by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 1 Paragraph # 2 Study # 1 July 12, 2015 Dayton, Texas (Download Audio)
(005)Thesis:God is predominately characterized as "gracious" and men have an enormous need to come to grips with what that means.
Introduction:In Paul's introduction to 2 Thessalonians, he deliberately focuses his readers' attention upon the character of God as a Person Who is, in a sense, "driven" by a desire to meet and exceed men's extraordinary neediness. Both Father and Son are cast in the mode of "generators" Whose inner essence is that of both a "father" and a "lord". The churches exist by Persons Who are driven to perfect men in order to deliver them into an eternal setting of "righteousness, peace, and joy".
At the roots of this "essence" are the Father/Son characteristics of "love", as a characteristic that seeks benefit for the beloved, and "grace", as a characteristic that extends benefit without restraint caused by human failure, or, for that matter, "success".
This evening we are going to begin to look into Paul's next major thought, which he expresses in terms of "obligation". Our question is this: why does Paul insert this "sense of obligation" into his readers' minds as a preliminary thought as he launches into his letter?
I. The Sense of Obligation.
A. Paul pointedly says "we are obligated to give thanks to the God".
B. The tensions this raises are real.
1. The action identified as "giving thanks to the God" is most fundamentally related to "grace".
2. The driving attitude for the action is identified as a sense of "obligation".
3. Paul taught in all his letters that it was "obligation" that generates a potent rebellion in men toward God.
a. "Law" is essentially "obligation" coupled to "penalty/reward" based upon how one responds to it.
b. 1 Corinthians 15:56 says, "...the strength of sin is the Law".
4. Paul also taught in all his letters that God's solution to man's rebellion rests solidly within the parameters of "grace" (it is "by" grace "through" faith that we are delivered from the guilt, penalties, and, ultimately, the presence of "sin").
5. Thus, on the surface, Paul's insertion of the "sense of obligation" as connected to "grace" seems to be a major contradiction and, at the least, a complication that does need to be brought into the conversation (1 Thessalonians 1:2 expresses the gratitude issue without this complication).
II. So Why Does Paul Do This?
A. He is clearly concerned for the Thessalonians as 1:1-2 indicate.
B. His concern is clearly related to their ability to relate to "grace" so as to have "peace".
C. He clearly is not interested in shooting himself, and them, in the foot.
D. His concept of "obligation" in respect to "grace".
1. Nowhere in Paul's letters does he teach the absence of "obligation"; the plethora of imperatives he uses indicates that he feels very free to "command" certain types of behavior.
2. In all of his theology, Paul declares that the essence of "grace" is God's involvement in doing for us what He requires of us.
a. This is at the heart of the coming of Jesus as the Lamb of God: to provide man with the righteousness that he so clearly lacks by way of a "substitute".
b. This is also at the heart of the sending of the Spirit: to provide man with a Spirit capable of producing the attitudes and actions of Jesus Christ within himself.
3. The point of this "grace" dogma is that "obligation" is not going to simply "go away"; instead, it will be realized "by grace, through faith".
4. Thus we can conclude that it is the essence of God's character that all things are "obligated" to come into the balance of the perfection of holiness.
a. That Paul "feels" this obligation is as natural as breathing.
b. That he understands "grace" to the degree that he does is the foundation of how he responds to the "obligation" (by faith).
c. The outcome of a faithful response is a "love" that does not at all mind being "indebted to God".
E. His rationale for bringing "obligation" into play at this point.
1. First, it establishes the reality that "obligation" can be seen as a great positive: it sets up the stage for the experience of God's grace as a provision to meet it.
2. Second, it encourages the Thessalonians to know that God has done something so remarkable for them that Paul sees it as a "grace" for which "thanksgiving" is due.
3. Third, it reminds the Thessalonians in all of their tribulations that God wants, indeed expects, them to respond to His promise of the coming of Jesus from heaven with "faith" that means they will accept the "obligation" to remain faithful as a challenge to see God do even more remarkable and gracious things.