The Thessalonian letters give more biblical messages and passages to recycle, reuse and repurpose for times such as these today. From the 136 verses out of these two letters, comes more similar to those expressly used from the last chapter to add to my notes. Specifically the following one, Paul wrote in 2Thessalonians 2:16-17, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, who has loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”
The meaning of hope in English is easily misinterpreted as wishful thinking such as hoping it doesn’t rain tomorrow. Biblical hope is not wishful thinking. It is part of the package of future assurance because of who God is.
The Thessalonians and Galatian epistles are the earliest letters Paul wrote to the first churches that were forming. The Thessalonian church was located in a major commuting hub. It was a great port city in Ancient times plus the Romans at the time had built an impressive road system (some of which can still be used today). The highway traveled east to west and a few centuries later was called Via Egnatia. Thanks to God for his perfect timing of all things, access to these traveling accommodations helped the Christian missionaries to spread the Word.
These early churches were patrons of support for other church plantings. Paul was a bi-vocational minister as so many small church pastors are today are. It is suggested he resourced himself by his tent making endeavors, using the donations from the churches for the startup of other churches.
A few months after he left, Paul writes to this young church to inspire them to continue, despite their persecution, emphasizing to them their faith, hope, and love that lie in their belief in Jesus and His second coming.
Paul’s had a ministry routine when he went into cities. He would first go to the synagogues to share the Gospel with the local Jews. This usually would get him into trouble within a few weeks (twice back to back in two different cities) with riotous Jews running him out of town.
These letters are the most explicit of all the books and letters in the NT about teachings of the second coming of Jesus and warnings about the appearance of the antichrist. The churches at the time were besieged in confusion by various interpretations being taught on whether Jesus had returned after His resurrection and if that was the second coming. And because He did not appear to them, did they miss it? Or is it still to happen in the future? And what about those who have died before He comes back? The Pauline letter helps to reconcile and acknowledges their struggle about an imminent return of Christ. Paul points the new believers to Jesus’s second coming and what is the end reward for them. He doesn’t go into the apocalypse, but he begins the discussion. It also helps with references that can be found in the book of Revelation. The thing about apocalypses of biblical proportions is they have happy endings…spoiler alert: God wins in the end.
It has been said it is not the destination but the journey (either physically, mentally or spiritually) that is important. I would add anticipation during the advent in getting to the destination is also motivating. A scripture passage, 2Thess. 5:16-24, is often read during the beginning of the church yea’s Advent season which begins in late November or early December. If the trip is long, with the opposition, it can get wearisome.
“Do as I say and not as I do” was an unfortunate expression used by a family member. It’s not a recommended success statement to be repeated out loud. There could be another implied meaning though. The “not as I do” can mean I chose not to do the right thing, or did the wrong thing and am having to live out the consequences, I know the outcome, so now do as I say and not as I do. But there is no disguising when the action is done, yet you say not to do it. The conflicting message is confusing and bewildering.
Gandhi said, “I like your Christ. I don’t like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” That probably can be said about someone in most religions. I cannot help but see the spiritual disciplines of other people in their religions by how they carry themselves (like going to pray five times a day, postponing a career to do mission work for a couple of years or honoring food restrictions). These actions in and unto themselves do not make them more elite believers, but it does show a level of conviction.
A senior pastor’s wife shared a story about a conscious effort her husband makes to draw a line in the spiritual sand of just how far he would go to live out his conviction while in this world.
He doesn’t force this conviction on anyone he just quietly goes about it, letting it be a witness to Christ in his life. Years ago, when the PG (Parental Guidance) rated movie ET, The Extra-Terrestrial came out, his children had gone to see it. The movie is a feel-good, and his kids wanted to share their enjoyment of it with their parents. But the kids knew their father didn’t attend movies that included profanity. One word is used once at the beginning of this film. His kids figured out the approximate time when the word was used and intentionally scheduled the youngest daughter to ask Daddy to escort her to the bathroom right before the profanity. His wife stayed in the theater and quickly figured out what the kids were doing. Dad returned, and without violating his conviction and the children respecting his principle, he sat through and enjoyed the rest of the movie. A conviction can be that simple and that impressionable.
Paul follows up with the second part of his letter to the Thessalonians written around AD 53. The church’s misunderstanding was that it was so imminent (as in the context of forthtelling) that Christians were quitting their occupations in expectation of the Lord’s return. Also, people were slacking off on their behavior and not continuing to live godly lives while in anticipation of an imminent return. There is one thing to look for, and another thing to be looking over your shoulder for Jesus’s second coming. The difference between the two “outlooks” is like a comparison between anticipation versus evading.
Paul uses First Testament imagery to help explain this second coming. The book of Revelation, and elsewhere in the Bible, talk about events that would lead up to it. As believers, we can’t help being curious about it, what with checking on the signs of end time predictions, the guesstimating of the date or reading popular fiction book series on the topic.
No one knows the future advent of Jesus’s return. Daniel 9 is about the only book that gives us God’s time clock predicting up to Jesus crucifixion. According to that time clock, we are in the last days. “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come” (Mk. 13:32-33).
I once figured out what the personality and temperament of each of my children, to their chagrin. I discovered each represented one of the four temperaments with none of the four kids being the same. That made for dynamic parenting. I still watch in awe how their personalities manifest themselves in their individual lives and occupations.
One child took a route I would not have predicted, and that is the required ongoing perseverance to still compete athletically. My son’s car accident was described earlier in the chapter on Exodus. The accident should have halted or limited any further thoughts of continuing to compete athletically. I watched with admiration as he pushed past his pain, his physical limits to be better and stronger than before the accident. I watched with awe and respect how he developed his own successful running gait in order to adapt. Runners do not have the option of avoiding physical discomfort or suffering on their menu. We all have our strengths, but the one just mentioned is not one of mine. When it comes to sports, I am usually the cheerleader. Distance running is one of my favorites events to watch live. To see the runners, push and set a PR (personal record) is inspiring even when it looks like the team isn’t going to be ranked high. I enjoy watching the sport of running because on the one hand; it is a team sport, but on the other, it is a solo one. Of course, it’s nice when my team wins, and, if not, then goal transcends to more about the individual win in exceeding their previous effort.
Both of these letters are about challenges that inevitably come up in church. A worshipping community is not perfect but has more right to it than wrong. Paul points to the hope of the Church to remind us to run this race of faith. The course of life is to run this race not as a sprint but more like a marathon with the ups (hills) and downs (winding roads). Hebrews 12:1-2 says “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the writer, and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Struggle tends to strengthen our faith if we turn to God for endurance and our resilience if we channel them correctly. Contemporary musician, Laura Story sings in her song Blessings:
We pray for blessings.
We pray for peace,
comfort for family, protection while we sleep.
We pray for healing, for prosperity.
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering.
All the while, You hear each spoken need.
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things.
‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?
We pray for wisdom.
Your voice to hear.
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near.
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love.
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough.
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
and long that we’d have faith to believe.”
In everything give thanks (1Thess. 5:16-18).