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Lesson 3: Thessalonica in Paul's Day *

Introduction: Have you heard the question, "Does anything ever change?" In some sense, all sorts of things change all the time. One huge change in the last twenty years is the Internet. To publish and mail this Bible study in the "old days" would have taken a large amount of money. Even with enough money, it would not be practical to send it world-wide because of the delays in mailing. The Internet changed all of that. But, are the hearts of people different today? Have the hopes, dreams and worries of people changed? Has selfishness disappeared? Has the Bible's answers to problems changed? No. The people in Thessalonica were like you and me. Paul, Silas and Timothy faced struggles with sin, just as we do. Let's jump into our Bible study and see what we can learn about the solution to the problems that we all face!

  1. The Things of the World

    1. Read 1 John 2:15. Except for God, everything I love is in the world. Where are the things you love located?

      1. Do you think this text is speaking of location? Is it speaking of geography? Or, is it saying "Don't love the world" and everything "in" the world - in the sense of being included in the world?

    2. Read 1 John 2:16. How does this clarify the answers to the questions we just discussed? (The Bible is not talking about geography. It is using the word "world" as a symbol for things opposed to God.)

      1. What do you think is meant by the phrase, "the cravings of sinful man?" (You could say, "If I'm not a sinful person, then my cravings are fine." But, I suspect that having "cravings" is a clue to what the Bible means when it says "world.")

      2. What do you think is meant by the phrase, "the lust of the eyes?" (This seems to be another kind of craving - wanting something you see.)

      3. Do you know people who boast about what they possess and have done? (Now we get to something we can really understand, because likely this is us. If we are in denial and think this is not "us," then we know people who fit this description.)

        1. Why would a person boast about what they have or do? (To show that they are better than others. They have more money, more things and have accomplished more because they are smarter, harder working or more righteous.)

      4. If you look at these verses ( 1 John 2:15-16), do you think these phrases we have studied are related? (Yes!)

        1. If the final definition (in this group of phrases) of what it means to love the world is bragging about yourself, what does this suggest is meant by "the cravings of sinful man," and "the lust of his eyes?" (These are people who want to be on the road to bragging about what they have and what they do. They are not there yet, which is the reason why they "crave." They do not yet have it, which is the reason why they "lust." These are the "poor" and "unsuccessful" people who want to someday be able to brag about what they have and what they do.)

        2. With this understanding, does this just about include all of us? Do you think this human attitude has changed over thousands of years?

    3. Read 1 John 2:17. Why is being on the road (or at the end of the road, or trying and failing to get on the road) to a life worth bragging about a bad idea? (It is temporary. You get to the point of having and accomplishing and bragging about it all - and you die. Or, worse, you've been lusting and craving your whole life, and suddenly you realize your life is over, and you have nothing!)

      1. Why is having and doing and bragging inconsistent with having the love of the Father in us? (Someone with the love of the our Father in Heaven is not focused on himself, but has a desire to help others.)

      2. How does a desire to help others make more practical sense? ("The man who does the will of God lives forever.")

    4. Read Acts 17:1-3. What was the most difficult aspect of Paul's message to the Thessalonians? (That the people should worship a Messiah who died at the hands of the Romans - rather than conquering the Romans.)

      1. Is that the real challenge of the gospel for you - a message of giving up yourself for others, rather than conquering all who come your way?

      2. Was Paul's task the same as all who are sharing the gospel today - that the true gospel is a "hard sell" if self denial is truly understood?

        1. Is the gospel pure self-denial? (No. Not only do we get to live forever, but lasting joy comes from helping others.)

  2. Paul's Approach to the World

    1. Read 1 Corinthians 9:19. Is this consistent with what we just studied? (Yes!)

      1. Does this appeal to you? (The natural heart does not want to be a slave. Let's continue to see what Paul means by this.)

    2. Read 1 Corinthians 9:20-21. This is not slavery in the sense we normally think of it. In what way is Paul a slave here? (It seems to be a slavery to ideas, not a physical slavery. Paul could have gone to each of these groups and said, "You need more law," or "You need less law." Instead he refrained from asserting his own ideas.)

      1. How can we distinguish between being a slave - giving up our ideas for the ideas of others - and compromising the gospel? How can we tell what is being practical to win over others, and what is disobeying God?

    3. Read Acts 16:3. Is Timothy making himself a slave for others? (Yes, this is a painful example of giving in to the ideas of others. But, Paul thought they needed to compromise on this in order to win the Jews.)

    4. Read Galatians 5:2-3 and Galatians 5:11-12. Was circumcision an important point to Paul? (Yes. He fought against it.)

      1. Why, then, did he compromise with Timothy and not compromise with the Galatians? (The Galatians were not circumcised, and Paul tells them they do not need to be circumcised to be saved. Timothy, on the other hand, was going to teach the gospel to those who had been circumcised, and being circumcised helped him to be able to share the gospel with them. I have no doubt that Paul ultimately shared the full gospel to these circumcised Jews - but personal compromise to be able to share the gospel is part of giving up yourself to others.)

    5. When we started our discussion about bragging over what we do and what we have, it seemed that we were talking about rich, successful people (and those who were trying to be rich and successful). Are these people the only target of our study? (No. An important target is bragging about what you do and what you have with regard to the gospel! I have little doubt that bragging about money, power and position are part of being in the world. But, the slavery which Paul writes about is a slavery that is tied to religious opinion.)

    6. Let me ask you again, how can you distinguish between compromising your ideas and disobedience to God? (I do not fully understand this, but the first question to ask is, "Am I doing this to advance the gospel?" If the answer is, "yes," then likely you are on the right path.)

  3. Starting the Church

    1. Read Acts 18:1-3. Is it a waste of Paul's talents and time to be making tents instead of preaching? (We have just discussed the idea of being unselfish and being practical in order to reach people. Paul is strengthening his relationship with Acquila and Priscila. We see in Romans 16:3-4 that these two became great workers for the gospel.)

    2. Read Colossians 4:15. We read here (and in other texts) about home churches. How does the idea of opening your home to other church members fit into the topic of this study? (It is another example of practical unselfishness.)

    3. If you have ever been a part of a home church, what are its advantages? (You get to see how this group of believers can work together without investing a lot of money in a property. In a larger church, you might not know the people very well. In a home church you have close relationships.)

    4. Friend, next week we will start our study of 1 Thessalonians in earnest. As a result of this study, can you more clearly see the attitude that was necessary for Paul and is necessary for you to reach others with the gospel? Will you commit to carefully consider how an unselfish compromise of your religious opinions might advance the gospel?

  4. Next week: Joyous and Thankful.
* Copr. 2012, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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