1 Thessalonians: Chapter 2:1-12

1-thessaloniansPaul now shifts to remind his readers about the founding of their church.

(1 Thess. 2:1-2 ESV) For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.

Paul’s missionary trip to Philippi is recounted in Acts 16. It was there that he and Silas were imprisoned and ultimately converted the Philippian jailer.

Chapter 17 recounts the founding of the church in Thessalonika —

(Acts 17:1-10 ESV) Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.  2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,  3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”  4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.  

5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd.  6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also,  7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”  8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things.  9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.  10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.

The accusation that Paul and Silas taught “that there is another king, Jesus” was likely accurate enough, even though they did not teach rebellion against the Caesar.

It’s interesting that so much opposition arose from among the Jews. It’s not entirely obvious why the Jews would have been jealous of Paul (or Jesus) as neither would have urged the closure of the synagogue. The Jews had been praying for a Messiah for centuries. Why did Jesus so upset them? Continue reading

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1 Thessalonians: Chapter 1:4-10


(1 Thess. 1:4-5 ESV)  4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,  5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.

Does it bother you when you stumble across a seeming Calvinist verse? I mean, what does “chosen you” mean if it doesn’t mean unconditionally elected by God for salvation before the Creation? It just sounds so Calvin!

But that’s because our 21st Century minds have been trained to think in these terms, even when we disagree. We see much of Christianity as a giant debate between the Calvinist and the “free will” or Arminian positions. And so we endlessly debate that 16th Century question. But Paul was no 16th Century writer. Nor was he a fan of Augustine, on whose speculations many of Calvin’s arguments are based. The trick to a correct understanding, therefore, is to think like Paul — a First Century Jewish rabbi, who studied at the feet of Gamaliel.

And to a First Century rabbi, “chosen” recalls the fact that Israel is God’s chosen (ekloge = elect) people. Continue reading

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1 Thessalonians: Chapter 1:2-3

1-thessaloniansVerses 2-3

(1 Th 1:2–3 ESV) 2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Paul normally begins his letters with a complimentary salutation, expressing his thanks for the congregation he’s writing to. (Galatians is a notable exception, evidently because Paul couldn’t think of anything nice to say to a church that was divided along racial lines.)

Paul speaks of mentioning the church in his prayers to God. We likely should think of this as intercessory prayer, that is, prayer to God for the benefit of someone else. Our children are often very good at this, while we adults tend to focus on our own problems, I think.

In Paul’s two earlier preserved epistles (1 Thes and 1 Cor), Paul speaks of faith, hope, and love. Some see this as a clever bit of rhetoric, but I think it’s an insight into Paul’s theology. Continue reading

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grace7Back in 2009, Todd Deaver and I engaged in a dialog with Greg Tidwell, Phil Sanders, and Mac Deaver regarding the scope of grace — that is, how do we determine which sins or errors damn and which do not? The dialogue was posted over a series of several months at Graceconversation.com.

The site has recently had more activity than usual, even though the last post was seven years ago. I thought I’d check the traffic data at Google Analytics.

There have been 118,958 pageviews since the site was established. These views involve 8,607 unique visitors. The day with the highest traffic (April 27, 2009) generated 1,943 views.

I’ve kept the site up ever since we wrapped it up, in hopes it would be of benefit to anyone studying the scope of God’s grace.

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1 Thessalonians: Chapter 1:1

1-thessaloniansWe now begin a verse-by-verse study of the text.

(1 Thess. 1:1 ESV) Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.

Silvanus is a longer form of the name Silas, who traveled with Paul. More precisely, “Silas” is a Jewish name and “Silvanus” is Latin. Silas was likely given parallel Jewish and Roman names by his parents, to facilitate dealing with the Gentiles, just as many in the US of Japanese or Chinese origin adopt an American name similar to their native name.

Although Paul speaks of the church in Thessalonika as a single “church” in v. 1, he later writes,

(1 Th 5:27 ESV) I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.

If the church met in a single location, they couldn’t help but read the letter to all the members. Therefore, it seems probable that the Thessalonian congregation was a single congregation under a single leadership but meeting in multiple houses. The letter thus would have been circulated among the houses to be read aloud until the entire congregation had heard it. Continue reading

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1 Thessalonians: Introduction

1-thessaloniansSo I thought I’d work through 1 & 2 Thessalonians. For a couple of reasons.

First, I’ve never studied these books. Ever. And yet they’re not long. They’re even about the right length for a 13-week Bible class. So is someone hiding something? Why don’t we ever cover these books?

Second, 1 Thessalonians may be the oldest NT book. There’s a good case for 1 Cor, which we cover all the time, but for some reason, 1 Thes never gets any attention. Why not? Why is this a step-child of our adult Bible class curricula?

Third, some scholars question the Pauline authorship of 2 Thes — which seems surprising. What’s the deal?

Fourth, 2 Thes has this passage on “the lawless one,” sometimes tied to the Anti-Christ or one of the monsters in the Revelation — and yet we never preach or teach about this passage. That just has to be interesting — and may be the reason we never cover these epistles in Bible class. I don’t know …

Fifth, there’s the whole Rapture thing based on 1 Thes 4:17. So there are some truly interesting passages in these two short letters. Continue reading

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The Church and Race: Ron Highfield



Two open letters addressing racial injustice were recently published in the Christian Chronicle:

These were accompanied by an article including interviews with some of the authors.

The letters were, of course, inspired by the current controversy regarding the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ron Highfield

Ron Highfield is a professor of religion at Pepperdine University. He’s working on a book about Christianity and social justice. Today, he posted an article making a couple of points that fit well with the current theme, although not specifically about race: “Is Social Justice Ministry a Substitute Gospel?”

Highfield is no rightwing, legalist opposed to social justice. In fact, he has quite a strong history in social justice. And he’s quite the thinker. Some of his work has been extensively reviewed by Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed. Smart theologians read Highfield.

Regarding social justice, Highfield suggests that there are three ways we might do it. Continue reading

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