We don’t always hit the ground running with Home-school scripture (devotions).
Today we did.
The message led us to review and discuss the final greeting in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church.
Our run through chapter five gave up a solid outline from Paul on how to ‘encourage and build up one another’, which is in itself a suitable title for chapter five, since the content flows in the general direction of most of Paul’s teaching on relationships.
Paul’s list (ESV & NLT):
Be at peace
Warn the idle
Encourage the anxious and insecure
Help the weak
Assert justice (5:15)
Joy (rejoice) [Note: Joy is not to be misunderstood as happiness]
Don’t stifle the Holy Spirit
Don’t despise prophecies
Hold fast to good
Abstain from evil.
It is surprising that so much is packed into the final section of this letter.An area of focus for us today was exploring this list and its connection between what Paul also says in Ephesians and Corinthians about patient rebuke and patient correction[i], something we discussed last week.
After finishing devotions, I took some time to contemplate some of the deeper themes addressed by Paul through the text. For me the real point of today’s message rested in the themes of relationship and the free agency of the Holy Spirit.
When we read Paul’s command ‘do not stifle the Holy Spirit’ it is possible to hear depravity; a loss of freedom and relationship. Since ‘the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom’ (2 Cor.3:17), we deprive ourselves of true freedom and relationship when we cut ourselves away from the free God who stands in true freedom for us.
Such independence is false and unsafely grounded on the appearance of possessing ‘peace and security’ (5:3), not on any actual ownership of them.
God keeps us (read helps – empowers) as God destines us to obtain salvation through Jesus Christ. It could be said that the God who is free[ii], destines us to obtain true freedom.
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep might live with him” (1 Thess.5:9-10)
“He who calls you is faithful; He will surely sanctity and keep you blameless” (5:23-24)
I like how Eberhard Busch explains it in his review of Karl Barth’s understanding of election, divine and human freedom:
‘God’s grace sets us free from sin…such freedom is given to us. We owe our freedom to our inclusion into the covenant of grace and to the fact that such freedom is carried out in accordance with the covenant. Our freedom, therefore, is autonomy within the conditions created by God. In these conditions, we choose that which God chose for himself and for us: existence within the covenant of God to which we belong by God’s determination prior to our own self-determination (II/ 2, 192f. = 175f.). Human freedom then is obedience in that it conforms to the use that God makes of his own freedom. Prayer is for Barth the characteristic act by which one participates as a member of the covenant. As the unequal partner of God, the human partner turns to God, petitioning him and responding to his mercy. But as God’s partner, a person does so in his own maturity[iii].
…’our passivity is not in accord with his grace, but our active response is. And so Barth writes that the love of God “does not want to rule over puppets and slaves (or a mechanical force) but rather to triumph faithful servants and friends in their own free decision for Him” (II/ 2, 1942:178)[iv].