Faith Status

faith

Paul is so eager to determine the stability of the Thessalonians faith. Understandably, their faith is being tried through persecution and it is unknown whether the tempter would destroy their faith. So with this in mind, Paul staying alone in Athens, sends Timothy to  establish and exhort the Thessalonians in the faith of Christ. Timothy, a recognized coworker in the gospel of Christ had endured persecution and was a perfect choice to visit this city and provide direct support for the Thessalonians faith. Timothy would be the stake for their faith to climb on. Timothy would be the cane for their faith to maintain its equilibrium. Timothy’s teaching would act as an unwavering support against the ongoing affliction the Thessalonians were facing. Accurate teaching displays the magnificence of God, equipping us for the inevitable suffering to come.

I’m so encouraged. Paul is not sending Timothy to find out how well their son/daughter did in athletics. Paul is not trying to find out about the next career move. Paul is not trying to determine who bought a new home or car. Paul is not consumed with their next church strategy.  Paul is consumed with determining the health of their faith, because the cultural climate in Thessalonica could easily deter them from continuing their walk in faith. It would be much easier for the Thessalonians to entertain their idols among this culture (1:9). Following Christ meant ongoing suffering that wears on the mind and body.

How does my culture deter my faith? Thank you for messengers, like Timothy, who you have designed to proclaim your word and establish my faith!

Advertisements

Hope ~ Joy ~ Crown

Paul has developed a sincere bond with the people in Thessalonica. Unfortunately, he had been torn away from the Thessalonians prematurely. Although physically separated, their hearts were knit together in love just as a mother and father are knit to their children (2:7,11). I find this analogy powerful in regards to Christian love and genuineness. I know how much I love my children and Paul is suggesting that our love for brothers and sisters in Christ can be as powerful as a parent’s love. I have eagerly awaited at an airport ready to see my loved ones arrive because I  desire to see them face to face. To see their smile, to touch their skin, to feel that endless hug. Paul eagerly desired to walk around that bend on the Roman road in Macedonia and see the Thessalonians face to face. They were so dear to him (2:8)! Though eager to renew the relationship face to face Satan had hindered Paul & Co. from returning to Thessalonica. How challenging? The desire of Satan is to separate those who love each other. There is power in numbers whose love for Jesus Christ is the same. Our flesh and arch enemy is constantly waging a war of dividing people. Although divided, Paul encourages the Thessalonians with a compelling analogy.  “What is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.” Okay my handkerchief is ready. I can see the tears flowing down the face of the Thessalonians as the elder of the church reads this letter to the congregation. This church was the example for all churches in Macedonia and Achaia because of their faith in the midst of horrible persecution. BOOM. That will make me stand up and take another hit for the team. Would my courage under fire inspire the likes of Paul so much that he could tell other believers watch his faith and imitate it? I’m beginning to fall in love with those who followed Christ in Thessalonica. Can’t wait to meet them some day? How am I going to find them? Probably their scars.

Grateful Reception

gratefulPaul and Co. are constantly grateful because the Thessalonians received the words of God. This sounds like take two of chapter one verse two. What’s kind of funny is I’ve been teaching soccer players how to receive the ball, which is an analogy of receiving the words of God. Some players make no contact with the ball, while others players make contact with the ball but choose the wrong part of the body to receive it.  Other players may make contact with the right part of the body but fail to absorb any energy when receiving the ball causing it to explode off their body part losing control of the ball. How often people simply never position themselves to receive God’s word. Others try and comprehend out of their futile flesh. Some people immediately repel the words of God when it is spoken. I think appropriate reception of the words of God is a result of my mind and heart knowing and receiving through faith the authenticity of God.

Paul elaborates by demonstrating that God’s words work supernaturally in believers.  How brilliant that God would choose words, who is the Word,  to constantly be at work in us. As recent as this morning God chose to use words spoken through my pastor, Josh Lindstrom, to convict and transform my life. Though it be words he spoke from God’s word weeks ago, His words are working in me.

I see from this text that faith in God’s word has a recognizable response; endurance under pressure. Paul is encouraged by their faith and as he reflects, the endurance in affliction of the  Thessalonians imitates  the stamina of Judea churches. Though Judea’s persecutors were different their response is and must be the same.

