Into the Family

Rebecca Van Noord

Jeremiah 33:1–34:22; Romans 8:1–17; Proverbs 22:1–16

As people once bound to sin and destined for death, our ability to approach God personally—to call Him our Father—should astound us. Yet we sometimes forget to pray. We can take it for granted that He looks out for our every need.

The concept of approaching God as Father would have been a radical concept for the Roman community. In his letter to the church there, Paul discusses how our former lives without God were nothing but slavery to sin and death, the wages of sin. Christ’s work has set us free from this trajectory: “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself confirms to our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer together with him so that we may also be glorified together with him” (Rom 8:15–17).

Paul’s audience would have used the term “Abba! Father!” only within immediate family relationships. To call God “our Father” would have been a shocking paradigm shift—especially for Jewish believers. However, Christ’s sacrifice made this relationship possible. He paid our debt and repaired the rift. Because of His work, and because we share in His Spirit, we also share in His relationship with the Father. We can call out to God, just as Jesus did. And the Father cares for us, just as He cares for His Son.

We may forget our intimate relationship with God, yet the Spirit continues to work within us to bring our lives into accordance with this relationship with the Father. Pray for insight and gratitude for your new position because of Christ. When you call on God, relate to Him as a child would to a loving father—bringing all to Him and knowing He understands you and knows what is best for you.

Do you neglect prayer? Pray that the Spirit would work to bring you a childlike faith and trust in God.

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

Paul: Team Player, Team Writer

Stephen Witmer

We tend to think of the Apostle Paul as a rugged individualist—a pioneering loner. He’s a man on the road, doing the hard work of ministry in the face of formidable circumstances that include imprisonment, snakes and shipwrecks. It’s the stuff of Westerns and modern action movies. But if we read Paul’s letters closely, we will find he isn’t ministering on his own.

For years, if you had asked me who sent 1 Thessalonians, I would have confidently—and incorrectly—answered, “the Apostle Paul.” That answer is partially correct. The letter names Paul as a sender, but it also mentions two other senders. First Thessalonians 1:1 reads, “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Together, these three men wrote to the young church in Macedonia.

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Who were these men? Silvanus (the Latinized form of Silas) was a prophet and leader in the Jerusalem church and one of Paul’s close co-workers (Acts 15:22, 32). Together in prison, Paul and Silas participated in the most famous hymn sing in history (Acts 16:25). Silas also worked alongside Paul to found the church in Thessalonica (Acts 17:4). Timothy, a close associate of Paul, helped establish the church in Corinth with Silas (2 Cor 1:19). He frequently served as Paul’s representative to various churches (e.g., 1 Cor 4:17; 16:10). We learn in 1 Thessalonians that Paul had already sent Timothy to the church in Thessalonica, and Timothy had returned with a good report (1 Thess 3:2, 6).

Context is important: When we consider these three co-senders in light of typical Hellenistic letter-writing of the time and Paul’s other letters, we notice a striking distinction.

Greek letters of Paul’s day very rarely name a co-sender. In The Secretary in the Letters of Paul, E. Randolph Richards considers 645 papyrus letters and finds only six cases in which a co-sender is named in the opening. Yet naming a co-sender was normal practice for Paul. He mentions co-senders in the openings of eight of his 12 letters (1–2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians and Philemon).

Does the reference to Timothy and Silas indicate that they co-authored the letter with Paul? The consistent use of the first person plural throughout the letter (e.g., “we give thanks to God” in 1 Thess 1:2; “we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus” in 1 Thess 4:1) could be taken as evidence for joint authorship, but some believe Paul might instead be using “we” as a literary or authorial plural to lend a “warm tone” to the letter. In other places, Timothy is referred to in the third person (1 Thess 3:2, 6), and in the few places where the first person singular is used, it is clearly Paul speaking (1 Thess 2:18; 3:5; 5:27). In any case, the naming of co-senders in Thessalonians 1:1 reminds us that Paul’s letters were written from within a circle of associates who had some influence on the content of these letters (compare Rom 16:22).

But perhaps more intriguing is the sense of community we gather from Paul’s letters. The naming of Timothy and Silas reflects Paul’s keen sense that he proclaimed the gospel as part of a team. His close companions were Barnabas, Timothy, Silas and Titus, but his circle of associates went well beyond these four. According to Wayne Meeks, Paul’s letters (excluding the Pastoral Epistles) include 65 individuals “named or otherwise identified as persons active in local congregations, as traveling companions or agents of Paul, or as both.”

