Thursday, October 17, 2019

Reports of Others: 1 Thessalonians 1

In Summary:

So we come to the letters to the Thessalonians. Paul wrote two letters to these Christians, and most Biblical scholars are agreeable that 1 Thessalonians was written first. (You think that’s self-evident? It’s not—1 Thessalonians is first in your Bible because it’s longer than 2 Thessalonians. The chronology is a separate study.) This church was founded from Paul and Silas’ preaching in Acts 17, though the evidence in Acts is that the Apostle was not even in Thessalonica for a month!

1 Thessalonians opens as most of Paul’s letters do: with a standard greeting. Here, however, we see something different with Paul not asserting any title alongside his name. In most of his letters to churches, Paul identifies himself as either an apostle or a servant of the Lord Jesus. Here, he is simply “Paul,” writing with Silvanus and Timothy. Silvanus is the Latinized version of the name Silas, so this is Paul, Silas, and Timothy, the three men who were the initiators of Christianity in the region. They had persuaded many that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer (including death) and then rise from the dead, then turned to demonstrating that Jesus was this Messiah.

Beyond the difference in the introduction, Paul’s greeting is familiar: grace to you and peace, followed by an expression of his thanksgiving for the church. Here he uses “we,” as the letter would be considered as from all three of the named authors, but Paul is the primary writer. He highlights that the church came to be not only in word but in power, though we have no information from Acts about very many miracles or events that fit this description. I would suggest to you that part of the demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power in Thessalonica was that the church established and flourished without Paul or Silas being there for an extended time—later, in 1 Thessalonians 3, we’ll see that Timothy was sent back to encourage and strengthen the church, but it was already there.

In Focus:
Let us take a moment to look hard at 1 Thessalonians 1:7-9. Consider what is said here of the Christians in Thessalonica: they are an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. That’s the bulk of modern-day Greece, dear readers, and indicates the church was not just doing well in its own town but sending out the Word of God to other places—as we see in verse 8! Paul notes that their faith has gone out (these days, I’m using CSB but I forgot how to change the automatic reference link) to the area. They have not quietly sat in their own church—despite knowing from the beginning (look back at Acts 17:1-9) that following Jesus would bring them trouble from the people around them.

From this point, Paul now states that he hardly needs to say anything about the work of faith in the people at Thessalonica: their reputation of obeying God’s word spoke for them.

In Practice:
Well, the first, most obvious point of application is this: what does our reputation say of us? For example, of our own local church?

Are we:
1. An example of joy in persecution? (v. 6) Not that we should seek persecution or idly let it happen if there are God-honoring means to prevent it, but “fear” or “panic” are not the responses we’re called to. How did you respond to suggestions of change in tax policy to persecute churches? How do you feel about government policies that sideline religion? Joyful? or angry, fearful, vengeful?
2. Followers of Christ with an active faith? Do we sit by and trust that someone will hear of us or do we go out and tell the world about Jesus? Oh, and do not think that we can do this with a Gospel of words only, but it must come with power shown in changed lives. If the church sits idly by in the face of sin in the camp, we are not showing an active faith.
3. Willing to share about the good things God is doing in the lives of others? Think about: the other churches shared the good that the Thessalonians had done. Does anyone hear of the good work done by the churches in your town…from your church?

In Nerdiness:
1. Saying that Paul wrote two letters should be qualified with a term like “that we have” or “that we know about.” It’s possible that Paul wrote the Thessalonians every other week but we don’t have the letters.
2. Not relevant to the text, but in 380 AD the Edict of Thessalonica was the proclamation of Nicene Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. This came approximately 70 years after Constantine shifted the Roman stance to toleration, then a hearty approval of Christianity.
3. Traditionally, we’ve called the city Thessalonica, and I have followed that here, but it is considered more correct to use Thessaloniki as the English formation of the Greek name.
4. In most of my resources, two things stand out on the authorship of 1 Thessalonians: there are very few that suggest it was written by anyone other than Paul and there are many who are certain it was the first of Paul’s writings. And, by extension, they also hold it to be the oldest of the New Testament writings.

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