We’re continuing our 30 Days of Paul Reading Challenge. Today, we’re finishing Paul’s first letter to the followers of The Way of Jesus in Thessalonica.
Chapters 4 and 5 specifically highlights a couple of eschatological things — the resurrection and the return of Jesus. But there are other things that Paul points out that I think can be applicable today. Specifically, he wrote about G‑d’s will and gave the Thessalonian followers a list of great things that followers of The Way of Jesus can work towards throughout the ages.
Paul wrote that G‑d’s will for the Thessalonian followers was to dedicate their lives to G‑d (4.3). Paul clarifies what he meant, “This means that you stay away from sexual immorality and learn how to control your own body in a pure and respectable way. Don’t be controlled by your sexual urges…” (4.4-5). I find that interesting. Being dedicated to G‑d means controlling one’s sexual urges. Paul doesn’t clarify what that means, but I don’t think it has anything to do with loving, consensual relationships between adults.
He tells the Thessalonian followers to do even more “loving deeds” and “[aim] to live quietly, mind [their] own business, and earn [their] own living” (4.11). “That way” he says, they’ll “behave appropriately toward outsiders, and…won’t be in need” (4.12). Very practical stuff in those words. That’s what I think everytime I read someone’s opinion about the LBGT community and marriage equality. We need to learn to “live quietly” and “mind [our] own business.” Too often we’re butting in where we’re not wanted. And that’s exactly how not to do “loving deeds.”
In 4.13ff, many think Paul is referring to the “rapture.” He’s not. That theory wasn’t even on the radar in Paul’s day. Paul was talking about the resurrection and the fully established Realm (or Kingdom) of G‑d. Mistakenly, Paul linked this with the return of Jesus at the fall of Jerusalem. However, that doesn’t take away from what Paul was getting at. His point was that the people who have died will be with Christ and when the Realm of G‑d is made fully visible, that is, when it’s fully established, Christ will “appear” (as he says in Colossians). The two realms will be visible to one another; they’ll be one (see Revelation 20).
His whole point here is one of comfort. That is, it seems that some of the Thessalonian followers thought that those who had died before G‑d fully established the new world wouldn’t be part of it; that when one dies, that’s it. Nothing more. It seems that some believed that one had to be “alive and still around” to be part of G‑d’s new world. Paul was telling them that this wasn’t the case. Faithful people will be with Christ and us in G‑d’s new world. We’re to encourage each other with this thought.
In 5.1-11, it’s crystal clear that Paul thought and taught others that Jesus would appear in his generation. His encouragement to the Thessalonians followers of Jesus is for them to be prepared for that appearing. Again, this shouldn’t be seen as speaking to our time or the (not so) distant future; it was for Paul’s time. And it happened in roughly 10 years after Paul wrote this letter.
In the remaining verses (12ff), Paul gave some instructions that should be memorized by followers of The Way of Jesus in every generation:
- Respect your leaders and those working with you.
- Live in peace with each other.
- Warn the disorderly.
- Comfort the discouraged.
- Help the weak.
- Be patient with everyone.
- Don’t repay a wrong with a wrong, but always pursue the good for everyone.
- Rejoice always.
- Pray continually.
- Give thanks in every situation.
- Don’t suppress the Spirit.
- Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what’s good.
- Avoid every kind of evil.
There are a couple of things I would to point out here (though a whole series could be done on this list alone). Paul said not to “repay a wrong with a wrong, but always pursue the good for everyone” (5.15). What would that look like today? I think of the issues of race and equality. We’ve made some advancements very recently, but it’s clear we still have a long way to go. What would that verse look like in your world?
He also wrote not to “brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what’s good” (5.20-21). Here I thought of the wisdom that I get from listening to my wife tell me about Buddhism or some teaching from a yogi. It’s amazing to me that there are more similarities than I previously thought. What about you? What does that verse say to you? Do you think of political ideologies that aren’t from your political perspective? Or perhaps it means listening to someone coming from a different Christian tradition?
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC