Monday, July 6, 2020

Thessalonians Words ~ Day 1: Faith

Day 1:Faith

Today we begin a new Words Challenge which will carry us through 1 & 2 Thessalonians over the next 31 days. Earlier this past week I was making a page about how to do a Word Study for the new Bible Study Techniques page here on my site. As I was putting it together and explaining how much I enjoy word studies, it dawned on me that it may be my passion for doing word studies and understanding words that was probably the catalyst for these Word Challenges. Words help us interpret life. They give meaning to everything from our emotions to relationships to theology. I pray that as these words guide us through Paul's letters to the Thessalonians that we all will have a deeper understanding of these books, but more importantly, that we will find that we have drawn closer to the Lord. Over the past months as we have faced the trials and challenges of a global pandemic, I have continually been drawn to a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who was killed for opposing and resisting the Nazi's. He said,
May God in His mercy lead us through these times; above all may He lead us to Himself."
The letters to the Thessalonians can help us in our current age, as we face many challenges, to remind us of who we are in Christ Jesus. It can help us have a right perspective in the midst of trials and suffering, and help us have hope. And it all starts with faith.

Today's post will be a bit longer as we include some of the story behind the letters to the Thessalonians. The story begins with Paul's second missionary journey. On that journey he was accompanied by Silas and Timothy. The journey began in Jerusalem and went through Phrygia and Galatia (modern day Turkey). The purpose of this journey was to visit the churches Paul had planted on his first missionary journey and share with them the results of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-29). As Paul is preparing to leave the Galatian region and head to Asia he has a dream, a vision from God of a man in Macedonia pleading with him to come there. So Paul concludes that God has called them to share the Gospel in Macedonia (modern day Greece). You can read about Paul's vision in Acts 16:6-10. 

In Acts 17:1-10 we come to the story of Paul in Thessalonica. Paul had stopped there because there was a Jewish synagogue. It was there that Paul began to share the prophecies from Scripture about the promised Messiah (the Christ). He showed them through the Scriptures that the Christ would have to suffer and rise from the dead, declaring that, "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ." (Acts 17:3). The story goes on to tell us that some Jews, a large number of God-fearing Greeks, and some prominent women believed in Jesus as the Christ, and so the church of Thessalonica was established! But it immediately met with opposition. The Jews there had heard of the message Paul was spreading, they had heard of the riot surrounding the events in Philippi and Paul's imprisonment (Acts 16:11-40), and the Scriptures tell us that "the Jews were jealous". They began a riot and went to the home where Paul was staying. When they did not find Paul and Silas there, they took some of the converted Christ-followers before the city officials to proclaim that they were "defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus" (Acts 17:7). Paul and Silas are able to flee the city unharmed, but so begins the life of this young church which will be defined by persecution and suffering.

Months later Paul sends Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how these young believers are faring. I Thessalonians is Paul's response to the church after hearing Timothy's report. And it all starts with faith.

The word faith, pistis (S4102) in Greek, is used 13 times in the two letters to the Thessalonians; 8 times in the first letter, and 5 times in the second. Faith refers to belief, trust, confidence, conviction of the truth. In the New Testament, faith is mainly used to refer to belief in the Gospel message: The good news that God provided a way for man to be freed from the penalty of sin through Jesus Christ.

Reading through these two letters and the instances in which Paul uses the word faith, I have come to two conclusions. 1. Faith is active and visible. And 2. Faith is like a muscle. Let's look a bit deeper at each of these.

Faith is active and visible. 

Paul begins both letters expressing that his prayers are full of thanksgiving to God for the faith the Thessalonians have. He hears from Timothy that their faith has stood up against the trials and suffering they continually face (1 TH 3:1-8). In fact their faith is enabling them to stand firm in the midst of those trials, and as a result "the Lord's message rang out" from them and was known everywhere (1 TH 1:8). Their faith was visible, it was evident and visible in their works  and in their labors of love (1 TH 1:3). To Paul, one's faith is proven genuine by the work or deeds one does as a result of their faith. We may even wonder, as a result of this, if a hidden faith is even true faith at all.

Faith is like a muscle.

Muscles need activity and exercise if they are to grow and stay healthy. Unused muscles often end up in a state of atrophy, they shrivel up, waste away and become useless. According to the words Paul uses alongside faith, the same is true of faith. Our faith can grow, strengthen, and increase or it can decrease, be tempted away, and be found lacking. Read some of the verses that describe these conditions: 1 TH 3:2, 5, 6, 7, 10: 2 TH 1:3. We are saved by grace through faith as a gift from God, and not as the result of anything we do (Ephesians 2:8). But Paul makes it clear that the faith that results in our conversion must continue to grow and be strengthened and, ultimately, be proven genuine. God gives us the gift of others in our life who pray for us, encourage us, and help strengthen our faith. He gives us His Spirit to help build our faith. And despite, how we feel about it, He gifts us with trials that test and refine our faith, that reveal our faith to others, and that ultimately show God's glory through us.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:8 Paul says to "put on faith and love as a breastplate". A breastplate is the metal armor used in ancient days to protect a soldier's vitals organs. Faith and love are the breastplate that protects our heart in the midst of spiritual battles and the trials and suffering we face in life.

I am using my Leuchtturm journal for my creative responses to this study. I decided to continue in this journal that I have been using for my word of the year, rather than starting a new journal. I am going to keep my art more on the simple side this time and mainly get creative with study notes. Plus a bit of cut paper here and there!

Today I would like to encourage you to try a Word Study with any of the words from Thessalonians. Hop over to the Bible Study Techniques page where you will find a document on how to do a word study. All the resources you need are a Bible and the internet.

Share your creative response, in in the conversation, and ask questions about Bible study or creative response in the Words Challenge Facebook group. Share your response on Instagram using #thessalonianwords.