Lately our team has been working through 1 & 2 Thessalonians. As the team translates, I have been reading through their translation and leaving comments for them to think about as they revise. This means I have been looking pretty intensely at the text and reading a lot of commentaries about what it means. The thing that has struck me the most so far about 1 Thessalonians is Paul’s great love for the church.
The Thessalonian church had come to faith out of idol worship only a short time after hearing the truth. They embraced the message, but then faced a time of intense persecution. It was so intense that Paul and Silas had to flee, leaving a fledgling church behind them. Paul was deeply distressed about having to leave, so he sent Timothy to see how the church was doing, and was overjoyed to hear that they were thriving despite the persecution. It is then that Paul wrote this letter.
In the letter, Paul describes his love for the Thessalonian church. He uses strong and deeply emotive vocabulary. He describes himself and Silas as children among them in their gentle and unassuming approach to preaching the gospel, but then goes on to say that he cares for them like a nursing mother cares for her newborn, and he encourages them the way a father encourages his children. He continues by describing their departure as being “torn away” from them – literally using a word that describes a child becoming an orphan. But he says they tried hard to see them out of “intense longing”.
As I read these strong words, I found myself making comments to the team like, “does the word you chose reflect the intensity of Paul’s emotion?” I reflected on myself also – does my love for the church reflect such deep emotion? In fact, John even says in 1 John 3:14 that one of the ways we know that we have been saved is by our love for each other!
Wouldn’t it be amazing if our churches today were marked by this kind of love? I think deep down this is one thing we all desire. We want intimacy in our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We want people who care for us deeply, like parents who care for their children. We also want people who trust us deeply, like a child trusts its parents. The church should be a place where we have these deep bonds of love, and we can start building them by loving other people ourselves.
Our church has recently started dinner groups, where several people get together to share a meal and share testimonies. It is such a sweet time of connection, where we learn each other’s stories and begin to love each other the way that Paul loved the Thessalonions. The members of the group learn where each person has struggled, and we encourage each other in our spiritual journeys. This is one small taste of what loving those in our churches can be like.
You may be wondering what I mean by “church” – is it the whole body of Christ, everyone who believes? Or is it the local congregation, one specific group of believers? The answer, of course, is both. Every Christian we meet anytime and anywhere is a brother or sister, and we should treat them accordingly. However, I am speaking here specifically about our local congregations. This is where we will find our deepest connections. In a time where people are starting to stay home and watch church online, we need to remember the value of connecting with a local church, as it says in Hebrews 10:24-5, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Paul says later in 1 Thessalonians 5:12, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” So we need to be continually encouraging those Christians around us, at our local churches, and loving them with the deep emotion that Paul had for the Thessalonian church.
I’ve enjoyed diving into 1 Thessalonians with our team, and it has been a good reminder to me of the value of love and encouragement within our local churches. I hope it encourages you as well to love the brothers and sister in Christ who are around you!