Sunday, February 12, 2012

Scripture Sunday: First Thessalonians

Paul's first letter to the Thessalonian church is intensely positive. Paul is proud of the Thessalonians for being bold about sharing their faith: "For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing." (1:8). These people don't just believe in Jesus; they live out their faith in public and share the love of God with others.

Paul takes time to discuss his previous trip to Thessalonica and mention how he and his fellow ministers acted during their visit. He takes care to mention that they preached the gospel in order to please God, not to please people, and that they never flattered anyone or looked for personal glory. This is an example that could benefit modern Christians, especially those who get to preach from a pulpit--they need to focus on what God wants them to say rather than carefully picking out their words in order to please and flatter their listeners. And yet, Paul doesn't say it's necessary to be harsh or abrasive while ministering to others: "But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children" (2:7). So a person speaking God's word must not hold back the truth, but they're also supposed to be loving and gentle toward those they're dealing with.

This personal tenderness toward the Thessalonians had a very strong pull on Paul and his co-ministers. He says "we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us" (2:8). That's true brotherly love at work, when one person can care so unreservedly for another person and give expecting nothing back. But the Thessalonians did in fact give something back to Paul in the spiritual sense, because he receives great joy and comfort from knowing that they steadfastly follow after the Lord. Paul is longing to see the Thessalonians again, and since he couldn't take a second trip to see them, he had actually sent his right-hand man/protege Timothy to them.

1st Thessalonians contains some important facts about the second coming of Christ, also known as the rapture in Christian circles. Paul makes sure that the Thessalonians know that there is no set calendar date for the Lord's return: "For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night." (5:2) In other words, it's going to happen suddenly and when no one expects it. Many different denominations (and cults) have tried to predict when Jesus' second coming will be, but dozens of end-of-the-world dates have already come and gone. God's own word tells us that we can't predict when the end will be, nor should we try to--it's our job to be prepared to face the Lord whenever that day does come.

Chapter five ends with a list of short but important things for Christians to remember:

"16Rejoice evermore.
17Pray without ceasing.
18In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
19Quench not the Spirit.
20Despise not prophesyings.
21Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
22Abstain from all appearance of evil. "

All easy-to-remember proverbs that we would do well to actually commit to memory.

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