Monday, July 16, 2012

“Thessalonica in Paul’s Day”

Third Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
Thessalonica in Paul’s Day
For the week of July 21, 2012

Thessalonica in Paul’s Day
The cultural context of Paul’s letters include the ideas, beliefs, and understanding of those to which he wrote. Understanding these things helps clarify his meaning and the impact this would have on his hearers. Of course, since these things are also “written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor 10:11), we should look for what we have in common with the Thessalonians.
For example, the Roman republic offered security in a time of uncertainty, but the price was loss of freedom and resulting economic dislocation, political powerlessness, and excessive taxation. Does this sound familiar?
How about the response of the pagan population to these stresses? Movements arose that purported to speak for the disenfranchised and treat all classes equally were co-opted by the state, which expanded its role in an attempt to fill needs that only the righteousness of Christ could supply. This would pave the way for the rise of the Papacy, which corrupted the gospel with worldly philosophy as it became a persecuting church-state power.
People in Thessalonica were hungry for the gospel, and the self-supporting missionary Paul was effective in connecting with a wide variety of people (1 Cor 9:19-27), without compromising with the world (Rom. 12:2) or the shallowness of the popular philosophers of his day (Col. 2:8, 1 Cor 2:2). Are we challenged in similar ways as we preach the gospel today?
The foundation of the church was the home, and the early churches were actually home churches. Paul instructed that church leaders should be men who were strong home leaders (1 Tim 3:2, Titus 1:6) and good witnesses within the community. This was in contrast to the confusion of gender roles and the personal immorality common in Greek philosophy. Do we see the same issues today in our church and society?
To the Greeks of Paul’s day, God was distant and unknowable. Christ becoming human flesh as an expression of divine agape was an idea repulsive to them, as they believed God would be corrupted by descending into the material realm. The papacy incorporated these distortions into an apostate Christianity which blended eros, or self ascending desire, with agape, or selfless love, in the idea of charity. The current pope, Benedict, reaffirms this:
“Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the   other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to “be there for” the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift.” (“Deus Caritas Est”- "God is Love"; Pope Benedict's First Encyclical Letter.)
Catholic doctrines such as original sin, salvation through works, vicarious substitution, and the immaculate conception arise from this view of God.
The close connection between God and man in Christ, the embodiment of the selfless, agape love of God, will soon be no longer a mystery to the world.
SAID the angel, "In the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets." Rev. 10:7. ....
BUT what is the mystery of God? The mystery of God is the gospel. Proof: In Eph. 3:3 Paul says, "By revelation he made known unto me the mystery." And in Gal. 1:11, 12 he says, "The gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." Here we have the statement that the gospel was given him by revelation, and also that by revelation there was made known to him "the mystery, which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel. . . . Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now . . . might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." "That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God." "For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." Eph. 3:3-11, 17-19; Col. 2:2. 
"FROM these texts it is evident that the eternal purpose of God, which he purposed in Christ for us; that the unsearchable riches of Christ, which are brought to the children of men; that the immeasurable love of Christ and of God, for man; that the love of Christ and of God, which passeth knowledge, is the mystery of God. But this is nothing else than the gospel. The preaching of the gospel is only the effort of God to reveal this mystery, and to bring its depths to the comprehension of men." {July 13, 1888 ATJ, SITI 426.27-29} 
"That gospel is 'Christ in you, the hope of glory,'—Christ in you just as you are, sins, sinfulness, and all; for he gave himself for our sins, and for our sinfulness. And you, just as you are, Christ has bought, and God 'hath made accepted' in him. He has received you just as you are; and the gospel, 'Christ in you, the hope of glory,' brings you under the reign of the Spirit of God, makes you so subject to the power of Christ and of God that 'the fruit of the Spirit' appears in you, instead of 'the works of the flesh.'" {October 2, 1900 ATJ, ARSH 633} 
What the world needs today is fundamentally the same as what Thessalonica needed then - an experiential knowledge of the love of God manifested through Christ.
-Todd Guthrie