Friday, November 20, 2009

1 Thessalonians 5:12-15

V12-15 – 12Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

Vincent Cheung opens his commentary on this passage by saying, “V12-15 provide instructions that are necessary to maintain the strength of a congregation’s internal stability as well as its testimony before the world. Paul here refers to the church leaders, the believers, and ‘everyone else.’” He asks the Thessalonian brothers to “respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.” Paul must have set up a church leadership hierarchy during his brief stay in Thessalonica, such that he probably refers here to elders and other leaders. Perhaps Jason and Aristarchus may have been in view. They are to be respected, loved, since they “work hard,” and they are to be held “in the highest regard in love because of their work.” Calvin notes, “This work is the edification of the Church, the everlasting salvation of souls, the restoration of the world, and, in fine, the kingdom of God and Christ. The excellence and dignity of this work are inestimable: hence those whom God makes ministers in connection with so great a matter, ought to be held by us in great esteem.”

In v13b, Paul says to “live in peace with each other.” He most certainly has in mind Christian unity here, especially between pastors and laymen. Cheung says, “Believers consist of individuals from different nations, races, genders, and social, financial, and educational backgrounds. When they come together, these differences are not obliterated. When unbelievers are able to maintain unity among themselves, it is because they celebrate their differences and practice tolerance. The basis for this unity is common humanity. In contrast, when believers come together in unity, they practice reconciliation. The basis for this true unity is common faith in Christ… Our peace is not one that tolerates incompatible principles and practices, but it is one that confronts them and demands their conformity to Christ. Paul tells his converts to ‘warn those who are idle.’ We are to disapprove, entreat, reprimand, and even threaten those who do wrong. The basis for this is not the inherent superiority, the strong opinion, or even the mere assertiveness of some believers over others, but it is the authority of Christ, to whom all are accountable. On this same basis, we are to ‘encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.’”

V14 and following refer to the entire congregation, not just the leadership. We know from this passage (and 2 Thessalonians 3:6-7,11) that idleness was a problem in Thessalonica. It is thought that because these Christians thought Christ’s return to be imminent, they stopped working. Paul’s instruction is to sharply reprove (“warn”) them. For the timid, Paul commands encouragement; the weak need help, Paul says; and all of the congregation members need patience.

There are two final commands in v15 – not to seek revenge and to show kindness. Christians ought to seek justice, but not personal retaliation. Elsewhere, Paul quotes the Lord as saying, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay” (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19-21; Hebrews 10:30). And Paul will elaborate on the justice of God’s revenge – He is the avenger – in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

1 Thessalonians 5:6-11

V6-11 – 6So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. 7For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Paul has given eschatological doctrine, and he has explained it in more detail. Now he lays out how we ought to respond to his teaching. Paul preaches that we believers are not to be like unbelievers. “Don’t be like the people who don’t believe in Jesus.” How often do we hear that from the pulpit in church? Probably not enough… Since we are “sons of the light and sons of the day” (v5), we ought to “be alert and self-controlled” (v6), “putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (v8, cf. Ephesians 6:13-18). The call is to wake up, stay alert, and go to war! Calvin comments, “The life of Christians is like a perpetual warfare, inasmuch as Satan does not cease to trouble and molest them. [Paul] would have us, therefore, be diligently prepared and on the alert for resistance: farther, he admonishes us that we have need of arms, because unless we be well armed we cannot withstand so powerful and so strong an enemy.”

Paul notes in v9 that believers need not fear “the day of the Lord,” or “Judgment Day,” because “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath (Romans 9:16-24), but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 13:48; John 5:24). Cheung concludes, “We are not taken by surprise because we are spiritually and morally ready for God to come and act in judgment. This is a superior kind of readiness. If we do not become spiritually prepared to meet Him, it would still be useless to know the time. His coming would only bring judgment upon us. But if we remain in a constant state of moral readiness, then we do not need to know the time of judgment – He will find us steadfast in our faith and labor when He comes.” We’ll have more to say about eschatological matters when we come to 2 Thessalonians 2, but for now, we conclude by noting the closing exhortation – continue to “encourage one another and build each other up” (v11).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

1 Thessalonians 5:1-5

V1-5 – 1Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.

