In rare times it becomes downright crippling, as I see so much of my imperfection, so much of the negative consequences of my imperfections. Yet Christmas gives a better message. I need not be perfect, for beautiful, wonderful things to happen in my life. I can write papers about my ethnographic research which, frankly, I feel do not remotely do justice to the stories people share with me — yet which can still open up some small avenues to discuss and address injustice.
I can teach imperfect lectures that still educate students. I can reach out to friends not enough or too briefly — and they can still know I care, and am just busy.
A Messianic Spiritual Inventory | Messianic Publications
I can struggle for the right words to convey my love for Charleen — and have her still know what I am trying to say. I can struggle to know the best way to raise our boys — and yet know that they are loved, safe, and provided for, and they will most likely reach adulthood well-adjusted or medium-adjusted like the rest of us. The imperfect can be a vessel for the perfect. And that is a relief. After all, if I were perfect, why would I need Emmanuel?
Dreamer is a professor of anthropology, a Latter-day Saint, a lover of comparative religion, and a Sunday School teacher, not necessarily in that order. He is the husband of the spiritual powerhouse that is Mrs.
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Dreamer and shamelessly steals many of his best gospel ideas from her. Perhaps the most relevant example can be found in the civic cult of Thessalonica itself, which celebrated the supposed return of the god Cabarus in worship that involved sexually immoral behavior. Paul ended this section with great emphasis by including another assertion of the divine authority behind his words. In , Paul praised the Thessalonians for their brotherly love, and encouraged them to love all the more. The context of this chapter implies that one concrete way to demonstrate love is to be self-supporting so as to avoid becoming a burden to others.
In , Paul commanded the Thessalonians to engage in meaningful labor and daily work. Some Thessalonian believers had become so enamored with the idea that Jesus would come back in the immediate future that they had ceased working their daily jobs. Because these people were not independently wealthy, they rapidly became a financial burden on the charitable Thessalonian church. Moreover, the laziness they displayed damaged the credibility of the church in the eyes of unbelievers.
In , the apostle exhorted the Thessalonians to encourage each other with the hope of future reunion with their loved ones who had died in the Lord. Sadly, the false teaching in Thessalonica had caused some to fear that no one who died before Jesus returned would be saved.
In , Paul reminded the church that the Lord would condemn the disobedient and reward the faithful when he returned. Far from being a cause for laxity and immorality, Paul wanted to make it clear that the return of Christ should motivate all believers to live holy lives. In , Paul reasserted the authority of the rightful church leaders in Thessalonica.
He had left men in charge who held to sound doctrine, and these men were presumably opposing the false teachers. As a result, the Thessalonian church was receiving mixed messages from its true leaders on the one hand and from their usurpers on the other. Paul made it clear that the teaching of the established leadership was to be followed, and the teaching of the false prophets rejected. In the remaining verses, Paul dealt with a variety of subjects, all designed to reassert his earlier teachings in this section and to prevent people from overreacting to the problems caused by the false teachers.
In , he indicated that the church should warn rather than coddle those who were lazy. But he did not want them to ostracize everyone who could not support himself, so he also reminded them to minister to the truly needy. In he headed off mistreatment of believers who had fallen under the influence of the false teachers by instructing everyone to repay harm with kindness.
In , Paul encouraged joy in the midst of the difficulties the church was facing, and once again asserted the divine authority behind his teaching. In , he made it clear that his opposition to the false prophets was not a rejection of all new prophecy and teaching. Rather, all such utterances were to be tested, and only the false discarded. These extensive instructions touched on many different practical concerns.
In each case, Paul's attitude was very positive. The Thessalonians had done well, and Paul commended them for this. But he also urged them to continue growing in their faith and service to Christ.
A Messianic Spiritual Inventory
Now that we've seen an overview of 1 Thessalonians, we should turn to the content and structure of 2 Thessalonians. Second Thessalonians also divides into five main sections: a salutation in ; another report of thanksgiving and encouragement in ; Paul's prayer for the Thessalonians in ; Paul's instructions in —; and closing material in Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians begins very much like his first. The salutation is short and direct, and it indicates that the letter was written to the church in Thessalonica.
And just as with 1 Thessalonians, the salutation explains that the letter comes not just from Paul, but also from Silas and Timothy.
Now again, Silas and Timothy were not infallible and did not write with apostolic authority. Nevertheless, Paul's authorship insures that everything in the letter is true and his authority requires us to obey and believe everything that the letter teaches. In fact, as we look at the letter's short closing, it's clear that Paul is really the primary author. We can discern this because Paul, and only Paul, physically signed the letter in order to authenticate it against counterfeits.
