Saturday, July 28, 2012

Joyous and Thankful

An audio overview of the lesson by Raul Diaz.

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Below is the Audio Script:

Joyous and Thankful (1 Thess. 1:1–10)

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:2, 3, ESV).

In this week’s lesson the author of the lesson, basically, exegetes the passages for this week’s lesson.  He let’s us in on how the grammar works in the passage.  Where each statement begins and ends; and, how most of statements are connected to the first clause of verse 2.  Following we will read mostly some highlights from the lesson that further explains this. 

Verse 2 and 3 say,

1 Thessalonians 1:2, 3
2 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, 3 remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father. 

It is in their prayers that Paul, et al. give thanks to God for the Thessalonians.  Since, Paul believed that we should pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5: 17), he could say that he remembered the Thessalonians in prayer without ceasing.  And, thus thanked God for them without ceasing. 

The author of our lesson is saying that the root text in this chapter is the first part of verse 2.  And, everything else goes back to that clause.  Therefore verse 4 gives us another reason for Paul’s thankfulness.  Let us read verse 4,

1 Thessalonians 1:4
4 knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.

The Greek word for election means the act of picking out, or choosing of the act of God's free will by which before the foundation of the world he decreed his blessings unto man.  It is the decree made from choice by which He determined to bless all men through Christ by grace alone.  Some call it an Election of Grace.  THIS IS an election of man to eternal life (2 Thess. 2:13; Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:2; John 13:18).

The ground of this election to salvation is the good pleasure of God (Eph. 1:5, 11; Matt. 11:25, 26; John 15:16, 19). God claims the right so to do (Rom. 9:16, 21).  It is not conditioned on faith or repentance, but is of sovereign grace (Rom. 11:4-6; Eph. 1:3-6). All that pertains to salvation, the means (Eph. 2:8; 2 Thess. 2:13) as well as the end, are of God (Acts 5:31; 2 Tim. 2:25; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 2:5, 10). Faith and repentance and all other graces are the exercises of a regenerated soul; and regeneration is God's work, a "new creature."  Men are elected "to salvation," "to the adoption of sons," "to be holy and without blame before him in love" (2 Thess. 2:13; Gal. 4:4, 5; Eph. 1:4).

So, we have all been “elected” to have salvation. That some won’t be saved—won’t claim that salvation for themselves; this reflects their choice, not God’s. God’s choice is for all humanity to be saved.  As Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:4, God wants “all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (NKJV).  So, to be lost is an aberration from God’s desire for all of us.

We move on to verse 5,

1 Thessalonians 1:5
5 For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.

Verse 5 begins with “for” or “because.” In this verse Paul details the grounds for his conviction that the Thessalonians were “chosen” by God (1 Thess. 1:4). He is also underlining further reasons as to why his prayers are so filled with thankfulness (1 Thess. 1:2). Paul rejoices at the real-life evidence that the Thessalonians have responded to God and that He approves of them. Paul begins the verse with rejoicing at a visible and outward sign of the Thessalonians’ position before the Lord. Their acceptance of the gospel was not merely a mental assent to teachings or doctrine.

Their daily lives exhibited the presence and power of God. In everyday church life, things were happening that could be explained only as divine intervention. Prayers were answered and lives changed. The reality of their faith was being manifested in their works.

On to verse 6 and 7,

1 Thessalonians 1:6, 7
6 And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe.

Most translations do not show this, but in verse 6 Paul continues the same sentence that he began in verse 2 and carries it on through verse 10. The main topic of this lengthy sentence is Paul’s list of reasons for the thanksgivings that he recites in his prayers. Verses 6 and 7 add two items to that list of thanksgivings, building on the “because” (NIV) at the beginning of verse 5. Paul gives thanks (vs. 2) because (vs. 5, NIV) the Thessalonians have both imitated him and his colleagues and have themselves become an example to imitate (vss. 6, 7).  However, Paul has placed a couple of safeguards here. First of all, the imitation (vs. 6) follows the receiving (vs. 5). The primary focus of the Thessalonians was on receiving the Word of God and applying it directly to their lives through the Holy Spirit. God’s Word can always be trusted. Second, Paul directs them to the Lord as the primary model (vs. 6). What Jesus did, and would do, is a much safer model than what even Paul would do. 

