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Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

During the season of Advent I am translating the weekday epistle readings from the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Monday, 30 November 2020 1 Thessalonians 1


Chapter One

1. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the Thessalonian church: Grace and peace to you in Father God and Lord Jesus Messiah.

2. We always give thanks to God for the memory of you, continually making our prayers for you. 

3. Remembering before our God and Father your faithful work, the labor of love, and hopeful patience in our Lord Messiah Jesus.

4. Knowing he chose you, our brothers and sisters who have been loved by God.

5. Because our gospel came not to you only with words, but with great conviction, in power and the Holy Spirit. You know so much of what happened to us while among you, all on account of you. 

6. You became imitators of us and the Lord, welcoming the word with the joy of the Holy Spirit in the midst of great distress.

7. So that you might become an example to all those believing in Macedonia and Achaia. 

8. For the word of the Lord has resounded from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place where your faith in God has gone. There is no need to have you speak anything. 

9. For they tell about you, about what kind of welcome we had from you, and how you converted from idols to serve the living and true God.

10. And to wait for his son out of the heavens, the one whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, the one who will rescue us from the coming wrath. 


Commentary

Whatever else the Thessalonians may have gotten wrong, they clearly impressed not only Paul and his traveling companions but also the other churches with their readiness and eagerness. It is locked up in the idea of welcome. For Paul this has a powerful meaning, as any student of the letter to the Romans can attest to. It is not merely perfunctory. It is a spiritual reality.

Verses 2 and 3 focus on remembering. In verse 2 it is a noun — “our memory” of you. Paul remembers them, and what they mean to him, and this focuses his prayers. Then in verse 3 he uses memory again — this time a participial verb where Paul remembers what they had done when he prays to the Lord. He remembers to pray for them.

Look carefully at the list of three things in verse 3: faithful work, labor of love, and hopeful patience. We can see our old friend the triad of faith, hope, and love, albeit it slightly dressed up and modified. Faith is about the work–commitment. Love is now also about the work, the reason we work is not the work itself or ego driven success but our love for others. Hope is what keeps us at it without giving way to our lesser nature. The idea of work weaves itself throughout both First and Second Thessalonians. Here it is a commendation. By the time Second Thessalonians closes, it is a rebuke, as if these once hard working people had lost their way with poor theology.

The most powerful idea here is that of conversion in verse 9. Converting from idols to the One True God and with that conversion begins the waiting game: waiting for Jesus to rescue from wrath.

The coming of Jesus is the theme looming over the entire epistle but he dallies around before he gets to it. I think there is a reason for this. It presents a certain clunkiness to the text; like someone beating around the bush before he gets to the point, which doesn’t emerge again in fullness until chapter four. I have some ideas about that but I will save them for later.


Questions For Application

  1. When was the last time you welcomed someone into your life? Home? Church?
  2. Who do you imitate? Why?
  3. The Thessalonian disciples threw down idols to follow Jesus. What are you still clutching ahold of that keeps you from following Jesus fully?
  4. Who should be locked away in your memories to pray for, but you have forgotten?

ROMANS 14 FROM THE GREEK TEXT

I read verses 7-8 of Romans 14 every time I officiate a funeral.  They are good words for a funeral.  However, Romans 14 is not about the dead, it is about the living, and how we, as servants of the Lord live by faith.  In that way, Chapter 14 is textually linked to the beginning of Romans (1:17).

Translation Notes

I changed the noun “arguments” in verse 1 into the verbal infinitive “to argue” for the sake of sounding better.  Without that change, it sounds psychologically unstable.
In verse 10, I chose “sibling” instead of the literal “brother” because of the way Paul is using the idea. I could have gone with “brother or sister” but I decided that there was already a gender neutral word that meant that. Notice In verse 15 I use both constructions to bring tension to the foreground for the reader.
There is a textual variant in verse 12. The prepositional phrase “to God” at the end of the verse is not in the earliest manuscripts. As I read it, it seemed to me like it didn’t belong, and was clearly a later addition.
Beginning with verse 13 we are introduced to two words that can both be translated as ‘stumbling block.’ These synonyms are used by Paul to describe the responsibility of the ‘strong’ to the ‘weak’ Christ-follower. I chose to clarify it with the words spiritual and moral, but that is a rather subjective choice, so be advised.

