Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13


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.

Thursday, 3 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13


The Text

Chapter Three

1. Therefore, enduring it no longer, we determined to be left behind alone in Athens. 

2. We sent Timothy, our brother and coworker in God—in the gospel of Christ—to strengthen you and to encourage your faith 

3. so that no one be disturbed in all these troubles. You know yourselves that we are destined for this. 

4.  When we were with you, we told you beforehand we were about to be persecuted, which as you know is what happened.

5. Because of this, when I could no longer stand it, I sent to know your faith, whether the tempter had tempted you or not, and whether our labor became in vain.

6. Now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought good news about your faith and love, and that you have remembered us well, always longing to see us just as we do you. 

7. We are encouraged by this, brothers and sisters, by all your faith in our distress and persecution.

8. Because you stand firm in the Lord, now we live.

9. How are we able to return thanks, a thanksgiving to God for you, for all the joy and rejoicing for you before God? 

10. Begging, pleading night and day to see your face, to complete what is lacking in your faith. 

11. May Father God himself and our Lord Jesus straighten out our road to you. 

12. And may the Lord increase your love and make it sufficient for one another and to all, just as he has for us to you 

13. to strengthen your blameless hearts in holiness before God our Father in the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. [Amen.]


Commentary

As is my custom, let’s first speak about the textual variant in verse 13. The concluding ‘Amen’ is hard to cipher. Metzger summarizes it nicely by indicating it is difficult to know whether it was dropped by copyists who didn’t think it fit or was it added as a liturgical response to the soaring language of verse 13? I have taken the GNT’s lead and included it in brackets, however, to me it seems inauthentic. The text reads better without it.

What grips me most about the opening verses is Paul’s fear. He is terrified someone has soiled the Thessalonians discipleship while he was away. He refers to a ‘tempter’ who, probably is Satan from chapter 2, the same Satan that blocked him, but I do not dismiss the possibility Paul has some human being in mind who is working on the Thessalonians and trying to lead them away with a watered down false gospel. I don’t know who that person might have been, but let’s call him Joel Osteenus bar Orellus Robertus.

Whoever it was tempting them, Paul was worried all the time and effort he had spent would be wasted if they turned from the true faith. Is it wrong if I confess to you I am comforted by this? Why does it comfort me? Because I often fear those I have led, taught, and instructed in the faith will fall away (indeed, some have). That Paul had a similar fear makes me feel better about my own failings.

Verse 10 gets to the issue: Paul had some things he still needed to teach them. He refers here to what is lacking. I use the rendering “complete” as in complete a course where the ESV and NIV uses the word “supply” as in a good to be delivered. The thing is, I have been at this Jesus-following thing for decades and I still don’t feel complete.

Paul finishes the chapter with two requests. He asks God to straighten out the road that leads back to Thessalonica because he wants to visit, and he asks God to increase the love they have for everyone. The road business is self evident, but the idea of God making us love better is fascinating because Paul qualifies the object — Love for each other and love for everyone. So there you have it in black and white, the idea we should increasingly love one another and the whole world; everyone! However much you love right now, it can always be more and it can always do more (sufficiency). In Romans Paul says it like this, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other” (Romans 13:8). You never pay off love, it is always a debt because God holds the mortgage.


Questions For Application

  1. If a tempter was seeking to derail your faith, how would he or she come at you? How would you deflect it?
  2. Paul longed to see the Thessalonians. Who do you long to see?
  3. Do you feel like there is anything lacking in your faith? What is it, and how will you complete it?
  4. Paul prayed for a straight path to Thessalonica. What do you pray for the Lord to straighten out?
  5. Paul prayed for the Thessalonians to have sufficient love — is there any way in which your love is deficient?

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 13 FROM THE GREEK TEXT

It all comes back to love and how you treat your neighbor.  At least, that is what Paul is teaching us in Romans 13.  What Paul does that is different than Jesus in Matthew 22:36-40 (but not contrary to Jesus, just an extrapolation of it) is he pushes it out to the logical assumptions about political and social behavior.