Having said this, however, Paul affirms their desire to imitate him as a beloved teacher and mentor and also to become models worthy of imitation themselves. In this particular case, what was being modeled was joy in suffering. Suffering can make one bitter or better.  In the context of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, the Thessalonians discovered supernatural joy in the midst of suffering, just as Paul and Silas had earlier (Acts 16:22–25).

We continue to verses 8 through 10,

1 Thessalonians 1:8-10
8 For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. 9 For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Paul continues the sentence that began in verse 2 by explaining how he knows the Thessalonians have become a model, or type, to the other believers in Macedonia (where Thessalonica was located) and Achaia (where Corinth was located).  First, they were a model of evangelistic effort and success. From them the word of God “rang out” (NIV) into both of these provinces and beyond.  They were willing to be taught. They were also willing to allow God to bring about radical changes in their lives, such as giving up idols and other popular forms of worship.  Furthermore, as pagan idolaters they had to overcome two major barriers. First was the “crazy message” about some man who was dead and came back to life again. Then there was the fact that it was a crazy Jewish message.  Many Gentiles probably laughed when they heard the Christian message. The Thessalonians didn’t. Instead, they completely allowed the Lord to rearrange their lives in light of the gospel.

Remember that Paul’s departure from the Thessalonians was sudden and not planned.  Paul was concerned about them.  Paul thus expressed joy to know that they remained faithful.  One could argue that one reason the Thessalonians remained faithful was an answer to Paul’s prayers.  It could be that Paul rejoiced that his prayers were answered. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Due to extenuating circumstances there will be no audio commentary this week.  Sorry for any inconvenience.  Below is this week's script for those interested.

Thessalonica in Paul’s Day

Memory Text: “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (1 Corinthians 9:19, NIV).

The primary focus of this lesson will be a summary of that which history, literature, and archaeology tells us about Thessalonica.  This material is important for two reasons. First, it helps us to understand how Paul’s original hearers and readers would have understood him. In so doing, it clarifies the meaning of what he wrote and the impact it had back then on both church and society.  Second, the more we know about the ideas and beliefs of the
Thessalonians, the better we can understand that against which Paul was reacting. In order to promote the gospel, Paul would also have had to correct wrong ideas. So, while this lesson is not directly focused on the Bible, it sets the stage for our reading of the biblical text of 1 and 2 Thessalonians during the rest of this quarter’s lessons.  Following are some highlights from the lesson as a summary to describe Thessalonica in Paul’s day.

1.  During a time of civil war in Greece, the Thessalonians invited the Romans to protect them.  In exchange the Romans rewarded them with a certain amount of autonomy.  Those left in charge, the wealthy, and benefited from the arrangement.  These were pro-Roman, even in Paul’s day.  But, the poor were left more oppressed and dispossessed. 

2.  The poor found comfort and hope in the worship of a man martyred for defending the lower classes.  It was believed that this man would one day return to liberate and emancipate the lower classes.  The worship of this man had very similar characteristic to Christianity.  However, the Romans co-opted this figure, saying that this man had come back as Ceasar; leaving the lower classes hopeless, again.  They were ready for change.    Ellen White says the time was right for the Thessalonians to hear the gospel,

“At this time the systems of heathenism were losing their hold upon the people. Men were weary of pageant and fable. They longed for a religion that could satisfy the heart.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of
Ages, p. 32)

3. During the first century in Rome many philosophers would go from city to city proclaiming their beliefs and recruiting followers.  These philosophers expected to live out of their activity.  What Paul did was similar to these. 

