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Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin
October 18, 2002 Issue

Paul gives thanks for faith commitment

The Thessalonians imitated Paul and thus imitated the Lord

October 20, 2002 -- 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Fr. Richard Ver Bust

Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Fr. Richard Ver Bust

In school we learned how to write letters using particular forms for a friendly letter as opposed to a business letter. Paul knew the forms of letter writing in his time. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians is one of, if not the, oldest New Testament writings. It gives us clues to what the early Christians were thinking and what Paul was trying to teach them. It uses credal statements which are good evidence of what the church believed at this time. It especially stresses the importance of Christ's death and resurrection.

Paul wrote the letter to a community of Christians in about 51 A.D. He had traveled to Thessalonica after escaping from Philippi. In Thessalonica, unlike Philippi, which seems not to have a synagogue, Paul went first to the synagogue, as the Acts of the Apostles says, according to his usual habit. It seems that in Philippi he aroused some enmity and had to leave. But because of his love and knowledge of the church community, it is thought that he had stayed longer than the two or three weeks that the Acts seems to suggest. After going to Beroea, where he once again faced opposition because of Jewish opponents who followed him there, Paul went on to Athens. Silvanus and Timothy joined him there and when Paul sought news of the Thessalonian church, he sent Timothy to seek it.

His letter begins, as the form in those days dictated, with the names of those sending the letter. Paul writes, "From Paul, Silas, and Timothy." While it might be the thoughts of all three, in actuality, Paul composed the letter. He then addressed the recipients of the letter, as was customary in that time, "the people of the Church in Thessalonica, who belong to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." He greeted them with what might be a typical salutation, "May grace and peace be yours," which some think was a liturgical formula. Since there is no mention of a single person to whom the letter is addressed, we might imagine the community gathered together for prayer to hear the message.

While the typical letter of the time might then wish the recipients good luck, Paul frequently begins his letters with a thanksgiving. Paul, having received news about the newly founded church from Timothy, wrote to the church to encourage them. He gave thanks for the news about their faith. He told them that they are always in his prayers and those of his companions. He remembered that they have put their faith into practice. They have worked hard at being faithful to their commitment.

Paul reminded them that they have received this grace of faith because God loves them and has chosen them to be his people. They received the faith because of the power of the Holy Spirit. He then suggests that his own life was an example to them. They received him and imitated him and, in thus doing so, imitated the Lord. They did so in spite of opposition and suffering. Their faith is an example to other churches.

Other churches have heard how they have turned from the idols they once worshiped, to the true God. Paul, himself, now witnesses to how they serve God and live in hope for the return of his Son. Their faithfulness is testimony to what God has done and how the Spirit has transformed them.

(Fr. Ver Bust holds the title of professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)

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