1 Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians 5: Children of the Light

You yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a midnight robber. . . . But as for you, my dear family — you are not in darkness.  That day won’t surprise you like a robber.  (5:2, 4)

In the first part of chapter five, Paul lays out a series of contrasts:

There is a great day coming.  The new creation will soon be upon us.  When, you ask?  We do not know exactly.  Later today.  Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe long after we are gone, in the days of our children’s  children.  But we don’t need to worry about it.  Nobody in Christ needs to worry about it.

We are the wide-awake people.  We live in the light where robbers are less inclined to come.  We are not numbed to what goes on around us.  We are protected by faith, hope and love (5:8).  Though we do not know the hour, it is okay because we will have peace in that day.  We are destined for salvation, not fury.  So we can echo confidently the second last sentence of the Bible: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

Does this describe the mindset you have?  Why or why not?

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1 Thessalonians 4: Basic Ethical Teachings

You should continue more and more to behave in the manner that you received from us as the appropriate way of behaving and of pleasing God. (4:1)

Paul only had a short time with the Thessalonians before he was chased out-of-town.  Still, he had discussed how they should behave as Christians.  For Paul, ethics were fundamental to the way of Christ.

In this chapter’s discussion of basic ethics and beliefs, it is interesting what Paul discusses: sexuality, money, and death.

This is God’s will, you see: he wants you to be holy, to keep well away from fornication.  Each of you should know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not in the madness of lust like Gentiles who don’t know God. (4:3-5)

Now, about charitable concern for the whole family: I don’t really need to write to you, because you yourselves have been taught by God to show loving care for one another. . . . Work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you may behave in a way which outsiders will respect, and so that none of you may be in financial difficulties. (4:9, 11b-12)

Now concerning those who have fallen asleep . . . We don’t want you to have the kind of grief that other people do, people who don’t have any hope. (4:13)

Think about it: aren’t inappropriate thinking and behaviors related to sexuality, money, and death especially dangerous?  Each can significantly alter the course of one’s life.  A life lived in immorality and licentiousness degrades and endangers others and oneself.  Greed makes the turning of a buck the most important goal and people who stand in the way a target for removal.  Laziness is contagious and makes many other vices necessary. Unchristian thinking about death may be the least obvious, but consider how life is lived when one believes the grave is the end.  There is also a common element in these three: each makes one live in the here and now with no gratification delayed and no thought to the future.

One more thought: is western society not obsessed with sex, money, and a terminal view of death?  How important it still is for us to believe that contrasting views about these three topics must be fundamental teachings for young Christians.

What caught your eye in this chapter?

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1 Thessalonians 3: The Inevitably of Suffering

There are absolutely many wonderful blessings that come from being in Christ.  No doubt about it!  And these are easy to talk about to new Christians.  But in the age of the “soft sell,” do we acknowledge that the way of Christ is one of sacrifice and suffering as well?

Suffering was inevitable in a mid-first century AD Greco-Roman community steeped in paganism, where there was great loyalty to the Caesar, and where Judaism was a state-protected religion that just happened to want to stamp out this new sect that had risen up around this Jesus the Jews back in Jerusalem had crucified.  But do we mention this to new converts?  Paul didn’t shy away from it at all:

We sent Timothy so that he could strengthen you and bring comfort to your faith, so that you wouldn’t be pulled off course by these sufferings.  You yourselves know, don’t you, that this is what we are bound to face.  For when we were with you, we told you ahead of time that we would undergo suffering; that’s how it has turned out, and you know about it. (3:2-4)

The reality of suffering couldn’t be avoided in Thessalonica.  Shortly after Christianity came to town, the persecution started (Acts 17:1-10).  The leaders of this church could remember the mob, the roughness with which they were dealt, and the days they spent in court sorting through false accusations.  It would make no sense to deny reality.  This was a very real Christianity, right from the beginning.

Do we offer the world a Christianity without suffering and sacrifice?  If so, we are promising something that we cannot deliver.  We are, in fact, denying the truth of an integral part of the way of Christ.  For Jesus, the path to the New Creation came through crucifixion.  Do we think it will be different for us?  Don’t we owe it to people to tell it straight?

What do you think?

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1 Thessalonians 2: Sharing Our Very Lives

from “The Emperor’s Club” (2002)

Early in my teaching career I developed the habit of calling my students “my kids.”  I still do it now that I am older and no longer that teacher who is “easy to relate to.”   Every now and then I will be talking about “my kids” and they have to clarify whether I mean my two sons or my 100 students.  All of the effective teachers I know allow themselves to develop a deep care for their students, albeit expressed in a variety of ways.