4.  This is the Thessalonica Paul arrives to.  They were used to itinerant speakers.  What Paul preached was familiar and attractive to the non-Jews.  But, not to the Jews. 

So, Paul spent three week in Thessalonica reasoning and proving the Jesus was the Christ from the scriptures.  Many accepted Christ, but his success incited opposition from local religious leaders and from a gang of thugs. Paul was finally expelled by the city council, which also sought to prevent his return. When someone preaches new teachings and people get excited, the leaders and teachers of other religious groups may become jealous.  Attention that was once placed upon them is now directed to others.  As a result, they may behave in irrational ways in order to try to reduce the influence of the new teacher.

According to Acts 17:5, Paul’s success in Thessalonica infuriated some of the Jews who were not persuaded by his message. Jealous of Paul’s success with the Gentiles, and certainly not very happy that some of their fellow countrymen had joined him, they decided to enlist the help of “some wicked men of the rabble” (ESV) to stir up trouble. In Greek the phrase “wicked men of the rabble” literally means “men of the marketplace.” It refers to a group of unemployed ruffians who hung out in the marketplace looking for something to do. What a contrast to the people who responded to Paul’s gospel.  According to Luke, these hooligans barged into Jason’s home in order to drag Paul out to the crowd (17:5). The Greek word translated as “people,” or “crowd” (demos), can also refer to the public assembly of citizens who had authority over local legal matters. Unable to lay their hands on Paul, they decided instead to haul Jason and others before the local magistrates. When they arrived, they laid two accusations against Paul: (1) Paul was an itinerant troublemaker with a track record of causing problems in other cities; (2) Paul was guilty of sedition for claiming that Jesus, not Caesar, was King.

According to the Roman historian Suetonius, shortly before the events described in Acts 17, conflict arose among the Jews of Rome over a man Suetonius calls “Chrestus.” This term probably reflects a Roman misunderstanding of the Jewish concept of the Messiah or, in Greek, “the Christ.” Apparently someone’s preaching of the gospel had just split the Jewish community of Rome.  To Roman officials, debate over the Messiah sounded like preparation for the installation of a new king on the throne of Rome (see Acts 17:7). Probably for that reason the emperor expelled all Jews from his capital city (Acts 18:2). Some of these exiles probably settled in or passed through Thessalonica, bringing knowledge of these events to the city. Because the gospel had turned the world of Rome’s Jews upside down, religious leaders in Thessalonica were determined to prevent something similar from happening there.  Notice that it was not their main concern.  Being that the Jews were n a certain amount of disrepute, the tried to gain favor.  They used that story in order to drum up the charges against Paul and gain favor with the rulers of the city.  Sufficiently alarmed by these charges, the magistrates banned Paul and Silas from their city and required Jason to pay some kind of fee in order to ensure that the two men would not return.  The leaders did not want trouble with the Romans.

Thessalonica itself was ruled by a city council of perhaps five or six “mayors” who made decisions as a group. This arrangement allowed for a considerable amount of independence from Rome, which they would be loath to give up. So, the behavior of the city officials in this matter was quite impressive under the circumstances. The similarity to recent events in Rome could have led to severe physical punishment for the new Christians. Instead, the city leaders responded evenhandedly (contrast Acts 16:22–40). They took a significant amount of money from the new Christians as security so that they would not be the cause of further disturbances. Then the leaders let everyone go. 

As we can see the opposing Jews and the Thessalonian leaders were acting out of self interest.  They acted out of fear of losing their place to live, wealth and position in society.  So, to them Paul had to go, if they were to survive.  Is this how we live today?  There is nothing new under the Sun.  A church pastor once told three church members who were asked to leave after being accused of being problematic, that is was expedient to let them go, if the church was to survive.  Sounds like Caiphas, does it not: “it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not” (john 11:50).  This kind of scenario is still happening.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Preserving Relationships

An audio overview of the lesson by Raul Diaz. Click here for Stream or Download

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This Week's Script
 Preserving Relationships

Our Lesson this week reviews some of the history of Paul’s relationship with the church in Thessalonica. It follows Paul’s life from the time he leaves Thessalonica until he reaches Corinth; from which he probably wrote the letter to the Thessalonians. The main purpose of this lesson, I believe, is to show us how deeply Paul cared for the Thessalonians.

