Acts 17 records the beginning of the church in Thessalonica. Jews, Greeks, and "prominent women" joined together in following Jesus as Messiah - and then the persecution started. This wasn't just an isolated heckler here and there. The early Thessalonian church saw mob riots and the arrest of some of the new believers. They had to sneak Paul and Silas out under cover of darkness. This church had every reason to stay underground.
But there is something about the Gospel that cannot stay secret for long. The text tells us that from the church in Thessalonica, the message "rang out" - the phrase literally means "sounded forth" or "resounded". It's used when the sound of something is carried forth - A. T. Robertson says it signifies "to sound out of a trumpet or of thunder, to reverberate like our echo." Thessalonica was strategically located on the Egnation Way (Via Egnatia), a major thoroughfare of the first century. This passage makes it clear that this young church used its location for kingdom purposes. In fact, their faith had "become known everywhere".
Yet Paul and his team don't focus on how those who heard the ringing truth of the Gospel reacted to the message. Instead, they rejoice that God's word has been shared so widely. Whether positively or negatively, people were talking about the new faith of the Thessalonian believers. Specifically, they were "gossiping" about their rejection of idolatry and their anticipation of Christ's return. We should all have such a reputation.
This passage should give great encouragement to anyone in ministry. It contains not only principles for ministry; it also gives a picture of how the Gospel can take root in a community. Consider just a few points:
- The Gospel takes on a life of its own. There's nothing wrong with strategies (Paul certainly was intentional in his evangelistic efforts). But there is an organic nature to the spread of the Gospel that should be profoundly encouraging to anyone in ministry. In the Thessalonian church, we see Jesus' words in action:
- "What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs." (Luke 12:3)
- "Again he asked, "What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough."" (Luke 13:20-21)
- We don't have to convince people that a ministry effort is successful. In a numbers-driven society, this is good news indeed! Certainly there is nothing wrong with reports of what God is doing - the New Testament is filled with specifics about responses to sermons and mission trips. But the report of those who see the difference the Gospel has made in the lives of others can be a greater "year-end report" than anything we could prepare.
- We can rejoice when our faith is recognized - even negatively. Based on Acts 17, we can be certain that this awareness of their faith did not always come with positive feelings. The old adage, "It doesn't matter what they write about me, as long as they spell my name right" could be modified for believers: "It doesn't matter what they say about us, as long as the Gospel comes through loud and clear."