Friday, July 8, 2011

Summer Reading; 1 Thessalonians

Years ago, while working at a local Christian school, I had two Greek students. Their home was Thessaloni'ca and they grew up speaking the language that I struggle to understand through books and commentaries. Talking with Dimitri about the meaning of words was joy. His sister Anthea was shy but charming. I think of them as I try to mentally enter the world of the Thessalonians, a place I have never seen.
Paul, Silvanus and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
Who are Paul, Silvanus and Timothy?
Paul and Silvanus are Jewish men who are also citizens of Rome.
But Paul said to them (the Phillipan jailer), "They (the big wigs of Philippi) have beaten us in public without trial, Men who are Romans, and have thrown us (Paul and Silvanus) into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out." And the policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. And they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans,   Acts 16:37-38
Both of these men have a Roman name as well as a Jewish name. Saul/Paul and Silas/Silvanus.

Timothy is half Greek, half Jewish. He was raised by his Jewish mother and grandmother in the land of his Father. When Paul met him and realized what a quality young believer he was, he invited him to come with him on his journey.

How did they become acquainted with Thessaloni'ca?
Originally, everyone who was a believer in Y'shua (Jesus) were in Jerusalem. In the beginning believers were Jewish or had become worshippers of YHVH in the Synagogue. The Lord gave the Apostle Peter a vision that he would include gentiles in the kingdom of heaven, a difficult concept for life-long Jews. Peter was the first to witness the Spirit of God filling Gentile men in the same way that he had experienced. Paul was also called to bring the Word of Life to everyone, the Jew first and then to the Gentile. (a gentile is any person who is not a Jew). He and Barnabas set out to fulfil that mission. Other men felt the same call to spread the gospel. The problem was that Paul and Barnabas rightly understood that while we still enter into a covenant with YHVH, that covenant had a different administration than it did under Moses. Among the many changes in administration, such as a new high priest and a new, perfect sacrifice, the sign of the covenant, which is circumcision, was now of the heart, not done by the hands of men in the flesh. Jewish men came from Jerusalem to share the good news of the gospel with the world. Hallelujah! But they misunderstood that under the new administration of this covenant, men who believe no longer need to be circumcised in the flesh. Because these men were known as Judisers I assume that they believed that under Y'shua, all the world would become Jewish and live under the old administration of Moses. To solve this dilemma they all went back to Jerusalem where it all began, to discuss with the apostles and elders how to have unity. The result was the famous letter of Acts 15:23-29. Silas (Silvanus) and a man named Judas went with Paul and Barnabas back to their home church of Antioch where the letter was received with joy for the encouragement it gave to a unified body of believers.

To make a long story short, Paul and his new partner, Silas, set off on a journey to encourage the churches that Paul and Barnabas had established with the letter from Jerusalem. Along the way they brought the good news of Y'shua  for all men to Phillippi. While there they were beaten and imprisoned. Instead of moaning about their circumstances, they praised God in the dark. God set them free from prison by knocking down the prison. Salvation came to the house of the Warden (the jailer) but the city asked them to leave. Thus bruised and cut but strengthened in Y'shua, they came to Thessaloni'ca where they got right to the mission of sharing the good news in the local synagogue. People of all sorts responded. There is no evidence that they told the assembly about the drama in Phillippi and what God had done for them, only what the Scriptures said God would do for all who believe.

Jealousy is an ugly attribute. It slips up on a soul and does not introduce itself, everyone but the jealous person sees it for what it is. After three weeks of speaking in the Synagogue of Thessaloni'ca where a few Jews and even more God fearing men became believers in the Way, believers in Y'shua/Jesus  (according to FF Bruce, God-fearers are gentiles who worship YHVH by doing everything according to Torah EXCEPT being circumcised in the flesh). Acts 17:5 says that the Jews became jealous. The rest of Acts 17 tells the result of their jealousy ending with forcing Paul to leave the infant church. Apparently Silas and Timothy stayed behind for a short while to establish the church in Thessaloni'ca. Would the breath of YHVH, whom we call the Holy Spirit, be enough to sustain this infant assembly of believers in the midst of so much opposition? Could the church stand under the weight of jealousy? Would they still respect Paul and his companions?

The first letter to the Thessalonians will give the happy answer.

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