Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 17, 1952

Even In Thessalonica

W. Wallace Layton, Tucson, Arizona

When Paul wrote to the faithful Christians in Philippi, he commended them for recognizing the responsibilities of their stewardship in the Lord. He said, "...when I departed from Macedonia, no church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving but ye only." (Phil. 4:15) This is a true and unselfish attitude which ought to characterize every congregation of Christians on the earth. Freely had the Philippians received the gospel, and now they are eager to make its blessings available to the regions that are farther on. I suppose the modern parlance for that would be "foreign missions," inasmuch as Paul says that they had supported him "when I departed from Macedonia."

This spirit of supporting the gospel in regions beyond, in getting away from "home" base, is one Paul commends, and one in which every Christian rejoices and ought to participate. It is worthy of note, too, that the Philippians began their work of supporting the preaching of the gospel "in the beginning of the gospel." They had had "fellowship in the gospel from the first day." (Chap. 1:15) This is certainly in sharp contrast to the modern "method" in many instances wherein a new work is begun under the supporting auspices of another congregation, and then remains dependent on the "outside" for support for many, many years. Perhaps in some cases this may be necessary; but it wasn't done in the case of the establishment of the church in Philippi.

The Philippians not only supported Paul when he "departed from Macedonia," but they had sent to his needs "EVEN in Thessalonica." (4:16) Paul's first "mission" after leaving Philippi was in the city of Thessalonica, a neighboring city of Macedonia perhaps some fifty or sixty miles distant. (Acts 17:1ff) The Philippians did not wait until Paul had gone into some far distant country to establish a huge missionary enterprise in a far away land, but "even" in Thessalonica they sent to his support. They were just as interested in Thessalonica as they were in the distant field.

I suppose it will be granted that the term "even" as here used suggests the more or less unusual—the unexpected. Certainly it is a human characteristic to be more aroused over a hero's work in some far off alien land than in his work "just around the corner." At least it can not be denied that the spirit of excitement mounts in rising crescendo as the distance to the field is increased —the farther the field, the greater the enthusiasm for it. There are many congregations who, feeling their inability to support financially some man in a "foreign" field, seem totally blind to their opportunities (and obligations) in "Thessalonica"—near at home. Their attitude seems to be that if they are unable to support a "foreign" worker, there is nothing for them to do!

There is another interesting thing about the modern picture. How many of us are acquainted with churches that have gone along for years and years doing nothing—smug, complacent, satisfied; telling themselves they can do nothing—until someone is brought "home" from a distant land, sent forth on an itinerary of speaking engagements, and then go simply wild with enthusiasm for the foreign field! They weep with despair at the picture painted of the lost souls across the sea; they shed tears over the plight of orphan children, and pledge themselves to the hilt and promise all the church can scrape together to send across the seas.

Certainly we would not discourage the support of the gospel across the waters. But what about all these long years in which these brethren did nothing for the thousands of souls who are dying all around them? What is their defense or their excuse for their sinful neglect of "Thessalonica"? If they are truly penitent for the neglect of the past, and are sincere in wanting to serve Christ, will they not "bring forth fruits meet for repentance" in the renewed determination to support the gospel at home as well as abroad? Otherwise it would seem pretty obvious they are still not concerned over lost souls, and still not concerned in obeying Christ, but rather only emotionally aroused because of the heroism of something spectacular and romantic. I do not seek to be critical, but only ask for a frank and unbiased analysis of present methods and motives. Is our desire born out of a true heart-rending love of the lost? If so, why do we not send "even to Thessalonica"? There are fields galore where preachers ought to be sent right here in our own nation; and there are faithful brethren who are willing to go. Why should not more be done for these nearby places?

Remember, it is right and commendable to support men when they depart from the borders of the homeland. We have not one word of criticism for that. But we can't help but be a little suspicious of brethren who are absolutely uninterested in supporting the gospel or sending to the aid of any gospel preacher, unless that preacher gets some congregation to "sponsor" him across the seas.

And while I'm on the subject, I don't believe there is any suggestion that Philippi channeled their contribution to Paul, either in Macedonia or beyond, through Paul's "sponsoring" (?) church at Antioch. It seems they sent their help directly to Paul. They did this only when he went across the waters, they did it "even in Thessalonica."