First Thessalonians is considered the Apostle Paul’s earliest extant writing. Scholars debate as to whether he viewed the return of Jesus to be imminent in his life time, thus this text pulses with an urgency that seems to ebb in later writings. Believers have been given enough light, “belonging to the day,” (5:8) so that the unscheduled coming, the day of the Lord, should not be cause for alarm. Rather, this is the action he advises: “. . .put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (v. 8). Further, he exhorts: “. . .encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing” (v. 11).
While it is hard to reconstruct exactly what is going on in the church of Thessalonica, it appears that suffering is a daily staple of Christians in the first century C.E. The oppressive influence of the Roman Empire threatened Christian witness with its forthright challenge to the imperial religions. To claim Jesus as Lord rather than Augustus was audacious—and dangerous. It has proven so personally for Paul; he was basically run out of town. The church there got off to a shaky start, and his pastoral concern for them is palpable in the letters sent back to those Gentile Christians.
When there is great uncertainty, accompanied by fear, there are faithful steps a believer can undertake. He or she can “put on” the gifts provided by God. At Christmas, my very frugal grandmother always bought the three of us pajamas—VERY large pajamas that could last a couple of seasons. Even though we knew that they would not yet fit, she urged us to try them on, anyway. Often we had to turn up the cuffs of the tops and bottoms at first, but usually we more than filled them out before the next pajamas were purchased. It was an expression of faith to believe that physical growth would come.
As I write this morning, my closest friend is awaiting surgery, and the potential for ovarian cancer looms. A nurse practitioner in gynecological oncology, she knows well the challenge of this disease. As I intercede for her, I am arming myself and her with the spiritual protection of faith—to believe that God is always with us as life happens; love—to trust that those who love her will surround her with healing strength; and, hope—to receive the assurance that through our Lord Jesus Christ, all will be well. We learn to put on what God has provided so that we might live as children of light.
Molly T. Marshall
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