Ezra 8

Ezra lists the people who came with him. Then there is a description of the sacrificial system being re-established.

When he first assembled the people, there are no temple priests or attendants, so he puts out the call and gets about 40 of the priestly clan and 220 attendants. It takes a lot of people to run the temple. But it’s essentially a slaughter house, quite a bit of work I suppose.

He sees gods hand in bringing the people to him. Rather wonderfully they fast and ask God for protection on the journey, because in Ezra’s enthusiasm to depict to the king that it is a blessed project, he said he would not need protection of a horse guard, because God would be his protection. It’s rather sweet that he confesses to momentary second thoughts… he was ashamed to ask for it after that. God indeed protects them. I like that sort of “fake it till you make” it trust thing.

He trusts 12 leading priests with the gold articles to guard. I see it is a journey of some considerable danger from bandits, given the treasure they are carrying. They make it, after 3 days rest a sacrifice is given and the letters of kingly protection go out to the region.

It is a chapter full of grace and blessing, human fear and faith, and godly guidance.

May I trust you day by day father.

I met with the minister of our church to voice my concerns about things yesterday. It was good and made me feel heard. I don’t think he is a person who changes quickly, but it started a conversation, as they say.  Will it work out? Fake it til I make it, eh?

1Thess 5

How to live in the knowledge of Christ’s return?  One thing, don’t obsess over when it will be, just live. It’s not about timing it’s about living in expectation of Christ’s return, which he describes as living as children of the day.

It’s sort of a double metaphor on being asleep. He’s mentioned those who have died believers. They are asleep in the sense that they will wake up when Christ returns. But the people alive now who don’t expect Christ’s return are also asleep, in the sense that they are not ready for the thief in the night. He also compares it to being drunk, which is a night time activity which renders you in a stupor and not capable of being alert.

Being children of the day is to be alert to avoiding spiritual complacency. In the day you are sharp, and sober. You are dressed for action, which means wearing love and faith as a breastplate and salvation as a helmet.

I like that the armour metaphor is about putting on the qualities. It’s a decision to love and have faith, an active choice. So you are not relying on love from within. You may feel emotionally low on faith and love, but you adopt habits of love and faith that outrun your emotions.

The hope of salvation is the helmet. I think they didn’t understand medically that thinking occurred in the brain when Paul wrote this. But it’s a nice anachronistic thought anyway. The hope of salvation is an active thought process you can put on to protect your head against negative thinking, hopelessness.

He channels the grief over lost loved ones, those who are asleep, into this work of living in the day. By living life for the benefit of Christ you are honouring those who have died in him, and making sure you will always be together. It’s a tender word of encouragement: you are guaranteeing you will all be together.

Cherish most those who admonish you.  Its a hard job.  He has an ascending scale of treating each other, from warning the idle and disruptive, through encouraging the disheartened and helping the weak to generally being patient with everyone, with those who work hard admonishing worthy of the most respect. Its a rush of advice, like a parent sending their kid off to camp “make sure you shower, eat enough, wear sunscreen.”  He really loves these people. Rejoice, pray, give thanks. This is the christian work that is the will of god for our time.  Its interesting how once again there is not an emphasis on proseletysing. He’s not demanding that they preach, he wants them to live it.

1 Thess 4

So down to the teaching – two chapters.  Its a doddle really, the emotion of the book is in the part we have already read, Paul’s delight at how the truth has taken with them.  This bit is sort of a “carry on!” pep talk.

We instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more

Sex!

First issue is sexual immorality, which may have been a pretty natural part of life for the Greek, idol worshipping community prior to conversion. He condemns it as bad faith towards others (taking advantage of a brother or sister) and God.  

The immorality is an excess of lust to the extent that the body is controlled by it alone. It is a simple corollary of God calling us to holiness. Even if everyone consents, God hates it, because he has called us to be holy.

Consent can certainly be misleading as a test of morality. Sometimes it’s the lesser evil compared to say, social ostracism or loneliness. We’ve all known of consenting relationships that are bad ones. Paul is saying that at the base of sexual impurity is a lack of bodily control; of your own urges making you indifferent to the impact on others.

The alternate view is that the urge makes it right… To dump a family, to persuade someone to do something they would rather not, to live with someone who must put up with feeling unloved.

Is it faithless to want to understand gods rules? Jacob didn’t ask God why he wanted him to sacrifice his son. It’s tempting when debating issues such as sexual purity as a Christian to argue that God’s way is actually the best practical way to live in our world. But it often doesn’t ring true, the psalmists could see that.

