1 Thessalonians 3:9-end (NRSV)
9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
A few thoughts on the Epistle for Advent Sunday.
It is indeed a pleasure to reflect on Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, probably one of the earliest writings now part of the New Testament.
Paul speaks of the joy he experienced because of the Thessalonian church – ‘… the joy of one who had created something which would stand the tests and temptations of time …’ You know better than me of the joy a parent who can point to a child who has done well as you have four boys, but even I can know this as Gareth flourishes in what he does. He is in a very competitive environment and does not always come out tops, but when he does it is a joy to share in his delight. Paul was so proud of the way in which this Church was flourishing as a parent feels joy for a child.
There is also prayer. Barclay makes a lovely comment: “… We will never know from how much sins we have been saved and how much temptation we have conquered because someone has prayed for us.’ He continues with a lovely illustration:
A servant girl became a member of a Church. She was asked what Christian work she did. She said that she had not the opportunity to do much because her duties were so constant, but, she said, “When I go to bed I take the morning newspaper to my bed with me; and I read the births and I pray for the all little babies; and I read the notices of marriage and I pray that those who have been married may be happy; and I read the announcements of death and I pray that the sorrowing may be comforted. No man can ever tell what tides of grace flowed from that attic bedroom. When we can serve people no other way, when, like Paul, we are unwillingly separated from them, there is one thing we can still do – we can pray for them.
Paul also prays that God would open a way for him to travel to Thessalonica. Barclay points out that Paul was in the habit of praying about everything including the ordinary, everyday things, even simple journeys. Barclay comments:
One of the great and grave mistakes of life is to turn to God only in the great moments and overpowering emergencies and the shattering crises … In ordinary things we disregard Him, thinking we can manage well enough by ourselves; in the emergency we clutch at Him, knowing that we cannot get through without Him.
Barclay concludes, that by only coming to God when there is trouble we are living a ‘God-rescued life’, when real living is a ‘God-directed life’.
Paul also prays that the Thessalonians will be enabled to fulfil the law of love in their daily lives. We often find living the Christian life difficult, especially in the mundane, ordinary relationships, and this is because we are trying to live in our own strength alone. Barclay puts it this way:
The man who goes out in the morning without prayer is, in effect saying, “I can quite well tackle today by myself.” The man who lays himself to rest without speaking to God, is in effect saying, “I can bear whatever consequences today has brought myself.”
The author of that excellent book The 39 Steps, John Buchan, described an atheist as one who “… has no invisible means of support …”
To try to live without God is impossible!
Paul also prays for ultimate safety. Now he is thinking of the end of time, the Second Coming and Judgement. Here Paul prays that God would preserve His people that they may be blameless and that on that day they would not be ashamed.
Shame is a much lost concept in the western world. We now have TV programmes that deliberately humiliate people; celebrity is worshipped for its baring all and its shameful sexual and other antics; there is a whole industry – and sadly a lucrative and popular one at that – that thrives on the loss of human dignity.
For me there is a useful yardstick: Is what I am doing or saying going to enhance my dignity or might I feel ashamed?
Barclay suggests that the only way to prepare to meet God is to live daily with God and ends with:
The shock of that day will not be for those who have so lived that they have become friends with God, but for those who meet God as a terrible stranger.
What wonderful thoughts from St Paul and William Barclay as we enter the season of Advent.