Friday, August 03, 2007

Brief Look at This Sunday's Bible Lessons

This Sunday at the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio, we begin a three-part series on Christians and Work. The first installment of the series will be built around two Biblical passages: Genesis 2:4b-9, 15 and Second Thessalonians 3:6-10. To help folks prepare for worship and hopefully help others who read Better Living, here are a few introductory thoughts on the two passages.

Genesis 2:4b-9, 15
4bIn the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

8And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

A Few Comments:
1. This is part of what appears to be the second of two creation accounts which open Genesis, the first book in the Old Testament. The first account, starting at Genesis 1:1, begins with a promordial flood and over a period of six days, culminates in the creation of human beings. In this account, God creates from a desert or a wilderness, causes water to spring up, and humans are the first creatures God creates from the unpromising sand.

2. The fact that the there appear to be two different accounts of creation at the beginning of the Bible shouldn't throw us off. The Bible is God's Word to us, but given the infinite distance between His intellect and our capacity to understand, that Word is nonetheless His baby from His perspective. In both accounts, in ways that we can understand, God wants to convey the simple fact that He created the universe and made humanity for a special relationship with Him and His creation. For more, see here.

3. Some scholars insist that Genesis 2:4-25 actually describes events that should be seen as sequentially following the events recounted in Genesis 1:1-2:3. I'm skeptical of that view.

4. V. 15 demonstrates that it was always God's plan for the human race to, like God Himself, work. The human call is to take care of creation. In all our vocations--at home, at school, or on the job, this is part of our call. Far from being a punishment, work is central to what we human beings are to be about. It imbues us with dignity and purpose.

Second Thessalonians 3:6-10
6Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. 7For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. 9This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

A Few Comments:
(1) The apostle Paul established the church in Thessalonica, the capital of Macedonia (Acts 17). As The New Oxford Annotated Bible (Revised Standard Version) explains:
Here [Paul] preached in the synagogue for three sabbaths, proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, and proving from the Scriptures the necessity of his death and resurrection (Acts 17:3). Some Jews were convinced; many of the Greeks who had been previously attracted to the religion of Israel were also persuaded.
A thriving new ministry ensued. Eventually however, many Jews in the city became perturbed with a movement that incorporated Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles). This group "accused [Paul] of sedition (Acts 17:7) and aroused such a disturbance that Paul and Silas were sent away by their friends by night..."

Paul's continuing concern for the spiritual development of the congregation at Thesslaonica caused him to maintain contact. The letter that appears as First Thessalonians in our New Testament was written in the early 50s-AD. Many scholars believe that Second Thessalonians was written the following year, 52-AD.

(2) Paul has traditionally been held to be the letter's primary author, although because of divergences in vocabulary and its understanding of the end times (eschatology), that's questioned. But the differences aren't so great as to make different authorship necessary. It should be pointed out though that in ancient times, it was thought perfectly legitimate for persons who belonged to a school of thought established by a rabbi to correspond in the rabbi's name.

(3) Like most of the New Testament letters (epistles), this one was written in response to specific issues that had arisen in the life of the congregataiton, in this case the congregation in Thessalonica. As The Archaeological Study Bible points out, there were three big issues addressed in Second Thessalonians:
On the one hand, these believers were enduring in the faith despite persecution (2Th 1:4). On the other hand, some had become frantic about the return of the Lord (ch. 2), while others had taken to living off the largesse of their fellow believers (3:6-15). Paul wanted to set the record straight.

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