For reasons having to do with airline flights, we trace the Apostle Paul's journey through Greece backwards, at least Paul's first journey through Greece described in Acts, which is often titled "The Second Missionary Journey." Acording to Acts 17:1-15, and 1 Thessalonians itself, Paul was persecuted in Thessalonica, as was the whole Church, and Paul had to be taken from town and brought to Beroea (modern Vereia), where he received a warm reception, until some of the mob from Thessalonica tracked him down. Paul was then taken to the Greek coast and went to Athens.
We had a strange replay of Paul's experiences in Thessalonica and Beroea at the small shrine to Paul in modern Vereia, built near the ruins of the ancient Egnatian Way, on which Paul most certainly travelled. I do not mean to compare our minor travails to the serious persecution Paul and the early Christians experienced, in fact our minor worries make it obvious how much Paul and his companions endured. It opened our eyes.
What were our minor travails? At the shrine in Vereia, as I was reading and discussing Acts 17:1-15 with the group, a very drunk man began shouting and gesticulating at our group from a distance and from behind a fence. Our tour guide tried to quiet him, but that just riled him up even more. He clambered over a tall fence and began yelling and making violent motions. He said that he hated Christians, and Americans, and, in fact, Obama! Our tour guide tried to defuse the situation by saying of me, "he's Canadian," but the shouting man just exclaimed that he hated Canadians too. While there was only a hint of danger for us - we were a large group of students and he one drunk man - it created anxiety and fear in our group. Tensions rose palpably. What was it like for Paul, Timothy, Silvanus and other early Christians?
They were a small, minority group in a vast empire, confronted often by mobs or authorities that did not like or understand them. More than being threatened, they were often beaten and sometimes killed. How do you live with the tension, danger and anxiety on a daily basis? How do you traavel from town to town knowing it could happen again and again?
Clearly it took human resolve, but more than that it took the power of the Holy Spirit, the love of God and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Combine this with Paul's call and his desire that all should know the salvation available through Jesus, and Paul could not stop regardless of the obstacles and the threats to his life. With no "New Testament," no "Christian history," and very few adherents, Paul could nevertheless not be dissuaded from sharing the Gospel orally or by letter with his new converts. His Churches were numerically insignificant in his day, but he laid the groundwork for the Church in Greece and throughout the world even to this day. His personal gifts were immense, but we cannot explain the rise of Christianity apart from the Holy Spirit who guided the early Christians in transforming the culture around them. How else do you conquer indifference, violence, and suspicion? Only through the love and compassion that Paul and his co-workers display in 1 Thessalonians, guided by the power of the Spirit. It also brings to mind that on our minds and in our prayers constantly should be those Christians persecuted today, and those of other faiths persecuted for their beliefs. As Paul said to the Thessaonians, "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17).
John W. Martens