What’s the recipe for building a prolific church? Is it a rock solid theology? Or a long list of works done by the believers? A strong church would no doubt have both of these qualities, but the Apostle Paul suggests that to build a successful church you need to dig deeper. Paul saw that it was the transforming power of the Christ that set people’s hearts ablaze. At the beginning of Paul’s third missionary journey, he asked his friend Timothy to go and check on a church that had started in Thessalonica. He was worried that the religious climate in that city would be too discouraging for the young congregation. When Paul got word that the church was alive and flourishing he decided to write them a letter.
In this letter, Paul recounts a bit of the church’s history and gives us some details about what grounded these believers in their faith. In chapter 1 verse 5 Paul writes “we remember how our Gospel came to you not as mere words, but as a message with power behind it—the effectual power, in fact, of the Holy Spirit.” (J.B. Philips translation). In other words, those who received the Gospel were receptive on more than just an intellectual or surface level. They were open to God’s grace, whose “effectual power” literally transformed their lives from the inside out.
Before Paul stepped foot in Thessalonica, the main form of religion was idol worship. People worshipped the whole pantheon of Roman gods as well as deities from Asia and Egypt. The Thessalonians were mostly concerned with being on good terms with Rome. Roman authorities allowed Thessalonica to be a “free state” which elected it’s own officials and enjoyed a certain amount of sovereignty. Given this state of affairs, it’s surprising that a wayfarer like Paul could blow into town, start preaching some radical new ideas that upended both the Jewish and pagan traditions, and have people actually listen to him. Paul could see this was by no means his personal accomplishment though; he writes “We know that God not only loves you but has selected you for a special purpose.”
Divine Love was working it’s purpose out through the Thessalonians. As Paul’s letter continues, we learn that this purpose was much bigger than the church or even the city. Chapter 1 verse 7 reads “You have become a sort of sounding-board from which the Word of the Lord has rung out, not only in Macedonia and Achaia but everywhere where the story of your faith in God has become known.” (J.B. Philips translation). Despite the incredible persecution these believers were facing in Thessalonica (or maybe even because of it) they had become a light on the hill to a big part of the ancient world demonstrating God’s love for all to see.
It is a joy to read this letter two thousand years later and get a window into the lives of Paul and the early Christians. Over the next several months our Bible Study Group will be doing some deep digging into this document to learn more about this “effectual power” of the Holy Spirit, and how it can transform our lives. Join us on Sunday, September 11th at 1pm in Third Church’s Sunday School and online as we embark on this new journey!
To join our Bible Study Google hangout, make sure you have a Google+ account, and add Third Church to one of your Google+ circles. Once you have done this, send your name, email, and Google+ account to ThirdChurchOffice@juno.com with the subject line “Bible Study Hangout″ and we’ll send you further instructions on how to join. If you have any issues getting set up, we’re here to help! Call us at (212) 838-1870 or email ThirdChurchOffice@juno.com.
To join Bible Study on the conference phone, use the dial in number and access code below:
Dial in Number: (605) 562-3140
Access Code: 398620