Paul was not on a one-man mission. He always worked within a team—a network of close colleagues. We, like Paul, need to pursue close partnerships in ministry today—for the purposes of accountability, fellowship and discipleship. Paul stands as the example of how partnership in ministry can lead faith communities to “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thess 3:12).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 5

Planning for Crises

E. Tod Twist

I’m a recovering twitch—way too tightly-wrapped for my own good—and it messes up my thinking and my relationships. I work hard on self-management, but when life gets too dramatic, my self-management becomes crisis management. In those moments, 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 provides some of the best advice I’ve found: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” It’s a tall order. To understand the meaning of Paul’s command, we will need to consult a commentary, a lexicon and a Bible handbook.

Step 1: Focus on Central Questions

Paul’s letters usually close with ethical exhortations, with the commands often coming in a series without explicit connection. First Thessalonians 5:12–22 follows this pattern, with the central command to “rejoice always” (5:16) placed within a larger block of other commands.

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It’s challenging to unpack and apply a compressed passage like this, especially since the command occurs without clarification. To present-day readers, “rejoice always” comes across as an admonition to be happy—all the time. In fact, the Greek verb translated “rejoice” (chairō, χαίρω) has the basic sense of being glad or delighted. Consulting either a commentary or a specialized resource on Paul can help explain the sense of “rejoice” used here. The New International Greek Testament Commentary on Thessalonians states:

Although Paul does not spell out the source or basis of Christian joy in [1 Thessalonians] 5:16, the instruction to “rejoice always” derives its meaning from the earlier passages in the letter. To rejoice always is to see the hand of God in whatever is happening and to remain certain of God’s future salvation. Without such conviction joy would not be possible in the face of affliction, suffering, and death.

So, rejoicing in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 is about looking at life from a different perspective, through the eyes of faith.

Step 2: Adjust Your Questions

Sometimes Scripture doesn’t give us the answers we want. Often, we need to abandon our own agenda and refocus on what a passage is addressing. For instance, we may ask what it means to pray “without ceasing” (adialeiptōs, άδιαλείπτως; 5:17). Does it mean “all the time” or “on a regular basis”? Opinions go both ways, and even A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature lists the meanings of the Greek word as either “unceasingly” or “constantly.” Instead of trying to make the passage more specific than it is, we might change our focus. What about prayer makes it worthy of so much attention?

A similar puzzle occurs with “give thanks in all circumstances” in the next verse (5:18), where a strictly literal translation would read, “give thanks in all.” The UBS Handbook on Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians explains, “Circumstances is not explicit in the text, and it is equally possible that ‘at all times’ is intended. The Greek is quite general.” Again, instead of trying to make the passage more specific than it is, we need to change our focus. What about thankfulness makes it an appropriate response in any situation?

Step 3: Focus on How it Fits Together

The commands to rejoice, pray and give thanks (5:16–18) all share a common element—they are focused on God. Each action is an implicit recognition that we are incomplete in ourselves; that we need God. We rejoice in what God has done for us already and we look forward to His help in the future. We pray to God, bringing our needs and experiencing His presence. We give thanks in the ups and downs of life because we trust that God will bring about the deepest good in the end.

That’s the sort of perspective that can turn crisis management back into self-management—with the ever-important caveat that you don’t do it all by yourself.

Pick up the UBS Handbook on Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians at Logos.com/UBSNT

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 5

Freedom

Rebecca Van Noord

Jeremiah 31:1–40; Romans 6:15–7:6; Proverbs 21:1–12

We like to think of ourselves as autonomous. Our modern culture champions freedom and the right to pursue happiness. But if we apply the concept of rights when we think about faith, following Christ can feel like religion, dogma, rules—a type of bondage that requires us to think and behave in ways that make our autonomous selves bridle.

Paul looks at the issue differently: “Do you not know that to whomever you present yourselves as slaves for obedience, you are slaves to whomever you obey, whether sin, leading to death, or obedience, leading to righteousness?” (Rom 6:16). He uses another analogy in his letter to the church in Rome—one that draws on the practice of the slavery within his own culture—to highlight the opposite view. If we live without God, he says, we have a debt that binds us. We are a slave to sin, and it’s the type of bondage that leads to death.

Yet, there is hope. Although we were slaves to sin, we can be redeemed from that slavery. Christ has paid the debt we incurred. He has set us free and brought us into a new bondage—not one that binds to death, but one that binds us to Him in life. If we believe this is true and put our trust in Him, we are no longer slaves.

As redeemed people, we’re called to a new life. While we once charted our own independent path—one that led to death—we can turn and follow a path that leads to sanctification and eternal life, a path that God charts just for us. While our path required a toll—death—Christ has paid that toll so we can walk in new life: “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).

