Twenty-first century sensibilities tell us not to get into religious conflicts with our neighbors, to tread softly and not to generate controversies. Apparently, no one ever told the apostles about that. Following them on their evangelistic road inevitably led into trouble. It started in the earliest days in Jerusalem when conditions became so volatile that believers were run out of town. The ringleader of the opposition was a man named Saul (Acts 8:3), and it wouldn’t take long for him to wind up on the opposite side of the fence.
The persecutor became the persecuted. Saul became Paul, and his subsequent service in the cause that he once tried to eradicate is well documented. We read his correspondence which makes up a large portion of the New Testament. His influence rippled throughout the region and around the world for centuries to come, but it was not without its hardships.
“I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake (Acts 9:16).” It is part of the message from the Lord about Paul’s mission. Conversion had been hard. The strong hand of the Lord had knocked the vision right out of his eyes. He groped his way with a few helping hands into Damascus, regained his vision, washed away his sins and was hustled out of town under the cloak of darkness. His conversion was not welcome there. That would not be the last time.
His travels would eventually take him to Thessalonica where the response was strong and mixed (Acts 17). Many believed and joined Paul and Silas, but there was also a group of Jews who were not so agreeable. They gathered up their jealousy, supplemented it with a gang of hoodlums and threw the city into an uproar. Once again, the nighttime was the right time for his escape. So, whatever happened to that new congregation planted in the midst of such turbulence?
Biblical history is silent concerning details about any further visits by Paul, but we have two letters that were subsequently written to the church that lend great encouragement of their progress. Paul had left his stamp on them (1 Thessalonians 1). They learned by observation what kind of man he was. We reveal our faith by our actions. People are watching. Some are imitating. What kind of example are we setting?
The initial entry of the gospel into Thessalonica had been a bumpy ride. Nevertheless, the word found a place in their hearts and transformed them from follower to leader. They began to set the example. They became the proclaimers. Their faith made such an impression that further proclamation by the apostle was unnecessary. They had grown from idolaters to Christian role models, proof of the power of one man with the gospel. Now, it’s in our hands.