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1 Thessalonians

chapters  4, 5

Paul is writing to new Christians,  and he appreciates the importance of underlining the basic lessons they have been taught about Christian behaviour.   Sexual relationships get priority mention,  presumably because pagan society tolerated a great deal of sexual exploitation,  and because this was an immediate test of the reality of any profession of Christian love.   What Paul was concerned about was not that people should have their 'marriage lines'  -  maybe few did amongst the lower classes  -  but that Christians must not exploit others.
To end,  friends,  I do urge you,  in the Lord Jesus,  to be diligent in leading the kind of life I have taught you as being pleasing to God.   Of course you are doing this already,  but put even more effort into it.   You remember the instruction I gave you,  on Christ's authority.   God wants you to live holy lives.   Abstain,  then,  from fornication.   Know how to control your bodies,  in purity and honour,  not giving in to lust like pagans who know no better,  not wronging or exploiting another person.   God punishes such actions,  for God has called us to holiness,  not to sexual indulgence.   If you resist this charge you resist not human authority,  but God who gave you the Holy Spirit.      [4:1-8]

As far as love amongst the Christian community is concerned you hardly need anyone to give you written instruction.   You have learned God's lesson about loving one another,  and your love reaches out to all our friends throughout Macedonia.   But I urge you to keep making progress in your Christian life:  try to live quietly,  mind your own business,  and earn your own living,  just as I taught you.   I would want you to command the respect of outsiders,  and not to be dependent on others.      [4:9-12]

I don't want you to have the wrong idea about those who have died.   You do not need to grieve for them as though you were without hope.   Jesus died  -  and he rose again.   So,  we declare on the Lord's authority,  God will restore those who have died,  with him.   Those of us who are alive at the Lord's coming will not have priority over the others.   At the word of command,  at the archangel's call and the sound of God's trumpet,  the Lord will come from heaven,  and those who have died in Christ will rise first.   Then we who are alive will be lifted into the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air  -  and we will be with Christ for ever.   Comfort one another with this vision.      [4:13-18]

As to when this will happen there is nothing that I need to tell you.   You know as well as I do that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.   People may accept the slogan  'peace and security'  but destruction will fall upon them without warning,  just as labour pains overtake a pregnant woman.   There will be no escape.   But you,  my friends,  are not in darkness for that day to surprise you like a thief.   You are children of the light,  of the day.   And because we don't belong to the darkness we shouldn't be asleep.   We should be wide awake and sober.   We should wear faith and love and the hope of salvation as our armour.   God does not intend you for the terrors of judgment but for salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.   He died for us so that,  alive or dead,  we should live with him.   So encourage and strengthen one another.   I know that you do.      [5:1-11]

For many of us,  Paul's vision of the 'end' is almost unbearably literalistic.   When God speaks to us,  God uses such language as we have.   The language and imagery available to Paul,  and therefore to God addressing Paul,  was Jewish apocalyptic,  and it was in that language and imagery that Paul spoke what he knew.   When we come to test his inspiration  (as he himself,  in the next section,  adjures us to do)  we have to decide for ourselves whether he is completely deceived,  or whether what he has to say is actually of critical importance,  even if we must try to translate the essence of it into other language and other images that we find more helpful.   Does Paul's theme of  'hope in God'  somehow chime with our own insight and inspiration,  or is it without relevance to our modern world?   If that last is the case,  our situation is desperate indeed.
Please,  respect those who are working hard amongst you as your teachers and guides.   Esteem them highly,  and look after them,  for the work they do.   Live in harmony with one another.   Rebuke idlers,  encourage the timid,  help the weak,  and be patient with everybody.   Let no one return wrong for wrong.   Try to do the best for one another and for everybody.   Keep your spirits high.   Pray often.   Be thankful whatever happens:  accept it all as what God in Christ wills for you.   Do not stifle inspiration;  test prophetic utterances and lay hold of what is good in them.   Let go of anything that is false.      [5:12-22]

May the God of peace make you completely holy.   May you be fit in spirit,  soul,  and body  -  without blemish  -  when our Lord Jesus Christ comes.   You can trust the one who has called you to make it happen.   Friends,  pray for me too.   Greet those in the fellowship with the kiss of peace.   In Christ's name I direct that this letter be read to the whole community.   The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you!      [5:23-28]

The second letter to the Thessalonians was probably not written by Paul.   The most obvious evidence is the fact that it copies from the first letter.   It is hard to imagine why Paul would have done that.   Scholars find other reasons,  too,  why we should not regard 2 Thessalonians as part of our basic evidence for the life and faith of Paul himself.


  paraphrase and notes by Evan Lewis


Making connections with Paul the apostle
What Paul did NOT write

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