Theological Notes

Romans 14 answers the question asked by Cain at the beginning, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  The answer is yes.  We each have the sacred responsibility for making certain our actions do not cause spiritual crisis or destructive doubt for other people.  To be certain, discipleship and education are intended as the backdrop of this chapter because one of the goals of a faith community is to make everyone strong, not to permanently tolerate a weakened state of faith.  Nevertheless, the instruction is clear:  Do not let personal choices or habits destroy other people.

The last verse of the chapter puts things into a stark black and white frame.  Everything we do–raising our families, eating dinner, watching television, reading a book, or choosing which church to attend is either an act of faith (belief that God is in control and we are his servants) or it is an act of sin.  It is an act of sin when what we do serves to satisfy our lust, greed, anger, materialism, pride, and any other of the host of vices that compete with trusting faith.  Whatever is not of faith is sin.

Chapter Fourteen
1. But welcome the one who is weak in the faith, choosing not to argue.
2. One believes everything is okay to eat, but the other who is weak eats vegetables.
3. The one eating must not despise the one not eating, and the one not eating must not judge the one eating, for God himself welcomed him.
4. Who are you, judging another’s servant? To his own lord he stands or falls, but he will be made to stand for the Lord is able to stand him up.
5. Some judge some days different than other days, but others judge every day the same. Let each person make up his or her own mind about it.
6. The one who considers some days different, considers it for the Lord, and the one eating gives thanks to God, eating to the Lord, while the one not eating gives thanks and abstains unto God.
7. For none of us lives for himself and none of us dies to himself.
8. Indeed, if we live, we live to the Lord. If we should die, we die to the Lord. Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
9. It is for this that Messiah died and came to life, so that he might establish rule over the dead and living.
10. But why do you judge your sibling? Why do you despise your sibling? Everyone will come and stand before the judgement seat of God.
11. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, that every knee will bow to me and every tongue will confess to God.”
12. Each of us, then, will give an account about himself.
13. Do not judge one another any longer, therefore, but judge it more important to not put a moral obstacle or a spiritual barrier in front of a sibling.
14. I know and I have been persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is automatically unclean, except when someone thinks it to be unclean.
15. For if by food your sibling grieves, you no longer walk in love. Do not destroy with food this brother or sister for whom Messiah died.
16. Do not let good be blasphemed by you.
17. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
18. Serving the Messiah this way is pleasing to God and accepted by people.
19. Now, therefore, let us pursue the things of peace and the things that help one another.
20. Do not undo the work of the Kingdom of God on account of food. For while everything is clean, it is evil to eat something that is a moral obstacle for another person.
21. It is good not to eat meat, drink wine, or anything else if it is a spiritual barrier for your sibling.
22. Your faith is your own business, what you have is before God. Blessed is the one not judging himself in what he approves,
23. but the one beginning to doubt while he eats will stand condemned, because it is not from faith. Everything not of faith is sin.

ROMANS 11 FROM THE GREEK TEXT

Romans 11 has an elegant simplicity to its argument, but Paul takes a lot of verses to make it.

Theological Notes:

The line of thought in Romans 11 goes something like this.

  • God has not rejected his people, genetic Israel.
  • What he is doing is using their failures to save the whole world.
  • When they come back (and they will come back) to grace and faith, imagine what it will mean for the whole world.
  • It is a complicated plan, but who can understand God’s ways–certainly not us.

In addition to this outline, there is buried within the chapter a strong, terrifying tone exemplified in a warning.  It is a warning that most people don’t notice and that most Calvinists simply ignore.  Verse 21 teaches us that if God wasn’t squeamish about cutting off parts of his chosen people, genetic Israel, neither will he hesitate to cut off us gentiles.  It is a terrifying warning that should cause all of us sober reflection.

