Tuesday, December 06, 2005

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: First Thessalonians 5:16-24

Okay, here's the drill, folks. To help the people of the congregation I serve as pastor to prepare for the weekend worship celebrations and to crystalize some of my own thinking, I've been posting looks at the Biblical passages around which worship will be built over the course of the week. I do it about two or three times a week.

If others who read this blog find these posts helpful, that's great!

This weekend, we'll be using two Biblical passages to develop our theme. One of them is a passage we also used last week, Matthew 1:18-25. You can read the notes from last week and other things about or relating to the passage here, here, here, here and here in order to delve into its background. This week, we're also looking at First Thessalonians 5:16-24.

Some Background (based on information in The New Interpreter's Bible (NIB):

1. Both First and Second Thessalonians are addressed to Christians city of Macedonia. It was founded in 316 B.C. by Cassander, one of Alexander the Great's generals, and was named for Alexander's half-sister, Thessaloniki. (My observation is that this tends to confirm the belief of some that how an organization, community, or country starts says a lot about how it turns out. The naming of Thessalonica seems to have been a notable act of sucking up and sycophancy later was an ingrained habit of its inhabitants, as we'll see.)

2. Thessalonica became part of the Roman Empire, really to the apparent relief of its residents, in 167 BC. After Alexander's death, his successors' quarreling rendered them incapable of keeping the town as part of the empire he bequeathed to them.

3. Thessalonica was a commercial and cultic center, although not as important as Rome. In about 130 BC, the Via Egnatia, a major road designed to connect Rome with its eastern territories, was put through Thessalonica. The effect on the city was probably akin to what happened when Interstate highways were cut through sleepy rural areas in this country. Thessalonica became a major center for trade.

4. The city played up to Rome a lot, particularly the emperor Augustus. Because of this, Augustus gave Thessalonica the status of "free city," meaning that it had its own government.

5. The apostle Paul, who founded the church in Thessalonica, first arrived there at some point during the reign of Claudius. (Robert Graves fictionalized this emperor in his famous book-turned-into-PBS-miniseries, I, Claudius.) Claudius ruled from 41 to 54 AD. "Thessalonians had already erected a statue of Augustus as one of several honors to the Romans" by the time of Paul's arrival, the NIB commentary says.

6. A key issue in the Thessalonian letters, the NIB commentary also says, is "the conflict between those in the church and other Thessalonians." In other words, the Thessalonian community felt threatened when Christians confessed that Jesus Christ was their king, the source of their peace and security, and the One to Whom they owed their ultimate loyalty. All of these assertions were similar to what they said about the emperor. The loyalty of the Christians to Christ there would have been seen as an insult to Rome.

"In the eyes of the Thessalonians, support for Jesus weakened support for the Romans, who had brought tangible benefits to the city."

7. Why did Paul establish a church in Thessalonica? The NIB commentary says: "...Paul seems to have planted house churches in strategic locations and to have sent them letters and emissaries in his absence in order to strengthen the solidarity of the assemblies and to correct any problems occurring in the wake of his departure." We'll see this big-time in our passage for this weekend.

I hope to bring more to you, including a specific verse-by-verse explanation of the passage, to you tomorrow.

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