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10 October. 1 Thessalonians chapters 1-5
The first of St Paul’s letters to the Christians in Thessalonica is perhaps the most positive of all his writings. There is little of criticism here, but rather encouragement and thankfulness. He wants them to know that he is pleased with not only their conversion to the faith, but the way they stick to it. Towards the end of the letter he reminds them of the need to remain faithful to the gospel message, even (or especially) as difficult times come upon them.
The language that Paul uses, not only here but in some of his other letters, when he describes his feelings towards those he has pastored, are quite astonishing – in Galatians he compares his prayers for them to the pains of a woman in childbirth (Paul was probably unmarried, so perhaps he can be excused for this exaggeration). In this letter he reminds the Thessalonians of his approach in teaching them: “We speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others” (2:4-6).
The work of an evangelist or priest is not easy. Even as a Reader – a part-time, voluntary assistant minister in the Church of England – I find the challenge of “presenting the Gospel afresh in this generation”, and of being a pastoral friend to the congregation, demands more of my time and effort than I can easily give. Even in our small church fellowship there are many needy people; more come with their children to be baptised; many more than they attend activities that take place in the church buildings (children’s groups, drama groups, exercise classes, parenting classes and son on). And that is without considering the thousands in our parish who never have any connection with the church.
Where is the reward in this? Paul focuses on the few who have responded to the Gospel and become believers. “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? Yes, you are our glory and joy!” (2:19-20). We need not worry too much about those we never meet, or those who ignore the opportunities to engage with the Church. If I have the privilege of helping even a small number of people to become, not merely members of our parish church but members of the Body of Christ, it will have been worth it.