Connections 10.22.2017: Steadfastness of Hope

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Hope.

To me, it’s one of the most beautiful words in the English language. Its French, Spanish, and Italian forms are beautiful too: esperer, esperanza, speranza. Hope means much more to me than wishful thinking or unmet desires. It is a lifeline keeping me afloat in a world that is often disappointing and frightening. It is a force pulling me forward when I’d rather stay in place. It is indeed the partner of faith and love, encouraging persistence, determination, and steadfastness.

I work part-time for the nonprofit Jay’s HOPE Foundation. We use all caps for the word that guides our mission, which we summarize with a paraphrase of Romans 4:18: “Against all HOPE, in HOPE we believe….” If you want to confront what seems hopeless in this world, get to know a child who is battling cancer. Who could have hope in a situation like that? And yet, against all hope, hope persists. It is “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb 6:19).

Paul affirms the Thessalonians for their “steadfastness of hope” (1 Thess 1:3) and goes on to praise God for the example they are to others. “You are what it means to be a community under the Lord Jesus Christ,” he tells them.

I, like most of us, have been through a period of deep personal despair. There were moments that seemed hopeless. My tears, loneliness, uncertainty, and heartbreak were often overwhelming. And even so, beneath those layers of sadness, HOPE remained. It kept me going. It provided a light in a dark time. It was dogged and determined even when I felt too tired to continue. On the other side of that experience, HOPE ultimately won.

As Paul shows in his letter to the Thessalonians, the quality of hope is worth praising and worth emulating. In the words of Emily Dickinson, it really is “the thing with feathers—That perches in the soul.” We can picture HOPE, its wings fluttering within us, always waiting and always ready to take flight at any moment, carrying our best dreams out into the world and making them real.

Discussion

1. To you, what are some of Scripture’s most beautiful words? Why do these words hold such promise for your life?
2. What does “hope” mean to you? How has this quality affected your life?
3. Why do you think Paul mentioned the Thessalonians’ “steadfastness of hope”? When you think of the word “steadfast,” what do you picture?
4. As a follower of Christ, why might it be helpful to be steadfast with hope?
5. How can you live a more hopeful life? How can you share the hope of Christ with others?

Reference Shelf

Words of Thanksgiving for Their Faith and Eschatological Community, 1:9-10

The praise for this community flows from Paul’s pen. They are affirmed in every way. Because of them the word of the Lord has been proclaimed to the wider community—first in the Roman provinces of Macedonia and Achaia, then in every place (1:8). The reason for their fame is twofold. One, the community’s reputation has been increased because of the manner in which they received Paul. Two, word has gone out regarding how the community of faith was willing “to turn from idols and serve the living and genuine God and wait for God’s son from heaven . . .” (1:9-10). C. Wanamaker notes, “the way in which the Thessalonians had received and responded to the Pauline mission under very trying circumstances had probably become a piece of missionary propaganda used to demonstrate the truth of the Christian message to others.”

Some scholars suggest that Paul’s affirmation of the community in vv. 9-10 may have had a literary history before Paul. Paul’s affirmation may reflect early Christian preaching to the Gentiles. These words may have been used in homilies of the early believing community before Paul began his ministry. The outline, in four points, frames early Christian teaching: (1) turn to God; (2) wait for God’s son; (3) whom God raised from the dead; (4) Jesus the deliverer. The homiletical, or didactic, quality of this passage cannot be overlooked. With an adept use of embedded clauses, Paul (and perhaps preachers prior to Paul), clearly presents the message of the gospel to unbelievers.

Paul’s words are powerful. His skill at affirmation creates solidarity between people. Paul’s lavish praise creates a close bond of relationship for him and the believers in Thessaloniki. Koester astutely observes an additional dimension to Paul’s creative words in this passage. When Paul writes about how they have turned from idols to serve a living God and to wait for Jesus, who will deliver God’s people from the wrath to come, an even stronger bond is created between writer and readers. Koester states that in these verses “the characterization of the church moves this church out of the realm of personal relationship with the apostle into a universal horizon of participation in an eschatological event.” This relationship is in many ways truly independent of the writer when seen in the context of this larger, universal, eschatological event. The members of the community are not only connected to Paul, they are also connected to a faith that extends beyond time and place. While they serve and wait for this universal deliverance, they are close to one another and to their leader. The readers belong to a grand plan of salvation and deliverance. They are connected to Paul, to one another, to the past and to the future. Paul has the gift of using words to create worlds that did not exist before the words, worlds of connection between people, of solidarity between individuals in a time of personal and community crisis. Words, especially beginning words, are powerful.

Linda McKinnish Bridges, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008) 295-300.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a local charity serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (12) and Natalie (10) and her husband John. For fun, she tries to stay caught up on the latest amazing TV series (including Doctor Who, Sherlock, Gilmore Girls, and The Crown).

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