First Thessalonians 1

“Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 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. 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, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 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. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 1 (ESV)

Side NOTE: The background for the first Epistle to the Thessalonians, from Scripture, seems to be in Acts 17:1-9. And based upon that portion of Acts, and Paul’s usage of the plural in the last sentence of verse 5 (and some brief internet searches) it seems that “Silvanus” named above may very likely be “Silas” from the book of Acts. As I do not yet read the original Greek fluently, I’ll leave that observation there for what it is.

It is interesting how Paul is always about thanking God for the saints whom he knows and knows of. And it is encouraging and/or useful (I think) that his thankfulness often stems from a very practical/personal interaction element of how he came to know or be with the group his Epistle is written to. In the case of the Thessalonians he remembers broadly their “work of faith,” “labor of love,” and “steadfastness of hope in Jesus Christ.” And from the account given to us in Acts 17, these aspects of the Thessalonians may be all the more intense for Paul due to the relatively small group that were initially saved there and subsequently persecuted by the Jews.

The second thing that jumps out at me in the beginning of this Epistle is Paul’s persistent consistency in using language that puts the impetus on God in the matter of salvation. Although he does not go into the depth he did in the Epistle to the Ephesians, it is undeniable that Paul believes God chose the particular Thessalonians who believed.

Now, my soteriologically synergistic brethren may be a little agitated at such an observation, however, verse 4 is quite clear. Paul thanks God for the Church at Thessalonica because he knows that they, being loved by God, were chosen by God. And Paul knows this for one reason that is threefold; because the gospel came to them “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

It seems to me that Paul is using Hebrew parallelism in describing his assurance about God’s choosing and saving the Thessalonians – for where does the “power” of the gospel come from but the working of the Spirit to “fully convict” those whom God has chosen for salvation?

And then Paul reminds his readers of “what kind of men” he and Silvanus “proved to be” among them for their sake. It seems here in the latter half of verse 5 that Paul inserts the beginnings of what is an underlying theme of both the Epistles that he wrote to the Thessalonians; and that is something of a Christian “work ethic” or “code of conduct” – if you will. Though this only becomes blatant in 2 Thessalonians (some of them apparently having missed that point) – I do not think it a stretch to see a little of that reasoning in the things that Paul will bring up later in this Epistle.

However, the primary and actual point of Paul mentioning what kind of men he and his companion proved to be was to continue to commend the Thessalonians – and further the list of things he is thanking and “remembering” before God – for their having been imitators of them “and the Lord.”

And in what way does Paul describe them as imitators of Christ? In their receiving the gospel in “much affliction,” being granted joy by the Holy Spirit because of that word and in spite of the affliction – and in so doing being made an example to other believers in nearby regions. And not only a living example, but proclaimers of the gospel of Christ – evidenced from Paul having heard that their “faith in God has gone forth everywhere,” (verse 8).

And subsequently Paul thanks God and encouraged the Thessalonians by including verses 9 and 10. Making it a perfect transition into the underlying themes of both Epistles to the Thessalonians – that of Christian living and the Eschaton.

It will be interesting to see – as we pick up “chapter 2” – how Paul continues with this personal address as he also weaves in teaching and recollections of imitation-worthy examples for how we as Christians should act and think…

For now, I encourage the reader to walk through the entirety of the Epistle in their own private study, and hope my observations have been at least interesting, if not entirely “helpful.”

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Some Thoughts on Inter-religious Dialogue

Of late I have been following a controversy recently created and stirred up by professing Christians among the “right” in U.S. politics. This controversy primarily surrounds one event (taking place over the course of two evenings) started and participated in by Dr. James White – specifically a dialogue that Dr. White had with a Muslim imam named Yasir Qadhi – and unfortunately the critics focus most of their attention on lambasting and slandering the persons involved. I wish to avoid that end of the controversy, however, and address the views that are being promoted by the critics where it involves how a Christian should interact with unbelievers – particularly members of other religions.

(Side NOTE: the dialogues in question can be found at these links: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=updtj99Fp80 & https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=r2tPHLOej1w . . . For those interested in being better able to share the Gospel with Muslims, I would highly recommend them)

Now, one of the more reasonable arguments I’ve heard from the critics of the dialogues has been pulled from Scripture by referencing 2 John 7-11. Their argument is basically that a public meeting, for the purpose of merely discussing certain issues, should never be held among Christians and people of another faith – because that would violate the spirit of the passage referenced. (Their argument particularly centers around a very fearful view of Islam, however I believe my summary captures the essence of the argument.)

The first thing the reader should note about the passage mentioned – and many like it (e.g. Romans 16:17-18, 2 Thessalonians 3:6 & 14, etc.) – is that the author is primarily warning followers of Christ away from the poison of those who practice and believe things that go against the teachings of Christ. The context of many of Scripture’s warnings against false teaching is false teaching and practice that tries to claim to be Christian.

