Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Thessalonian Church

imageTowards the back of the New Testament, you will find Paul’s two letters to the church in Thessalonica. They were written before most of the rest of the New Testament. The book of Acts gives us the back story and how that church was founded. (Acts 17:1-10)

Paul had two to three weeks to establish the church, and then, abruptly, he had to leave it on its own for a while. Timothy was later sent to stay with the church for a time. Later, Paul wrote a couple of letters. He told them that he often tried to get back to see them again. It doesn’t look like he ever did.

How did Paul go from nothing to a thriving church in a couple of weeks? (With a budget of zero, by the way.)  How is it that could he leave behind a church so quickly and yet praise them in letters as a strong and mature church, rather than sending lists of corrections and warnings?  Can we apply any of what happened in Thessalonica to our work today?

It takes about an hour to do a careful reading Acts 16 - 17, and 1st and 2nd Thessalonians. Let’s read through and look for clues.

1. Our gospel came to you not just in words, but in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with much conviction (1 Thessalonians 1:5)
  There is no need to look at strategy, circumstance, correlations, tactics or anything else, if we don’t concede, first, that from start to finish, the planting of this church was a work of the Holy Spirit. “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127).
   
2. They came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in… (Acts 17:2)
  Paul evangelized an existing group. Rather than pull together people at random who would hear his message, he went to a group that already existed, had structure, and meaningful relationships.
   
3. as was his custom… (Acts 17:2)
  Paul had an intentional strategy, going into each city. He walked his plan and let it play out.
   
4. and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures. (Acts 17:2)
  Paul did not stay very long, and established the authority as the word of God, not himself or another leader. Three Sabbath days can be anywhere from 15 to 21 days. The authority of God’s word and the Holy Spirit are all that is needed to begin a new church.
   
5. explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ." (Acts 17:3)
  Paul’s gospel presentation was all about Jesus and only about Jesus. There was no mixing of his message. It is nearly identical to what Jesus said in Luke 24:46: Jesus said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead…”
   
6. And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. (Acts 17:4)
  Though there was the common element of the synagogue, there are three parts of the city’s society mentioned here. There was diversity in those who believed the message.
   
7. “Now they have come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his home.” (Acts 17:7) They wanted to drag Paul and Silas out to the mob, and so they went straight to Jason's home. (Acts 17:5)
  Paul and SIlas appear to have followed the strategy/pattern Jesus instructed his disciples with in Luke 10. (Go in pairs, don’t take provisions for yourself, do go from house to house, but stay in the one house of the person of peace, eat and drink what they give you, etc)
   
8. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities… (Acts 17:6)
  Persecution hit the young church immediately, purifying its membership rather quickly.
   
9. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. (Acts 17:9)
  The church was self supporting from the get go. In this case, Jason, of the new church, had to leave a deposit to pay for damages in a possible riot.
   
10. We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers… (1 Thessalonians 1:2)
  Paul, Silas and Timothy never stopped praying for the church and God’s movement and blessing. (Note: they did not pray for an end to the persecution)
   
11. and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith… (1 Thessalonians 3:2)
  Paul made sure that the young church was established with the right elements of a church and did not forget to train up reproductive leadership. (remember his charge to Timothy “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2
   
12. The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea… (Acts 17:10)
  The church sent the ones who brought the message of Jesus onward to the next place/group that needed to hear. The transition was very quick.  This could only happen by through the development of inside leaders.

We will look at modern applications in a future post. This was just to get us thinking about how church planting happened in the New Testament.

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