Translation Notes

The most fitful translation choice for me was in verse 7.  There is a remarkable brevity in the way Paul frames these words–literally something like “taxes the taxes, toll the toll, fear the fear, honor the honor.”  I’ve added the verbs “due” and “pay” at the beginning and end of the verse for clarity, but those are not present in this part of the sentence.  They are borrowed from earlier.

In verse 6 Paul uses the word “leitourgoi” which is connected to the root for our word ‘liturgy’, and it is sometimes used to describe Christian worship or service.  Here, however, it is used to denote the secular, civil servant whom Paul also calls a servant of God.  It is fascinating that in 12:1, when he talks about worship, he uses another word, “latreo.”  Even though there are two different words, I wonder how connected in Paul’s mind is the work of Christian service and civil service?

One more translation issue.  Most English renderings add the word “first” in verse 11, when we “first believed.”  That is a giant liberty, for the word just is not there.  I don’t like it, because it implies a second (or third, or fourth etc…) moment of belief.  Paul is chronological here, recalling that time when we believed in Jesus, but the modifier “first” is unnecessary and confusing.

Theological Notes

I feel like these verses need a fresh reading in our current cultural context here in the United States.  Paul lived in a time when the Roman Empire governed everything, and Rome was anything but moral.  Rome was an empire built of power, lust, and greed.  Whatever evil someone thinks might be going on in our government today, it pales in comparison to the evil in Rome–all throughout the empire.  Yet, Paul can say that the imperium (lictor, likely) is chosen by God for the task.  It can only mean that in the larger society (not within the church, mind you, c/f 1 Cor. 5) order, peace, submission, and the public good trumps personal morality.  That is a hard pill for many, me included, to swallow but that seems to be the teaching.

Chapter Thirteen
1. Every soul must be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and they have been assigned to it by God.
2. So, those opposing authority resist the command of God, and those who resist authority will receive judgement.
3. For those governing are not to be feared by those doing good work, but those doing evil. If you do not want to fear the authorities, do good and you will have praise for it.
4. For he is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, you will fear, for it is not for nothing that he carries a sword as a servant of God—an executor of wrath—to those practicing evil.
5. Therefore, it is necessary to be subject, not only because of wrath, but also because of the conscience.
6. This is why you pay taxes, for those are servants of God, constantly attending to the order of things.
7. Pay everyone what is due. If taxes are due, then taxes, if a toll, then a toll, if fear, then fear, if honor is due, then pay honor.
8. Owe no one anything except to love one another, for the one who loves others has fulfilled the law.
9. For, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not lust,” and whatever other commandments, are summarized in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
10. Love for the neighbors does no evil, therefore it is a fulfillment of the law of love.
11. Especially knowing the time, because the hour is now already here to wake from sleep, for our salvation is nearer than when we believed.
12. The night advances, but daytime is at hand, therefore take off the works of darkness. Put on the weapons of light.
13. Let us walk properly as in the daylight—not in orgies, drunkenness, in bed, in debauchery, rivalries or jealousy.
14. Put on the Lord Jesus, Messiah. Do not satisfy your desires.

ROMANS EIGHT–A TRANSLATION FROM THE GREEK TEXT

Half-way there.  Only eight more chapters to go after this one.

Theological Notes

Romans eight might be the most critical chapter in the whole Pauline corpus of the New Testament.  It transitions the sad argument Paul has been making about the guilt of humanity and the need for grace that culminated in Romans 7 with “What a miserable person I am” and moves into the good news–that Jesus loves us, died for us, and the Holy Spirit dwells within us and intercedes between our spirit and God.

We are not slaves.  We are not servants.  We are not debtors.  We are not animals.  We are children of God, joint-heirs with Messiah into all that eternity is.  It is impossible to read Romans 8 without smiling.

