Day 333 “Loving Solitude” 1 Thessalonians 1 – 3
November 30, 2021, 8:11 AM

Day 333 “Loving Solitude” 1 Thessalonians 1 – 3

A part of me really wishes that I could have been alive at the time of Paul, or maybe I wish that Paul were alive today because I want to hear what he has to say with my own ears. These letters are an important record of Paul’s words, travels and convictions, but I wonder what he would say today, how strong his words would sound. Would I reject them, calling him a Christian zealot who was unrealistic? Would I think of him as judgmental? Would I see the Spirit at work in him? My heart is hungry for a true Christian experience of a preacher/teacher who doesn’t care if I like him or like his message, someone who clings to the word of God far more closely than he (or she!) clings to the approval of the world.

Well where did that come from? Today’s passages are uniquely positive amongst Paul’s letters. This first letter to the Thessalonians is an easy read because Paul is pleased with the church at Thessalonica. As one of the first churches established in Paul’s missionary journeys, they have held onto the teaching and the faith that Paul shared with them. I certainly loved this change in temperament from the fire-breathing Paul, who wrote to the Galatians, to this thankful and encouraging Paul, who sees the way that the Thessalonians have both accepted and adopted the Christian faith in word and deed. But here’s the passage that captured me today: “We have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel…not to please mortals, but to please God, who tests our hearts,” (1:4).  First of all, Paul’s message is, to a certain extent, uncorrupted by his desire to be praised and admired. He endures. God’s message cannot be beaten out of him, tortured out of him, taken away from him. Paul is completely dedicated to making sure that the communities he visits hear the Good News of Jesus, regardless of how he is received by those communities. Paul has a strong identity as an ambassador of God, but he doesn’t have a strong ego that needs to be fed by the praise of others.

The passage continues in this way: “As you know, and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed, nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or others,” (1:5-6). Paul did not come with words of flattery…here’s the hard part for me. I am guilty of trying so hard to get people to listen to the word of God that I, like many preacher/teachers, may even resort to soft-selling the Good News, to making it palatable, easier to hear, more attractive to absorb. As I write this, I think about the way the Bible is packaged these days to appeal to small groups of people. Here are real, special interest Bibles, that are available today:

  • The Action Bible for young men, written much like a graphic novel (graphic simply means illustrated)
  • The Candace Cameron Bure One Step Closer Bible (she’s a celebrity known for her faith)
  • The Art in Life Bible, with hand-drawn pictures of wildlife and vegetation mentioned in the Bible.
  • There are leadership Bibles, Holy Spirit Bibles, pink Bibles, rainbow Bibles, Bibles for children, teenagers, journaling Bibles…..the list is endless.

Really. There’s a Bible for every interest. But if we are not reading it, it has no power in our lives. Each of these Bibles has a little bit of ‘flattery’ in it by making it feel special for just me or just you, or it’s pretty or masculine or cartoony or whatever. I’m not opposed to that, but it seems like we spend so much time giving people choices about the cover of the Bible that we never get to the substance of the Bible. The Bible is only useful if we open it.

I worry that my words about Jesus are like those special interest Bibles, that I cater to people in order to get them to think that the Bible is ‘cool’ (it is, but not because I say so!), that it’s easy to understand (it’s just not), that it’s accepting of everyone (well, yes and no. God loves everyone, but not everything is acceptable). I worry that I make God’s words seem too much like warm honey instead of being acidic like a good dose of apple cider vinegar in the morning. What? You’ve never done shots of vinegar in the morning?

I’m not worried for me. I’m worried for the people who come in contact with me who may think that a life of faith is a walk in the park that we can take some days, and forget about on other days when the weather stinks or the wind has come up hard against us, or the cold, icy snow aims horizontally at our faces. Paul didn’t flatter people. Paul didn’t ask people to pay him, thus his message was uncorrupted by the need to make a living from his missionary work. Paul did not seem to care whether or not people liked him, and that’s the crux right there.

We live in a culture where we want to be liked, we need to be liked. And that desire can change the message we share, whether it is with our children or our friends, or in my case, with the church congregation where I serve.

I want to sit and listen to Paul in real life. I want to see his beaten-up body that keeps on going. I want to hear the amazing story of his conversion from his own lips. I want to hear, firsthand, the inspiration of words that still carry me through the day today. I want to hear the unvarnished truth more clearly, without fog machines and emojis and flattery. I want to hear and remember that faith opens us up to criticism and challenge every single day of our lives, if we’re doing it right, that we may lose friends and jobs and even our own lives by being authentic followers of Jesus.

I’m pretty sure I would just annoy the heck out of Paul, that I would argue with him, try to get him to sound happier and more joyful, and Paul would push back against me because Paul knew, and carried with him, the importance and gravity of the Good News. This is the News that Paul lived for. This is the News that Paul died for.

So reading Paul is like taking my very own shot of apple cider vinegar for the soul every morning. He wakes me up, sets my teeth on edge, and hopefully, purifies some things in me as well.

Be blessed and be a blessing to others,




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