Paul is not delighted with the Jews who persecuted the churches in Judea and rehearses all that the Jews were responsible for:

  • killing Jesus
  • killing the prophets
  • driving out at Paul & Co.
  • displeasing God and opposing mankind
    • by hindering Paul & Co. from speaking to the Gentiles so they may be saved (Acts 13:48-51; 14:2,19;17:5-10)

Paul indicates that the Jews continue to fill up the measure of their sins, but he is confident God is measuring and enforcing His wrath upon them. What a cataclysmic challenge for the early church to denounce God’s outstretched hand to the Gentiles. Empathizing with the Jews I think I can comprehend their hesitancy, yet they went to the extreme of sinful rejection of this people opposing God’s plan. What a tragedy for me to miss God’s movement in my life. God have I rejected what you are attempting to accomplish? God help me to yield my spirit to the Holy Spirit and may the Holy Spirit through your word make it evident what you are seeking to accomplish. May I never step in and hinder who you are pursuing. Paul & Co. are totally pumped because the Thessalonians have accepted God’s word as truth in the worst of scenarios and are choosing courageous obedience rather than fear and disobedience.

I’m still baffled thinking about what the Thessalonians would have been thinking as they read the letter as a group. Paul congratulates us for enduring persecution well.

Selfless Labor

father exhorting sonPaul jogs the memory of the Thessalonians reminding them of his personal labor and toil, which consumed most nights and days. Paul and Co. had made a concerted effort to not add extra burdens to this group of believers, while proclaiming the good news of Christ. Biblical leadership requires selflessness; an effort to not be a burden to other believers, especially those experiencing pressure from persecution. Paul highlights optimal conduct of Christian leadership, which is to be holy,  right and blameless. Previously Paul had cared for the Thessalonians as a mother cares for her nursing child, but now Paul cares for them as a father for his children exhorting, encouraging and charging his children to walk in a manner that is worthy of God. Why? Because God has called you into his own kingdom and glory.

A Dangerous Trickster Inside

Paul’s tone seems to indicate the Thessalonians could have misunderstood or misinterpreted why he arrived in Thessolanica. So an explanation follows. It was common in the first century to have professional philosophers or orators arrive in their cities often declaring error and impurity usually leading to deception. But Paul’s appeal is the gospel, which has no error impurity or deception. The absence of truth, purity, and honesty meant the absence of God. God is TRUTH. God is PURE. God is HONEST. Trickery is not the MO of God (OT-Jacob).Paul, in his apolgetic, is suggesting that some people claiming to be teachers will arrive without truth, purity, and honesty pursuing selfish gain. I must step back and ask about my motives and initiatives. Am I truthful? Do I speak truth especially in regards to Christ? Am I pure in my relationships? Do I avoid deception or manipulation in relationships? Am I an adamant fighter of selfish gain?  The gospel, which has penetrated my life, is absent of error impurity and deception.

Having “been entrusted with the gospel”  Paul’s accountability is not the ears of man, but the all-knowing God who tests our hearts. Paul gives a hint in how to identify narcissistic tricksters. You will find smooth voices able to flatter people with great conversations. Unsuspecting as it may seem inner greed looms just below the surface. Be it fame and recognition or financial advantage, self glory is the primary objective. Typically they forget God’s unwillingness to share His glory with anyone, especially scoundrels. Fortunately, God is witness to not only Paul, but also to me in the 21st century. Do I flatter people? Is greed hidden just below the surface hoping to not be exposed by others, but definitely there? Do I hope to be center of attention? Shamefully I can answer yes, but so thankful for the gospel. Do I recognize frauds who flatter and flirt with  greediness? Yikes, this passage really is sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). I do flatter. I do allow greed to seep into my life. I do pursue my own glory. Why would I flatter? Acceptance, selfish ambition, personal gain? Why am I greedy? Why do I crave glory/recognition/praise? Why is the gospel not enough? Paul eloquently explains to the Thessalonians that the good news of Jesus is enough and the gospel is his motivation to give to others selflessly and tirelessly for the glory of God.

Paul was gentle with the believers in Thessalonica caring for them as a nursing mother protects her children. Nursing children  are powerless and completely dependent on their powerful mother. Nursing children are vulnerable needing food, shelter, protection. The normal mother would do everything within her power to nurture her children whom God had blessed her with. Paul & Co visualized their relationship with the Thessalonians in such a way. Paul had such compassion for the Thessalonians that he not only wanted to share the good news of Jesus he wanted to sacrifice his life because the Thessalonians were so precious to him. Imagine being loved like Paul loves by church leadership? Imagine loving a brother and sister in Christ like Paul loved the Thessalonians? Imagine being so propelled by the gospel that only love and the joy of serving others found room in my life? The gospel of Jesus is true, pure, and honest giving glory to God.

