Verses: Acts 16-17; 1 Corinthians 2-4
Leading Question: When opposition arises, how do we decide between fight and flight?
After an astonishingly brief stay in Thessalonica of only three weeks, enough trouble had erupted that Paul found it expedient to leave town. The interplay between church and community raises several crucial questions that still face the church today.
1. How much opposition before leaving town? In his first letter, Paul admonishes the Thessalonian believers to “lead a quiet life.” “Mind your own business and work with your hands” so that you may “win the respect of outsiders” (1 Thess. 4:11-12). Did Paul practice what he preached? If one cannot live at peace with the community, should one leave town? And how does one know when that point has been reached?
2. Comparing churches. After persecution had driven Paul away from Thessalonica, he went to Berea. Acts 17:11 bluntly states that the Bereans were “more noble” than the believers in Thessalonica because they studied to see whether Paul’s message was true. Can we be more specific about the failings of the church at Thessalonica? How advisable it is, generally, to compare one church with another, as the author of Acts does?
3. Sending a substitute. When Paul couldn’t stand it any longer, he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica from Athens (1 Thess. 3:2) and Timothy brought back a good report. A parallel in today’s church might be difficult to find. But, in general, if someone has stirred up a hornet’s nest, for that same person to send an emissary might seem to be risky business. Why did it work with Timothy? Can it still work today?
4. Changing methods. Acts 17:16-34 tells of Paul’s presentation of the truth garbed in more philosophical raiment. Many conservative Christians like to contrast his methods in Athens with what appears to be a different approach Corinth where he vowed to know “nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul does not make an explicit comparison. Should we? If we do, what would be our rationale, for Acts 17:34 is explicit that Paul did win some converts in Athens. But what should we make of the difference between Paul’s approach to the Athenians and his approach to the Corinthians? It was in his first letter to Corinth that Paul articulated the argument that we should be all things to all people (1 Cor. 9:22). Can we know from the Thessalonian correspondence which method he used there?
5. Heavy hand or gentle? Again Paul is more explicit in his Corinthian correspondence than he is in his Thessalonian letters. But when he asks about the choice between the stick or gentle love (1 Cor. 4:21), is he suggesting that building good relationships may require some of both? Or should we seek to implement a message that is only gentle?