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Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Wednesday, 2 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20


The Text

13. And for this we ourselves give thanks continually to God, that you welcomed what you heard from us not as human words, but as it truly is – the word of God – that is active among you who are believing. 

14. Brothers and sisters, you became mimics of the churches in Messiah Jesus in Judea, because of the things you suffered from your people, just as they did from the Jews.

15. And these people, the ones who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out, are not trying to please God. They are against humanity. 

16. They hindered us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they might be saved. The fullness of their sins always comes, which will be wrath to them at the end. 

17. But we were orphaned from you, our brothers and sisters, for a little while, physically but not emotionally. We eagerly desired to see your face more than ever.

18. We wanted to come to you, I, Paul, tried one and twice, but was blocked by Satan. 

19. For what is our hope, joy, or crown of boasting if not you, and you before our Lord Jesus at his coming? 

20. You are our glory and joy. 


Commentary

The theme of mimicry emerges again, a holdover from 1:6. The difference is who is imitating whom. The church in Thessalonica is imitating, not by choice or pleasure but by necessity, the mother church in Jerusalem. Just as that church was persecuted by Jews, by their very people, so too the Thessalonians were persecuted by their own people. I wonder if this stung Paul to write, because he was the Jew of Jews who took such zeal in persecuting the primitive church? Was there a similar Paul-figure who ferociously persecuted the Thessalonians but then, saw the light, and turned, and became a Christ-follower? That would be some serious mimicry.

Paul describes these persecutors as being against humanity. The text is literally “all people” or “all human beings” with the word ‘anthropos’. I almost translated it as “against everyone” but decided humanity had a nice ring to it, for they are not just opposite of an idea, they are against human beings.

Paul wants to visit them, but Satan has blocked him. Satan has blocked Paul. That sounds incredibly personal. There is a school of thought out there that teaches evil is not a personification, that it is a great power but it is impersonal, like gravity or friction. But Paul did not see the universe that way. He understood there was an adversary who had lined up against him to stop him from doing certain things. I agree with Paul. I know there is an enemy out there and he is in stark opposition to me.


Questions For Application

  1. Is the word of God active in your life? Serious — does it have verbal powers to move and to change you, or is it just a noun that lies there?
  2. If you could imitate any church you’ve ever seen, which one would it be? Why? Now that you’ve done that exercise, how much persecution and pain has that church gone through? Are you wiling to go through that, to suffer, and to sacrifice?
  3. Is Satan blocking you right now? What are you going to do about it? (Note: Paul wrote this letter as a solution)
  4. Who is your glory and joy?

ROMANS 12 FROM THE GREEK TEXT

Less theology, more behavior.  That is what happens with the beginning of Romans 12.  Paul gently moves the reader from his dense theological musings into the realm of practical application in everyday life.  Of course, he makes this transition with one of the most fascinating lead-ins ever:  Romans 12:1

Translation Notes:

There is not a whole lot to discuss on the translation side.  The chapter is pretty cut-n-dried.  However, it is interesting to note that the word “fervent” in verse 11 is closely associated with the word for “boil”, which is quite the word picture for spiritual life.

The chain of gifts (vv 6-8) is not as easy to handle as it might seem.  There is no easy flow from noun to verb, as seemingly each verb has some kind of different application.  For that reason I worked it over thoroughly to make it fit English grammar.

Theological Notes:

A Bible student could spend a decade trying to figure out what exactly verses 1 and 2 are all about.  I will only, therefore, make a couple of observations here.  First, the center of Christian worship is not about rituals or dead animals.  In worship there is something about denial, self-sacrifice, discipline, patience, and even mortification, but this worship is not dead but alive, and it is physical.  Worship is done with our living bodies.  Second, worship is more than our bodies, it is also what happens in our minds.  We must exercise control of our thoughts and transform (metanoia, as opposed to paranoia) the way our minds work.  That indicates to us that the Christian life is reasonable, logical, and driven by conscience choice, not bleeding hearts.

Some might parse out verse one as being about worship while verse two is about discipleship, and that might be correct, but Paul might rightly ask us what is the difference?

Verse 21 is sobering to me.  The world is filled with evils, and as followers of Christ we are not called to simply endure them or to tolerate them, but to overcome them.  We do not overcome them with worship or with prayer, which is odd.  We do not even overcome evil with scripture.  These are the things we would think we would need to overcome evil–worship, prayer, and the word.  But no, worship, prayer and the word are the building blocks (c/f v. 2 for knowing the will of God) that inform us what is “the good” we should do in the world.  It is our actions in the world that defeat evil.

Chapter Twelve

1. Therefore, I encourage you, brothers and sisters, because of the compassion of God, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and acceptable to God, your thoughtful act of worship.
2. Do not model yourself on this age, but be transformed in the renewal of the mind, so as to determine what the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God is.
3. I speak to all those among you by the grace given to me, do not think highly of yourself but think reasonably, each one by the faith God has given.
4. Just as we have many members in one body, but every member does not have the same function,
5. so in Messiah we are many in one body, but as individuals we are members of one another.
6. By the grace given to us, we are given different gifts. If it is prophecy use it in proportion to faith,
7. if service then as a deacon, if teaching as a teacher,
8. if encouraging in encouragement, if sharing in sincere generosity, if leadership in diligence, or if one has mercy in gladness.
9. Love without pretense. Abhor evil. Cling to good.
10. Let sibling-type love be tenderly affectionate among you. Lead out with honor for one another.
11. In diligence do not be timid. Serve the Lord with a fervent spirit.
12. Rejoice in hope. Endure distress. Continue faithfully in prayer.
13. Contribute to the needs of the saints. Pursue hospitality.
14. Bless the one persecuting you. Bless and do not curse.
15. Rejoice with those rejoicing. Cry with those crying.
16. Think of one another as the same, not arrogantly, but be associated with those who are humble. Do not be too thoughtful of yourself.
17. Repay no one evil for evil. Think ahead about what is honorable in the eyes of all people.
18. For your part, if possible, live at peace with all people.
19. Do not vindicate yourself, beloved, but rather put wrath in its place. For it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I myself will repay,’ says the Lord.”
20. But, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him something to drink, doing this heaps fiery coals upon his head.”
21. Do not let evil conqueror you, but instead conquer evil with good.