We're still studying Acts in our Coffee Break group, but this week we take a short diversion to see what Paul wrote to those communities he'd so recently been thrown out of.
(18) A Letter to a New Church
Paul spent 18 months in Corinth before finishing his second missionary journey. He’d recently passed through Thessalonica, leaving Jason in charge of a fledgling Christian community, after Jews caused trouble there (Acts 17:5-9). Berean Jews, living off the beaten track, seemed more willing to listen, but Thessalonian trouble-makers followed there too, so Paul sailed to Athens, asking Silas and Timothy to follow him. While in Athens, Paul sent Silas and Timothy back to Thessalonica (Read 1 Thessalonians 3:1-3). They rejoined him in Corinth, and stayed 18 months (Read Acts 18:5,9-11).
A letter from good friends
1. Who is writing to the Thessalonians, and who is the letter written to? Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1. Somehow I’d always assumed the letter was just from Paul.
2. Why do you suppose Jason’s name isn’t mentioned (Read Acts 17:5)?
3. Read 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5. What do we learn about the Thessalonian church as Paul addresses them?
4. Read 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8. Why might it be important for Paul to mention that good things have come from Thessalonica, given what happened earlier? Does this remind you of Jesus’ forgiveness of Peter, or anything else?
5. Read 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10. By the time Paul writes his second letter to the Thessalonians, this waiting for Jesus has turned into something it wasn’t meant to be. Read 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, 3:10-13. We are still waiting for Jesus’ return today. What kind of temptations does that sense of waiting create in the modern world?
How to deliver God’s message
1. Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2. Paul, Silas and Timothy were fleeing Philippi when they went to Thessalonica. How did suffering and spiteful accusations affect their message? We don’t suffer much in North America, but are we tempted to let other people’s spite affect how we speak up for God? How would such a temptation reveal itself?
2. Read 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4. Are we tempted to please our neighbors instead of pleasing God? Is emphasizing where we agree a way of pleasing men or our fellow Christians, or of acknowledging our own insufficiency?
3. Read 1 Thessalonians 2:5-6. Paul seemed to praise the Athenians for worshiping their unknown God. How is that different from flattery? Can you think of any ways in which modern preachers might be accused of using flattery, seeking glory, or making demands?
4. Read 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8. Verse 7 might warm our motherly hearts. But what about verse 8? Sending Silas and Timothy back does sound like rather a risk, given what happened before they left. Do we take “motherly” risks for Christ’s people? And, just to finish this section, what have we learned about how to deliver God’s message?
How to receive God’s message
1. Read 1 Thessalonians 2:13. How do we protect ourselves from letting the word of God become the scholarly pursuit of men and women?
2. Read 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16. Should we expect faith to produce “the good life”?
3. Should we expect goodness and kindness from all our fellow believers?
4. Should we expect all Christians to agree on all “rules”? How would not expecting so much change things?
Paul’s care for new believers
1. Read 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5. Paul has just explained how he longed to return to Thessalonica but couldn’t. What kind of picture of Paul does verse 5 give you?
2. Read 1 Thessalonians 3:6-8. Do you get the feeling that Paul is writing straight back to them, as soon as Timothy arrives? How does this add to your image of Paul?
3. Read 1 Thessalonians 3:9-10. What might give us this kind of holy joy? Does prayer in church?
4. Read 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 4:3-6. What do Paul’s prayers tell us about Thessalonian society?
5. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12. Would Paul feel a need to write to modern churches about brotherly love? What about leading quiet lives, minding our own business, etc.? Where is the line between minding your own business and praying for your neighbor’s salvation – can anything we’ve read about Paul help us see that line?
Paul’s care for the end of the world
1. The letters to the Thessalonians are famous for their references to end-times. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 gave us a hint of its importance to this congregation. How might the faiths surrounding them have led to a preoccupation with such things? How might the modern world lead to a modern preoccupation with such things?
2. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15. What human concern does this address? Is it theological argument or comfort?
3. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. Jewish listeners would recognize trumpets, clouds and angels from Jewish writings. Gentiles would recognize trumpets and shouts as symbols of a gathering. What part of the message does a modern literal interpretation miss out on?
4. Read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. Today we don’t wear armor. We don’t celebrate drunkenness in religious festivities. And we don’t consult oracles in dark rooms. Can you paraphrase this passage for modern Christians?
5. Read 2 Thessalonians 1: 6-10. These images would be familiar to Jewish Christians from the Old Testament, and to Gentiles from pagan mythology. Are they familiar to us? How might our modern world-view lead to our misinterpretation of the images?
6. Read 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4. Paul is writing before the destruction of Jerusalem. How does this passage compare with Matthew 24:15? Is Paul (and was Jesus) saying the world should end as soon as the abomination is put in the Temple?
7. Read 2 Thessalonians 2:15. How should we respond to those who tell us the world’s about to end?
8. Read 2 Thessalonians 3:6,10-13. How should we live, when we believe the world is going to end?