Theological Reflections 2 Thessalonians

2 THESSALONIANS

While 2 Thessalonians is considered a disputed letter, it is still a biblical text and although perhaps not penned by Paul himself, offers great amounts of insight and wisdom into the faith of early Christians and the struggles of the early Church.  Additionally, it was most likely written, if not by Paul, by someone familiar with Paul. This kind of letter written by someone in another’s name (and as they would written) was not unusual in that time.

I particularly appreciate the symmetry we see to 1 Thessalonians in the Thanksgiving by the mention of faith and love and also in the acknowledgment of their endurance through the persecution that the church has been facing (whereas the previous letter discussed the trials that Paul has faced).  The prayer that follows is particularly powerful: 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, “…God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith, that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.” I feel like this would be an amazing prayer to memorize and pray for anyone who is suffering or feels like they are struggling.

Much of the writing focuses on deception by the devil and the Parousia, as well as  the signs that will come with the “lawless one” and warnings to believe the truth and not be deceived.  Shortly thereafter, perhaps to lighten the blow a bit, it says in 2 Thessalonians 3:3 “But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.” In my experience I have found this so far to be true; that if I rest in the Lord’s word and seek God’s wisdom I find myself strengthened. It is not necessarily that the problems are any less but that the Lord has better equipped me to handle them and they seem less like problems. Additionally, when I have faith that God is in me, while someone may take my life on earth they cannot do anything to take away my eternity with God. In this way I am guarded.

2 Thessalonians 2:15-17 “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.” I particularly enjoy this verse because it focuses on encouragement and hope as they face persecution; it reminds them to keep in the traditions they were taught, some of which don’t seem to stick with them. Apparently there are still lingering issues with idleness that weren’t resolved from 1 Thessalonians and so the advice now becomes even more extreme but seems to be consistent with other advice Paul has given.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-7, “We instruct you, brothers, in the name of [our] Lord Jesus Christ, to shun any brother who conducts himself in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition they received from us. For you know how one must imitate us…” They are not saying to shun all “disorderly” people but believers who are disorderly and refusing to change, eating free food from anyone or being idle when they are able to work. This is not the way of a believer and as Paul has explain in Corinthians, by expelling a believer the hope is that they will change their ways and return to Christ, receiving the Spirit. As it says in 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15, “But you brothers, do not be remiss in doing good…take note of this person not to associate with him, that he may be put to shame. Do not regard him as an enemy but admonish him as a brother.”

The last bit I want to call out is the another part that echoes 1 Thessalonians, and it is again reminding them of how Paul and his followers lived. 2 Thessalonians 3:8-10, “…in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you. Not that we do not have the right. Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us. In fact, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.” This just further emphasizes the continuity that I Thessalonians has with 2 Thessalonians and reminds us it refers only to believers capable of work who will not.  A later line refers to people who are basically busy bodies rather than being busy working. In Greek it was a play on works that pointed out the difference between those who were busy and those who getting into other people’s business instead. This is why they advise that if you are able to work but are being a busybody instead you haven’t earned your food. It is not a line to condone denial of charity to those in need.

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I Thessalonians Reflections

Paul begins his Greeting in I Thessalonians 1:1 “…to the church… in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…” and this speaks deeply to me. It reminds me that a church is in God and Christ. My church being in God, enclosed and surrounded by the Trinity is a great comfort to me and is not the imagery I usually have of a church. The other imagery I like which shortly follows in I Thessalonians 1:3 is in the Thanksgiving and is where Paul ties actions to things that people often associate with thoughts or feelings today: “…calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father…” Paul appears to remind us in every sentence that we show faith, love and hope through our actions.

In I Thessalonians 2:9-10 Paul remarks, “You recall, brothers, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers.” This selfless integrity that Paul points out, that they worked while continuing to spread the gospel, that they labored “night and day” so that they would not burden believers, is not a bragging point. I believe it is meant as a reminder of who Paul was but also that if you are a believer, you should be setting an example.  Your behavior and actions should be speaking for you and Paul firmly believed that if you could work you should as he demonstrated repeated in his letters. He even loops back to this again later, warning against laziness or idleness because of the imminence of the Parousia in I Thessalonians 4:11-12, “…and to aspire to live a tranquil life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your [own] hands, as we instructed you, that you may conduct yourselves properly toward outsiders and not depend on anyone.”  Although this might sound as if it advises against charity it does not. It is only laziness in believers it speaks against. Paul wants those who are capable of working to work but to understand that they are all responsible for each other. In I Thessalonians 4:9-10 it says, “On the subject of mutual charity you have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another. Indeed, you do this for all the brothers throughout Macedonia.”

Freedom comes up a lot in Paul’s letters, and it appears to be something that is both liberating and misunderstood in Paul’s time and ours. While the start of his General Exhortations focuses on holiness, I wonder if what Paul addresses stems from a misunderstanding of the freedom they have received in the crucifixion of Jesus. One example that sounds like they interpreted the freedom in Christ as the freedom to do as they want can be found in I Thessalonians 4:7-8 “For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not a human being but God, who [also] gives his holy spirit to you.”  In this, it sounds like Paul is trying to remind them that God did not call them to freedom from the Law so they could do impure things but instead so that they could receive the Holy Spirit and be in relationship with God.

I particularly like that he circles back to what he began with in his Thanksgiving at the end, changing the actions into armor in I Thessalonians 5:8-10, “But since we are of the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet that is hope for salvation. For God did not destine us for wrath, but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live together with him.” Lastly, the final directions that Paul gives are beautiful if not challenging. It perhaps emphasizes again that the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice was a reorientation and restructuring of all existence, our own and the worlds. God was countercultural then and is countercultural now.  It is not about doing our own will but the will of God.

I Thessalonians 5:14-22 “We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all. See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good [both] for each other and for all. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Jesus Christ. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterance. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.”