Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
1 and 2 Thessalonians
In Post 8 about Paul on this question, I considered Paul’s discourse of farewell to the Ephesian Elders in Acts 20, connecting it to Ellis Hein’s openings in John. The post concluded with this: “The grace of God is the voice declaring: ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”
This was such a departure from the meaning of the Grace of God taught to us by Protestant churches that for some time I felt at sea. But finally a sense of assurance came and grounding that this is the center where we can stand.
My sense then was that the epistles to the Thessalonians were the next place to examine. They are likely the earliest of the epistles. I returned to them again and again looking for the connection between Grace and the injunction to heed the Prophet like Moses.
The high point of the first epistle is ch 4, vs 9 and 10, “Now about brotherly love, we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.. And in fact, you love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you brothers, to do so more and more.” Paul had other isues of concern to write about, but regarding this most central matter, he delighted in the people learning directly from God. It is an extension of his greeting of love to them in 1:3, “We continually remember your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”.
The message Paul, Silas and Timothy brought was not just words but was accompanied by a Power that Taught the people to repent from idolatry, Learn to serve the True God and Wait for his Son from Heaven (ch 1:4-10). These were not distinct things but different aspects of the same experience, to turn, to learn and to wait in the Power that changed everything. The message was not buried in anything false but in Power is the “the Word of God, at work in those of you who believe”.
Paul, Silas and Timothy were torn away from the Thessalonian believers so quickly that they were worried that the message would not “stick” or that someone would lead them down a false path. But Timothy was able to make a visit and found that the Power of God was still at work among them. Most of the rest of the letter is encouragement to continue and do even more.
But another matter held me back from writing. Paul and the these believers clearly expected an outward return of Jesus as well as the inward coming that was transforming them into “children of the Light and of the Day” (5:5). This whole passage (4:13-5:11) is used so much by Evangelical Christians to put the Day of the Lord and Kingdom of God in the future that I shrank from looking at or considering it the context of this blog. A recent event changed my perspective. A friend of mine with whom I worked a number of years died and I went to her Memorial. She was a Christian and to me, her faith had obviously changed her life. But those around her mistook her joy for optimism, even as they leaned on it. They mistook her faith for folly even as it helped sustain her family. So, the Memorial was somber, most people dressed in black. Despite her clear wishes, they were “grieving like the rest of men” (v. 4:13). Those who believe, who trust, Jesus, come to learn from him to become like him. They are transformed into Children of the Light and of the Day (5:5) and have Hope in the current life and the one to come. Those in this situation, who did not, clearly had little hope for either present or future.
George Fox could say that the Day of the Lord is Come and also is Coming. 2 Thessalonians is addressed to a group of believers more stressed by persecutions but Paul speaks of both also. In chapter 1 he speaks of the Day when Christ will come to be glorified within his People and that he is praying for this very thing. In chapter 2 he denies that the Day of the Lord has past them up. The final Day of history has not come yet and, just as important, the Lord is already at work in them to make them worthy of sharing the Glory of that Day. “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father who loves us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2:16 and 17). And again, “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s Love and Christ’s perseverance.” (3:5).
Paul translated his belief in the Prophet like Moses to these folks who knew little or nothing of Moses. Jesus was present to teach them and they were being changed by it. The Teaching, God’s Grace, God’s Word at work in them had Power to change and to help them stand and grow in the face of fierce persecution. It gave them real Hope in the present and death would not cheat that Hope.
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