Paul, The Thessalonians and God (1 Thess. 1:1) Part 2 of 5

  • Written by James Lee
  • Published: 25 October 2017

This was amazing because, from a worldly perspective, Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonians was a very unlikely one. Paul was a former Pharisee, known for his strict adherence to the Law of Moses as well as the oral law established by various rabbis. A big part of being a Jew, especially a Pharisee, was maintaining religious and ritual purity. This involved what he could eat or not eat, what he could do or not do on the Sabbath, and even what he could wear and not wear. Even now, when you go to grocery stores, you have food items labeled as “Kosher.” That means it satisfies the dietary restrictions that are required by the Law of Moses.

 

These ceremonial regulations obviously affected a Jew’s relationship with non-Jews, who did not follow the same regulations and rituals: the Gentiles were considered unclean. So, the Jews were not allowed to marry non-Jews. In principle, this was more about Israel’s religious purity than ethnic purity. Like Rahab and Ruth, those who embraced Israel’s religion were welcomed into the covenant community.

 

 

But in practice, it often degenerated into ethnic discrimination. In some cases, the Gentiles were referred to as “dogs” because of their religious idolatry and ritual impurity. Think about what the Samaritan woman said when Jesus asked for water: "’How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans)” (John 4:9). We also hear of the incident in Antioch involving Peter: “before certain men came from James, [Peter] was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party” (Gal. 2:12). This implies that Jews did not eat with Gentiles--so wide was the divide between Jews and Gentiles; so high was the barrier between the two groups.

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

  • Written by James Lee
  • Published: 25 October 2017

Paul wrote this letter to the Thessalonian church, which he founded with the help of Silvanus (or Silas, for short) and Timothy. It is true that the senders are listed as “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,” and, throughout the letter, the first personal pronoun, “we,” is used as the main speaker. Nonetheless, Paul seems to be the main author of this letter. There are a few places where he alone is the speaker (2:17-18; 3:5; 5:27). Most telling is the last insurance: “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers” (5:27). Probably, Paul included Silvanus and Timothy in the list because they were his coworkers, especially in planting and establishing the Thessalonian church.

 

Paul had a deep affection for the Thessalonians: “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” (vv. 2-3). Because he had to cut his stay there short, he was very much concerned about the wellbeing of that young, fledgling church: “Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions” (3:1-3).

 

 

This may be why Paul doesn’t use his apostolic title when he identifies himself. As many of you know, most of Paul’s letters begin with Paul introducing himself as an Apostle of Christ or a bondservant of Christ. Why not here? Jeffrey Weima, a New Testament scholar, who specializes in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, suggests this: it is an indication that there is no tension between Paul and the Thessalonian church. He felt no need to assert his apostolic authority to them because it was not challenged in any way (as it was by the Corinthian church, for example). In fact, we don’t find any formal rebuke in this letter.

To the Praise of His Glorious Grace (Eph. 1:3-14) Part 3 of 5

  • Written by James Lee
  • Published: 11 October 2017

This was at the center of the Reformation, the 500th Anniversary of which we are celebrating this year. One of the slogans of the Reformation was Soli Deo Gloria—to God alone be glory. As our church is celebrating our 23rd Anniversary, we want to renew our commitment to this central idea in Christianity. That’s exactly what it means when we say, “It’s not about me; it’s about Christ.” If we can live by this, our life will be profoundly changed for the better and we will have a great insight into what God is doing in our life.  

 

But Soli Deo Gloria is not only right; it is also good that the focus and purpose of our life should be God-centered. If I desire that we should never forget this truth as individuals and as a church, it is because it is right for God and good for us. You see,God’s glory has many aspects and dimensions. God’s glory can be shown in a demonstration of His almighty power. Think about God’s glory shown in creation. What greater demonstration of omnipotence is there than the work of making all things out of nothing? How awesome it must have been when the Lord said, "Let there be light!" and the light burst out of the primordial darkness and shone with its blinding brilliance for the first time! What words can describe the wonder of the stars and galaxies explode into the dark, empty spaces of the universe! What a wondrous experience it must have been to watch the cataclysmic events of waters dividing, the continents breaking through the waters with roaring thunders, the ocean waters sinking to the deep in a great rush! What a sight it must have been when all kinds of creatures were being brought into existence in all of their abundant variety and exquisite beauty, in the sky and sea and land! How can we not sing, "How great Thou art!" when we in awesome wonder consider all the worlds His hands have made, when we see the stars, when we hear the rolling thunder, when we behold His power throughout the universe displayed!

To the Praise of His Glorious Grace (Eph. 1:3-14) Part 2 of 5

  • Written by James Lee
  • Published: 11 October 2017

When you think about it, this should be the most obvious thing. After all, long before He brought us into existence, He was, from all eternity. That which was created cannot be more important than the One who created it. What is created exists for the One who created it, not the other way around. The first chapter of the Bible affirms that God created the world for His glory and pleasure: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). This is true especially of man, who is made in God’s own image—as we delight in our children, who are made in our image (Gen. 5:1). So, our life should be about God, not about us. Add to this the fact that God is morally obligated to seek His glory above all else because He is the Ultimate and Absolute Good.

 

I dare say that, if we can truly apply this simple truth, most of our problems with God and the questions we have about His ways will go away. Of course, God is God and finite beings like us can never fully understand an infinite God that He is. But our life will not be characterized by confusion and doubt.

 

 

Why do we live our Christian life with so much confusion and doubt, anyway? It’s because our mind and heart are not properly focused. We live in God’s world. He is the center of the universe and everything is designed to revolve around Him! Many people reject that view. Some really believe that they are divine. To believe that, their definition of “divine” has to be quite narrow: it cannot include things like omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence as well as eternity, aseity (self-existent), simplicity (the quality of not being divisible in any way), etc. Many claim that they can do whatever they put their mind to and create their own destiny. And they present their own transformation and success as evidences. But is it true that they can create their own destiny and make things happen simply by willing and applying themselves? They might have tapped into the physical and moral principles, upon which God built this world, and thus are able to accomplish a great deal. But that is a far cry from possessing infinite potential to do whatever they so desire! When they make such horrendous claims, “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (Ps. 2:4). He says, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you…”(Luke 12:20). Then what happens to all their bold, grandiose claims?

To the Praise of His Glorious Grace (Eph. 1:3-14) Part 1 of 5

  • Written by James Lee
  • Published: 11 October 2017

In this short passage, Paul says a lot about God, especially what He has done for our glorious redemption. But what is one unmistakable message conveyed throughout this whole passage? That, from before the foundation of the world to all eternity, God’s work of redemption is “in Christ.” But there is another message that is equally unmistakable: God does all things to the praise of His glory.

 

A long list of God’s goals mentioned in this passage can be divided into two categories: secondary and primary. His secondary goals are: choosing us that we should be holy and blameless before Him (v. 4); predestining us to adoption as sons (v. 5); summing up all things in Christ (v. 10); working out all things after the counsel of His will (v. 12); sealing us in Christ with the Holy Spirit and redeeming us as His possession/people (v. 14).

 

 

God accomplishes all these secondary goals for His primary goal: to the praise of His glory. You can’t miss it: “he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (vv. 5-6); “In [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory” (vv. 11-12); “In [Christ] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (vv. 13-14).

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