How have your old habits and patterns of behavior changed now that you’ve been set free? What still needs to change to reflect your new loyalty to Christ?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

Patterns within Patterns

Eli T. Evans

Before assembly lines, computer-aided drafting and universal public education, replication was the accepted way to produce crafts and craftsmen. Without a blueprint, the best way for a carpenter to build a certain kind of bench would be to reproduce an example. Likewise, the best way to build a certain kind of carpenter was to emulate a master carpenter by working at his side. Tradesmen didn’t go to college; they apprenticed. Nor were there any Bible colleges to mass-produce Christians.

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Unlike the debate societies of the Greek philosophers or the Torah schools of the Jewish synagogues (from which they were cast out), early Christians were trained through direct contact with other Christians. Indeed, discipleship is nothing more than apprenticeship extended into all areas of life and worship: behavior, speech and thought.

The Thessalonians were such good apprentices of Paul that their reputation spread among the other churches (1 Thess 1:7–8; 2 Thess 1:3–4; see also 1 Tim 5:10). This fact brings Paul great joy, even in the midst of personal hardship (1 Thess 1:6; 2:19–20; 3:9). He knows that through them, the church will branch out and grow—beyond him, and if necessary, without him (1 Thess 4:9; 5:1).

Each branch of a tree is a smaller copy of the one it sprouted from, all the way back to the trunk. If all the branches follow the right pattern, the tree will be well-formed, but if a branch is deformed, it will break the chain of healthy replication, and any branches that grow from it will be malformed.

In this regard, Paul commends Thessalonian believers for being good, healthy branches in the Christian tree, and he encourages them to continue to grow as “imitators” of himself, Christ and other churches (1 Thess 1:6; 2:14). He encourages them to repeat the pattern of living that he showed them (1 Thess 4:1–2, 11–12; 2 Thess 3:7–9). In this way, they would “become an example” for other churches and even the world (1 Thess 1:7; 4:12).

Thus, Paul’s main ongoing concern for the Thessalonians is not that they recall his best sermons while he was with them, or even that they read and disseminate his letters, but rather that they remember how he treated them and how he worked and lived when he was among them. In addressing the problem of some lazy members of the community, he doesn’t appeal to the Thessalonians’ intellect through reasoned argumentation, but to their memory: “You yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you” (2 Thess 3:6–9). Having been shown the pattern, they should have no need for further teaching on this point. Nor did they have any “need for anyone to write” to them about brotherly love or the timing of the second coming of Christ (1 Thess 4:9; 5:1).

In general, Paul harbored deep suspicion of teachers and “super-apostles” who made their appeal through “smooth words and flattery” rather than by aspiring to “live quietly [among their disciples] and to mind [their] own affairs” (1 Thess 2:5; 1 Thess 4:11; see also Rom 16:18; 1 Cor 1:17; 2:1–5; 2 Cor 11:5–6). It isn’t a know-nothing bias against learning as such—Paul was well-educated and could hold his own in a debate (just ask Peter or the Galatians)—but he had no patience for “unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words,” nor endless discussions of “myths” and “speculations” (1 Tim 1:4; 4:7; 6:4; 2 Tim 4:4; Titus 1:14). It’s worth noting that every time Paul uses the word “doctrine,” it is in the context of a whole-life pattern of ministry, where followers speak and act the way their leaders do. For Paul, the point of Christian learning is sanctification and growth in personal holiness, not to gain ammunition for theological turf wars.

It’s tempting to think of Paul as having a purely rhetorical bent. All that remains of his teachings are his letters, which of necessity were written when he was far away from his audience. Being even further away ourselves, it is comfortable to view him through the lens of the theological treatise he wrote to the members of the Roman church—whom he had never met in person, either. Nevertheless, the letters to the Thessalonians show that Paul preferred an incarnational style of ministry whenever possible, a hands-on method in which he reared his spiritual children like a nursing mother or an admonishing father would (1 Thess 2:7, 11–12). Even when he was unable to be with them in person—or as he puts it, when he was “torn away” and could “bear it no longer” (1 Thess 2:17; 3:1)—he was still “with them in heart” (1 Thess 2:17; compare 1 Cor 5:3; Phil 1:27; Col 2:5). Whether present or absent, Paul was always expecting (and praying) that each brother and sister would be sanctified, that is, conformed to the image of the Son of God—copies of copies, never flawless, but nevertheless true and faithful reproductions of the perfect original, Jesus Christ.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 5