Friday, July 03, 2015

Reading Through 1 Thessalonians

indexI am continuing to read through the New Testament accompanied by the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John R. W. Stott. The next two posts will be from the book is The Message of Thessalonians: The Gospel & the End of Time, written by John Stott. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I post quotes from these commentaries on my Facebook page and periodic summaries of the commentary here on my blog. I welcome discussion on these post on my Facebook page. As always, quotes from the author are in blue font.

Thessalonica was the chief seaport of the Greek province of Macedonia, one of the most important commercial cities of Greece along with Corinth and Ephesus. Its population was about 200,000.  Paul founded the church there on his 2nd missionary journey. (Acts 17:1-9) Though some say that he was there only 3 weeks (Acts 17:2), he was probably there somewhat longer (1 Thess. 2:9, 5:12, Phi. 4:16). The letter was probably written from Corinth (Acts 18:1) during Paul’s 2nd missionary journey. Paul had sent Timothy back to Thessalonica from Athens to find out how they were. This letter likely is a response to Timothy’s report. This makes 1 Thessalonians the 2nd letter written by Paul and an excellent view of the early church.

The letter was written to express Paul’s affection for the Thessalonians and to explain the delay in his return to see them. to correct their lack in doctrinal knowledge, and to correct misapplications of his teaching and errors in the church concerning daily life. Paul wanted them to “be holy now so that you will be ready for Jesus to come.” Thus, the main message of the letter is “God produces holiness in us as we stand faithfully on his promises, allow him to love through us and focus on the sure hope of his return to take us to be with Him forever.”

First Paul focuses on what God has done in the past (1:1-3:13): God’s work in the lives of His faithful people is evidenced by holy changed lives. The changed lives of the Thessalonians were evidence of the holiness that God produces through faith. The church is a spiritual family of real people in whom God creates the attitudes of faith, love and hope in His people as evidenced by the people’s hard work, labor for one another and endurance in the faith as they wait for Jesus’ return . Their changed lives, attitudes and actions, love that imitates Jesus, and active, joyful hope that focuses on serving Jesus Christ are the indisputable evidence of their salvation.

It is still correct to say that every church has two homes, two environments, two habitats. It lives in God and it lives in the world. Thessalonians 1.1-4, 28.

Every Christian without exception is a believer, a lover and a hoper (not necessarily an optimist, since ‘optimism’ is a matter of temperament, ‘hope’ of theology). Faith, hope and love are thus sure evidences of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Thessalonians 1.1-4, 30.

No church can spread the gospel with any degree of integrity, let alone credibility, unless it has been visibly changed by the gospel it preaches. We need to look like what we are talking about. It is not enough to receive the gospel and pass it on; we must embody it in our common life of faith, love, joy, peace, righteousness and hope. 1 Thessalonians 1.5-10, 44.

The ministry of Paul‘s missionary team was also an example of holy living and holy ministry. Their ministry was characterized by boldness to speak the truth despite opposition, the right motives and right methods, and loving labor and integrity. Faithful response to God‘s Word produces holy living and effects the world. The Word of God works inside believers with God’s power to change them into the image of God. Faithfulness to the Word produces persecution from unbelievers and Satanic opposition, but also deep fellowship and love for other believers and our perfect righteousness when we stand before Christ.

It is a lovely thing that a man as tough and masculine as the apostle Paul should have used this feminine metaphor. Some Christian leaders become both self-centred and autocratic. The more their authority is challenged, the more they assert it. We all need to cultivate more, in our pastoral ministry, of the gentleness, love and self-sacrifice of a mother. 1 Thessalonians 2.5-8, 52.

From these four metaphors we may discern the two major responsibilities of pastoral ministry for today. The first is to the Word of God (as both a steward to guard it and a herald to proclaim it), and the second to the people of God (as their mother and father, to love, nurture and teach them). 1 Thessalonians 2, 68.

Paul points out that holiness has matured as believers minister together, endure hardship together and pray together. The way to grow in ability to minister is to minister together to one another with self-sacrificing commitment by teaching one another the truths of the faith, by encouraging one another to do what is right even in trials, and by holding one another accountable to apply the Word to life. Christians grow in holiness (character) as the church stands firm on the truth of God‘s Word; when all decisions are made based on faith in God’s promises and commands, our love for one another is based on Christ and what He has done, our contentment comes through faith in God‘s promises not the circumstances, and we live joyfully, thankfully in God’s presence.

