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Advent 2020: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18

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.

Saturday, 12 December 2020 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18


The Text

6. And we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of the Lord Jesus Messiah, avoid any brother or sister walking without discipline and not in accordance with the traditions you received from us.

7. For you yourselves know how necessary it is to imitate us, because we were not undisciplined among you. 

8. We ate no one’s free bread. Instead, we worked in labor and toil night and day to not be a burden to you.

9. Not that we do not have the right, but we gifted you an example in how to imitate us. 

10. Indeed, when we were with you, we commanded this to you; if anyone doesn’t want to work, neither shall he eat.

11. We hear about some among you who walk around idly working at nothing and bothering those who are working. 

12. To those doing these things, we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Messiah that they work quietly and eat their own bread.

13. Brothers and sisters, do not grow tired of doing what is right. 

14. If anyone does not obey our word in this letter, you must take note not to associate with him so that he may be ashamed.

15. You must not consider him an enemy but as a brother. 

16. Now may the Lord of peace give you his peace through all time and in all places. The Lord be with you.

17. This greeting is in my hand – Paul – it is the signature in every letter I write.

18. The grace of our Lord Jesus Messiah be with all of you.  


Commentary

The Thessalonian correspondences end with a shocking turn. Way back in the beginning of 1 Thessalonians (1:3), Paul commended their hard work ethos. It was one of the attributes he was thankful for and that helped the Thessalonians become so famous. But now, things have changed. Reading the text it becomes clear that A) Some people are not working. Paul calls this ‘undisciplined’ behavior. B) These people are begging for food (and money) from others who are working. C) The people who are not working are disturbing the labor of others. D) This behavior is contrary to what Paul taught and demonstrated when he was with them and it has made him angry they are using his words to justify their laziness. To show this frustration, verse 8 has two words that both mean work and taken together kind of mean something like “we worked our tails off” I modern vernacular. I used ‘labor’ and ‘toil’, but you get the drift.

The question for Bible students is, “What happened at Thessalonica?” The answer seems to be theological in nature. It appears that people had come to the conclusion that since Jesus was returning very soon then there was no sense or need at all to work and prepare for the future. It is the, “If I knew I was going to die next month, I’m going to quit my job and spend as much money as fast as I can” kind of thing. This is the plot to more than one book or movie.

Paul calls them out on this and tells them, in no uncertain terms, to knock it off. One of my favorite lines in all the Bible is found in verse 10: “If anyone does not want to work, neither shall he eat.” Within the community of faith there is zero tolerance for freeloaders. This is a different from helping the poor or needy. We are not talking about that situation or benevolent needs. What we are talking about are brothers and sisters who can work, should work, but instead choose not to and rely instead on others hard work.

I see two very practical applications here. The first is the obvious economic incentive that teaches us labor and work is good. Work is not bad, and we were made for meaningful productivity. The second, though, is a little more nuanced to get at. Dare I even say, it takes a little work. Just as a person who is lazy and uses theology to justify it is wrong, so too is it an abrogation of our commitments to not take work and care for things because we think the end is near. I’d like to point out the general feeling among most Christians in the 1970s and 80s was that Jesus would soon return and therefore, things like saving money for the future, environmental care, and debt spending were ignored. What did it matter if Jesus was coming soon?

Well, Jesus didn’t come.

To be sure, he will someday, but the result was ill prepared people, a decimated environment, and debt as a way of life.

Oh, you want another example? How about this one: Since God will take care of me and protect me (a theological excuse) it doesn’t matte whether I wear a face covering to protect others from COVID-19. After all, I don’t have a spirit of fear (theological excuse). Meanwhile, people are dying and hospitals are full. You see the connection here? A person’s lazy theological excuse which justifies their inaction has caused a great deal of labor and strife (even death) for someone else. This is the opposite of loving your neighbor as yourself.


Questions For Application

  1. Can you think of someone who has used theological justifications to not do something difficult?
  2. Would you work if your livelihood (food on the table paying bills) didn’t depend on it? If yes, what kind of work would yo want to do?
  3. Paul writes, ‘Do not grow tired of doing what is right.’ This pandemic has worn me down and worn me out — I find myself weary. If you are like me, what we do to maintain our spiritual stamina?
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Advent 2020: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

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, 10 December 2020 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12


Chapter Two

1. Now, brothers and sisters, we ask you, as it pertains the coming of our Lord Jesus Messiah and our gathering together around him

2. to not be hastily agitated in your mind nor be disturbed in your spirit about the Day of the Lord, especially not by any word or letter passed off as if it were from us.

3. Let no one deceive you. In no way will it come except the apostasy comes first. Then the man of lawlessness, the very son of perdition, shall be revealed,

4. the adversary, the one exalting himself over everything called or worshipped as god, so much so as to sit himself in the Temple of God claiming that he is god.

