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Who would have thought it?

I suppose as far as letters of Paul go, 1 Thessalonians is definitely under-the-radar when you compare it with big-hitters like Romans, Galatians, or 1 Corinthians. And yet, this little letter offers us riches of its own if we are willing to spend a little time in it.

The church is formed under difficult circumstances.  Paul and Silas (fresh from being severely flogged and unlawfully imprisoned in Philippi – see Paul's comment in 2:1), are accompanied by Timothy to Thessalonica.  They spend three Sabbaths in the synagogues “explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer” (Acts 17:3).  In between the Sabbaths they are doubtlessly in the marketplace --- working and sharing the good news (2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10). 

There are two strong, immediate results from their efforts.  The first is that a diverse group of people become disciples.  Luke identifies those coming from the synagogue as being composed of some Jewish people, more God-fearing Greeks, and quite a few prominent business women (Acts 17:4).   From his work in the marketplace, it appears he reached a significant number of Gentiles with idolatrous backgrounds (1:9).

We’re also told that some of the Jews who don’t believe are jealous (Acts 17:5).  There is a healthy type of jealousy (a godly protectiveness – 2 Corinthians 11:2), that parents, spouses, and friends know and practice.  This is the product of love and seeks the highest good for others. Then there is the baser, unhealthy, destructive kind of jealousy that is employed to protect our selfish interests.  It is ugly and causes people to do ugly things.  This festers in some of the Jewish unbelievers to the point that they get some “bad characters” to form a mob and start a riot (Acts 17:5). They make accusations against Paul and his companions and some of the members of the church are forced to post bond (17:9).  Paul, Silas, and Timothy head to Berea (about 50 miles away), in an effort to take some of the heat off of the fledgling church.  They’ve just begun sharing the good news in Berea when the Jews from Thessalonica show up causing more trouble.  Paul has to leave and go to Athens (some 250 miles away), to finally be free of them (17:10-15).

What would your expectations be for a church born of these circumstances? My guess is that most of us wouldn’t expect too much --- a weak, struggling, group barely getting by because of the adversity and pressure they were under wouldn’t surprise us at all. But that’s not the way it worked out.  Instead, Paul will open his letter to them (written 6 to 9 months after his initial visit), and praise them for “your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:3).  He will speak glowingly of them being an example in their region (Macedonia), the neighboring region (Achaia), and “everywhere” (v. 7-10). 
Who would have thought it?
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