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Final Greetings May 27, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Thessalonians 3:16-18.

Summary: Paul begins by praying that God would enable the Thessalonians to seek peaceful solutions in everything they do.

He then guards against forged letters – that purported to be from him – finding their way into the Thessalonian church.

Paul concludes by praying that God would help the Thessalonians by the presence of Christ’s grace.

Thoughts: In this passage, we see that Paul himself writes a greeting to the Thessalonians to confirm the authenticity of this letter. Now I wonder if this implies that an amanuensis such as Tertius wrote most of the letter as Paul dictated it to them. If so, I would like to meet this amanuensis in the next life and learn about how this letter – and other Pauline epistles – was written. Was it composed in one sitting, or if not, how long did the composition process take? Did the amanuensis make any errors, and if so, how did they correct them? Was the composition process fairly tedious, and if so, did Paul attempt to relieve the burden on the amanuensis? In any event, all believers should be thankful that Paul had an amanuensis to assist him, especially when he was faced with great difficulties.

Warning Against Idleness May 25, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15.

Summary: Paul begins by commanding the Thessalonians to withdraw from private fellowship with drones who – although they profess to be Christians – refuse to do a day’s work; the Thessalonians should revere this command as being given by Christ Himself. He states that he had given them an example in this regard, as he engaged in hard manual labor while he was with them. He teaches that even though he had the right to receive payment for his preaching, he did not insist on his rights; thus, they know what to do in their present circumstances as they have seen his example. Moreover, Scripture teaches that those who are indolent and idle should be deprived of food.

Paul then notes that some of the Thessalonians are actually drones, as they unnecessarily rush around and make a nuisance of themselves to others. He admonishes these drones; they should live quietly within the limits of their calling and be content with what belongs to them. He then tells the rest of the Thessalonians to never stop trying to be of assistance to these drones.

Paul now asks the Thessalonians to report to him anybody who disobeys his commands; they should also be excommunicated so that they can be shamed into repentance. Paul concludes by telling the Thessalonians to take care that those who are excommunicated are not overwhelmed by sadness; they must keep on trying to win them back.

Thoughts: In this passage, Paul has some sharp words for those members of the Thessalonian church who were leading lives of idleness. Calvin offers some interesting thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 11:

It is probable that these kinds of drones were, so to speak, the seeds for idle monks. For from the beginning there were some people who, under the pretext of religion, either ate at other people’s tables without paying for their food or deceived simple people into providing for them. They had become so numerous in Augustine’s day that he decided to write a book denouncing idle monks. In it Augustine attacks their pride because they reject these admonitions from Paul’s letters.

After a quick Google search I came across “Of the Work of Monks”, which, at first glance, seems to be an interesting read. Now Calvin’s frustration with the Catholic Church influenced his interpretation of this passage, as Catholicism did not exist when Paul wrote this letter. Did Calvin know of many “idle monks”? Did he confront any of them and castigate them for their indolence? One must also wonder if the Catholic Church made a concerted effort to address the problem of laziness among the clergy, or if this issue continues to plague the church. As the Catholic Church strives to remain relevant in the 21st century, the clergy must ensure that their lives reflect God’s glory.

In this passage, Paul also has some exhortations for those members of the Thessalonian church who were not living lives of idleness. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 13:

I think Paul was trying to guard against giving unnecessary offense that might stem from the few people who were idle. It is usually the case that those who are often generous withdraw their help when they see their aid is not beneficial. Here we have a statement that is worthy of particular note – no matter how ungrateful, morose, proud, arrogant some poor people may be, no matter how much they annoy and irritate us, we must nevertheless never stop trying to be of assistance to them.

I wonder how Calvin’s interpretation of this verse would be received by those who call for the abolition of the welfare system. Perhaps they would respond, “what’s the point of assisting these people who are so ungrateful and arrogant? If we continue to assist them, they will think that they are acting rightly, and they will have no incentive to change their ways. Shouldn’t we use our money more wisely by helping those who would be grateful for our assistance?” In light of Calvin’s interpretation of this verse, perhaps Paul is telling the industrious Thessalonians that while they cannot control the actions of their idle brethren, they can control their actions towards them; it is essential that their actions be right in God’s eyes.

