Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.
For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.
Jesus said: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
"Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.' You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? And you say, 'Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.' How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it."
In A Matter of Life and Death, John Taylor writes that God is not primarily concerned as to whether we are religious or not. What is fundamentally important to God is whether or not we are alive. If our religion makes us more fully alive, more courageous, more caring - more involved in life - then God is in it, But if religion inhibits our capacity for life or makes us run away from life then surely God is against it just as Jesus was. The question of Deuteronomy and of the missionary is simple: Are you alive or dead? Is our community alive or dead? What is the evidence? Much of life is not written in our genes or our environment. Do we choose life? Why are so many people only half alive? Why are little children more vividly alive than their parents? Taylor insists that the most violent epidemic gripping our society in a vice is accede, a sleeping sickness, a kind of pervasive apathy the "I can't be bothered" "It is nothing to do with me" "Here l am, send someone else" syndrome. Today's text from Paul shows that his Thessalonians formed a church that was fully alive!
Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians is the oldest Christian document we possess. We know that it was written by Paul about the year 50, twenty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and twenty years before the writing of Mark's gospel, which is the first gospel to be written. The first note that is struck in this letter, the earliest Christian document, is one of thanksgiving. Paul thanks God for the church in Thessalonica, 'we thank God for you all', mentioning in particular their faith, love and hope.
It is appropriate that the first theme in the earliest Christian document we possess is one of thanksgiving, because it is a fundamental attitude of believers in the Lord. Towards the very end of this letter, Paul tells the church in Thessalonica, 'Give thanks in all circumstances' - not 'for' but 'in' all circumstances. No matter what our circumstances in life, we have always something to give thanks for because of the ways that God has blessed us in Christ. Paul thanked God for the church in Thessalonica, which was God's work. We all have reasons to be thankful to God; Paul calls upon us to express our thanks to God at all times, naming what it is, who it is, we are thankful to God for.