Put another way, Scripture’s concern is to keep disciples away from false doctrine that claims to be in the same vein as what Christ would teach. It does not necessarily address false religions that do not associate themselves with Christianity, possibly because it is easier to recognize that they are not of God.

However, the strong language against the apostate does not necessarily correlate to assuming the disciples of Christ should treat the unbeliever with the same severity (at least, not at all times). In fact, I would say the actions of Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles is reason enough to think that we should regularly be interacting with the lost. 2 Thessalonians 3:8 implies their having worked daily among unbelievers as well as believers; the whole book of Acts would give examples – but Acts 17:16-21 is a pointed example; and obviously Jesus spent much time with people who He knew would end up deserting Him – John 6:64-66. Now, I have heard one radio talk show host complain not so much about the conversation but the “official public format” of the dialogues participated in by Dr. White and Dr. Qadhi. My question, however, is how is a public format any different than the examples cited? Other than the fact that more people get to learn and participate in the format used by Dr. White?

Lastly, unfortunately it seems this whole thing has become a controversy because so many Republicans in America fear (and sometimes despise) Muslims, and that extends into American Christianity because of how it identifies itself with Republicanism. I would encourage the reader not to make that mistake – a Christian’s politics might primarily be conservative (because of being affected by Scripture), but that does not mean the views or position of the “conservative right” are by default Christian.

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” ~ 2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)

No disciple of Christ should fear anyone of any ideology or religion that sets itself up against God. Take courage, Christian, and share the Gospel with your neighbor (Muslim or otherwise) and treat them with love and respect as you do so.

A Command to Love Yourself?

    “You can’t love others well until you love yourself.”

    I’ve heard the phrase (or at least something like it) used as a starting point for a self-help message by a “preacher” on tv and seen it plastered on pictures online… The tv personality (and most of the professing Christians that I have heard/seen use the phrase) supposedly got the idea from Mathew 22:39.

    “The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (HCSB)

    I’m sure you noted that the first half of the verse indicates that this is a “second” following something before it. I’m also sure you noted that the primary factor in this verse is “your neighbor” not “yourself.”

    But let’s back up a moment and get some context – in the 22nd chapter of Matthew, Jesus finishes a long string of parables and deals with several “test questions” brought to Him by the Pharisees and Sadducees (taxes and resurrection respectively), and then comes the following passage.

     But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” ~ Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV) 

    Here Jesus has quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5 for the greatest, most defining commandment from God, and then He summarizes the whole of the Law with His added “second commandment.”

    If you go back and read Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and even Numbers, you get a much better sense of what “loving your neighbor as yourself” looks like, than if you just have the self-esteem toting, “you are special and deserve to be loved,” material success focused societal lense of our day.

    Jesus’ statement even taken by itself cannot come close to being interpreted as meaning anything along the lines of “here Jesus has acknowledged the truth that if you don’t like yourself you’ll be an angry and unhappy, and therefore unloving person. Because if you can’t even accept yourself for who you are and stop being critical of yourself, you’ll never be able to love people.” No. The context of the statement and its relation to the Law of God make the treatment of your neighbor the primary and only subject in that sentence. No person listening to Jesus at the time would have inserted anything about their “self feelings” into what was being taught.

    Inserting the “importance of good self-esteem” concept into the statement also becomes impossible in light of Jesus’ direct teachings on the subject of “self.”

    Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. ~ Matthew 16:24-27


    “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” ~ Luke 14:26-35 (ESV)

    These passages obviously indicate that the disciple is to be marked first and foremost by self-denial and self-sacrifice. And I believe this is further attested to by the way the epistles echo Jesus’ summary of the “Law and Prophets.”

    For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.  ~ Romans 13:9-10

    Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. ~ James 2:5-17 (ESV)

    No mention of how you feel about “you” except to point out hypocrisy or self-deception.

    In fact, I would submit to the reader that something of an opposite perspective is being taken by Jesus (and His Apostles) – that being something like this: “you already love yourself so much that you should be treating others as good as you treat yourself.”

    NOTE: Something of the idea in Ephesians 5:29 comes to mind as a Scriptural phraseology for what I’ve suggested above.

    You see, human beings are so selfish that even in the case of those who are suicidal and/or “hateful” of themselves in one way or another, they are still so focused on themselves that they are literally loving/worshiping themselves over anyone else. Romans 1:18-32, 3:10-18, 3:23, Jeremiah 17:9, etc…

    To paraphrase several great preachers; we don’t need more/better self-esteem or to learn to love/accept/be happy with ourselves – we need to repent of our selfish selfcenteredness and evil, and to hold God in high esteem and love Him to the utter forgetfulness of ourselves so that the only thing left for our consideration is how best to obey His commands.