Footnote –  (“Plutarch was so concerned about flatterers that he wrote a whole treatise about how to distinguish between them and true friends.” – Quomodo Adulator ab Amico Internoscatur)

The Gospel’s Response to Conflict

go to jailPaul indicates from his words in the second chapter of first Thessalonians that motives are strategic. Humanity has the possibility to be motivated for self while disciples of Christ may be and should be motivated by the gospel. Paul takes a moment to recount how he arrived, along with others, in Thessalonica. Paul and Silas had been tossed out of Phillipi, a prominent influential Macedonian city, after spending a few nights in jail illegally. Paul & Co. were disturbed at their mistreatment by the authorities in Phillipi. The city leadership put the beat down on Paul and his companions eventually tossing them in jail without being condemned. What the leadership didn’t realize at the time was Paul & Co. were Roman citizens; big problem.

Although the origin of law ultimately is God, law is established by a culture to uphold things they deem important. Law is developed by humanity and is expected to be honored by the citizens under it regardless of rank. Paul has a legitimate reason for being disturbed by the Phillipians unlawful actions, even though they are governmental leadership. Paul took a verbal swing at the authorities in Acts 16 as well as recording a few thoughts in this letter to the Thessalonians. A government/leadership role doesn’t allow you to trump the laws established by the culture, which they were elected/hired/chosen to enforce. As citizens Paul indicates they have a responsibility to hold people accountable to recorded law. Instead of Paul allowing the police to set him free he insisted the magistrates come release him from  illegal imprisonment. Although Paul’s emphasis in this passage  is not on his mistreatment in Phillipi, it provided the context for why he arrived in Thessolonians. What I find so encouraging is though leadership denied Paul & Co his rights in Phillipi he moved locations slightly and immediately began declaring the good news of God. It would have been so easy for Paul to have said oops we have to go back to Jerusalem they will not let us share the good news of Jesus. We have to give up! Nope, within a days journey Paul was declaring the gospel in another city. The good news of Jesus doesn’t flinch in conflict rather it abounds.jail

I suspect Paul was using this story to relate with the Thessalonians persecution, that great things happen in response to wrongdoing. In spite of being imprisoned illegally in Phillipi,  Paul and Silas were able to see the good news of Jesus transform a jailer and his entire household as well as move to another target city like Thessalonica. Paul was confident that in spite of the Thessalonians mistreatment God was going to work marvelously.

Idols or Joy

Paul is quite confident in the type of men they (Paul, Silvanus and Timothy) were among the Thessalonian church. Paul & Co didn’t live for their sake, rather they lived for the Thessalonians. It’s heart wrenching to observe my life. Is it only for my pleasure and entertainment? Is it only about the next game, the next movie, the next car, the next home, the next career, the next social activity? Paul & Co. had martyred self for the (Thessalonians). When Christ steps into a life motives and ambitions change from selfish to selfless. Is my life about serving others, not for selfish gain, but because of Christ’s endless love?

Once the gospel penetrated the lives of the Thessalonians, they imitated Paul & Co whose lives also had been transformed by the good news of Jesus. I find the testimony of the Thess. encouraging as they experienced the joy of the Holy Spirit while enduring affliction. I can expect the joy of the Holy Spirit in the midst of brutal affliction. After all, the Holy Spirit is sure to remind me of whose glory the affliction is about. It’s not about how painless life can be, but how comforting is God’s everlasting joy.

Paul is thrilled to see the gospel come in power among the Thess. with the Holy Spirit’s conviction bringing joy in the midst of affliction. The Thess. have become examples to all disciples of Jesus in Macedonia and Achaia (Berea, Phillipi, Neapolis, Nicopolis, Corinth, Athens, Cenchreae, Apollonia). Followers of Christ from everywhere are observing their faith in God; being encouraged by how they turned from idols to serve the living and true God. They turned from polytheism and pluralism to worship the one true God. Hmm what are the idols in my life that sequester the joy of the Lord?

This faith results in waiting for the Son; what Son?  The Son who comes from heaven, who was raised from the dead, whose name is Jesus, who delivers from the coming wrath. The lives of these believers in the first century is quite moving. The faith of their church changed the cultural temperament. The work of Christ among a person and/or persons is remarkably powerful.