Translation Notes:

In verse 3, most English translations use helping verbs,  “have killed, have dug up” but the verbs are aorist (past) tense, so I kept them that way.  No helping verbs needed.

Verse 12 ends with a difficult rendering. The word is usually written as “fullness” and is translated various ways in this verse. I prefer here, given Paul’s comparison of Israel’s past behavior, to use the word ‘success’ as a polar opposite of failure.

The word “irrevocable” in verse 29 is such a weird word for the modern ear. Perhaps irreversible or unchangeable would have been better for reading, but in the end I decided that the older, legal word was better especially given the context of a discussion about covenant.

Romans Eleven
1. Am I, therefore, saying that God rejected his own people? Never! For I myself am an Israelite, the family of Abraham, the tribe of Benjamin.
2. God has not rejected his people, whom he foreknew. Do you not know in the Scriptures what it says of Elijah, how he pleaded with God about Israel?
3. Lord, “They killed your prophets. They dug up your altars. I alone am left, and they seek my soul.”
4. What did the oracle say to him? “I have left myself seven thousand men who have not bent the knee to Baal.”
5. So now, in this time too, a remnant has come to be by the free choice of grace.
6. But if by grace it is no longer by works, since the grace would no longer be grace.
7. What then? Israel pursued and did no obtain, but now those chosen attained it, while the others are hardened.
8. Just as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that do not see, and ears that do not hear until today.”
9. David says, “Let their table became a trap, a snare, a stumbling block of payback to them.
10. Let their eyes be darkened, not to see, and their back always bent.”
11. I ask, therefore, did they stumble so as to fall? No! Instead their lapses lead to the salvation of the gentiles, who then made them jealous.
12. If their lapses are riches for the world, and their failures are riches for the gentiles, how great will their success be?
13. But I say to you gentiles, that even though I am an apostle to the gentiles, and it is a ministry of honor,
14. nevertheless I will make some of my people jealous and will save some of them.
15. For if their rejection is reconciliation of the world, what can acceptance be except life from the dead?
16. If the first pinch is holy, so also is the whole batch of dough, and if the root is holy, then so are the branches.
17. If some of the branches were broken off, but then you wild olives were grafted in, you became sharers in the root of faith on the olive tree.
18. You branches should not boast. The root sustains you, not you the root.
19. You will then say, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.”
20. True, the faithless were broken off, but you have stood by faith. Do think highly of yourselves, instead, be in fear.
21. For if God did not spared natural branches, neither will he spare you.
22. See then, the goodness and severity of God. Severity upon those having fallen, but upon you the goodness of God to preserve you in goodness. Otherwise, you would be cut off too.
23. Even those, if they do not persist in unfaithfulness, might be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.
24. For if you naturally wild olives were cut off and against nature you were grafted onto a tame olive tree, how much more will those be grafted back into their same old tree?
25. For I do not wish you brothers and sisters to not know the mystery, and then think yourself wise, because a hardening upon part of Israel has come until the full number of gentiles should enter in.
26. Just as all Israel will be saved, exactly as it is written, “The deliverer will come out of Zion, he will turn ungodliness away from Jacob.
27. And this is my covenant to them, when I might take away their sins.”
28. On one hand they are enemies of the gospel because of you, but on the other hand they are chosen because of their beloved forefathers.
29. For the gifts and call of God are irrevocable.
30. It is the same way as when you disobeyed God, but now you found mercy because of their disobedience.
31. Thus, they now disobeyed for your mercy so that they themselves might find mercy.
32. For God linked together everyone in disobedience so that everyone might find mercy.
33. O the depth, riches, wisdom, and knowledge of God! His judgments are inscrutable and his ways are untraceable.
34. “For who has known the mind of the Lord, who has become his advisor?
35. Who has given to him that he should repay?”
36. For everything is from him, through him, and in him—to him be the glory in eternity. Amen.

Click on the links below to read other chapters from the Book of Romans.