Request for Prayer May 22, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5.

Summary: Paul begins by stirring up the Thessalonians to pray for him so that:

  • the Gospel would be disseminated
  • his preaching would effectively renew men in the image of God, since the Thessalonians had been renewed in this way.

He also asks them to pray that he would be victorious over the Jews and treacherous people who lurked in the church – since not all who profess faith possess real faith. He then calls them back to God and strengthens them against all the devices of men; indeed, He will protect them from Satan. Since the Lord is able to give them obedient hearts, he has hope in them; he knows that they are willing to obey his commands. Paul concludes by praying that the Thessalonians would persevere in the love of God and in the hope of Christ’s coming.

Thoughts: In verse 2, we see that Paul warns the Thessalonians about false Christians. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The wicked and evil men Paul referred to were treacherous people who lurked in the church, bearing the name of Christians, or at least Jews, but who with a mad zeal for the law persecuted all followers of the Gospel. Paul knew what great danger Christians faced from these groups of people…Our faith is bound to buckle unless we remember that among those who profess to follow Christ and bear his name there are many unbelieving, disloyal, and treacherous people.

Clearly Paul had to deal with many “treacherous people” in the church over the course of his ministry; they caused him countless frustrations and difficulties. Now I wonder if present-day well-established churches need to address this problem. My impression is that nowadays, those who want to work against Christianity clearly define themselves as either atheists or agnostics; they openly persecute Christ by writing books, penning screeds on Facebook, etc. I cannot think of an example of a present-day church where at least one of the regular attendees or members was working (either openly or secretly) against that church; any comments in this regard are welcome.

Stand Firm May 19, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17.

Summary: Paul begins by extolling the grace of God, as He has shown His unmerited love for the Thessalonians; indeed, their salvation is founded on God’s eternal election, as He has:

  • sanctified them by His Spirit
  • enlightened them in the faith of His Gospel.

Moreover, God spoke to them – by committing the preaching of His Gospel to Paul – so that Christ would be glorified.

Paul then exhorts the Thessalonians to persevere in sound teaching – as they had been instructed by him:

  • in person
  • in his letters to them.

Paul concludes by praying that God the Father and God the Son – who have given him a constant supply of divine gifts of grace – would also sustain the hearts of the Thessalonians with divine comfort.

Thoughts: In verse 15, we see that Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to hold to the instructions that he had given them. Calvin offers some pointed thoughts on this verse:

Roman Catholic leaders are foolish to deduce from this that their traditions should be observed. They reason like this: “If it was right for Paul to command traditions to be followed, it is also right for other teachers to do the same. If it was a good and holy thing to observe the former, the latter should be observed as well.” Even if you say this refers to the external government of the church, I believe these teachings or traditions were not brought up by Paul but came from God himself.

I wonder if Calvin’s thoughts pertain to the debate over whether 1) God only commissioned apostles during the period when the New Testament was written or 2) God still commissions apostles today. If God still commissions apostles today, then it could be argued that some of these modern-day apostles are the “Roman Catholic leaders” that Calvin attacks – and so these leaders’ traditions should be observed. Now if God did not commission any apostles after He appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, though, then Calvin’s thoughts must be carefully considered. It would be interesting to hear the Roman Catholic perspective on this debate, as it probably hinges on the interpretation of certain passages.

The Man of Lawlessness May 15, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.

Summary: Paul begins by entreating the Thessalonians – as they have set a high value on the coming of Christ, when He will gather them to Himself – to be on their guard against any:

  • false prophecy
  • false pretext
  • spurious writing using his name

which states that the Lord’s day is at hand. They must not assume that the joyful day of redemption is imminent; instead, that day will not come until a general apostasy occurs in the visible church and Satan’s chief follower holds supreme power in the church. Indeed, the Antichrist will claim for himself those things that belong to God; moreover, he will oppose Christ under the very name of Christ and he will claim to rule as God Himself.

