I've been reading the book of I Thessalonians the past few weeks. Actually I Thessalonians is a letter Paul wrote. That distinction brings up a question for me: how is a book different from a letter?
The first thing that comes to mind is that a letter is usually much more personal than a book. You can see that in the very first verse, when Paul identifies his companions as well as the people to whom he is writing. Paul is with Silvanus and Timothy, and he is writing to the church of the Thessalonians. The church at Thessalonica, according to William Barclay, sat at a crossroads between east and west. In his Daily Bible Study series, Barclay writes, “Its main street was part of the very road which linked Rome with the East. East and West converged on Thessalonica; it was said to be 'in the lap of the Roman Empire.'”
Barclay goes on to observe that “It is impossible to overstress the importance of the arrival of Christianity in Thessalonica. If Christianity was settled there, it was bound to spread East along the Egnatian Road until all Asia was conquered and West until it stormed even the city of Rome.”
The strategic importance of the church of Thessalonica was surely not lost on Paul, but he doesn't lecture the Thessalonians about it, with a list of all he expects from them. Instead he describes his feelings for the members of the congregation.
“We give thanks to God always for you all,” Paul writes, “constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul seems much more interested in relationship than he does in utility.
His attitude is a good reminder that relationship is the starting point for God's work in our lives, beginning with our relationship with Jesus Christ. Our relationships with one another matter, too. Paul is taking care of relationships here, reminding the Thessalonians that he is grateful to God for their friendship and faith.
What a great way to begin!