One of the things the church of the Thessalonians were focused on was the last things, what would happen in the last days or on the day of the Lord. The Thessalonians readily embraced Paul’s teaching about the end times and the day of the Lord. They were curious about Jesus’ second coming. But when Paul taught, there were more questions and some speculations. Like many of us, we want to know all the answers. So did the Thessalonians. They asked what would happen to believers who died before Jesus’ return. They wanted to know when the day of the Lord was going to be. Would believers suffer the wrath of God. Paul patiently and lovingly answered all their questions and reminded them of the teaching he had already done. It seems that when we are overwhelmed with questions it is easy to forget what we already know. Paul expected Jesus’s return to happen in his lifetime. That fueled his sense of urgency to share the Good News with as many people as he could. But Paul also recognized that Jesus’ return would happen at an unpredictable time. He likened it to a thief coming in the night. The way to be ready for the end has nothing to do with knowing the date and time. It has everything to do with living with Christian alertness. That means a constant spiritual watchfulness and a readiness to meet Christ. The other challenge for the Thessalonians was the issue of what would happen to the believers who had already died. Paul said nothing about the believers between their deaths and the return of Christ. Instead he focused on the resurrection, Jesus’ second coming. He taught that just as Christ was raised from the dead, those who die as believers will be raised up when He returns. In fact, the dead will be raised first and they will be caught up in the air with the living believers to meet Christ in His royal coming. Paul worked to clarify this Christian hope but the false teachers were preying on the Thessalonians and they became confused. They were teaching that the day of the Lord had already come, which meant the Thessalonians had missed it. As a result, Paul wrote a second letter to the Thessalonians, addressing this topic again.
In 2 Thessalonians Paul taught that when Christ returns, He will destroy the enemies of the Good News; in other words the false teachers who were confusing the Thessalonians. Paul acknowledged that Jesus’ return was a future event. No one knows when in the future though many have made predictions that did not come to fruition. And he taught that those who obey the Good News can have confidence of being rescued when Jesus returns. Those who are disobedient will experience everlasting destruction. The choice is all ours. Paul carefully laid out the events that will come before the day of the Lord. He spoke of things like apostasy and the appearing of the man of lawlessness. But Paul does not keep his focus there. He uses these things to refute the teachings of the false teachers and to remind the Thessalonians that God will judge evil and that those who have believed the lies they taught, will perish. He reminded them that God’s choosing and calling of believers is their hope and comfort. They can stand firm in the present as they face the future. Only the Father knows when the day of the Lord will be. Our job is to be faithful, obedient, and ready. Nothing is guaranteed except Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. The present is not a time for speculation because we have reason to hope and be confident. Scripture teaches about the final things to give hope in the midst of trouble. It is also to bring perspective on our present lives and conduct.
One of the steadiest of Paul’s companions was Timothy. He traveled with Paul for much of his missionary career and he was one of Paul’s best loved and most trusted assistants. Two of Paul’s last letters were written to Timothy at a time when he was providing leadership for the church in Ephesus. This was near the end of Paul’s life. Timothy had a very devout mother and grandmother, both Jewish. His father was a Greek. Timothy was highly respected by the Christians in his hometown, Lystra and in nearby Iconium. He joined Paul’s missionary team on Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul speaks prophetic words that confirmed Timothy’s selection. Timothy also received a special gifting for service through the laying on of hands of the elders and Paul. Out of deference to the Jews in the area, Paul had Timothy circumcised. (Acts 16:1-3) Over the next 15 years Paul sent Timothy on special assignments to several different churches. Paul included Timothy’s name as a coauthor on several of his letters and it is clear that Paul had a close relationship with Timothy and held him in high regard. As Paul neared the end of his life and awaited his sentence in prison, he longed to see Timothy once more. Of all of Paul’s coworkers, Timothy especially is commended for his selfless concern for Christ and His people. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, which was written shortly before Paul was beheaded, he encouraged Timothy to be bold and fearless in his proclamation of the Good News, and willing to suffer for Christ. These were strong words for Timothy, whom Paul had reminded that God didn’t give us a spirit of fear or timidity, but of power, love, and self discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7). It may be that Timothy became a prisoner himself later on (Hebrews 13:23). Timothy was exemplary in the way he faithfully served the cause of Christ behind the scenes, devoting himself selflessly and with single minded focus to the work of Christ and the people of Christ wherever help was needed. He served as a reminder that believers should seek to become strong and effective witnesses for Christ.