Now Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he had warned them about the rule of the Antichrist and the impending devastation of the church. Yet the Antichrist will not hold supreme power in the church until Christ has enlightened the whole world with His Gospel – allowing the godlessness of men to be fully demonstrated by their rejection of His grace. In the meantime Satan will carry on a secret and clandestine war; now Paul comforts the Thessalonians by asserting that God will only allow the Antichrist to hold supreme power in the church for a limited period. At that point, the Antichrist will be reduced to nothing by the Word and the light of Christ’s presence. While the Antichrist holds supreme power in the church, he will oppose Christ’s kingdom with false teaching and fake miracles. In this way Satan will defeat the wicked, who will not use their minds to love the Gospel – and so they perish. Thus, God has appointed the wicked for destruction – and so He blinds them. Paul concludes by asserting that God will punish everyone who has a voluntary inclination to evil – and ignored the guidance that would have led them to Him.

Thoughts: In verses 1 and 2, we see that Paul warns the Thessalonians to not believe any reports that the second coming of Christ was imminent. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 2:

Paul added, or letter supposed to have come from us, evidence that this impudence has a long history – that of using the names of great people. God’s grace toward us is the more wonderful in that while Paul’s name was used in spurious writings, his writings have nevertheless been preserved even to our times. This could not have taken place accidentally or as the effect of mere human industry if God himself had not by his power restrained Satan and all his ministers.

I am curious as to the number of extant “false Pauline epistles” at that time; this passage implies that at least one “false Pauline epistle” was being circulated in that part of the world. One must wonder if these false letters were quite similar to the genuine epistles that I have been strolling through. Did these letters include a well-designed blend of pure and impure doctrines? Did the authors of these letters subtly include false instructions such as, “now, brothers, I want you to know that the Lord himself has revealed to me that His Day will occur in the next year?” If so, I wonder how believers at that time were able to preserve the genuine epistles while rejecting the false epistles.

In this passage, Paul discusses the role of the Antichrist in sparking a general apostasy within the body of Christ. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 4:

Everyone who has learned from Scripture what things especially belong to God will have no great difficulty in recognizing the Antichrist as he observes the claims of the Pope, even if he is only a ten-year-old boy…He contrives means of attaining salvation that are completely at variance with the teaching of the Gospel; in short, he does not hesitate to change the whole of religion for his own pleasure. When he robs God of his honor in this way, the Pope leaves God with an empty title of deity, while he transfers all divine power to himself.

Clearly Calvin had a rather dim view of the Catholic Church, and we know how the Protestant Reformation was spurred by his opposition to Catholicism. Now I wonder if Catholics could read this passage and view Calvin himself as the Antichrist; from their perspective, could he have been the leader of an apostasy within their church? Could they perceive Calvin as the promulgator of false teaching – and even as an opponent of Christ? I suppose the next life will reveal the correctness (or lack thereof) of Calvin’s theory that the Pope is the Antichrist.

Thanksgiving and Prayer May 12, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12.

Summary: Paul begins by commending the Thessalonians – indeed, he is bound to constantly give thanks to God for them – as they are increasing in their faith and their love. In fact, he uses them as examples for other churches to follow, since their faith endues them with perseverance – sustaining them in their trials.

Paul then states that the persecutions that godly people endure from the wicked demonstrate that God will one day be the Judge of the world; moreover, these persecutions prepare believers for His kingdom. Moreover, it is necessary that the wicked be punished for their crimes; in this way God refreshes the Thessalonians – and Paul – as they endure persecutions. Indeed, Christ will bring dreadful judgment on His enemies as He brings the angels with Him to display the glory of His kingdom. Christ will inflict vengeance on unbelievers, who are ignorant about God and have contempt for Him. Unbelievers will be punished by:

  • destruction without end
  • an undying death.

