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?

A LOVE POEM ABOUT JESUS

Yesterday I preached the second in my three-part series on the work of the Trinity from Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21.  I think it was the most effective sermon in the set.  What I was attempting to convey is that love is the central work of Christ and that the love of God is embodied in Jesus and therefore a maturing life will follow the basic outline of Ephesians 3:17-19.

17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,

18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,

19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (ESV–because ESV is the official translation of Pastor Greenbean.)

The line of argument in these verses can be viewed in a four-stage process.  Stage one–by faith Christ dwells in our hearts.  This is when we receive the love of God in Christ.  Stage two–we grow in our understanding of life by being rooted (planted) and grounded (like a foundation for a building–like poured concrete) in love.  This involves spiritual and ethical behaviors.  Stage three–we attain, through Christ, a knowing of his love which is beyond knowledge.  It is not taught or learned, it is only experienced.  I believe this is the motivation of grace.  Stage four–we become filled with the fullness of God, which is a loving fullness that completely transforms us from the inside out.

In the sermon I also linked these verses to something else.  Verse 17 is all about faith, and then the overall theme of the section is love and then in verse 20 something startling happens.

20 to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,

21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

It would be completely appropriate to think of vv 20-21 as being ‘hope filled’ verses about what God will do and what will be done.  If so, the Paul is thinking of the three cardinal Christian virtues:  Faith, hope and love.  Just like in 1 Corinthians 13, here Paul indicates that while faith and hope are important, the greatest, the hinge, is love.

I included this poem I wrote for the sermon, titled “Faithful Lover”

Faith and love—

go hand in glove,

both a decision—

to accept God’s mission

planted and poured—

hopefully adored.

CELEBRATING A DEATH

Never in my life have I celebrated a person’s death.  Never.

I confess, at times, to being indifferent—particularly celebrities.  The media go super-crazy when celebrities like Liz Taylor or Michael Jackson die.  Celebrities have no impact on my life so their death means less to me than, say, the beloved saint who has been wrestling with cancer and dies at home with only a brief obituary in the paper.  Those are more touching to me than celebrities.

Today, however, I feel oddly hopeful at the death of someone.

When I heard President Obama announce Bin Laden’s death a shocking and disturbing feeling of gladness came over me.  Bin Laden changed our world for the worse, culminating a decade ago in the infamous attack.  I think of my daughters—one 16 and the other 11.  Neither one of them will ever remember America the way it was before 9-11.  I think of my nephews who are 19 and 15.  They cannot fully comprehend what Bin Laden’s death means to me.  It would be a merry thing if their lives could be made better—not just safer, but measurably better.

But, how do I feel about his death?  Emotions are complicated things, but the overall feeling is one of relief.  I also feel proud of the Navy Seals.  I know so many sailors and courageous, dedicated soldiers and I am proud for them.  Good job.  There is also a sense of justice—that might be the greatest feeling.  Ten years ago we prayed for justice.  Now that prayer, in part, has been answered.

As a Christian, though, I wonder.  Is it okay to celebrate at seasons like this?  David wrote “Mark the blameless and behold the upright, for there is a future for the man of peace.  But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off.” (Psalm 37:37-38 ESV).  Peace, sometimes, can only come when the wicked are dealt with harshly.  King David certainly would be celebrating the demise of evildoers.  Sometimes we forget that peacemaking is not for the faint of heart.  It is hard, and sometimes dirty work.

The world has been off-balance since Bin Laden unleashed his plans (Psalm 2:1-2).  Perhaps now the spiritual equity of justice will return some semblance of balance.  That is my prayer.

I do not celebrate Bin Laden’s death, but I am glad he is dead.  I am hopeful.