In this summer study, we read through Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians. In these letters, Paul’s focus is on eschatology (end-times). Paul’s writing, however, is not intended to provide systematic theological instruction, but to provide pastoral care and instruction to an anxious congregation. For background on this study, I have used N.T. Wright’s Paul for Everyone, Galatians and Thessalonians, Timothy Johnson’s The Writings of the New Testament, and Abraham Malherbe’s Paul and the Popular Philosophers. This summer study covers six weeks.
The letter is paranetic or pastoral in the manner of contemporary Stoics (like Seneca) or Cynics (like Dio Chrysostom). In the first part of the letter, Paul presents himself as a father or a nurse, and then he offers consolation to his audience for the trials they have suffered.
Because the greeting in 1 Thessalonians 1:1 is from Paul, Silas, and Timothy, the general consensus is that this letter was written from Corinth fairly soon after Paul had left Thessalonica. This is the very first of Paul’s correspondence.
Paul opens his letter with what will become known as the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. As you prepare for this evening, think through the role that each of these three virtues plays within the life of the Church and the life of a Christian.
In his defense of his ministry against the Greeks, Paul borrows heavily from the prevailing Greek philosophical schools to justify his authority.
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?
Although the rules set forth by Paul are from the philosophers, the motivation for Paul is wholly Christian. The philosophers were concerned with the rational life so giving in to sexual desire was irrational and thus prohibited. On the contrary, Paul’s motivation was attaining a sanctified life in the Spirit.
As you read about Timothy in tonight’s readings, think about how your personal ministry looks like Timothy’s. Think through those circumstances where you have been called upon to support someone else in their endeavors or to encourage a congregation or a particular Christian ministry.
Paul’s purpose is to comfort the afflicted, not to give us a detailed accurate description of a future occurrence. Paul is trying to describe the color blue to a blind person.
Paul begins this letter with the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. He concludes his letter with a similar triad of Rejoicing, Prayer, and Thanksgiving. For that is our response to the Gospel.
This letter continues Paul’s eschatological (end-times) focus that we saw in 1 Thessalonians. According to Paul, at the close of age, Jesus will come again.
Paul tells us the end result of the final judgment is not a rapture or an entrance into heaven. Rather, our purposeful end is 1) when God makes us worthy of his calling, 2) when every good work is resolved and fulfilled, and 3) when Jesus Christ is glorified within you.
If God first so loved you to call you to be his own, then whatever may occur, God will always not only be there – even in persecution and death – but will always be working to restore his image in you.
From the earliest churches in the Roman Empire, who cared for the poor and diseased, through innumerable charitable works today, the church has always cared for the disadvantaged. But what of those who seek relief but aren’t in need?