1 THESSALONIANS 5: 23 – 28
We now come to the close of this first letter. There is a benediction, a plea and then finally an instruction followed by the grace. Just as the letter began with peace and grace, so it ends with peace and grace These two virtues sandwich the content of the letter providing the context for all that all that Paul had written. Above all be at peace, above all know the grace of Jesus Christ and exhibit that grace exhibit that peace. How much more effective would our churches be if grace and peace bracketed all that we did?
So let’s hear the scripture now: –
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
When I was in Pakistan, one of the concepts that I became very familiar with was the idea of the extended family. It was exemplified at Christmas. The matriarch and patriarch of the family that gave us our meals lived with the older son and family. But at Christmas the other sons came home, one from the UK and the other from Saudi Arabia. They were laden with gifts. I could not believe the extravagance of gifts that were being given. In talking to the older son however I realised what was happening. The older son stayed at home, had a fairly good job as a head teacher but his main task was to look after mum and dad. The other brothers tasks were to provide for everyone. Their better paying jobs in the UK and Saudi Arabia afforded them a much more luxurious lifestyle, or at least it would have done. However, most of what they earned was put into the family pot. The lifestyle of the older son, his family and the parents was much enhanced by the contributions of the other children. There was a family continuity and solidarity that you do not see in western families any more. There was self-sacrifice to pursue a common goal, the family property was managed on behalf of all the family. It was not just going to go to the older son on the father’s death. It would remain in the family as a whole and the others would contribute to its upkeep. There was a family solidarity that was quite an eye opener for two young lads from the individualistic west.
It was a way of looking at family that could have been very insular. But it was not. For the extended family, the cousins etc were just as much part of this and their welfare was of importance too. It also was not a closed shop. Within a very short period of time we were being referred to as brothers by the older son. Within a couple of months we were welcomed as just as much a part of this extended family as mutual trust developed. Being considered a brother was a huge honour and showed just how welcoming the family were.
This idea of brotherhood and extended family were very much part of society in Thessalonica in the first century. It made conversion to Christianity a major step. After all, such was the antagonism between the church and society that by becoming a Christian you cut yourself off from your extended family. That is why Paul stresses again and again brothers and sisters. Paul is encouraging the church in Thessalonica to become the replacement extended family for all who become part of the fellowship. The trust, support and solidarity that they once enjoyed in the family unit was now replaced by the trust, support and loyalty of their brothers and sisters in the faith. It is worth reflecting on how this idea of brothers and sisters in the faith, the extended family and the welcome to extend the family further might influence how we emerge from lockdown and this whole crisis. We have done a good job of supporting one another through this time, we now have to continue to demonstrate this mutual care as we go forward, remembering that we will not all come out of lockdown together, it is likely that some with stay in isolation longer and even once we are given the all-clear, should that happen, there will still be issues around employment, financial stability and mental health that will continue to affect our community for months, if not years, to come. With families being increasingly separated and scattered around the globe this is not just a pandemic problem either. We nee, as a church to be the extended family for each other as we live in such a globalised society. How well we are the extended family that Paul hopes for us will determine much of our future.
We are called to sanctify ourselves. The other way to phrase that which is more used today is that we are to continue to grow into the likeness of Christ, maturing in our faith so that in our thoughts and by our actions we display Christ’s character more and more through ourselves. This maturation is a deliberate process we are encouraged to undergo through prayer and bible study, constantly seeking to put into practice in our lives what we learn and how we develop.
We finally get to the verse which stimulated this whole study in the first place. Verse 25. Brethren pray for us or as the NIV translates it, more in keeping with today, brothers and sister pray for us. I started this study by saying how we are only going to get through this lockdown period supported by each other in prayer. We are only going to get through the period of easement and the months that follow by continuing in prayer. Prayer is the basis for all we do, the foundation of our life as a church, as a community, as a fellowship so I covet your prayers and I want you to know that I pray for you. I pray through the membership list, I pray for the church as a whole, I pray for all those that are now part of our fellowship, albeit through the power of technology. Brothers and sisters pray for us, pray for us as se seek to move forward out of lockdown, pray for us as we seek to be the church God has called us to be, pray for us as we seek to encourage our whole community to be brothers and sister in Christ.
And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, evermore. Amen.