The apostle Paul closed out his letter with images of war and peace.
The Thessalonians were to put on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation. Some kind of battle was brewing. It reminded me of the last chapter of Ephesians – the armor of God. There, we learned about the enemy: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
We want to live in a world of peace and security, but we’re reminded in Scripture that a cosmic battle is taking place, and we are participants.
And then in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he wrote life within the church: “Be at peace among yourselves.” Certainly, we know this. We love one another. We help one another. We encourage one another. We are patient with one another. We live in peace as a church.
This is the perspective we are to have as believers. We are prepared for battle, for the onslaught of temptation and evil that the world slings at humanity, and especially at the faithful in Christ. And we are caring toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. War on the outside and peace within.
I’ve been studying ancient Mediterranean families lately, and there was a marked difference between how a person in Paul’s day might treat a family member compared to how one treated someone outside the family. You would treat a family with respect and honor, and you naturally would be suspicious toward “outsiders.” The world was marked by competition. You competed with those outside your family, but you loved and protected those within it.
This inside-outside difference isn’t altogether absent from what Paul is writing here. We are prepared to do battle with the heavenly forces of evil while loving our church family.
Of course, lost in this might be our relations with those who also live in this world (and outside the church) but who do not yet know Jesus. Some of them might become enemies to the church, certainly, but most of them are probably ambivalent.
And so we share the gospel in word and deed.