In the second section, consisting of , Paul once again reported his thanksgivings for the Thessalonians' faith and love, especially in the face of persecution. Although he had to write to them a second time to address some of the same problems he had confronted in his first letter, Paul was still deeply impressed with the Thessalonians. He also encouraged them by telling them again how exemplary their faith was, and how he had boasted to other churches about their perseverance.
A Messianic Spiritual Inventory
Listen to his words in 2 Thessalonians In the third section, found in , Paul explained that he constantly prayed for the Thessalonians and that they were not alone in their struggles. He, Timothy, and Silas prayed day in and day out that God would work powerfully in them to make sure that they were faithful and fruitful in their service to Christ.
The fourth section consists of a series of instructions, running from — This long section makes up the major portion of the letter.
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Paul's instructions divide into three parts. First, in , Paul instructed them about Christ's return. We will look into these verses more carefully later in this lesson, so here we will simply note that Paul denied that Christ had already returned. As he put it in Next, in , Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray for safety and success in ministry for him and his co-workers. Third, in , Paul issued a warning against irresponsibility, telling the Thessalonians to return to work and to earn their own livings.
As we can see, Paul's two brief letters to the Thessalonians are similar in many ways. Both express his confidence and joy in this church, as well as his gratitude for their faithfulness in his absence. Yet, Paul also knew that serious problems had arisen during his absence, so he instructed the Thessalonians not just once, but at least twice, by writing these two letters.
His chief concern was that they be faithful to Christ and to his teaching, living responsibly in their daily lives and gaining a proper outlook on the Lord's return. Up to this point we have explored the background of Paul's letters to the church in Thessalonica, and the basic content of these epistles. Now we are in a position to look at our third topic. How did these epistles reflect Paul's central theological doctrine of the "latter days" — his eschatology? In his letters to the Thessalonians, Paul addressed specific issues related to their lives. He wrote about false prophets, and about faithful and responsible living, and he also corrected their views on the second coming of Christ.
But as we have seen in previous lessons, it is helpful to distinguish the specific teachings Paul included in these letters from the more basic, underlying theological commitments that undergirded everything he taught. As in his other letters, Paul's epistles to the Thessalonians grew out of the heart of his theology, which we have called his eschatology. You will recall that Paul's eschatology stemmed from common Old Testament outlooks on God's design for history. The vast majority of Jews in the first century believed that history divided into two ages: "this age" and "the age to come.
But "the age to come" was the age of ultimate judgment against the enemies of God and final blessings for the people of God. In this perspective, the coming of the Messiah or Christ was the turning point between these two ages. When the Messiah came, he would bring the end of this age and introduce the wonders of the age to come. Now, as followers of Christ, Paul and the other apostles modified this straightforward two-age pattern of history.
They knew that Jesus was the Messiah, and that Jesus had inaugurated the age to come. But they also realized that the age to come had not arrived in its fullness, and that this age had not ceased to exist. So, they explained that followers of Christ live in a period that may be described as "already and not yet," a time when the coming age of eternal salvation is "already" here in some ways, but "not yet" here in its fullness.
This pattern of eschatology presented some difficult struggles to the early church because it naturally raised the question: How much of the age to come is already here? As Christians sought to answer this question, some of them took rather extreme positions. As we saw in the lesson "Paul and the Galatians," some Christians acted as if the age to come had not arrived in any significant way, underestimating how much Christ had accomplished in his first coming.
We called this imbalanced outlook "under-realized eschatology. In Thessalonica, however, another extreme prevailed. The Thessalonians developed what we might call "overheated eschatology. And because of this, they treated many matters pertaining to life in this age as inconsequential. Paul realized that this "overheated eschatology" had led the Thessalonians into serious problems.
So, he wrote to them in order to give them a more balanced outlook on the overlap of this age and the age to come. Paul responded to the Thessalonians' problem by trying to balance their view of the end times. He did this in at least three important ways. First, he explained the doctrine of salvation in a way that balanced the Thessalonians' eschatology. Second, Paul related his understanding of the end times to Christian morality or ethics.
And third, he showed the Thessalonians their historical position relative to the events preceding Christ's return. Let's look first at the ways Paul's doctrine of salvation helped the Thessalonians find balance in their eschatology. Paul attempted to cool off the Thessalonians' overheated eschatology by drawing their attention to dimensions of salvation in Christ they had largely ignored. Under the influence of false prophets, many Thessalonians had almost completely identified salvation with the blessings that will come with the return of Christ.