Romans 10

Romans 9

Romans 8

Romans 7

Romans 6

Romans 5

Romans 4

Romans 3

Romans 2

Romans 1

ROMANS, CHAPTER FOUR–FROM THE GREEK TEXT

In the fourth chapter of Romans Paul turns the corner on his opening thoughts, where he outlines that the whole world is condemned, in one way or another, and comes down a stretch where he explains why exactly not only faith in Jesus matters, but also why it works.  Romans four might be the most Jewish chapter in the whole New Testament.

Translation Notes:  The reoccurring word I have translated here as “counted” is a sticky wicket.  It can be rendered in so many different ways, and they all would be accurate.  It might be reason, reckon, thought, considered or even evaluated.  I seriously thought about going with evaluated, because I think that is part of what Paul is communicating:  “God evaluated Abraham’s faith as righteousness.”  I am also intrigued by the word being translated here, because it is in the same root family from which the English word “logic” comes from:  “It was a logical conclusion that Abraham’s faith was righteousness.”  I like that a lot because of the shocking and alarming juxtaposition of “logic” and “faith” so close together.

One other note, about verse 14.  I have rendered the last phrase as, “the promise doesn’t work” but the actual word should probably be translated as “broken.”  I opted not to do that because it would indicate that the covenant is broken, but that is not really what Paul is saying.  Therefore, I opted for “doesn’t work” instead.

Theological Notes:  This entire chapter reads like a proof for a geometry problem we all had to work on in high school.  Remember those?  This one goes like this.  If Abraham was counted as a righteous person before he was circumcised and if it was his faith that made him righteous, then he is the spiritual father of all those who have faith, regardless of genetics.

Paul then tells us that the object of faith now is Jesus and his resurrection.

Chapter Four
1. Then what can we say about Abraham, was it only biologically that he was found to be our ancestor?
2. If Abram was made righteous because of works he has something to boast about, but not before God.
3. For what does the scripture say? “But Abram believed God and it was counted as righteousness to him.”
4. Now, to someone who has worked wages are not counted as a gift of grace, but as a debt.
5. Yet to the one not working, the one believing in him who makes the ungodly righteous, it is his faith that is counted as righteous.
6. Just as David says, “Blessed is the person who God counts as righteous without works.
7. Blessed are those whose lawlessness has been forgiven and those whose sins are covered.
8. Blessed is a man whose sins the Lord does not hold against him.”
9. Therefore, who is this blessing for then, the circumcised or those uncircumcised too? We say, “He counted Abram’s faith as righteousness.”
10. When was he counted? Was it when he was circumcised or while uncircumcised? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
11. He received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness of faith he had when uncircumcised, to be a father of many people who believe yet are not circumcised, so that righteousness might be counted to them too,
12. to be not only a father to those who are circumcised, but to those who are outside of circumcision who follow the footsteps of the uncircumcised faith of our father Abraham.
13. It was not by law that the promise to be heirs of the world was made to Abraham’s offspring, but by the righteousness of faith.
14. If it is by law that they are inheritors, then faith is empty and the promise doesn’t work.
15. The law causes wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
16. That is why it is by faith through grace, so that the promise might be reliable for all the offspring; not only those from the law but those who also are from the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.
17. Just as it is written, that “I have appointed you as a father to may nations,” in the sight of God, whom he believed gave life back from the dead and called forth things into being that did not exist.
18. He hoped against all hope. He believed that he would become, “A father to many nations,” according to the words spoken, “about his offspring.”
19. And not weakened in faith, he considered his already impotent one hundred year old body, not to mention Sarah’s dead womb,
20. but he did not doubt the promise of God in unbelief. Instead he was strengthened in his faith, giving glory to God.
21. And he was fully convinced that the one who had promised is able to do it.
22. And this is why, “He counted him righteous.”
23. That it was, “counted to him” was not written down for him only.
24. But it is for us that it is counted, those believing upon the resurrection of our Lord Jesus from the dead.
25. Who was handed over because of our trespasses and was resurrected for our righteousness.

Romans One

Romans Two

Romans Three