There is no greater stimulus to holiness than the vision of the Parousia, when Jesus comes in glory with his holy ones. In order that we may be ‘blameless and holy’ then, Paul prays that we may be inwardly strengthened now. For sanctification is a present, continuing process; perfection awaits the Parousia. 1 Thessalonians 3.11-13, 67.

In the present our salvation should be producing a growing holiness, likeness to the character of Jesus. Our lifestyles should reflect a growing desire to please God by being what He made us to be. Salvation should produce growing holiness, growing love and growing contentment. Christ’s character grows in our life as the Spirit teaches us to control our bodies, as we allow him to love others through us, and as we become content by making his ambition for us our own.

Exhortations to holiness, warnings of suffering and promises of the Parousia belonged together in Paul’s teaching. Within a few weeks or months he had taught the young Thessalonian converts not only the essence of the good news but also the essence of the good life, not only about faith in Jesus, but also about the necessity of good works by which saving faith is authenticated and without which it is dead. 1 Thessalonians 4.1-12, 77

Several points may be made in favour of ‘pleasing God’ as a guiding principle of Christian behaviour. First, it is a radical concept, for it strikes at the roots of our discipleship and challenges the reality of our profession. How can we claim to know and to love God if we do not seek to please him? Disobedience is ruled out. Secondly, it is a flexible principle. It will rescue us from the rigidities of a Christian Pharisaism which tries to reduce morality to a list of do’s and don’ts...Thirdly, this principle is progressive. If our goal is to be perfectly pleasing to God, we shall never be able to claim that we have arrived. Instead, we are summoned to please him more and more. 1 Thessalonians 4.1-2, 79.

Our future hope of salvation should produce holiness and endurance now. The hope of Jesus’ return should comfort us and encourage us to love and serve Christ now. We have hope because, it His return Jesus will resurrect the dead and rejoin them with their bodies and their living brothers, instantly give living believers immortal bodies & take them to be with Jesus eternally. This should provide comfort and encouragement to love and serve Christ.

It is not clear how literally we are to understand our being caught up … in the clouds. We know from Jesus himself that his coming will be personal, visible and glorious, but we also know from him that it will not be local (‘There he is!’ ‘Here he is!’) but universal (‘like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other’). Presumably, therefore, our going to meet him will also transcend space. 1 Thessalonians 4.17, 104

We will be wise to combine affirmation (we are eagerly expecting a cosmic event which will include the personal, visible appearing of Jesus Christ and the gathering to him of all his people, whether dead or alive at the time) with agnosticism about the full reality behind the imagery. 1 Thessalonians 4.17, 105–106

The coming Day of the Lord should warn believers to be vigilant, self-controlled and prepared for eternity. The hope of Christ’s coming should encourage alertness and present living focused on eternity. This means that 1) Church relationships should be characterized by faithfulness in ministry to one another; 2) Christians should have an attitude of joy, prayer and thankfulness; We must be discerning but cling to what is of God and avoid what is not; and 4) We must get ready for Christ’s coming by using the sufficient resources God provides for our holiness. God will make you ready for eternity, but you must cooperate by using the resources He provides.

The Thessalonians thought they could most easily get ready for Christ’s coming in judgment if they could know when he would arrive. It was na├»ve, to be sure, but perfectly understandable. Paul responds, however, that the solution to their problem does not lie in knowing the date...It is as if Paul wrote: ‘You know that nobody knows the date, and that therefore you cannot know it either.’ 1 Thessalonians 5.1-3, 108–109.

Pastoral care is parental care. The element of ‘management’ cannot be eliminated, yet here in relation to the leaders of the Thessalonian church ‘the emphasis is not on their rank or authority but on their efforts for the eternal salvation of believers’ 1 Thessalonians 5.12-13, 120

Looking back now over Paul’s teaching about public worship, we see that it should always include two complementary elements. On the one hand, there should be rejoicing in the Lord, praying, and giving of thanks, and on the other listening to God’s Word read, expounded and applied... Indeed, in every well-constructed worship service the pendulum should swing rhythmically between God addressing his people through Scripture and his people responding to him in confession, faith, adoration or prayer. 1 Thessalonians 5.18, 130–131.

If a local church is to become a gospel church, it must not only receive the gospel and pass it on, but also embody it in a community life of mutual love. Nothing but the grace of Christ can accomplish this. 1 Thessalonians 5.28, 135.

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