This evening we are gathering to read through 1 Thessalonians 2. In this chapter, we have our first understanding of the problems in this congregation and why Paul wrote the letter. In verses 14-16, Paul speaks of this church being 1) persecuted by (fellow) Jews and 2) prevented from reaching out to the Gentiles. Throughout his teachings, Jesus foretold this persecution. In John 15:20 he says “’A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” Or in Matthew 5:11: “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
Looking back on the church in Thessalonica (or Galatia, or almost anywhere else), we often take for granted that we would be those Jews who became part of that church being persecuted and not the Jews who were the persecutors. In his discourse against the Pharisees in Matthew 23, Jesus accuses the Pharisees of having this very outlook: “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.”
For tonight, try to look at Paul’s message from the point-of-view of the established Jewish teachers. According to Scripture, the outward and visible sign of being in the Kingdom of God was the keeping of the rite of circumcision, for God commanded Abraham “This is my covenant, which you shall keep between me and you and your descendants after you – every male among you shall be circumcised.” Genesis 17:9-14. And being in the Kingdom meant keeping God’s laws – not only thou shalt not murder (Deut. 5:17) but also thou shalt not plow with an ox and a donkey nor wear wool and linen together (Deut. 22:11). And, of course, uncircumcised Gentiles who refused to keep the law clearly were not part of the Kingdom. But the gospel Paul preached is that we are no longer bound by the Law and circumcision but only Christ Jesus, and therefore the Kingdom is open to all. cf. Gal. 5
For tonight, think through how we in the church today are like the Jewish persecutors of the church in Thessalonica. How do we judge who does and does not belong in the Kingdom of God? Who are the Gentiles whom we are certain are not citizens of God’s Kingdom because our reading of the Scriptures says so?
Dinner is at 6. The menu tonight is chicken potato casserole. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here. AND PLEASE GO VOTE!
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Gal 5:14