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Advent 2020: 1 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.

Tuesday, 1 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12


Chapter Two

1. For you know yourselves, brothers and sisters, that our introduction to you was not in vain. 

2. And, as you know, we had the courage to speak of our God to you, the gospel of God in great opposition, after having suffered and been insulted beforehand in Philippi.

3. Our appeal to you was not from error, duplicity, or subterfuge. 

4. But, just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so also we do not speak so as to please people but God, who is the one proving our hearts.

5. Just as you know, we came neither with flattering words nor with a pretext for greediness. God testifies to it. 

6. Nor glory seeking from people, not from you or from anyone,

7. although we had the power of authority as Christ’s apostles. Instead, we became as infants in your midst, like a nursing mother cherishes her own children. 

8. So, longing in this way for you, we determined to share not only the gospel of God with you, but our very souls. That is why you have become beloved. 

9. You should remember, brothers and sisters, our labor and effort, working night and day so as to not be a burden to anyone as we preached the gospel of God to you. 

10. You and God are witnesses to how devoutly, righteously, and blamelessly we behaved to those of you who are believers.

11. Indeed, you know, like a father to his own children were each one of you, 

12. Urging you, consoling you, affirming you to walk worthy of your God, who is calling you into his own kingdom and glory.


Commentary

First, a textual note. For reasons I can’t understand, English renderings tend to put the opening phrase of verse 7 with verse 6, where it would read “Nor seeking glory from people, not from you or from anyone, although we had the power of authority as Christ’s apostles” as all verse 6. All my editions of the Greek New Testament list that phrase about authority being the first part of verse 7. It doesn’t change the meaning, but keeping it in the structure of the GNT allows for that great imagery of authority and power contrasted with being an infant.

Paul claims the gospel came from them not with error, duplicity, or subterfuge in verse 3. If we examine those we get three important claims for ministry. Paul says he was not in error. What he means is not that he doesn’t make errors, but the gospel he preached is not a mistaken one. Often it was claimed of Paul that he was preaching the wrong gospel or an altered version of it. Here he affirms he was not mistake about Christ, salvation, or the way of discipleship. he also claims that he did not have mixed motives. This is important, because a person could preach the right (no errors) but have duplicity. My reading of many churches, ministries, and pastors informs me some of them have sound doctrine but their motives are mixed in that they say it is all for the Lord but in reality they are promoting themselves. Subterfuge is a different kind of impurity Paul says is absent from his preaching. He never tried to trick the people. He was open, honest, and transparent. Any church or ministry that fudges numbers, lies about attendance, or plays politics to curry favor with a certain demographic is engaged in subterfuge.

I am fascinated by the use of infants as a metaphor. If you read it closely, he is not saying the Thessalonians became infants as he was the father. He is saying the opposite, he was like an infant, weak and lowly to them, rather than bossy and pushy. He waited for them to take the lead. I don’t know about you, but it is hard to do this. It is hard to wait, slow down, and allow others to lead. It must have been really hard for Paul. But that is what he did. No wonder he was able to write elsewhere, “I am crucified with Christ.” Crucifying our desires to control, frame, guide, and dominate is vital to spiritual leadership. And here, I would like to note, this is the opposite of what they teach in seminary and what the world defines as ‘real’ leadership. Paul says real leadership is celebrating how others grow into their role rather than grabbing all the headlines and sucking all the oxygen out of the room. I confess, I am a work-in-progress on this one.

There is a joke buried in verse 10. Paul outlines how devout, righteous, and blameless they were toward ‘those who are believers.’ Does this mean he was ungodly, wicked, and guilty to those who were not believers? I doubt it, but Paul’s choice of language is fascinating.


Questions For Application

  1. Paul says he was insulted in Philippi, but that didn’t stop him in Thessalonica. What insults and crude attacks have you worked through? How did it make you stronger?
  2. Paul lays it all out there that he wasn’t in it for the applause, the payday, or the recognition. What was his goal, and, more pointedly, what is your goal in the Christian life? At work? At home?
  3. Who do you share your very soul with? Why? Can a body of believers be called a church if the souls are not shared? Can a pastor or leader lead a church where the souls are not connected?
  4. What does a walk worthy of God look like in 2020 and in your world?

MOVE–THE THIRD PART

Part Three of Move is the overall summary on what the authors believe churches can do to “move” people from the first category of Exploring Christ to final mature category of  Christ Centered.  The section contains six chapters with the first one serving as an introduction to the concept of “Spiritual Vitality Index” which is modeled upon the medical professions “Body Mass Index.”  The SVI serves as a measurement tool to gauge the spiritual health of a congregation.  The higher the SVI number, the better.

This number is very important for the methodology of Move because the best practices are determined by examining the ministry strategy and methods of the best practices churches.  Best practices churches are determined by those with SVI’s in the top five percentile.  The next four chapters highlight these four top practices:

  1. Get People Moving–The first best practice highlights a discipleship agenda that focuses upon the processes of spiritual growth.  Instead of small groups with varying curriculum, best practices churches use models similar to or identical to Rick Warren’s famous baseball diamond with the 101, 201, 301, 401 structure.

    Rick Warren’s Famous Baseball Diamond
  2. Embed the Bible–Examples are given  about churches that are able to lead their congregations to more frequent encounters with the Scriptures.
  3. Create Ownership–Churches that are able to convince their congregations that they “Don’t go to church, they are the church” are able to move them into more community activity and evangelism.  The idea is not one of controlling the church but of turning everyday life into ministry opportunities.
  4. Pastor the Local Community–The authors reject the classic divide of “is it the gospel or social action” and say both!  Churches that have healthier spirituality are involved in a myriad of community projects and ministries.

Part Three ends with a challenge to leaders to have a Christ-centered heart.  By that the writers and researchers mean church leaders must not see church growth or more numbers as the goal, but individuals who are growing in their personal discipleship.  They suggest this should be pursued even if it means your church shrinks in numbers.  The goal is better disciples, not more disciples.  Although, the caveat they offer is that better disciples will, in the long term, produce more disciples.

Reading Part Three and the Appendices, two things struck me.  One, the writers use the word “Paradigm” a lot.  I think they should probably reduce that.  Each chapter suggests that what they are suggesting is a paradigm shift, i.e. “Embedding the Bible into everyday ministry is a paradigm shift for most churches.”  They do that with all of these.  I fail to see the paradigm shift.  Involvement in the community, the Bible, setting discipleship criteria and goals, and encouraging people to be active in their daily lives for ministry opportunities are hardly paradigm shifts.  My suggestion is that we should view it as a reinforcement of classical Christian ideas.

The second thing which struck me is from the Appendices, p. 274 where the authors indicate how Willow Creek responded.  Willow was not among the best practices churches and decided they needed to change.  What they changed was their famous Believer’s Service on Wednesday nights.  Back in the dark ages when I was in seminary we were taught all about Willow’s adoption of “seeker services on Sunday” and then a “believer’s service on Wednesday.”  After the Reveal report and the Move study they threw that out the window in favor of a “university” approach featuring the 101, 201, 301, 401 on Wednesdays.   This “move” essentially replaces small groups in the weekly life of the church.  I find these wholesale changes rather amazing.

Read reviews of the other sections:

Part One

Part Two