Friday, April 8, 2016

Bible Authors, Church Names, Grace, Peace, and Prayer – 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3



Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (ESV)

Three Writers

In most of Paul’s letters, he addresses his audience along with others who are ministering with him. Timothy is mentioned more often than any other person. I don’t usually stop at this point to look them up but I did here because he mentions two and not just one. Through the whole letter, Paul uses the first person plural. What is the implication of this? This letter is a consensus of the three and carries the weight of three. That may have been very important for the church in Thessalonica. When they received it, they didn’t recognize it as Scripture, but a letter from their spiritual fathers, the ones who brought the gospel to them (1 Thess 1:5). Now, we know it carried the full force of the Word of God through the Holy Spirit, but they did not realize it. So it may have been very important for them to see that all three were in agreement with this letter of reminders and instructions. 

A note about Silvanus, it is believed that Silas is a shortened version of Silvanus. Therefore, it is believed that this Silvanus is the same person who accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey.[1] He would have been well known to the Thessalonians, as would Paul’s protégé, Timothy; both were with him when Paul first came to Thessalonica (Acts 17:4, 14). 

Church Names

To the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven. (Heb 12:23 NASU)

The names that we give our churches are sometimes quite long and some are odd. I’ve seen some really long ones that even try to get their full confession of faith in the name of the church. Others want their denominational name in the title. “The Holy Resurrection Armenian Apostolic Church” reveals quite a bit about the church from its name. I looked up “Church of the Firstborn” on the internet to see how many congregations named their group from Hebrews 12:23. Quite a few have. Some prefaced it with, “General Assembly of the” exactly as the NASU translates it. Naming a church from the Bible does not assure anyone that it is Biblical. “Church of the Firstborn” was a sect of the Mormon Church that existed until 1969.
Naming churches in the New Testament was not an issue. Paul usually referred to the churches simply by their location. Some tried doing this in modern times but with larger cities, they had to start adding first, second, etc. to the names. Where is this going? Let’s just say that in trying to come up with a suitable name for a church, some congregations emphasize the name and miss the importance of the source of the church.

And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3 NIV)

Any congregation that ignores or minimizes the source of our fellowship being in God the Father and in Jesus Christ is missing the mark. Some churches may emphasize one or the other. Some focus on the Holy Spirit. Yet, Paul specified the church being in God the Father and Jesus Christ both in 1 Thessalonians 1:1 and 2 Thessalonians 1:1. More often, he simply referred to the church as the church of God. That would include all members of the Trinity. The emphasis then, should not be on the name of our church, but on who we worship. If our church is not in God, then we are nothing more than a social organization, a club.

Grace and Peace

May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. (1 Peter 1:2 NASU)

Grace and Peace are reoccurring greetings in most of the New Testament letters. It is often stated as coming from or is in God the Father and Jesus Christ. Without God’s grace, we would not be able to have peace. Peter’s greeting (1 Peter 1:2) implies that each of us may not have God’s grace and peace in the same amount. He wants us to all have them in the fullest measure. I wonder why we may not already have His grace or peace in the fullest measure. 

In one sense, we already have them. From God’s perspective, we have all of His grace and peace. Since God is unlimited, His grace is unlimited. It is by His grace we are saved (Eph 2:8-9). We can’t be any more saved because Jesus describes it as an either-or state. We cross over from death to life when we are saved (John 5:24) so we are either saved or we are not. We have received His saving grace or we have not. From that viewpoint, we don’t need any more grace. In the same way, we have God’s peace or we don’t. We are His enemies or we are not. We don’t need any more of God’s peace because once we were His enemies but now we have peace with him (Rom 5:1, 10-11). God looks at us with all His grace and all His peace because He has saved us through the blood of Jesus.

The other sense is when we look back at God or look at the circumstances of our life. We may have all of God’s grace but we don’t appropriate or use all of it. In Titus 2:12 we find that grace is teaching us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, so we can live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age. This is an ongoing process, not a onetime event. As we learn from God’s grace, we attain more and more peace in our lives. When we ignore God’s grace, we can’t have peace in our lives. Even worse, we imagine that God is still out to get us. We don’t even experience God’s peace in our souls. When we have grace and peace multiplied in our lives, we come closer to that perfect state of grace and peace that God has toward us.

Prayer

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. (Rom 1:8 NKJV)

As is Paul’s custom when he prays for people, he gives thanks to God when he prays for the churches. He gives thanks for several things and one of the first is faith. He thanked God for the faith of the Romans (1:8), Ephesians (1:15), Colossians (1:4), and Philemon (5). I wonder how often we stop and thank God for the faith of our friends and relatives. It stopped me short to realize that I don’t do that. When we do give thanks to God for someone’s faith, we acknowledge that it is a gift from God and that brings glory to our Lord.
Thinking about how our faith is spoken about in the world is another matter. Does our faith move us to labors of love (1 Thess 1:3) or does our faith drive us toward judgmentalism or other negative traits that cause those without faith in Jesus to abhor us? While we acknowledge that there will always be some who will rail against us just because we are Christians (John 15:18), our love of each other and our enemies should result in open doors to share the reason for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15-17). This is reason to give thanks to God for our faith and that of others.

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. (Rom 12:12 NLT)


We can also thank God for love and steadfast hope. When I think about persecuted Christians in other parts of the world, it is a constant reminder that without hope, they would not be able to continue. As I pray for them, I realize that their patience in trouble is also a gift from God. Their hope is a gift. When we remember those in any kind of trouble, whether it is persecution, health, relationships, or finances, we can be thankful to God for giving them continued hope. This provides a different perspective on my prayers for other. I need to get out my prayer list and revamp how I pray for others. How about you?



[1] Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, Updated ed., s.v. “Silas,” ed. R. K. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006), Biblesoft.

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