At this point, we begin to see some differences in the interpretation of Paul’s teaching. Some commentators, such as most post-millennialists, see Paul starting a new discussion on a different event as we move into chapter 5. They might conclude that chapter 4 addressed the second coming of Christ and the rapture; they would say that chapter 5, as well as 2 Thessalonians 2, deal with “the day of the Lord” against the Jews who have heaped up their sins to an apostatized level beyond the patience of God and deemed worthy of imminent judgment, or specifically the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. The similar language used in these chapters, corresponding with Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, is used to justify their reasoning. Paul is likely familiar with Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:3-25:46), and when he mentions “the day of the Lord” in v2, he introduces to the Gentile Christians of Thessalonica an Old Testament familiarity. Others (amillennialists) understand Paul to be speaking of the same event (the day of the Lord – Judgment Day – and the second coming and the rapture all occur together), laying out the application of previous teaching into this chapter. They might conclude that Paul has laid out some eschatological doctrine and now moves into the timeline details and how it all applies to life for believers.

Whichever way we lean on our eschatological perspective, we can agree that Paul’s teaching on eschatological matters continues here, but he doesn’t want anyone to speculate “about times and dates.” His audience already knows (v1) that the time and date of “the day of the Lord” is unknown and will come suddenly, “like a thief in the night” (v2) and “as labor pains on a pregnant woman” (v3). This event, whether it is specifically the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD or the rapture and/or the second coming, will come unexpectedly and painfully (inescapable destruction) for “people” (v3), thought to be unbelievers, since Paul seems to separate them from the “brothers” (v4); these people predict and desire all to have “peace and safety,” something I want very much in my prayers, but they fail to believe in and therefore realize the inability to escape the destruction about to befall them. Vincent Cheung has much to add here:

“Non-Christians operate under the deception that they have ‘peace and safety.’ They assume that they are safe from judgment for many reasons. Some of those who affirm the existence of God, or even claim to follow Christ, might hold to a distorted view of God (so that they think His standard is lax), of Christ (so that they think His atonement applies to everyone without faith and repentance), and of man and sin (so that they think they are not depraved, but righteous in themselves). Some people affirm non-Christian religions that they think will save them. Then, some of them deny God altogether, so to them there cannot be a judgment of destruction and hellfire. Perhaps they even think that human cooperation and scientific progress will secure this ‘peace and safety’ for them. But no human cooperation and no scientific progress can stem the wrath of God. As for the Jews in particular, perhaps they thought that they were the chosen people of God, and that the temple would remain forever. But Jesus told them that they were a rejected people, and in His parables, told them that God would send an army to kill them and burn their city (Matthew 22:7), which happened in AD 70. Paul adds that the unbelievers would remain under this deception up until the event occurs. What will come upon them will happen ‘suddenly.’ Shattering their illusion of peace and safety, suddenly, ‘destruction’ would come upon them… Whether we are talking about God’s judgment against the non-Christian Jews in the first century, or whether we are talking about God’s judgment against all non-Christians throughout history, or at the second coming of Christ, no unbeliever can escape from Him.”
But Christians, those in the light and “not in darkness,” need not be caught off guard (v4). The “sons of the light and sons of the day” (Isaiah 60:2) – namely Christians – are furnished with light and enjoying the daylight to always be ready – both intellectually and morally (“alert and self-controlled” as v6 says) – not asleep as in the darkness of nighttime. Christians have not been enlightened merely to see that they are in darkness; rather, Christians have been brought into the light and can therefore see the darkness that still envelopes unbelievers (John 3:19-21). And whether Paul is speaking of the same event in chapter 4 and 5, or two different events, we can reasonably conclude that the rapture will not occur prior to “the day of the Lord,” as both Christians and non-Christians will be alive at Christ’s return.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

V13-18 – 13Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him. 15According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage each other with these words.

Paul had already taught the Thessalonian Christians about the second coming of Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13), but he apparently did not have time to complete that teaching due to the death threats coming his way. So here he adds to what he had taught them in person, beginning with teaching about the dead, and he’ll apply that teaching for them in the final chapter of this letter. Then, as we’ll see, he addresses specific concerns about this eschatological instruction in 2 Thessalonians. In the meantime, Paul calls the dead “those who fall asleep,” which was a standard multi-cultural and multi-religious metaphor for describing the dead more tenderly. (It does not speak of “soul-sleep,” but of the body’s stationary, unresponsive position.) Paul wants Christians to grieve over the dead in Christ in a different way than the world grieves. Christian grief is done with hope; unbelievers lack hope, or at least their hope is false and unfounded. But our hope comes from the resurrection of Christ (v14). Because “we believe that Jesus died and rose again,” it logically follows that “we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have [died] in Him.” Calvin concludes, “Those that are by faith ingrafted into Christ, have death in common with Him, that they may be partakers with Him of life.” This is an encouraging, pastoral teaching, and Paul elaborates on additional questions in his other epistles. For example, Paul explains the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15:35-37.

