By the time you read this I trust some of you at least will have been able to enjoy a summer holiday – albeit most likely in the UK!! Marion and I have not had a holiday as yet, but later on in September we looking forward to leading a group to Mull and Iona organised by McCabe’s Pilgrimages with whom we have travelled several times.
Not being able to go abroad very easily at this time, I was reminiscing nostalgically the other day about our last trip with McCabe’s to Greece, five years ago this year, when we followed in the footsteps of St Paul. It was a memorable pilgrimage and we “followed” Paul on his journeys in Greece from Thessaloniki and Philippi in the north all the way to Athens and Corinth in the south.
As well as starting up Christian churches in the places he visited, Paul kept in touch with the new congregations by letter. We have five of his letters to Greek fellowships preserved in the New Testament of the Bible – 1st & 2nd Corinthians, 1st & 2nd Thessalonians and Philippians. Paul is liable to have written many more letters of which we no longer have any trace.
In the letters to the young churches we do have, Paul writes about some pretty important issues which are still relevant to our church life today.
To the faithful in Thessaloniki, Paul writes encouraging them to stand firm in their faith even if society in general is hostile to it. He emphasised to the Thessalonians the virtue of working for your living and not to be a burden to others. He advocated kindness, joy and the importance of prayer. All hallmarks of a healthy church today.
“Live in peace with one another. We urge you brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong with wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:13-16)
Among many other things Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the importance of love and the nature of love –
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not boast, it is not proud…..it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
(1 Corinthians 13:4 & 7)
“Three things last forever: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Paul also assured the Corinthian church of the centrality of the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.
“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all people. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20)
In writing to the Philippians, Paul invites them to hold onto that which is good and not be overcome by all the evils and wrongs of this world. Paul assures his beloved Philippians that God’s love will in the end prevail.
“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4: 8 & 9)
Let us as Christ’s 21st century disciples take to heart the encouragement and assurances that Paul gave in his letters to the 1st century followers in Greece and be inspired by his words as we begin our new season of church life and activities.