until the whole world hears


19th February 2023

A Friendship Letter

I love the letter of 1 Thessalonians because it reveals the heart of Paul. The New Testament is unique among the holy scriptures of the world for the fact that much of its teaching takes the form of deeply personal letters. God wants to help us think like Paul, feel like Paul, to have faith like Paul, and ultimately to make the most of our lives like Paul.

1 Thessalonians is sometimes classified as a friendship letter because in it we get a glimpse of Paul’s heart of friendship towards the Thessalonian church, expressed in deep emotion and strong commitment to them. As we see Paul’s own relationship with the Thessalonians we get a glimpse of what true Christian friendship looks like.

Phil Moore in his Straight to the Heart commentary on 1 Thessalonians writes: 'Paul never intended to write 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Whenever he planted or started a church in a city, he always stayed to take to his converts through a basic discipleship training school in person. Had his enemies not chased him out of Thessalonica after only three weeks, Paul would probably have founded a training academy like the ones we read about in Acts 18 and 19 in Corinth and in Ephesus. It is only because he was forced to flee the city so quickly that he wrote 1 Thessalonians as the first lesson of his training school, teaching us how to be true followers of Christ.' 

I'm so glad he did, because as well as the two main themes of Holiness and Hope in this short letter, it is the apostle Paul as concerned friend to this young Christian community that shines most brightly through.  We all need friends, as I understand William Shakespeare once said: '‘A friend is someone who knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become and, still, gently allows you to grow’.   John Stott writes: ‘One sometimes meets super-spiritual people who claim that they never feel lonely and have no need of human friends, for the companionship of Christ satisfies all their needs. But human friendship is the loving provision of God for mankind…. Wonderful as are both the presence of the Lord Jesus every day and the prospect of his coming on the last day, they are not intended to be a substitute for human friendships….When our spirit is lonely, we need friends. To admit this is not unspiritual; it is human.’ As Gordon Fee has said:  ‘Friendship in particular is radically transformed from a two way to a three way relationship - between Paul, the Thessalonians, and Christ’, and Tim Keller confirms: ‘To need and to want deep friendships is not a sign of spiritual immaturity but maturity. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of health.’  So lets be heathly and look to cultivate and deepen both our Christian and non-Christian friendships. 

Cliff Nelson

Posted by Cliff Nelson