1 THESSALONIANS 1
Both letters of this name were written from AD 51 to AD 52 by Paul to the mainly Gentile church of the Greek city of Thessalonica (now in North-Eastern Greece). They were written to encourage new believers in trials and persecutions, and to give assurance over the future of believers who died before Christ returned. Evidence of the Thessalonians’ genuine faith is given by Paul in 1 Thess. 1:4-5. Paul then immediately begins a key passage about discipleship and its methods and outcomes. Paul describes his care and love for these disciples and asks for theirs in return. Believers who have died already are ahead of us, not left behind! The theology of Christ’s return and the End of the Age is described in great detail, without hinting at timings. The key thing is to be ready at all times, so that you will be ready at the time.
Here is a selection of verses from 1 Thessalonians 1 that particularly interest me:
“Paul, Silas, and Timothy: To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1-3).
This is a collaboration article between three apostles, with the lead being taken by Paul. It does have a different style from Paul’s other letters. (2 Thessalonians has these same authors.) Interesting that the ‘engine room’ of Christian life consists of faith, love, and hope, from which emerge work, labour and endurance as the main benefits, and not as the cause of this life – as the Stoic philosophers would mistakenly claim!
“For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction” (1:4-5)
Man’s gospel alone cannot produce changed lives and renewed hearts, but when the Word is heard by someone that God has chosen, the Holy Spirit applies that Word deeply to the hearer’s heart and soul, with live-changing consequences for all to see.
“You know how we lived among you for your sake. You become imitators of us and of the Lord… And so you became a model to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia…” (1:5-7)
This is a great example of discipleship in action. The mentor began living in close proximity to his mentees, then the mentees (or disciples) imitating the good practices they observed in their mentor. Finally, the mentees became themselves mentors to the next ‘generation’ of believers in the area. This is called geometric growth and is the basis for real and sustained church growth the whole world over. What is does require is the commitment between mentor and mentee to sustain this relationship so that it can flourish – plus a willingness in the mentee to submit and to be teachable.
“…You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1:9b-10).
This could also be a definition of Christianity in one sentence! Idols are not just ancient objects of veneration, such as the golden calf; they are anything, physical or behavioural that deflects us from the true worship and service of the True God. Unnatural attachments to times, seasons, money, sentimental objects, time-consuming activities (Facebook?), and any person who we place ahead of Jesus himself – these are idols in the biblical sense too. Faith in God and a patient wait for the Return of Christ is the genuine life that idolatry can never substitute for. If we have established any such idols, we need to repent, cut them down and place Christ in his rightful place. Only then will we experience the freedom that he has purchased for us.
JEREMIAH 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22
Pottery classes are on the curriculum today. God sends his servant down to the potter’s house to watch him at work, so that Jeremiah would be inspired to prophesy. (See Jeremiah 18.) Wet clay is extremely malleable and can be adjusted, corrected, or even re-formed completely. The Lord identified in Jeremiah’s mind a pot that had needed to be completely rebuilt from scratch and compared it to the nation of Judah. Two points were made: Firstly, the Lord is completely sovereign and in control of the nation’s destiny; Secondly, whilst the clay remains soft, it has opportunity to change. If Judah determines to change its ways, then there is still change for God to make something good of that nation – otherwise there will be the promised disaster!
Then they start attacking Jeremiah for his prophetic words against them (not really surprisingly!). Jeremiah complains bitterly to the Lord and asks for justice.
In the next chapter, he is told to visit the potter again and purchase a fully-fired clay jar, in the company of some of the elders of the people. The message this time is that there is no longer any chance of change – the pot is hard and brittle and, since it cannot be used for anything worthwhile, it can only be smashed to pieces and then dumped with the municipal rubbish. Again, God lists the extensive range of sins and crimes against him that Judah has perpetrated, culminating in the burning of their children alive as an offering to Baal. Dramatically, the jar was broken in public, and the prophetic judgment declared in the hearing of all. (Jeremiah 19).
The above drama precipitated a crisis! Jeremiah was arrested and beaten 39 times with rods (the usual judicial punishment) and then left in the stocks for a day and a night. In response he simply added his captor to the long list of criminals for whom the Lord has reserved punishment! Jeremiah then turned to the Lord and uttered a long and bitter complaint – declaring that this was not what he ‘signed up for’ when he was first called to the ministry of prophet. “God, you have tricked me!” is essentially what he said. Do we ever have the same feelings and thoughts towards the Lord? Yes, of course we do. Our lives as his servants and children are not often simple, and the trials that we have to go through to serve him effectively are often very unpleasant. Yet one day we will see Him face to face and we will know for certain that every decision of His was absolutely right and fully for our own good. In this life, we will have trouble, but our destiny and inheritance our ‘out of this world’!
Jeremiah adds that, even though it is tough serving the Lord, he cannot hold in the Word of God – he just has to speak it out. These thoughts are mixed with the despair that Jeremiah has and the wish that he had never been born. (20:14-18).
Eventually the king of Judah came to his sense and realised that Jeremiah did indeed hear and speak the Word of the Lord. They therefore enquired what would happen to them and were told that their only hope was not to fight but to surrender to the Babylonians besieging their city. (21:9). If they stayed and fought, they would find the Lord finding against them too.
Finally, God’s punishment extended not just to Zedekiah, but to Jehoahaz, son of Josiah, and Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim, kings of Judah. It is now far, far too late; the clay has hardened, and Judah’s time is up; all that remains is to wait for the fullness of God’s judgment!