Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5
The Struggle of Faith
1 From Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the Church in Thessalonica that stands before God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
May God's grace and peace be with you.
2 We always thank God about you! We always bring you to mind when we pray. 3 We remember how hard you worked to believe, how much you loved, and how much patience you had to hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. Our God and Father is with you! 4 So, everyone, we realize that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own. 5 Why? Because the things we taught you about Jesus were not just words. No, our teaching brought you power and certainty and God's very Spirit! After all, you know what sort of people we were when we visited you. We were there for you!
1 Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, grace and peace to you.
2 We always give thanks to God about you, bringing (you) to mind in our prayers without end, 3 remembering your work of faith, (your) labor of (unconditional) love, and (your) patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the presence of our God and Father, 4 having realized, brothers, having been loved by God, your selection (by God) 5 because our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but in power and the Holy Spirit and great conviction, just as you know what sort of (people) we became among you, for you.
Struggle! This word summed up the experience of the Christian community at Thessalonika.
Northeast of the Greek landmass in Macedonia, the city lay along a major trade route and at the mouth of the Thermaic gulf. As a rich trade center, it enjoyed status as a Roman free city, with many tax breaks; it repaid the favor with a deep loyalty to the Eternal City. The area had two synagogues (one of them was Samaritan!) and many Roman temples; notable was the cult to Cabiri/Dioscuri (Cabiri was an obscure deity that may have its roots in early fertility cults; Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, sons of Zeus, was confused with Cabiri in the popular mind of the day). The cosmopolitan character of the city seemed to find its way into the community, as it was both Jew and Gentile. (Notice the blessing of "grace," a Greek term, and "peace," a Hebrew term, that were synonymous. Both referred to the presence of God.) [1:2c]
The tensions between the two groups and the distractions of the city made the community struggle to hold onto the faith. In this greeting and thanksgiving, Paul recognized their struggle to live the theological virtues (faith, love, and hope). [1:3] And he saluted their spiritual growth in the gospel Paul taught them. [1:5] Paul thought of them many times simply because they showed themselves to be God's beloved and chosen. [1:4, 2]
Why did Paul lavish all this attention on the Thessalonians? Paul struggled to establish the church in the city. As Acts 17 tells us, Paul and Silas (= Silvanus) entered the city to preach in the Jewish synagogue. Some Jews joined the new movement. More important, many Gentiles (along with some leading women of the city who would act as benefactors) converted. Leaders at the synagogue reacted by creating a mob scene and bringing the local Christian leaders before the local magistrates. The charge was:
"These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them; and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus."
Acts 17:6-7 (RSV)
So the local church began with controversy with the local Jews and the popular dedication to Rome.
The Christian call was never meant to be easy. Indeed, it is a call to struggle. The words of Paul seem to stress the connection between blessing and struggle. For Paul, they were sometimes one and the same.
What struggles have you found along the Christian way? How have you found blessing in your struggle?