5. Do you not remember I kept telling you these things while I was with you?

6. Now you know what is restraining the one to be revealed until his own time. 

7. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, until the only one restraining him is out of the way. 

8. When the lawless one is revealed, the Lord will kill him by the breath of his mouth and annihilate him in the manifestation of his coming. 

9. Him who is by his actions, power, and marvelous lies the coming of the Satan.

10. Every deception and wickedness of those being destroyed is for those who did not welcome the love and truth that would save them.

11. Because of this, God sends them an effective error so that they will believe a lie.

12. Such that everyone who doesn’t believe the truth and who takes pleasure in wickedness shall be judged.


Commentary

Four things stand out in this tight section of amazing prophecy.

First, we are told to not be agitated by any kind of discussion regarding the end of all things. If only the people of God would listen to the Bible on this issue, for our history seems to be one of constant agitation about these things. Paul gives us the amazing stuff, but he couches it with the encouragement we need to just go on with our peaceful lives and not be bothered by it. These are things Jesus will take care of and he doesn’t need our help.

Second, the break in the levy is not the coming of the evil one, the antichrist, but instead it is the apostasy that seems to give him oxygen to operate. Not to be too wound up, but we live in a age of apostasy — ever increasing apostasy. People are walking away from the belief systems of the historic faith in favor of selfishness, sensuality, or down-right occultic practices. I am not saying the antichrist is imminent, but I am saying the cultural soup we live in is the perfect environment for one such as him to thrive.

Third, Jesus will kill this man of lawlessness, this son of perdition, the denizen of destruction. He will kill him with the breath of his mouth. That reminds me of Jesus saying, “I am” in John 18 and the guards falling down. It also reminds me of the image of Jesus with the word coming out of his mouth as a sword in Revelation 19. Jesus needs no army to accomplish is goals and to set things right.

Fourth, God is the one who will send a lie to the people who rejected him. I translate this as ‘effective error.’ The ESV talks about a ‘strong delusion.’ Either way, the Lord himself will bait the trap and then spring it. If you are concerned about this apparent duplicity in the Lord’s behavior, don’t be. This seems something closer akin in my mind to the decision the Lord made in Romans 1 where he let people who chased after idols and lies have their way and so he, ‘gave them up’ to their own desires. If people want to follow a lie, then he will let them follow it right one the cliff.


Questions For Application

  1. Are you agitated about world events? How can faith help you?
  2. Apostasy is all around us. Who do you know that has walked away from the faith? Assuming they are gone, what can you do to help others not make the same awful mistake?
  3. God’s word is a sword — cutting and piercing. How might this idea of Jesus cutting down the antichrist be about the proper application of the scriptures?
  4. How can you sharpen your skills to detective errors in the way people think and live, and also keep them from infecting your heart and mind?
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Advent 2020: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

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, 9 December 2020 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12


The Text

2 Thessalonians

Chapter One

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

2. Grace and peace to you from God our father and the Lord Jesus Messiah.

3. We owe it to God to give thanks for you, brothers and sisters, which is proper, because your faith thrives and the love you have for each other always increases. 

4. We ourselves brag to the churches of God about your patience and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions you endure,

5. evidence of the righteous judgment of God to consider you worthy to suffer for the Kingdom of God.

6. Since it is righteous to God to repay with afflictions those afflicting you,

7. and to relieve your affliction along with ours at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels 

8. coming in fiery flames punishing those who have not known God and those not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 

9. Whoever these people are being punished, they will pay with eternal doom from the face of the Lord – from the glory of his strength.

10. When he shall come, he will be glorified among his saints and marveled at by all those believing, because our testimony about you was believed on that day. 

11. Our prayer always for you is that you might be worthy of the calling of our God and desire goodness and faithful work in power. 

12. So that the name of our Lord Jesus might be glorified among you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Messiah. 


Commentary

The same three who were behind the first letter have written this second one. After spending a couple of verses (3-4) rehashing how great a church they are and how all the churches know about them, Paul moves on to the subject at hand: Judgment.

Jesus is coming to settle the score, to ‘afflict those afflicting you.’ This sentiment is not something we generally associate with Christian motivation, but revenge is certainly involved. It should call to mind the wonderful verse we often quote, “vengeance is mine, says the Lord” from its original context in Torah, Deuteronomy 32:35 and repeated by Paul himself in Romans 12, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” Paul is spelling it out here–this is exactly how he will repay. When Jesus returns he is going to do some serious smoking of those who have harassed, harmed, and hurt his people, his church. Vengeance is not bad, what is bad is when we seek revenge because we can’t do it without the problem of our own sin and guilt. The Lord however has no such hindrance and he is able to dish it out. This is a part of eternal justice.