Vincent Cheung says of the second coming of Christ, “It is cited [here] to produce motivation in sanctification, anchor in temptation, comfort in bereavement, and strength in persecution. It is even used to identify those who belong to Christ – those who believe in Him look forward to His glorious return (1 Corinthians 1:7-8, 16:22-24; Philippians 3:20-21; Titus 2:12-15; 2 Timothy 4:1, 8; Hebrews 9:27-28; 2 Peter 3:11-12; 1 John 2:28). The doctrine does not only provide hope for us as believers, but it imposes a moral obligation on us to look forward to the Lord’s return and to order our lives in a manner that is consistent with this expectation. And it is to be a natural part of our preaching and conversation.”

In v15, Paul teaches “according to the Lord’s own word,” that the living will not precede the dead to heaven. Some people may have thought (2 Esdras 13:14-24 – a Jewish apocalyptic text) that those living at the second coming of Christ were more blessed, that they alone would receive eternal life. Apparently, many Jews (and Gentiles), such as the Sadducees, did not believe in a resurrection at all; still others hoped in vain for some type of resurrection, but nothing like the one Christ provides. So Paul implies in this teaching that all in Christ – whether dead or alive at His coming – are equally blessed with His resurrection power unto eternal life in heaven. He doesn’t speak here concerning unbelievers and in fact only mentions the resurrection of unbelievers unto judgment in Acts 24:15; see also Acts 17:31; Romans 2:5-16. Calvin says, “He says nothing as to the reprobate, because this did not tend to the consolation of the pious, of which he is now treating.”

Calvin begins his commentary on v16 by saying, “The Apostle unquestionably had nothing farther in view here than to give some taste of the magnificence and venerable appearance of the Judge, until we shall behold it fully. With this taste it becomes us in the mean time to rest satisfied.” Keeping that in mind, we see that Paul speaks of the resurrection of believers. He mentions “a loud command,” or cry from Jesus, “the voice of the archangel,” and “the trumpet call of God,” declaring a most-certainly public rapture (“caught up” from v17). When Paul teaches on the rapture, it’s not meant to be a full lesson on the doctrine of eschatological events – that will come in 2 Thessalonians – but it is meant to be pastoral teaching for the grieving to assure them (“encourage each other” from v18) of reunion with loved ones. So we conclude this chapter with the key doctrinal take-away – that Jesus Christ will come again, and when He comes, He will receive His people to be with Him forever (v17).

Monday, November 16, 2009

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

V9-12 –9Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. 11Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

Paul encourages brotherly love to those who are already good at exhibiting brotherly love. They are already doing it well, loving “all the brothers throughout Macedonia,” because they “have been taught by God” (v9). Calvin says, “The Holy Spirit inwardly dictates efficaciously what is to be done, so that there is no need to give injunctions in writing.” And Paul wants them, strongly urges them, “to do so more and more.” It’s appreciation, commendation, encouragement, and exhortation, all in one. Elsewhere, Paul urges Timothy in a similar way, acknowledging that God will help him (and us) understand Paul’s words – since they are in fact God’s words – and put them into practice: “Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this” (2 Timothy 2:7).

In v11-12, Paul says, “Make it your ambition…” This Greek word for “aspire” was culturally used for the wealthy to gain honor through generosity. The footnote of my Reformation Study Bible says, “Paul’s use of the term turns it on its head: the Thessalonians should be zealous for the honor that comes not through self-assertion or an ostentatious show of personal greatness, but through humble, industrious, and unimpeachable behavior. This exhortation…had a particular urgency in Thessalonica where the Christians had already been falsely accused of sedition (Acts 17:6-9). By living lives that were respectable and unpretentious, the Christians were to allay any lingering suspicions.” In fact, we might understand Paul to be saying, “Strive not to strive,” or “Be ambitious to be unambitious.” And this command is given in preparation for the coming teaching on eschatological matters. This command is for those who have taken to idleness, or laziness, out of grief for lost loved ones and/or the expectation of Christ’s imminent return. Maybe they’ve started meddling in other peoples’ business. But as Paul addresses that in the next section, he pre-warns them here that leading a quiet life, minding your own business, and working with your hands (there is no doubt that one’s manual labor earns respect from those who once thought him or her lazy) will “win the respect of outsiders.” On the other hand, idleness and being a busybody will not (2 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Timothy 5:13).

DC Break

Wrapping up DC 401 with a look at biblical history, we now have a 7 week break, during which we'll read through Isaiah, before commencing with our final semesters (DC 402-403), which begin with post-biblical Christian history.