On Reading Ancient Letters of Strangers 1

I began a new Sunday Bible study with our high school group this morning going through Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.  For me this seemed like a perfectly normal thing to do as a long-time Christian, church attender and pastor — that is, spend 6 weeks pouring over a portion of Scripture.

But every once and a while you encounter a person who brings a fresh perspective to the Christian life and they force you to stop and think about why we do what we do and why it matters.  I had one of those refreshing moments today.

After I finished my little introduction, we delve into this little ancient letter addressed to the believers in the Grecian city of Thessalonika.

As we began to explore the first few verses, one student kindly interrupted with the most honest and well-intended question:

“Umm…can you tell me again why we’re taking the time to read this ancient letter written to these people we’ll never know who lived a couple thousand years ago in a different part of the world? And what does this have to do with us today?”

Priceless.  What an outstanding question if you really stop and think about it.  But we often don’t — especially those of us who have grown up on sermon after sermon teaching from various biblical texts.  We just answer: “Uh, duh.  It’s God’s Word! That’s why we study it.”

But a moment’s reflection on this bright student’s question begs another question: Why does God’s Word to human beings happen to take the form of a rather curious collection of short letters written by a handful of men to particular groups of early Christians?  How come these ancient letters are considered Holy Scripture and other letters didn’t make the cut?  And, honestly, isn’t it a little strange that some 2,000 years later we are still gathering together weekly to read and pick apart somebody else’s mail?

So, next time I’ll offer some of my own thoughts in response to this student’s question.  But you go first.  How would you answer the question above?  Why are we still reading Paul’s letter to the Christians in Thessalonika in the 21st century? I want more than “It’s in the Bible.”

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