 After Paul leaves Thessalonica he stops in Berea, Athens, and Corinth. He was restless wondering about how the Thessalonians were, because His departure was abrupt. 1 Thessalonians 2:17 gives us an interesting glimpse into Paul’s state of mind by the way in which he describes his sudden departure from Thessalonica. The phrase “torn away” (ESV) comes from a Greek word (aporphaniz) and means “to make an orphan” of someone. In other words, Paul likens the deep anguish he feels with that of a parent bereft of a child. Paul felt as if he had been forced to abandon his child.

 As if he had left the Thessalonians orphan. So, When Paul can “no longer endure” his intense longing for the Thessalonians, he sends a mutual friend to learn how they are doing. Paul is afraid that somehow Satan might lure them away from their original convictions. But he is comforted tremendously when Timothy reports that they are standing firm in the faith. There is an interesting hint of a deeper dynamic in 1 Thessalonians 3:6. Paul rejoices at Timothy’s report that they have a good opinion of him and that they are longing to see him as much as he is longing to see them. Paul’s departure from Thessalonica was sudden, and he seems to have some uncertainty about the way in which they viewed him and his absence. The Thessalonian faithfulness made a big difference to Paul. Timothy’s report brings Paul an intense experience of joy in his prayers to God. But his present joy does not squelch his intense longing to see them face to face and to complete their education in the Christian walk. However, after sending Timothy as an emissary and still being unable to be personally present with them, Paul then engages the Thessalonians by letter. Those letters make up part of the New Testament corpus.

 The first chapter of 1 Thessalonians shows Paul’s heart full of warm concern for the believers there. Let us read verses 2 through 4 as examples of how Paul showed concern for them. Let us see the words Paul used,

 1Th 1:2 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;
 1Th 1:3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;
 1Th 1:4 Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.

 These were Beautiful and loving words that Paul used for the Thessalonians. This concern is nothing short of a miracle when you know his earlier history. There was a time in his life when he would have hunted out these same people and killed them in hopes of eradicating a gospel message direct from God. What he discovered is that in every age, God has protected His gospel and it will never be eradicated.

 Paul had caught a glimpse of the unfathomable gift of God in Christ. His gratitude gave way to an irrepressible urge to share the good news with others. Paul was not content to bask in the blessings of the cross and be saved alone – No! – he felt compelled to share the gospel everywhere he went. “The love of Christ compels us,” he said. “Because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” 2 Corinthians 5:15.

 It was the message that softened his heart toward fellow believers in the dramatic shift that went from savage killing to pastoral sympathy and concern. The effect of hearing and receiving the gospel message is the same today. Unless the message is allowed to change the heart, outward change of behavior is just that. Jesus used the image of “whited tombs” (Matt. 23:27) to describe the condition of outward goodly appearance, but inside was death and corruption.

 Paul is a very good example of the following Ellen G. White quote,

“Every important truth received into the heart must find expression in the life. It is in proportion to the reception of the love of Christ that men desire to proclaim its power to others; and the very act of proclaiming it, deepens and intensifies its value to their own souls” CS p. 94.

 Paul loved the Thessalonians and God loved them, because the love of God filled Paul’s heart and compelled him to love others as God loved. Until we catch a glimpse of the unfathomable gift on God in Christ, we will not love as Paul loved; we will no be grateful to Christ as Paul was. Until we do we will continue in our lukewarm-ness and our efforts to evangelize will be futile.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Gospel Comes to Thessalonica

An audio overview of the lesson by Raul Diaz.

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