1 Thessalonians: 3:1-7

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So we’ve made it all the way to chapter 3, and Paul hasn’t yet gotten to the “good stuff.” That is, he’s not yet doing theology or talking about the rules we must live by. Rather, he remains focused on the relational stuff — his relationship with the people of that church.

Indeed, far more so than we find in Paul’s other epistles, Paul seems to see the salvation of the Thessalonian church as very closely tied to their perceptions of him.

And in the mission field, this is hardly surprising. The believers at Thessalonica did not inherit their faith from the parents. Their culture certainly didn’t point them toward Jesus. They were persuaded out of paganism by Paul and by the power of the gospel. It was very personal indeed. Continue reading

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U2: Grace

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1 Thessalonians: 2:17-20

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The next few verses fascinate me —

(1 Thess. 2:17-18 ESV) 17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you — I, Paul, again and again– but Satan hindered us. 

Paul apologizes, in effect, for not being able to return in person to Thessaloniki to meet face to face. Cryptically, he says that “Satan hindered us.” His language is very strong: “I, Paul” — nearly an oath affirming the truth of the matter. “Again and again.” Paul repeatedly tried to return but was hindered by Satan each time.

“Hindered” is a military term used when an enemy tears up a road to prevent travel. We might translate “Satan detained us” or “Satan interdicted us” (I know, too obscure) or “Satan did to us what Sherman did to the Confederacy.” (Around here, this would be very clear. Maybe not up North.) Continue reading

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1 Thessalonians: Chapter 2:13-16

1-thessalonians2:13

(1 Thess. 2:13 ESV)  13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

Notice how Paul uses “word of God.” It obviously can’t mean “New Testament,” in that       1 Thes is either the first or second book written of the NT. Nor does it mean “Bible,” because Paul isn’t speaking of the OT; he’s speaking of the gospel.

This “word of God” has the power to work within believers. Well, believers believe the gospel and non-believers do not.

Let’s go back to —

(1 Thess. 1:4-8 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.  6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,  7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.  8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.

You can’t help but notice the parallels between “gospel” and “word.” These thing produce faith and believers. Continue reading

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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

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(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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