school kids we took over there. Some of the local Scottish young men we served with were intent upon learning American football, so I spent an hour or so each morning on the beach with them by dividing into teams and going over the basics (which aren’t very basic or obvious in another culture!). I played quarterback for both teams since none of them could throw a spiral pass.
They did get better every day and remembered more and more of the many rules. But every so often, even toward the end of my time with them, they would simply forget what was taught or a unique game situation would rise that I had not yet covered. The competition at that point would immediately fall apart and essentially devolve into a rugby contest. Bedlam!
I just didn’t have enough time with them to really get them grounded in how to play the game so that they could do it on their own. We had to move on, but I gave the football to them in hopes they would keep playing and learning.
That is a “wee illustration me lads” (to speak Scottish with you) of how Paul felt about the Thessalonians. His stay with them was very brief before controversy arose and he had to leave town. There were some wonderful folks who had come to faith and who could be strong leaders in a church, if only someone had the time and access to disciple them. Paul was frustrated and sad that he could not personally see this happen, and he also had a great concern for them. So it was during his 18-month time in Corinth that most scholars believe he wrote twice to these new Christians.
So today we think about the second and third of Paul’s letters in the order that he composed them: 1st and 2nd Thessalonians. Previously we looked at his first letter: Galatians.
We immediately see Paul’s affection for them and his thanks for their faith and their endurance even in the midst of suffering …
1 Thess. 1:2 – We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. 3 We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere.
When Paul went from Berea to Athens, he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica, knowing he could not himself dare to go there. He knew they would face difficult times, and Paul’s heart for them is again evident …
1 Thess. 3:4 – In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. 5 For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain. 6 But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you.
Much of the rest of these two letters deal with what appears to be a series of questions about faith and doctrine that were likely passed on to Paul from Timothy’s visit with them. These involve matters of morality and godly living, an exhortation to not be lazy but rather to be industrious, and also some of the best instruction we have about the coming again of the Lord and of the final times. Paul summarizes some of these thoughts in the second letter …
2 Thess. 2:15 – So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
A devotional thought that comes to me today is to remind ourselves that we only have a window of time – in our lives, and in our lives together – to learn, grow, and apply God’s Word in service with and to each other. This is a precious time, every bit of it. Let us make the most of that time, before it passes.