I hear Paul saying the same sort of thing in this chapter:

We were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her own children.  We were so devoted to you that we gladly intended to share with you not only the gospel of God but our own lives, because you became so dear to us. (2:8)

It was a common practice in the ancient world that upperclass families would employ the services of a wet nurse to care for their children.  Like modern nanny situations, this is just a job one does to care for themselves.  But also like many modern nanny situations, love and care would develop between the wet nurse and the children.

Paul says he allowed himself to develop that love and concern for the Thessalonians.  They weren’t just another stop on a long missionary journey.  They weren’t just another notch in his “gospel belt.”  He didn’t just turn them into a few free meals as he passed through town (as it seems his opponents were accusing him of doing).  They became to him like his own children.

If we are ever going to be successful spreading the gospel, we will have to develop the same heart that Paul had.  We will have to do more than just share words and a message.  We will have to share our very lives with others.

What caught your eye today?  

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1 Thessalonians 1: Keep on Going!

What do you say to brand new Christians?  I see Paul saying three things to the young, young Thessalonian Christians in this passage.

1.  You are off to a great start!  

When you received the word, you had a lot to suffer, but you also had the holy spirit’s joy.  As a result, you became a model for all the believers in both Macedonia and Achaea.  For the word of the Lord has resonated out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaea; your faith has gone out to people everywhere. (1:6b-8a)

They have started strong and have so much to build on.  They just need to keep on going as they have already.

2.  Follow our example!  

You know what sort of people we became for your sake, when we were among you.  And you learned how to copy us — and the Lord! (1:5b-6a)

When you are starting something, it always helps to have an example to follow.  Paul did not shy away from claiming to be such an example, and he didn’t come off as prideful either.  Paul is following Jesus, so if they follow Paul they are also following Jesus.  Could we say that to a new Christian?  The truth is new Christians are following our examples, whether we want them to or not, whether we encourage it or not.

3.  Don’t even think twice about turning back now!

They themselves tell the story of the kind of welcome we had from you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead — Jesus, who delivers us from the coming fury. (1:9-10)

There is a day of wrath and fury coming for those who have rejected Jesus.  The Thessalonians don’t want to fall back into that group.  We see that eschatology theme coming through.  Keep on going!

What stood out to you in this chapter?  

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BONUS: An Introduction to the Thessalonian Letters

We now move from one of the last parts of the New Testament to be written (John) to one of the first (only Galatians and Mark may be older).  We know Paul was in Corinth when he wrote 1 Thessalonians (1 Thess 3:1-2), and we know from an archaeological connection to the mention of the Roman government official Gallio in Acts 18:12-17 that this places Paul in Corinth around AD 51 or 52.  By al appearances, 2 Thessalonians was written shortly after, maybe six months later.

There are some letters of Paul that scholars argue were not actually written by Paul; the Thessalonian letters are not two of these.  There is almost universal agreement that these are authentic Pauline letters.

We see from Acts 17 that Paul and Silas had quick, evangelistic success in Thessalonica even with prominent people in the city.  Just as quickly, though, unbelieving Jews came in behind them to counter their work.  Specifically, a mob was formed that chased Paul and Silas south to Berea and then to Athens, causing hardship for the new Thessalonian Christians like Jason and others.  We should notice the charge brought against Paul and Silas by their opposition: “They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:7).  Thessalonica was the capital city of Macedonia, a Roman colony widely inhabited by retired military officials in the Roman army and thus loyal to the king.  It is worth noticing that in this milieu, the kingship of Jesus was still so foundational that Paul and Silas did not back down from sharing this fact.

Have you ever done something in a hurry and just hoped it lasted?  If so, you understand why Paul wrote his Thessalonian letters.  We don’t know exactly how long Paul stayed in Thessalonica, but it would have been shortly after the first converts were made.  These new Christians were left unsupported and unguided, which would have been especially challenging as they had converted from paganism (1 Thess 1:9).  In his absence, Paul begins to instruct them through his letters in godly living in a hostile world.

There are no letters of Paul’s that have more to say about the second coming of Christ than these two.  Every chapter of 1 Thessalonians ends with a reference to the second coming (eschatology).  With a doubt, this theme will run throughout all of our reading this week and a half.  Eschatology is not an easy concept, therefore there is no surprise that the Thessalonians were struggling with this new teaching. Whether they should continue to work until Jesus returns appears to be an issue for them as does the cryptic “man of lawlessness” we will read about in 2 Thessalonians.

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