Wednesday, January 6, 2016

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

You can read the text here.

Paul now transitions into more direct exhortation and encouragement of the Thessalonians. They were doing well, but that does not mean that Paul didn't have a further challenge for them. They had seen from Paul and his associates what a lifestyle that pleased God looked like. He wants to focus on two particular areas in this section, presumably because they were at least partially an issue for his converts.

The first topic Paul addresses is sex. Given the nature of the culture he lived in, he is particularly aiming his advice at men. They need to be able to control their sexual urges and limit sex to being within marriage, abstaining from any of the other outlets accepted by their native culture.[1] The reason behind it all is because of their identity and their calling. They have been drawn into Christ by the Holy Spirit and must live in accordance with the nature of that Spirit which is within them.[2] Rejecting a lifestyle of holiness, of which sexual holiness is a component, would amount to a rejection of God and his authority. Presumably part of the reason why Paul focuses on this particular issue is the opportunity for distinctiveness that it offered to his converts.[3]

Paul then moves on, but first he reminds them again that he is encouraging those who, by and large are doing well. Paul is so confident about his disciples that he can affirm that they have learned about love from God, presumably through their intense experience of his love for them.[4] The second area Paul wants to address is their relationship to money and responsibility. Political ambitions should be suppressed.[5] They should live and work quietly, but they must work. Rejecting work and living off of the support of others in the community would not be loving. It would be taking advantage of their love. Second it would work to destroy their witness to the outside world.

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[1] This passage makes it obvious that the Thessalonians were a Gentile congregation.

[2] Both Gaventa and Fee are very helpful in drawing out this point in their own ways.

[3] It also was a very Jewish position. If Nanos et. al, are right in that Paul's goal was to incorporate the Gentiles into the Jewish people as Gentiles then it makes sense that a lifestyle of sexual permissiveness needed to end. Sexual immorality was the issue besides idolatry that Jews most commonly criticized the Gentiles for.

[4] So Gaventa.

[5] Assuming Gaventa and Malherbe are correct. This verse provides the clearest biblical evidence against Christians seeking political power.

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