24 October 2012


by Frank Turk

1 Thessalonians winds up being a somewhat-ordinary letter, which is where we trick ourselves into not listening to it very well.  It’s “ordinary,” and what we want from our life of faith is a release from the ordinary – something that somehow lets us step up out of the ordinary into the extraordinary.  I mean: we have faith in God, who is by definition extra-ordinary.  We have confidence and faith in Jesus, whom we call “Christ” – a word which means he’s not just another fellow: he’s God’s chosen savior of the world.  He’s not ordinary.  And we have the promise of eternal life because somehow God has paid the price for our sins and changed us from children of wrath to children of promise – children in his own household rather than orphans in a world which doesn’t care about us.  That’s extra-ordinary, and not ordinary.

But look: “ordinary” does not just mean “commonplace” or “uninteresting”.  It also means “normal” or “customary”.  It means, “the way things usually work.”  This is a book about how things usually ought to work out in a local church, and in the lives of people who have heard the Gospel and received the Christian faith.

John MacArthur says it this in his Bible Handbook about this letter:
Both letters to Thessalonica have been referred to as “the escatological epistles,” perhaps because of their treatment of end-times issues.  However, in light of their more extensive focus upon the church, they would better be categorized as “the church epistles.”  Five major themes are woven together in 1 Thes: (1) History, as correlated to Acts, (2) Church life (3) Pastoral Concerns for the local church (4) end times as the church’s hope, and (5) the need for missions and the proclamation of the Gospel.
This is a book about the way in which the local church usually ought to work out its life.  It’s the way the church ought to live, and find correction to the way it ought to live, because while its cause and creation is not an ordinary thing, it is meant to be God’s ordinary means for delivering His gospel to every tribe, tongue and nation.

Our passage for this series is in 1 Thes 2:7-12.
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. 
For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
It’s a beautiful picture of Paul’s care for these people, and the purpose of his care for them – But it is an ordinary picture: one which fits into everyday life because it is Paul’s intention that this faith these people have be a faith for everyday life.

So, according to this passage, what is the ordinary life of the church?


spencer said...

Normal church life =
Leaders patiently serving people with a love that is undeniably obvious to all. While at the same time insisting upon the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel in all their lives.

James Scott Bell said...

A church marked by faith, love and endurance (all three, mind), and from which the message of the Lord rings out.

Jim Pemberton said...

The purpose if 1 Thess is to encourage the church and clear up some aspects of the truth that people in the church have become confused about. In this section, Paul is commending his church-planting team to them as trustworthy.

If we take this as normative, then we should conclude that it is often wise to commend ourselves inasmuch as we have demonstrated God's calling in the manner in which we purport to minister so as to make use of the evidences that God has given us to recognize different members of Body of Christ.

Since this is part of a larger passage doing this, we can observe the particular evidences that Paul uses: Gentleness, affection and desire toward those to whom we minister, hard work, blameless conduct, and exhortation and encouragement such as to incline people to God.

We can argue that this applies to leaders in the church only, but I suggest that it should apply to all in the Body of Christ as we are all called to minister in one respect or another.

Anonymous said...

Interesting question, but is it the right question for this text?

The whole thrust of the first half of the book is that they've received something really good, and responded well to it. It is all leading up to a challenge.

1:5 Our ministry; 1:6-8 your response;

1:9 our ministry; 1:10 your response;

2:1-12 our ministry; 2:13-14 your response;

And so on. This is all "good stuff" reporting -- the "good stuff" you've received, and the "good stuff" you've done in response, and how it encourages the apostle even in the middle of trials.

Paul isn't intending to describe the normal life of the church, he is describing how it came to be that they have this faith, how the Lord had worked, and the relationship that the Lord had given them with him.

It's all leading up to the "hinge" of the book, in 4:1, that they would increase more and more in faithfulness to that which they have received. Paul prays for that at the end of chapter 3, and in 4:1 gives the first direct exhortation of the letter.

Everything before 3:11 is history, what has happened, as motivation for the challenge to come. It's not intended to describe the normal life of the church, it is describing the work of the church planter (in his very short time in Thessalonica).

It is reflective of normal church life in many ways, but not in all ways. For instance, it is fairly normal for a church planter to be a "tentmaker" but that is not necessarily normal church life. The heart of a pastor should be the same heart as the church planting apostle, but behaviour may differ.

History is not necessarily normative, and this is history. The normative portion begins in 4:1.

So while this passage gives a picture of the heart of Biblical leadership, that isn't really the main point of the passage, and I'm not sure "ordinary life of the church" is a good way to describe it.

At least, that's the way I understand the passage in context.

Dominique Carlson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David A. Carlson said...

Historical stories in the bible may not always be normative in and of themselves for all Christians everywhere, but they are always illustrative. They are of a piece, from which we compare to other scripture, and we then draw timeless principals that are normative for Christians. So yes, History is often normative, when viewed through the lens of all scripture