Grace to You and Peace (1 Thess. 1:1) Part 3 of 5

  • Written by James Lee
  • Published: 31 October 2017

Grace is usually defined as “unmerited favor.” By adding grace to peace, Paul made this greeting a distinctly Christian one. In saying this, we are not saying that the idea of grace was distinctly Christian and had nothing to do with the Judaism of the Old Testament. It is true that the Law played a prominent role in the Old Testament. The first five books, which serve as the foundation of the Old Testament, are called the Torah, “the Law.” God promised blessings for Israel’s obedience and curses for Israel’s disobedience (Deut. 28). In the end, Israel was kicked out of the promised land for their repeated rebellion against God and His law.

But consider how God prefaced His giving of the Law: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me (Ex. 20:2-3). Why should the people of Israel worship and serve YHWH alone and keep His commands? Because God, by His grace, set them free from their slavery in Egypt. The Mosaic Law is placed within the context of God’s gracious work of redemption, upon the foundation of divine grace.

Grace to You and Peace (1 Thess. 1:1) Part 2 of 5

  • Written by James Lee
  • Published: 31 October 2017

Consider also what letter-writing was to Paul, especially when he was writing to churches. Even though he didn’t see the need to include his title as an Apostle of Jesus Christ, he was mindful of his apostolic calling and the authority with which he wrote. How serious he was can be shown in what he said toward the end as he concluded his letter: “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers” (5:27). Most likely, what he meant by this was that his letter should be read when they officially got together as a church. We have something similar said in Col. 4:16: “And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.”

 

 

In order to see the significance of this instruction, we must keep in mind what happened (and still happens) in the synagogue when the Jews assemble together on the Sabbath. What do they read? Their Scriptures! And Paul was instructing the church to read his letter at their assembly for all to hear. When he wrote an official letter as an Apostle of Jesus Christ, he was writing as Jesus’ representative with Jesus’ authority! If you were aware of that, would you not be mindful and deliberate in everything you say? When you think about Paul’s love and concern for the church and his inability to be with them, at least for the time being, he could not have greeted them mindlessly, could he? If your child were at a faraway place and you did not know when you could be with him again, how would you greet him in your correspondence to him? So, it was no accident that Paul greeted the Thessalonian church with, “Grace to you and peace!” He did so because he believed that God’s grace and peace were the greatest gifts he could give to them.

Grace to You and Peace (1 Thess. 1:1) Part 1 of 5

  • Written by James Lee
  • Published: 31 October 2017

After identifying himself as the sender and the Thessalonians as the recipients, Paul extends his greeting, “Grace to you and peace.” To issue his greeting at this point of the letter was the standard convention in the Greco-Roman world. In doing so, was he simply conforming to the letter-writing convention of his day? Very unlikely. To see this, I’d like to invite you to imagine yourself in Paul’s situation. Ever since he left Thessalonica, he could not keep his mind off the Thessalonian church. It was a very young church. According to Acts 17, Paul was able to minister in the Jewish synagogue there for only three weeks (v. 2). Even so, his ministry there was successful: “some of [the Jews] were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women” (Acts 17:4). But this ignited the jealousy of some Jews. They were able to incite a mob to find Paul and do harm. Not able to find him, though, they attacked the house of Jason, one of the converts, and dragged him before the authorities. Although Jason was released on bail, the situation in the city got so dangerous that the Christians there urged Paul and Silas to leave the city by night.

Paul, The Thessalonians and God (1 Thess. 1:1) Part 4 of 5

  • Written by James Lee
  • Published: 25 October 2017

Again, this is Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. But, as we have seen, there is a third party to their relationship—God. But God is not the third wheel, tagging along as odd man out: He is the Foundation, He is the Reason, He is the Center, and He is the ultimate Environment and Context of their relationship. God is the One, who divinely ordained the meeting between the two parties. God is the One, who brought both parties to Himself in His saving grace. God is the Bond that joined the two together—they had nothing to do with one another until they were united in the same faith in Jesus Christ. And because this Redeemer is their bond, Paul and the Thessalonians are joined together in an unbreakable, eternal bond—as brothers and sisters in the household of God, as members of the body of Christ.

What is true of Paul and the Thessalonians is true of us as well. God is the One, who brought us individually to Himself. God is the One, who divinely ordained the crossing of our paths and brought us together as members of this church. Although our time together in this church may not be long, we are joined together in the eternal and unbreakable bond of Christ. What are some practical implications of this fact? How would we treat one another if Christ is the integral part of our interaction with one another? Many of you have heard of the Latin phrase, Coram Deo—“in the face/presence of God.” It reminds us that we are never alone. We may go away and hide from others but we can never hide from God. There is no such thing absolute privacy.

Paul, The Thessalonians and God (1 Thess. 1:1) Part 3 of 5

  • Written by James Lee
  • Published: 25 October 2017

Yet we see Paul—a Jew and a Pharisee, no less—in this deep, loving relationship with the Gentiles in the flesh. He not only extends grace and peace of God to them (v. 1); he also gives thanks to God on their behalf (v. 2) and commends them heartily for their faith and love and hope (v. 3). What brought about this unlikely relationship? For this, see how Paul addresses them: “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ….” This relationship was what it was because the Thessalonians were now in God and Christ as Paul was in God and Christ. Without Christ, Paul and the Thessalonians would not have even known that the other existed!

 

 

Isn’t this true of us, too? If it weren’t for Christ, would we be what we are to one another in this church? The U.S. is a big country and California is a big state. As we said, the population of San Diego County is around 3.1 million. What is the chance of our paths crossing each other? Even if that happened somehow, would we have felt enough connection to develop any significant relationship with one another? When we consider how we come from different ethnicities and educational backgrounds and socio-economic classes (not to mention many of us coming from different countries), it is truly amazing that we have come to know one another and have any kind of relationship—let alone view one another as brothers and sisters! What brought us together and binds us together is ultimately Christ, isn’t it? And we are together in this small church as fellow members among millions and millions of Christians throughout the world. So, let us delve further into what it means for us how we should cherish our community and time together.

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