Connections 10.29.2017: Sharing Ourselves

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

Shon Hopwood is from a small town in Nebraska. He is also a convicted felon who served eleven years in a federal penitentiary for bank robbery. He was arrested in July 1998 after participating in five robberies over the previous ten months. After being convicted, he went to prison in May 1999.

He was put to work in the prison’s law library. After a few months he began researching his case in the hopes of finding a way to have his sentence reduced. Eventually a fellow inmate asked Shon to help him appeal his conviction to the Supreme Court. It took some convincing, but he decided to try. The court accepted only seventy-four of eight thousand petitions it received that year. The one Shone prepared was one of them. The Court ultimately overturned his friend’s conviction. Shon, working from prison, was part of the legal team, even though he didn’t have a college diploma, much less a law degree. During his next six years as a federal inmate, he won several more cases.

Shon was released to a halfway house in Omaha, Nebraska in 2008. He didn’t know how to use a computer. He went to work as a document analyst for a printing firm that helps lawyer put together briefs for the Supreme Court. During his three years there, he finished his undergraduate degree. With the support of lawyers he had worked with, he gained admission to the University of Washington Law School and received a full scholarship from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Upon graduation, he passed the bar and began a clerkship at the United States Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia. A year later he received a teaching fellowship at Georgetown University School of Law. Georgetown then hired him as a Professor of Law.

He now advocates for criminal justice reform, for shorter sentences for most offences, and for greater mental health, vocational, and drug treatment services for prisoners.

He says, “Prison is not the place for personal growth. We warehouse people and then we kick them out into the real world with very little support and hope that a miracle happens.”

I share Shon Hopwood’s story so I can tell you what he said when someone observed that he has overcome those negative factors and become successful: “It was people that helped, that went out of their way to provide grace to me, that made the difference.”

Paul said to the Thessalonians, “So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us” (1 Thess 2:8).

To share yourself is to share grace. To share grace is to share yourself.

(The October 15, 2017 edition of 60 Minutes <https://www.cbsnews.com/news/from-bank-robber-to-law-professor-a-story-of-redemption/> tells Shon’s story. The segment begins at the 29:21 mark.)

Discussion

1. Why does Paul say that declaring the gospel requires courage? Does it require courage of us? Why or why not?
2. How do we “please God who tests our hearts” (v. 4) with our sharing of the gospel? What ways of sharing it displease God?
3. What does Paul teach us about the proper use of authority and privilege?
4. How can we share ourselves with others?
5. Can we share the gospel with people without sharing ourselves with them? Why or why not?

Reference Shelf

The first claim made about the apostolic ministry is that “we had the courage … in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition” (2:2). Though the apostles had received harsh treatment in Philippi before coming to Thessalonica, they were not intimidated, but, as the verb … suggests, spoke openly and freely. The source of this bold speech is God, who entrusts the apostles with the message of the gospel (2:4). According to the moral philosophers, the appropriate context for such frankness of speech is friendship, and precisely friendship and intimacy are what Paul develops in the ensuing verses with his use of the images of “infants,” “nurses,” and “fathers”… To put it in contemporary terms, Paul’s pastoral relationship with the Thessalonians is the context for his bold and free preaching of the gospel.

“The great opposition” mentioned in 2:2 is vague. It is possible to read the reference in the light of Paul’s visit to Thessalonica described in Acts 17:1-9. The opposition specified there is a group of jealous Jews, who with a band of ruffians managed to have Jason, the host of Paul and Silas, and some other believers detained by city officials. The Greek word translated in the NRSV as “opposition,” however, is ago-n, an image from athletics denoting a race, a contest, a struggle. Its use points to the intense competition for the ears of the Thessalonians. As a speaker, Paul was debating and contesting for the gospel amid competing voices, and he acknowledges that in Thessalonica it was a fierce struggle.

Charles B. Cousar, Reading Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001) 203-04.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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