Paul says some very important things in the opening of his letter to the Thessalonians.
The first thing that always strikes me each time I read this word and I must say that it impresses me that Paul wants his hearers, above all else to know this information, it’s this, “We (not I) give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remember before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
He begins by acknowledging the work, ministry, and prayers of those around him. Paul’s ministry was more often than not a team effort. He wanted the churches to realize and understand this. Their ministries also needed to be cooperative. Paul’s work was never just about Paul. In this case, Silvanus and Timothy were part and parcel of his success and known to the Thessalonians as missionaries and teachers. Acknowledging each other is an important action in role modeling an important behavior but it also lets the people you work with how much value and care for them. Paul knew this.
Secondly, Paul is living a life of gratitude. “We always give thanks to God for all of you,” Paul says. Plainly put, that’s called being grateful. He’s grateful for the people he knows, has come to know, he works with, his extended Christian family, and those he is in a relationship with. This is different from prayer. We’ll come to that in a moment. This is about living a life of gratitude and showing that gratitude in ways that let people know you value them and the contribution they make to your life. Those things which he’s grateful become the basis he build his prayers around.
Paul is always giving thanks to God for something. How is it possible to live that way? Do you put yourself on some kind of list for a happiness transplant?
What do we have to be grateful for (to the same degree that Paul is)? Where do we start if we want to live a life of gratitude like Paul’s? Here are five easy prompts to get you going each day when considering the things you are grateful for in your life. A word or two about any or all of these five is a great place to begin. Put them in a journal or some kind of place you can come back to. Remind yourself of your blessings. It sounds too easy to remind ourselves of something so obvious. But it is the obvious things we most easily overlook and ignore. That’s why it is good to remind ourselves of the basic and most important parts of our life-the parts that shouldn’t change.
1. Your life, your health, your well-being.
2. Your most meaningful relationships. (like your family or friends)
3. The fact you have food to eat and clean water to drink.
4. You are not homeless.
5. You have people who love you.
Then, as I mentioned, Paul takes these things he’s grateful for; the churches the people, the people he share mission and ministry with and lets them shape his prayer life. Do you see what happens there? If you move into this constant awareness of gratitude, you’re writing a few things down, you’re telling be how grateful you are, you always have a ready source of something to pray about; you’re never at the point where you say, “God, I’m just don’t know what to say or what to talk about.” You’ve always got somewhere to start the conversation.
The final point Paul makes is this, “our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit.” It came to them, as I like to say, “Beyond the quotation marks”. The word of God is so powerful in cannot be contained by this book alone. Nor can it be contained by what people say about this book, our quotes and explanations about the Bible, such as what I’m doing now. It’s hard for anyone to do justice to the Bible other than the Bible itself. We can try. We can and do help facilitate the conditions for understanding and growth. We do that each week but as Paul says, the message also come not by words but by the work of spirit, in the reality of the words, deeds, and actions of people prompted by spirit. I’m talking about us having the opportunity to see the scriptures and the ideas of the Bible go from being 2 dimensional theories to a 3 dimensional living reality where people are making Christ’s words and teachings come alive. In the case of the Thessalonians, they made it real. They were doing things that no one else was doing. Not content for classroom learning experiences only, they wanted to take it to the streets. That’s what they did. Paul thought it was important remind them of how far they had come in such a short period of time.
He ends up with this message. The Thessalonians story is telling itself. Their story has become its own missionary. In verse 8, Paul says, “For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia but in every place where you faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. When Paul, Silvanius, and Timothy arrive somewhere new, people have already heard of the great work and faith of the Thessalonians and their church. He doesn’t have to preach that sermon. It’s a “been there and done that” moment for Paul. Their gratitude and devotion to God has spread to church communities all around the eastern Mediterranean and people are inspired by their story.
Is our story going ahead of us? Do people know of our faithfulness, devotion, and gratitude to God beyond the place we call home? Is there no need to speak of us because our faith has become known? What can we do better to help our story become a missionary in and of itself this morning?