Another of the topics Paul wrote about was the mantle of leadership. For Paul, the essence of good leadership was to provide an example that mirrored Christ’s own example. The cross of Christ was central for Paul, and it had a total claim on his life. When he said “I want to suffer with Him, sharing in His death” Paul was speaking of more than emotional turmoil or even dealing with sin. He meant suffering violently and bodily. Paul endured suffering for the sake of those to whom he proclaimed the Good News, always putting their salvation before his own physical well being. Paul’s life was a proclamation of Christ crucified, of God’s power through Paul’s weakness, and of God’s wisdom despite human foolishness. As Paul summoned Timothy to take up the mantle of leadership, he was also summoning Timothy to suffer with him, scorning the shame of the cross. The mantle of Christian leadership is the garb of a servant who suffers for those they lead. If leadership does not orbit faithfully around Christ as its self giving center, it ceases to be leadership in Christ and fails to understand the Good News. But leadership that is modeled after Christ gains a reward at Christ’s future coming, when those who have died with Him will live with Him and those who endure hardship will reign with Him.
And then there is this; the role of women in the New Testament church. There are many different interpretations of Paul’s writing on this subject. I will share three with you. Paul’s words regarding women’s roles in the church were intended to correct what was happening in Ephesus, but the extent to which this passage applies to other situations is a subject of discussion. The first interpretation is the universal interpretation. Galatians 3:8, “there is no longer male and female” does not negate the creation order of gender distinctions and roles. Even if this verse represents the ideal of equality in God’s eternal kingdom, gender roles should still be ordered as outlined in 1 Timothy 2:11-125 for as long as this creation continues. By way of comparison, Matthew 22:30 discusses the status of marriage in the new creation. It differs from the structure of this creation outlined in Genesis 2:23-24, and it applies to the present life only in a special and limited sense. The structure of the new creation will be fully realized in the coming age, and it is not ideal for the present time. Therefore Christian women in all times and places must recognize their role in the created order of God. They must not teach men or exercise authority over men in the church. The second interpretation is called the Polemical interpretation. Paul was addressing a particular situation created by the false teachers within the Ephesian church. Evidence suggests that this trenching was disturbing family relationships. It is possible that Ephesian women, caught up in the local heresy, were abusing Genesis 1-3 in their teaching. They might have been asserting female domination in the final resurrection, and accentuated Adam’s blame for the fall. Paul corrects their misreading by alluding to the Biblical text, but his point is not to make a universal statement about the status of women in the church. His concern is merely to silence the false teachers in Ephesus, including the women among them. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 entails a rebuke with loss of privilege specifically for those false teachers. The third interpretation is the cultural interpretation. This states that Paul’s argument was not necessarily directed to a local problem in Ephesus, but it presupposes a strong patriarchal society, both in concern for public decorum (women in their place, showing respect to men) and in handling Genesis 2:2,7. This shows that Christians must accept cultural norms insofar as possible in their evangelistic mission. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). In addition, most women in that society had limited training as teachers. Their society, in contrast to many 21st century societies, usually educated their women poorly. Because of that culture’s patriarchal structure, women would not normally have qualified as teachers and leaders of much of anything. Therefore 1 Timothy 2:11-15 shows that properly qualified people should lead and teach. At the same time, there is a tendency in Paul and the early church ( Acts 18:26, Romans 16:1-7) toward the full engagement of women in ministry, which makes it unlikely that Paul was issuing a universal limitation here. Cultures that do not operate according to patriarchal norms would apply Paul’s principle in very different ways. An egalitarian culture, as in contemporary western society, would see men and women as sharing equal roles in the church.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W