Tuesday, November 10, 2009

1 Thessalonians 2:17-20

V17-20 – 17But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18For we wanted to come to you – certainly I, Paul, did, again and again – but Satan stopped us. 19For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes? Is it not you? 20Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

Paul uses the phrase “torn away,” the word for “orphaned,” speaking of himself and his companions in v17, and you can continually see the familial illustrations throughout this chapter (v7,8,11,17). Paul says that “Satan stopped us” from coming back to Thessalonica, which he wanted to do since the Thessalonians are his “glory and joy” (v20). He had unfinished business in teaching the Thessalonian believers, and he reveals the way he felt about that here; though he could not at that moment be with them “in person,” he was always with them “in thought” (v17). He’ll elaborate in the next chapter, but for Paul, the Great Commission to go and make disciples, teaching them everything, takes more than a 1-hour Bible study or once a week church service. Paul’s life was devoted to this task, and he often spent years with as many people as would gather (Corinth; Ephesus) to teach them discipleship. But he was forced out of Thessalonica rather abruptly. He wanted to go back and spend more time with them, because he cherished the Thessalonian believers and wanted to see them persevere and grow.

In acknowledging that “Satan stopped us” from coming back to Thessalonica, Paul reminds his audience, says Cheung, “that they are in a spiritual struggle against forces hostile to the Christian agenda (Ephesians 6:12). Along with this is a reminder that Christians stand for truth and righteousness, unlike Satan and the non-Christians, who persecute God’s people. Or, again in line with this, it might be a reminder that the apostle and his companions are also engaged in this conflict, that they and the Thessalonians are both enduring persecution for the sake of the gospel, and all that is good and right, in contrast to the devil and the unbelievers.” And we might also wonder why God, who has complete control over Satan, would allow Satan to stop Paul from returning at this point. One reason may be to occasion the writing of these Thessalonian epistles. Had Paul been able to return there, he would not have needed to write. So God’s purpose in Paul’s persecution, and the Thessalonians’, is a good one. Cheung continues:

“Since evil is not an end in itself and since evil itself is not the termination point of God’s plan, but since God’s purpose is the perfection of the saints, it is perfectly sensible for God to ordain evil and then tell the elect to resist it. James writes, ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything’ (James 1:2-4). God’s plan is not that evil might prosper, but that His own people would ‘be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’ There are other reasons for God to ordain evil, but for now this explanation alone is sufficient to show that it is unnecessary to appeal to mystery or paradox. God uses Satan and non-Christians for His own glory and for our benefit, testing and refining our faith. When they have served their purpose, they will be thrown into the lake of hellfire to be punished and tortured forever.”
In v19, Paul uses the word “parousia” (“when He comes”), which is only used once outside of the Thessalonian epistles (used 6 times – 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1,8) by the apostle (1 Corinthians 15:23). We’ll cover the second coming of Christ in much more detail when we come to chapter 4. But in the meantime, we can see that the Thessalonians have learned about this from Paul and are familiar with the language he uses when writing about it (1 Thessalonians 3:13). Concluding, Paul celebrates the Thessalonians, acknowledging that he will glory and rejoice for eternity about their communion with him, as well as their inclusion in and edification within God’s Kingdom.

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