Can we modern-day computer-saturated Christians even imagine what communication was like in Paul’s day? Today we consider it a disaster if we’re without electricity for an hour or two. Once current is available, we can flash a message to a relative or friend thousands of miles away and in seconds the message is being read, and an answer arrives on our screen. Or think about the robot, Curiosity, that traveled 350 million miles into space on a trip that took eight months, landed safely on the planet Mars and immediately began sending flawless photos back to earth.
Not so fast with Paul’s message. A very long trip might be measured as a few hundred miles, and it would take months for a written message to be hand carried from an early Christian church to Paul and just as long for the answer to travel back to the church. Has it ever puzzled you how our early Christian church was able to establish itself so well and set a foundation for a Christian faith that spans the continents and the oceans today?Does God expect more from His believers living in a speed-driven society? Do you think God helped mankind open the doors of space for exploration so that some would see His Creative power at work?
The message for this week isn’t about space travel, but about some of the struggles of the early Christian church Paul sees in Thessalonica. Rebellion, destruction, lawlessness, deceit are making their home in the minds and hearts of those dear people. What does Satan have in mind for us today? Should we be afraid of his power and cunning? Or ignore him and let him do his own work of deception? One thing is sure: only prayerful study can keep our minds on the One who can make all things clear.
[Thought questions for Promise to the Persecuted September 12, 2012]
1. Greetings. Do you think Paul’s hearty greeting to the people of Thessalonica (“To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” 1 Thessalonians 1:1 ESV) was something he repeated on many occasions? How often are you greeted with a message such as “Peace to you, my friend.” How does such a greeting affect you? How do you greet people you haven’t seen for a while? Would your friends be shocked if you wished them grace and peace? Or is is okay to stick to our culture’s traditional greetings (“Hi there, how are you?” “Hello! It’s good to see you,” “I missed you. How’s it going?” etc etc) if we back them up with a gesture of peace and a friendly smile and maybe a handshake?
2. Long sentences. The author points to the eight verses of 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10 as an example of Paul’s tendency towards “extra-long sentences.” Do you think that long sentences should always be avoided? Why or why not? What problems do very short sentences have? Why does Paul give the Thessalonian Christians commendation for their good works only to preach strongly to them about their faults later? Have you ever followed this structure with a child? (“I like the way you chose such bright and pretty color crayons for this picture. You’re quite the artist. Now could you please pick up all the pieces and put the crayons back in the box before you step on another one?”) Does your church have members who make a point to show appreciation for the good work the pastor and other members do? Can that be carried to extreme? How often is it?
3. Suffering Christians. If you’ve lived more than a decade or so, you’ve probably been accused or judged unfairly more than once. Is that right? What is the main objective of the devil? How does he use torment and suffering to support his goals? Do you think by now he’s caught on that punishing Christians for their faith only makes them stronger in it? If not, what keeps him from catching on? Have you ever been tortured for your faith? Are you sure? Not even by means of ridicule? scoffing? When you hear Biblical errors being loudly proclaimed, does it hurt? Is that a form of torture? As we study this lesson, are people in certain parts of the world being physically abused and even murdered because of their faith in Jesus? Is there anything we can do about this departure from God’s love?
4. Cover your eyes. Read verses 7-9 of 2 Thessalonians 1. Why does your author feel sympathy for us as we read this description of the destrucion of sin? Should we cringe when we read about angels equipped to kill swarming down on the wicked ones with flames of fire leaping up and wiping out life? Is vengeance ever an appropriate emotion to hold? Why does God seem to reserve acts of vengeance to be carried out by Himself rather than delegating it to us? Or does He? Will those who are saved participate in destroying the wicked? Are you sure? Someone has commented that God can destroy without inflicting pain. Others say that the wicked will be punished far more by their realization of what they have given up than by physical pain. What do you think? Do you ever wake up in the night sure that you’re on the wrong side? How can we learn to accept God’s everlasting love for us and in turn give Him our love and dedication?
5. Getting ready. Do you ever go to sleep at night wondering if you’re ready for Jesus to come and asking yourself what you can do to get ready in time? Why do we think thoughts like this? What is harmful about this type of thinking? Is God waiting for you to be living a sinless life before He will take a chance on offering you eternal life? When Jesus comes, why does He immediately gather those who love Him and take them to heaven before the wicked are destroyed? Is it His eagerness to remove us from the influence of sin? Or is there some other reason? Has God already forgiven you for sins you haven’t even committed yet? Are you safe in His love or will one slip from His plan of perfection put you back with the serpent in Eden, condemned for life? How can we have full confidence in the saving power of Christ our King and Redeemer?
6. Scripture. At the end of the lesson, we are given a brief summary of the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. If God inspired the words of the Bible, why do we get confused by what we read? With so many translations and linguistic experts, shouldn’t it be easier today than it was two thousand years ago to understand the Bible? Did God dictate every word of the Bible in the language of the prophet or scribe who wrote it down word for word just as God spoke it? What should we do when we come across passages of Scripture that we don’t understand? Paul faced the problem of being misunderstood even though he preached and lived among the people of Thessalonica. We sometimes don’t understand our pastor or our Sabbath school teacher. Is there a primary truth that underlies every verse or chapter or book of the Bible? If so, what is it?