The scene is like something from a science fiction movie. Jesus returns from heaven surround by the host of angels. Try as I might, my imagination cannot grab what that would look like. I feel it in my heart, but I can’t creatively work it out. But the scene is accompanied with fire.

Out of this free comes punishment. The punishment is for two distinct kinds of people. First, those who do not know God. This term feels nebulous to me and woefully unspecific. I would prefer here if Paul, Silvanus, or Timothy would have spelled it out that it is those who do not know Jesus as Lord. God is a looser term and may mean something less than the specificity we often give. The second kind of people he is after are those who do not obey the gospel of Jesus. This is more specific, but not enough to provide comfort. The gospel of Jesus, the good news of Jesus, in this context might mean the good news Jesus preached about repentance, kindness, and love. As a Baptist, I would really like for this to be about believing in the gospel, but it is not. It is about obedience. That means, as uncomfortable as I may be, some who do not know or believe could be obedient to the essence of the gospel while those of us who do believe, and know, may yet still be found disobedient.

I am no universalist, but in the depth of my soul I am certain we will all be surprised by who the Lord accepts and whom he rejects at his great day. That Paul feels this urgency is apparent in verse 11 — “our prayer is that you might be worth” — Yeah, when the stuff comes down, Paul is praying that the church might not be the ones receiving this judgment. Let that sink in a moment.

The punishment is a separation from the face of the Lord, from his presence into ‘eternal doom.’ A question we have to ask is this: is the doom one that lastings for eternity, or is the doom such that it has eternal consequences.

You’re on your own as you grapple with that.


Questions For Application

  1. Verse three indicates Thanksgiving is owed to God, like a payment, or honor, or worship. What thanks do you owe to God?
  2. Who is afflicting you, and do you want them punished by God? Now turn that around — are you afflicting someone else, and how exactly does God feel about that?
  3. Can you imagine the scene of Jesus’ return?
  4. I was once scolded by a parishioner for preaching about ‘doom’ — I was told that message was positive enough. Do you agree with that parishioner, that doom(ed) topics should be avoided or do you think folks should know all the possibilities?
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Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

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.

Saturday, 5 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18


The Text

13. Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to not know about the ones who have fallen asleep, that you might not grieve as everyone else who has no hope. 

14. For we believe that Jesus died and rose, that God, through Jesus, will then lead out with him those who sleep.

15. We say this to you as a word from the Lord, those of us left living at the coming of the Lord will not arrive before those who are sleeping.

16. The Lord himself will command the archangel sound the trumpet of God, then he will come from heaven. The dead in Messiah will rise first.

17. Then, those of us remaining alive will be seized and carried off together with them in the clouds, meeting up with the Lord in the air, and we will be with him always.

18. You must comfort one another with these words. 


Commentary

Saturday’s reading is not long, but boy does it pack a powerful punch.

I usually read these verses at gravesides for funerals. They don’t have the same ring in the chapel or the worship center as they do right beside the grave. For our faith teaches us that the dearly beloved we are laying to rest, if they have faith, will come up out of this very grave and meet Jesus in the air before those living do.

Verse 14 is an interesting grammatical pretzel for me. In the GNT there is an “if” in the text that should read something like “If we believe that Jesus died and rose” but then the “if” doesn’t fit the rest of the sentence unless something is supplied — like “If we believe that Jesus died and rose, then when we are asleep God will lead us out (of the grave) through Jesus.” That kind of construction is the only way I know to make the ‘if’ feature work, but I want you to know there is an ‘if’ there. Paul means this kind of redemption over death is contingent upon our personal beliefs. What we believe matters. If.

This is the essence of the comfort, and it is only for us if we believe and if the dead believed. We need to be careful to not preach or talk as if dead people who didn’t believe have this same assurance. They do not.

Paul seems to see an order that goes like this: The Lord commands the archangel to play the trumpet, Jesus comes from heaven, then the dead rise up. After that, and lastly, the believing community alive are caught up with Jesus in the air as he is en route to the earth to bring all things to an end.

Death is a fascinating subject, but I have always interpreted these lines to mean that for me, as a believer, when I die, the next moment after my death is the coming up into heaven with Jesus in the clouds rather than entry straight away into heaven.

That’s my take, anyway.


Questions For Application

  1. Believers are not devoid of grief, but our grief is different. How so?
  2. Do you believe Jesus died and rose again and is coming again? (I do)
  3. Which do you believe — that we who believe go straight to heaven when we die or that we awake in the clouds as Jesus is coming back? Why?
  4. These are advent verses precisely because Jesus came the first time and promised to come again. How can you incorporate the promises of a second advent into your celebration of the first?