29 November 2014

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

“Indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more.” (v. 10)

Psalm: Psalm 72


Again Paul swings between encouragement and exhortation... he sees the good things the Thessalonians are doing, their generous and far-reaching love, but he still finds room for improvement, "do so more and more". He has returned to his theme of love, here using two different Greek words; 'philadelphia', in the early part of verse 1 might express that human love which naturally arises amongst members of a family. This, however, is surpassed by 'agape', the self-giving, sacrificial love, which can only be taught by God and which they are also learning to receive and to share throughout Macedonia. This kind of loving characterises the alternative to behaving like unrelated males of a species, always in competition, which he may be criticising in 1 Thessalonians 4:6a. As residents in the region's capital city, their example of love for all is important and far-reaching; "By this the world shall know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another".(link to hymn)

There are suggestions that these early Thessalonian Christians may have been largely craftsmen and labourers of a relatively low social status, for there is no mention, as in other epistles, of a patron, or a wealthier member who provides the meeting place. Their conversion to Christianity has set them apart from their communities in a variety of ways, as Paul has already stressed. For the first-century Greek, kinship, politics, economics and religions were inextricably entwined; if, following conversion, these Christians were now abstaining from some aspects of society they were likely to be accused of antisocial behaviour, threatening the economy of the temples, the meat trade etc. So here Paul seems to be urging them not to draw excessive attention to themselves, but rather to keep a low profile, to "live quietly" (v. 11) and thereby avoid attracting antipathy from 'out groups'. With yet another use of the same Greek word we met on Wednesday and Friday, 'peripatein', translated in verse 12 as "behave", Paul is recommending a culture akin to that of a respectable family, which is how he increasingly sees this early congregation.

To Ponder

  • Does Paul's repeated phrase "do so more and more" challenge you to 'raise your game'? To what extent are you sometimes too easily contented with a way of life which is not as transformed as it might be?
  • Does "living quietly" appeal to you? Or do you feel the Church should be making more noise, agitating more for justice, challenging oppression?
  • The 'Reign of Christ' is seen in these verses and in Psalm 72 as a reign of generous love. How can our lives and the life of our churches express that love more and more? 

Bible notes author

Jill Baker

Jill Baker lives in Glasgow and is glad to be part of the small but distinctive Methodist Church in Scotland. She is a local preacher and local preachers' tutor in the Strathclyde Circuit, where Andrew is superintendent minister.