This blog brings to an end my work on Paul’s first letter to the Assembly in Thessaloniki.
1Thessalonians 5: 12
And we ask you, brothers and sisters, to cherish the ones who toil amongst you as your overseers in the Lord and guide your thinking. Regard them very dearly in love, because of their work. Live in peace with one another. Correct the minds of those who are out of order, enthuse the downhearted, care for the weak, be patient with everyone. See that nobody repays wrong with wrong, but always get hold of some good for each other and for all people.
Be joyful always; pray constantly; in all circumstances give thanks; for this is God’s desire for you in Messiah Jesus. Don’t extinguish the spirit or be contemptuous of prophecies, but but test everything. Grasp the good firmly but keep away from every sort of evil. May the God of peace make you completely holy, and may your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless for the Appearing of our Lord Jesus Messiah. The one who has called you is faithful, and he will do this.
Pray for us, dear brothers and sisters. Greet all the family with a holy kiss. I hold you responsible for making sure that this letter is read to all of them.
The kindness of our Lord Jesus Messiah be with you.
I was anticipating that the end of this letter would provide conventional pieties, but was taken aback by a succession of verbs which were unknown to me, drawn from Paul’s word horde of ethical expressions: cherish, guide your thinking, regard dearly, live in peace, etc. These all show how Paul managed to translate his “Jewish” moral code into Greek while adding an element that belongs wholly to Jesus. He is concened to build up the Assembly of believers by a conscious imitation of the life of Jesus, which is especially evident in his forbidding of a tit for tat response to wrongs. This is truly an imitation of Jesus whose character is revealed in the life of his assemblies. For Paul, the life of the risen Jesus and the life of the assemblies are meant to be one and the same. This identity provides the ethical imperatives which he uses: live in peace, correct the minds, enthuse, care and so on. Jesus is ahead of his people always and they have to catch up.
The spirit of joy and gratitude which he advocates is to be balanced by a sober estimate of charismatic gifts such as spiritual ecstasy and prophecy. The ethical vocabulary of Judaism which offers a stark choice of good and evil is translated into Greek to make the nature of “Jesus’ life” unambiguous: belonging to God means being determined by God’s spirit of holiness as Jesus was. No “religious” behaviour is a substitute for goodness.
The request to “pray for us” expresses the equality of the emissaries and the assemblies: both live in the kindness of God.
As always, I respond to a Pauline letter with amazement at his theological depth and ethical realism.