The questions in this small group guide relate to the sermon from May 2, 2021. If your group has not had a chance to listen to the full sermon related to this discussion guide, they can find it in our sermon library. Rev. Adam Hamilton preached this week’s sermon.
Lord God, you called the apostle Paul to Macedonia, to the city of Thessalonica, through a dream. Because he responded, your message was planted on a main Roman road from which it could spread more readily throughout that great empire. We don’t know the names of most of those early Christians, but we are here in part because of their faithfulness. As we study Paul’s letter to them, grow that same faithfulness to your kingdom in our hearts. Amen.
- Pastor Adam told the story, from Acts 17, of Paul’s arrival in Thessalonica, an important Aegean Sea port on a main Roman road. He preached Jesus for three or four weeks there, and won several converts. But people who didn’t like the message of Jesus stirred up unrest, threatening Paul and the new converts, so that the believers moved Paul out of town at night. Concerned about the well-being of his newly Christian friends who lived there, Paul sent Timothy to see how they were faring. Read 1 Thessalonians 1:3-4, 8 to hear what he learned. As Pastor Adam put it, “These newly-minted Christians, despite opposition, criticism and harassment, were remaining faithful to Christ–they refused to give up.” Even in a relatively short stay, Paul had taught them that Jesus, crucified and risen, embodied all of God’s saving action. In what ways has Jesus' power brought “reversal” and hope into your life?
- Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5. We often use the word “church” for a building or a religious organization. But the apostle Paul called his converts in Thessalonica “the church” when they had no buildings, and certainly no legal organizations. For Paul, “church” was people. Pastor Hamilton says at times, “If the building burns down, and the preacher leaves town, what you have left is the church.” A church in Pennsylvania gave their members T-shirts. On the front, they said, “I don’t go to church.” The back said, “I AM the church.” What helps you understand that you may “go to” the theater or a ball game, but “church” is who you are, not somewhere you go? What shift in thinking or acting can make that understanding of church a reality for you?
- Read 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8. In the Roman Empire, it was not harmless or casual to call Jesus “Lord” (verses 6, 8). To let “the message about the Lord” ring out meant denying the Empire’s religious as well as political claim that Caesar was “Lord.” People who chose to live as committed followers of Jesus as the Christ, the anointed Lord, risked their social standing, and sometimes their very life. The believers in Thessalonica accepted the good news about Jesus “with joy in spite of great suffering.” After a year of pandemic fears and limits, whether our specific challenges were physical, mental, economic or relational, we all have a clearer sense of what suffering feels like. Did you learn any habits or practices to access the spiritual strength God offers you so that you can have inner joy and resilience, and not let any challenges you face crush you?
- Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-4. Paul spoke of the courage it took to preach in Thessalonica after the mistreatment he’d face in Philippi (cf. Acts 16:12-40). Paul didn’t yet have a copy of the gospel of Matthew, but he got to live out Jesus’ principle about meeting insults and harassment with joy and trust. Later, Paul wrote, “If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people” (Romans 12:18). Yet like prophets before him and many godly leaders since, like his Lord Jesus himself, people often hated and harassed Paul. In our seemingly more tolerant age, what can “persecution” look like? How did Jesus call us to respond when (not really “if”) that happens?
- Read 1 Thessalonians 2:6-12. In 1 Thessalonians 2:7 yesterday, Paul said “we could have thrown our weight around as Christ’s apostles.” In contrast, he chose gentle family images: a “nursing mother” (verse 7) and a loving father with children (verse 9). The apostle some people think hated women compared his work in Thessalonica to a gentle nursing mother. The missionary grateful that he had no family to consume his energy (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:6-9) compared himself to a loving dad. Scholar N. T. Wright wrote, “The question for all Christian ministers [and all Christians] is: if we were to describe ourselves like this, would anyone recognize who we were talking about?” *
- Pastor Adam said, “If you look across Scripture, and across history, you’ll find that all the people who made a difference had their share of critics. The lesson to learn from them, and from Paul and from the Thessalonians, at least this week, is DON’T GIVE UP.
But there’s also a lesson to us in this about criticizing – for us to be careful that we’re not the ones who, in our jealousy, in our low self-esteem, in our narrow-mindedness or absolute certainty that we are right, lash out to impugn others, to give them harsh and de-constructive criticism. It is so easy to become the constant critic of others….
Don’t give up. And don’t give in to the temptation to living your life as a critic of others.” How can you as a group support and encourage one another in living out this message, especially when you see some issues differently from one another or from others in the church?
Lord Jesus, how many times might you have felt discouraged, and wondered if this world filled with uncaring or unresponsive people was actually worth the price you’d have to pay for our salvation? Thank you for never giving up. And thank you for promising to walk with us to give us the strength to live our lives as your faithful servants. Amen.
* Wright, N.T. Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (The New Testament for Everyone) . Westminster John Knox Press, p. 97. Kindle Edition.