The Joy of Unity: 1 Thessalonians 3:9–10, 12

Tonight, I’m reading 1 Thessalonians for my Introduction to the New Testament course. As we read through the New Testament as a class, we’re focusing on two angles: first, the historical-critical view of the text, meaning its historical context among early “Christianity”; second, a “minority” criticism, where we return to the text by looking at it through minority viewpoints (something akin to viewing a text through multiple lenses).

In 1 Thessalonians 3:9–10, 12, the author of the epistle writes the following (KJV, emphasis mine):

9 For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God;

10 Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?

12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you

Reading this in relation to the early Christians, I consider how much joy they must have felt when they encountered others like themselves. Early Christians were a minority within the “religion” they were coming from (Judaism) and the secular polity they lived in (Roman Empire). This epistle shows that when they interacted, they found joy in the companionship with others who believed as they did. They thought of each other often and cared deeply for each other because they knew they might never see each other again (or ever, for that matter).

It makes me think of grassroots political activists of our days, especially those that form Twitter groups or online connections. In the written word, people feel connection to those they may never see and feel in union with them a desire for something greater, better, or, at least, a form of connection and camaraderie. It’s a joy of being unified with others, the joy the author of the epistle feels in writing to those who might be never seen.

In writing, the author hopes to “increase and abound in love one toward another.” Through unity, we can grow our love one toward another.

To view this with a minority view, I turn to queerness, as I oft do. Queer communities find unity with each other knowing they are with those who feel like they are. LGBTQ+ communities are like early Christians in that they feel strongly about something (in their case, their personal identity; in the case of early Christian communities, the identity of their deity) and come together to grow their love for each other and for the world around them that ridicules, martyrs, and destroys their lives.

Specifically within queer communities are activists. Queer activists, attempting to change the world, might never meet each other, yet they, night and day, work exceedingly to “see your face” and “perfect that which is lacking”—perhaps not in spirituality and faith, but rather in social justice and human legal protections. In this sense, queer activists work to make the society around them a place where all LGBTQ+ faces can be seen and to perfect the legal system that still harms queer humans. Queer activists are akin, in some lights, to the epistle writers—the work they do, the words they say, the tweets they write.

In 1 Thessalonians, we see a minority group rejoicing in a unity of belief and desire; in queer and activist communities, we see the same joy of unity.

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