The bible does often call us to feel like strangers in this world. I think the western church, as it’s cultural dominance wanes, is struggling with this. We are not used to feeling marginal. Arguing for sexual purity is increasingly awkward in this sex mad world. Though Paul is taking to believers here. The church is sufficiently marginal that there is no suggestion of any sort of influence in the wider cultural norms.

Love

They don’t need to learn a thing, what praise! Just do what you are doing more and more. What does an ideal loving church look like? Here it is quiet and self reliant, quite surprising. Our love is what we should be known for, that is our advertising sign, our calling card and our cultural distinctiveness. Our teaching on sexual purity is for us.

1 Thess 3

Paul is absolutely dying to know how they have been going. He’s heard they have been facing trials. The tone starts to make sense. They are the church where he saw the most positive response to Jesus, facing real testing. A mixture of love and excitement has been obvious from the start.

He couldn’t go so he sent Timothy. I love the repeated “when i could stand it no longer”. You really get a sense of his emotions outrunning his eloquence.

But before the big report back from Timothy, he tosses in teaching about suffering. He warned them it was inevitable. So often that is missing from modern teaching where Christianity can come off sounding like a self help regime.

Timothy’s report is sensational. They are standing strong in their hardship, and, sweetly, they have “pleasant memories” of Paul – they don’t hate him! He has a sense of relief. I imagine he worried sick when the gospel he brings causes suffering: “Do they now hate me?” “Is this whole gospel thing a big mistake?”

Their triumph restores his faith and makes his own problems seem surmountable.

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

 
He has a blessing prayer for them…. May their love ever increase and their hearts ever be stronger. And may he get to see them himself again.

Christianity almost always happens in community. Everything we do has an impact. When it’s real in our lives, is real in everybody’s. Paul made it real for them. They probably didn’t realise as they acted on what they learned from him that they were restoring his faith in return.

1 Thess 2

Paul talks a bit like a used car salesman. He seems to be selling his own credibility all the time. It’s probably a cultural thing lost in translation, but now someone who is constantly saying “I have your own interests at heart, I’m not trying to trick you, I’m not making anything on this deal” sorts of statements sounds kinda shifty.

He spends the whole first paragraph talking about how pure their motives were. It is a picture of Paul’s attitude to the gospel, the importance and honesty of the message. Christianity is so much about truth.

And you wonder why? It was a place with many idols. The need to paint so thorough a picture of his honesty implies a lot of religious corruption.

Then he reminds them of his lifestyle among them. Is summed up by love. And part of that love was to be ethically beyond reproach. For example it seems he worked in a job to make sure he wasn’t sponging of those he was ministering to. The plot thickens… Has someone done a hatchet job on his reputation after he left Thessalonica?

It is in direct service of the Word that he works. His efforts, his tenderness – he thought of himself as like a nursing mother to them – are all to make it clear this is a special message, from God not man.

Is good to remember Christians are trying to be good people, but not just because we are told to be good, but because we have a message which we are obliged to share. We didn’t really deserve God’s grace, and the rest of the world doesn’t deserve not to know it, so our goodness is to show the goodness of God, to demonstrate that he is real and true.

He then thanks God that they believed with a strong faith that withstood persecution and testing. He is sorry for the Jews who see it as a religious duty to keep god’s message from the gentiles, how misguided that is and how, far from being what God wants, they are piling up the anger of God on them. As a gentile myself i am grateful for this. May I not write off a culture or religion as not being able to adapt to Christianity. Is very adaptable, because it is true.

He concludes very touchingly calling them his “glory and joy”. The gentile city that responded stunningly to the message will be his crown before Christ, and he deeply longed to see them again.

What a rap! And how much does Paul love People responding to Jesus’ message. It totally is the best thing he can imagine.

OK, so he’s gone from sounding like an over defensive used car salesman to this intense emotionally driven gospel loving man. He must have been something to see and hear. It makes sense because of the drama of his conversion, the shame he had to wear as a persecutor of Christians. He was a naturally obsessive guy, transformed by grace, and it must have flowed out of him unstoppably. Certainly, that is the tone of his writing.

Your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ

Not the other way around, your faith produced by work, your love produced by labor, your hope inspired by endurance.  They are excited. Its probably just a stage though.  Its definitely the other way around sometimes. He’s thanking God for it, may I be excited too.

They drank up Paul’s message like thirsty people. Their dramatic and deep conversion became so famous Paul kept getting reports of it back from strangers. We get little hint in chapter 1 why he is writing to them.

We learn they are a model church, they were idol worshippers, they were suffering severely when he came and they at once understood and embraced the message and put it into practise.