* this is the last of the 3 lovesigns i couldn't get to in fusion today...
1.7-9, 2.9, 3.13, 5.8
The Christians in Thessalonica were carving out new ground. In their world at that time it was unheard of to oppose worshipping idols – idols were, after all, commonplace in the ancient world, not the primitive oddity they are today. N.T. Wright described it this way:
At every turn in the road the gods were there – unpredictable, possible malevolent, sometimes at war among themselves, so that you could never do too much in the way of placating them
Furthermore, there was a new god in town – Caesar. After Augustine defeated his enemies and unified the Empire he declared his father, Julius Caesar, a god [for an intelligent narrative of these events, see the HBO series ROME, season 2; be careful, though, because the series is extremely violent, sexual and course]. When Augustine died, his successor declared him a god, and so-on and so-forth, until the Emperors were understood to have joined the pantheon after their deaths.
Paul gives props to the Thessalonians for forsaking god-worship, including the worship of Caesar, and instead being examples to other believers all over the Empire of what it means to find true identity as lovers and followers of Jesus Christ. He calls them God’s saints and reminds them that they are children of the daylight and should not ever be tempted into moral or spiritual darkness.
Sometimes we read these words and mistake them as bland admonishments to lead a good life; but this misses the context of the letter completely. Paul’s lovesign is a call to subvert the dominant power structures of the world. He is reminding the Thessalonians that the world is not as it should be, and that they – as Christ-followers – are mandated to turn the world right side up again with the life-changing gospel of God.