1 Thess 1:1-10
by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator, Anglican Church of Southern Africa
1 Thessalonians 1 :1-10 Changing our life-style
Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians was probably the first letter that Paul wrote to a church. He shows great affection for the young converts, and is delighted that they are standing firm in the faith Since he can’t visit at this time, he writes to them to strengthen their faith in Jesus.
Thessalonica was a bustling port city, the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia in northern Greece.. it was a trading hub, on the vast via Egnatia – a Roman road stretching 700 miles!. It was a free city with an independent government. Like many busy trading cities with many cultures, there were many religious activities, it was a centre for the Roman imperial cult, there were many temples to different deities. Think Johannesburg or New York, a busy multi-cultural city.
The church was founded by Paul, Silas and Timothy, and the majority of the new converts were gentiles. They would have been socialised in a pagan cultural environment, and Paul writes to encourage them in this radical change of life-style – leaving idols to ‘to serve the living and true God’ (1:10)
We know that they were being called to a radical change of life, because when Paul preached in Thessalonica in Acts 17 he was attacked as subversive –
‘They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.’
Why did the people of Thessalonica feel threatened by his teaching? He had made them realise that the Lordship of Jesus encompassed every part of life. The good news that he was preaching was very bad news for the religious, political and economic status quo.
The new young Christians were being called not just to follow Jesus but to change their lifestyles and to bear public witness to a different way of living. They were not withdrawing from the world, they were participating in a radically new way, inspiring others. They were being called to join the Jesus movement.
Today we too live in a pagan society – a society which has turned to other gods – gods of consumerism, gods of selfishness, gods of toxic individuality . Your status is now defined by what you own, not by who you are. We are being encouraged to consume more, spend more, covet our neighbour for more and more. Even the meaning of a ‘blessing’ is now material goods.
The pandemics of poverty and inequality, Climate change and biodiversity loss have at the root cause toxic individualism and greed.
We are called to a radically different life-style where we recognise the interconnectedness of people and all of creation. In the Lord’s prayer we say “Give us today our daily bread” this is not an individualistic prayer for me and my family , this is a communal prayer – for the hungry in my city , for those who climate change will push into further hunger – give us our bread. This calls us to action to care for the vulnerable – both people and the earth.
As in the early church, our church communities should be circles of care, reaching out into the community, rather than institutions dragging people in.
Changing to a life-style that rejects consumerism and selfish values has missional implications – many people are suffering from environmental grieving, the loss of a future, the loss of hope. After six months out of church, many people are saying – I didn’t really miss it, why should I go back? If they can see in the church a new way of living, which shows care and compassion for others in need, and a commitment to environmental justice, that is a Jesus movement they will want to join.
by Dr Rachel Mash, South Africa