Thursday, September 30, 2004

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

As I began to work through this short passage I was struck by a handful of things, not the least of which was the trio of phrases, “work produced by faith…labor prompted by love…endurance inspired by hope.”

First of all, however, I think we should take notice again of Paul’s thanksgiving. He notes that every time he is reminded of the Thessalonians he is thankful for them. It might be hard for us to imagine the kind of encouragement this was for the young church. The were not that old in their faith, Paul and his group had by now all left them, and they were suffering “severe persecution.” In the midst of that, their founder writes and tells them that he is extremely thankful for them! We do not often think of thanksgiving as a spiritual discipline, but it is. It is a practice we find all over the Scriptures, and it is one of those exercises which makes us more like Christ and less like our own sinful nature. Being thankful makes us humble and less self-centered; and being thankful encourages others. We might have thanked God for something recently, but when was the last time you did what Paul does in our passage? When was the last time you told someone you were deeply thankful for them and why?

Practice thankfulness and thanksgiving!

Concerning this trio of ideas, we have a familiar list produced by Paul-faith, love and hope. We likely know of this same list in 1 Corinthians 13:13, but it appears a few more times together like this. Another is in Colossians 1:3-5. Each time it appears together like this it seems to put across a kind of short-hand for, “you are functioning the way you should be functioning.” Paul, then, is commending the Thessalonians in large part because the word he had preached had its intended result. They were more faithful, loving and hopeful.

In the Bible Study itself, we delved a little more into the specifics of faith, hope and love, but here I want to ask a question that I think is posed by the text of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. One thing we will discover is that though there appeared to be a large segment of the church which had responded well to the Gospel (and specifically the doctrine of the End), there seems to be a significant group which did not. We find one group characterized by faith, hope and love, and the second group characterized by anxiety, fear and sloth.

How does that happen? How is it that the same group of people hears the same message at the same time from the same person and is split into diametrically opposed reactions?

What I think we find in the text is that the difference begins and ends in the life of the believer’s mind. When Paul addressed those who were fearful and slothful, he not only dealt with their inappropriate behavior, he tried to correct their thinking about the doctrine. The reason we have a lot of end-times doctrine in these two books is because so many people were behaving badly.

Maladjusted thinking leads to maladjusted behavior. To readjust behavior, you must begin by readjusting thinking.

The first crowd was responding correctly to the doctrine because they grasped it well. So Paul only needed to commend them and encourage them to continue. The second group needed to have their behavior dealt with, so Paul condemned the behavior and tried to re-teach them.

The recent trend in evangelicalism of neglecting the life of the mind is leading to disastrous consequences. Many well known surveys make the point that the behavior between believers and non-believers is indistinguishable. Why? At least part of the reason is that most American Christians have quit letting the doctrines of God flood their minds and souls. They really don’t know or understand God, so how can we expect their behavior to be Godly? If Paul corrected thinking about doctrine in order to address poor behavior, I think that strategy is good enough for us as well.

1 comment:

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