Wednesday 7th October 2020 1 Thessalonians – Faith and Patience
1 Thessalonians 2: 13-16
We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God’s wrath has overtaken them at last.
The book of 1 Thessalonians, likely being Paul’s first letter, is a book of its time. As we read it we enter the ‘harsh first-century Mediterranean world of violent stereotypification and vilification of out-groups’ (The Oxford Bible Commentary, p.1205, OUP). In it we can hear words that sound, to us, unethical and harmful, such as denigrating the Judeans of killing Jesus (even though he was crucified by the Romans!). Many of us hoped and believed that overt prejudice and public condemnation had begun to disappear from our world. Yet we have seen a growing number of hurtful, harmful, judgemental and divisive words being shared on social media and in public forums in recent years. Some of these words have even come from those in positions of power and responsibility. When we read this text, we can see why some have used words from the Bible to hurt and harm; using the phrase ‘God’s Word’ has been used as a reason to condemn, criticise or shame others. Yet we believe in a God of love, so if our words destroy and hurt then we surely need to ask if they are of God or of us! When I share a Bible reading in public, I end with the words: ‘in this is the Word of the Lord’ as there are some texts, such as this, that are problematic. I believe God wants us to consider carefully and critically what we hear or read in Scripture and sometimes we need to look closely before we can find God’s authentic word to us. God is love and, as followers of Jesus, we are called to ensure we reflect that love by our words, actions and attitudes (in public and private) and cannot use the excuse of ‘God’s word’ to harm or damage others.
Loving God, We inhabit a world that is the result of all that has gone before: a world of good and bad, kind and hurtful. As we seek to live authentic God-focused lives, we pray that we may choose our words carefully, using those that build up and encourage. We pray for strength as we share your love, in many and varied ways, with the hurting world in which we live. Amen.
The Rev’d Jenny Mills. URC Secretary for Education and Learning.