At that time Christ will irradiate the godly with His glory; in particular, the Thessalonians are included with God’s holy people, since they accepted Paul’s preaching as Christ’s witness.

Paul notes that he prays for the Thessalonians, since they are constantly in need of God’s help; God’s grace is responsible for the whole progress of their salvation, and so he prays that His power would help them in a special way to reach the final goal. Paul concludes by praying that the Thessalonians would promote the glory of Christ – which is linked to their glory.

Thoughts: In this passage, we see that God will punish the wicked for their persecution of believers. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 8:

Some may ask whether it is right for us to desire vengeance, for Paul promises it as if it is correct to want it. I answer that it is not right to want vengeance on people in general, for we are commanded to wish them well. Besides, although we may in a general way desire vengeance on the wicked, yet, as we are not yet able to determine who they are, we should seek everyone’s welfare. In the meantime, the ruin of the wicked may be rightly looked forward to, provided our hearts are pure and controlled by zeal for God and there is no feeling of inordinate desire.

I know that my conscience is troubled whenever I desire vengeance on someone who has wronged me. Now I wonder if it is easier for believers who are being persecuted to “in a general way desire vengeance on the wicked”; are they more zealous for God as a result of their persecution, or do they desire vengeance on specific “wicked” people, namely, their persecutors? As for believers who are not being persecuted, are they tempted to suppress the certainty of God’s vengeance on the wicked as an unpleasant aspect of Christianity? I know that the concept of hell is rather bothersome for me, and so I rarely contemplate God’s judgment of unbelievers.

In verse 10, we see that Christ will show His glory in believers, and they will be glorified in Him. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

There is an implied contrast between the present condition in which believers labor and groan and that final restoration. They are now exposed to the reproaches of the world and are looked on as being vile and worthless; but then they will be precious and full of dignity, for Christ will pour his glory upon them. The purpose of this teaching is so the godly may pursue their brief earthly journey as their minds are set on the future manifestation of Christ’s kingdom.

It can be inferred that Paul’s teaching in this regard encouraged the Thessalonians as they endured persecutions and other difficulties. Now believers who are not being persecuted face a major challenge: how do they apply this passage to their situation? If the world does not view these believers “as being vile and worthless,” can they eagerly await the time when “they will be precious and full of dignity?” These believers can grow complacent in their station in life and not anticipate the awesome benefits of Christ’s kingdom, as I know from my experience. Perhaps all believers need to be persecuted to some extent so they can long for “that final restoration,” though this is a controversial position.

Strolling Through the Book of Second Thessalonians May 8, 2013

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I’ve recently started reading through the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians with the aid of a commentary by John Calvin. I should note that I’ve previously read through 2 Thessalonians. As in my recent stroll through the book of 1 Thessalonians, I hope to comprehend 2 Thessalonians as a whole. In particular, I would like to compare and contrast this letter with 1 Thessalonians.

I plan to blog about this experience as I read through both the epistle and Calvin’s commentary. Each post will correspond to a specific section in the NIV translation.

For starters, here are my thoughts on 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2.

Summary: In this passage, Paul wishes the Thessalonians – who are the work and building of both God the Father and of God the Son – His unmerited favor and its attendant blessings.

Thoughts: In verse 1, Paul greets the Thessalonians as a “church…in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

This salutation means that the Thessalonians…were the work and building of both the Father and of Christ. God adopts us for himself and regenerates us, and we are in Christ because of the Father.

It is clear, then, that Paul’s preaching of the Gospel in Thessalonica was an essential step in God’s “building” His church in that city. Of course, Satan then worked quite diligently to tear down this “building” by troubling the Thessalonians with various persecutions. Paul, though, did not want God’s construction work to be nullified; he wrote this letter and the previous letter to help maintain the structural soundness of the church in Thessalonica. Now I am unsure as to how long the Thessalonian church survived after Paul wrote these letters to them; knowledgeable readers should feel free to chime in.