Translation Notes

It is very difficult at times to know whether Paul is talking about the spirit as a human aspect or if he is referencing the Holy Spirit. A good example is verse 5.  However, it is very clear to me me that in verses 26 and 27 almost every English translation has it completely wrong.  I believe Paul is addressing two different spirits, God’s Spirit and the individual human’s spirit.  The Spirit of God searches the heart (v. 27), which is the same thing as the spirit of human beings (v. 26) who do not know how to pray for themselves. Our spirit, as it were, then connects us to the Spirit of God at a gut level that helps us move beyond our thoughts into the love and abiding presence of the Lord. Note that this does not give credence to the old heresy that human beings are composed of three mostly independent individual parts—body, soul, and spirit.  That is platonic nonsense.  Instead, it is merely speaking about that emotional center of human beings, when we can’t or don’t even know what to say because the pain is so deep. It is in these places that the Lord comes to us—he searches for us.  He comforts us with his abiding presence and nothing can separate us from that.

Verse 23 has two different ‘ourselves’ and two other reflexive words that could be translated ‘ourselves.’ I shrunk it down to one because it sounded loopy.

Chapter Eight
1. Now then, there is no condemnation to those in Messiah Jesus.
2. For the law of the Spirit of life in Messiah Jesus freed you from the law of sin and death.
3. The law was incapable due to the weakness of the flesh, so God sent his own son who looked like fleshly sin and was near sin; he condemned sin in the flesh.
4. So that the demand of the law might be fulfilled among us, not by walking in the flesh but by Spirit.
5. Those who live by the flesh think about fleshly things, but those by the Spirit, spiritual things.
6. The thoughts of the flesh are death, but thoughts of the Spirit are life and peace.
7. For the thoughts of the flesh are hostile to God, it does not subject itself to the law of God, nor is it able to.
8. Those in the flesh are not able to please God either.
9. You are not in the flesh, but in Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But whoever does not have the Spirit of Messiah, this person is not his.
10. If indeed Messiah is in you, even though the body is dead through sin, the Spirit is life through righteousness.
11. If the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one that raised Messiah from the dead, he will give life to you and your mortal body through the indwelling of his Spirit in you.
12. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not now debtors to the flesh that we must live according to the flesh.
13. For if you live according to the flesh you are destined to die, but if you put the deeds of the body to death then you will live in the Spirit.
14. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the children of God.
15. For you did not receive a spirit of servanthood to fear yet again, but you received a spirit of family, in which we can call out to the Father, “Daddy.”
16. The same Spirit testifies within our spirit that we are children of God.
17. But if we are children and heirs, heirs of God, then we are also joint heirs of Messiah. Just as we suffer together with him so too we will be glorified together with him.
18. For I consider the suffering of right now incomparable to the glory which will be revealed in us.
19. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God.
20. Creation was not willingly subjected to emptiness, but the one who subjected it did so in hope
21. that creation itself will be liberated from bondage to decay into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22. For we know that up until now creation groans together as if in travail.
23. And not only that, but we too, who are the first-fruits of the Spirit, we groan within ourselves awaiting adoption—the redemption of our body
24. in hope that we will be saved—but if it is seen it is not hope, for who can see what he hopes for?
25. But if we do not see what we hope for, we wait with patience.
26. Likewise the Spirit helps us with our weakness, for we do not now what we should pray, but our spirit itself intercedes with wordless groanings.
27. The one searching out the heart knows the thoughts of our spirit because he intercedes for the saints according to God.
28. But we know that for those loving God it all works into good for those being called in accordance with his purpose,
29. because he knew before and predestined those to share in the image of his son, for him to be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
30. Now those he knew before he called, those he called he made righteous, and those he made righteous he glorified.
31. What then can we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
32. How will he who spared not his own son but gave him over for us all not bless us all along with him?
33. Who will bring a charge against the chosen of God? God makes things right.
34. Who condemns? Messiah, who died and what’s more rose, is at the right hand of God and he intercedes for us.
35. What will separate you from the love of the Messiah: Distress, anguish, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or a sword?
36. Just as it is written, that “For your sake we are executed all day long, regarded as sheep to slaughter.”
37. But in all these things we gloriously triumph through the one that loves us.
38. For I am convinced that neither death, life, angels, rulers, things present, things future, powers,
39. height, depth, or any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Messiah Jesus our Lord.

Want to read my renderings of the first seven chapters in Romans?

Romans One

Romans Two

Romans Three

Romans Four

Romans Five

Romans Six

Romans Seven