Scripture Reading: Acts 16:1-40, Acts 17:1-34, Acts 18:1-5
The Scripture reading for today is longer than the others and comes from the book of Acts. These chapters in Acts provide context for our study of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and give us a foundation for understanding the Apostle Paul’s relationship with this church.
My grandmother had five siblings, and by the time I came along, the six had married to become twelve. I grew up around their vegetable and flower gardens, in their kitchens that smelled of soup beans and cornbread. I listened to them tell stories late into the night, sat by as they played cards amid uproarious laughter, even stood outside in my pajamas after dark as they howled old songs by the light of the moon.
I rarely think of one of them without thinking of all of them. In my mind they were a set—always connected. That’s not to say they were always together over the years. They saw wars and endured moves and raised children in different states. But when life separated them, they built bridges with letters. They wrote letters home from overseas, sent postcards when they traveled, mailed handwritten pages of updates from one address to the other. Even now that only two of the twelve remain, they write letters to us, their family. They keep us connected still.
Letters encourage in a way email never will. They speak to a part of the soul that social media comments can’t quite reach. When I read the letters from the Apostle Paul to the church at Thessalonica, I hear the earnestness of words written by hand and carried on foot. I hear a weary pastor, a brother in the faith, longing to see his congregation—his family.
Today’s Scripture reading gives us context for our study of the letters of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Acts 16 and 17 tell how Paul visited Thessalonica on his second missionary journey—a journey that included many other cities and countless trials along the way. The apostle faithfully preached the gospel to anyone in earshot, and they ran him out of nearly every town he dared enter. But Paul’s work was not in vain because the Holy Spirit was at work. Families of faith formed along his route—one of them in Thessalonica.
Paul’s letters to the Thessalonian believers are like so many of his other letters, filled with instruction on how to live the Christian life. But these letters do more than clarify theology; they are filled to the brim with affection and encouragement for the men and women whose belief in and hunger for the gospel encouraged him, their teacher. Paul wrote to build up his Thessalonian faith family, not with empty platitudes, but with a hope rooted one truth: “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah” (Acts 17:3).
As you walk through 1 and 2 Thessalonians in the coming weeks, read with a heart for the present and an eye to the future. We are here on this earth for a time, connected as sisters and brothers in the faith. But we are only here for a time. The greatest encouragement we have to offer one another is the hope of Christ.