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The First Epistle to the Thessalonians



Father Matta El-Meskeen (Matthew the Poor)



Paul the Apostle wrote First Thessalonians in the spring of 50 A.D., after his arrival at Corinth, and sent the second epistle five weeks later. It contains the first rules for spreading the Gospel in a tradition delivered by the Lord... Because when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe" (1 Thess. 2:13.)


The Oldest Epistle of Paul the Apostle Reveals the Importance of its Tradition and Meaning

We chose this passage of the epistle, because it contains the most important of its contents.

The words "ye received" (paralabotez) means the receiving of a message or teaching delivered from hand to hand, to be also delivered to others . Herein lies the meaning of the passing on of tradition, by hand or by mouth, written or explained.

Saint Paul declares here that this delivery of tradition is the word of God and effectually works in you euergeitai on its own, as soon as it is heard and accepted.

In showing the importance of "the word of God," Saint Paul describes it as "words of news from God," meaning words of the Gospel that have their source in God and were delivered to us (His apostles.) They remain related and linked to God their Source: "words of news from God." The word "news" denotes the act of hearing.

We know that "words" of news are a means for the conveyance of faith and its acceptance, the official spreading of the Gospel. Words of news from God mean the words of truth to be eagerly received and esteemed, and to be accepted by the heart.

In Saint Paul's description, the Word of God works on its own accord, powerfully and effectively, in those who listen to it and accept it. This self-contained ability transports it from the level of hearing with the ears to the level of action and spiritual effect in the heart: "For our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and with full conviction" (1 Thess. 1:5.) It is this foundational quality of the Word of God that generates action and life, thus differentiating it from the word of man.

Saint Paul declares that the Word of God carries a dynamic power euergeitai. Like the cross, it is alive and creative: "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18.)

Thus, imitation and tradition become a way of life! "And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit; so that you became an exampl to all the believers... For not only has the word of the Lord sounded from you... but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere" (1 Thess. 1:6-8.)

As a result, fervent and effective faith, with the "Word," inevitably rises from a painful present to a joyful hope: "to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come" (1 Thess. 1:10.) Thus, Saint Paul transports his listeners to uplifting faith and a vision of hope: "For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy" (1 Thess. 2:19-20.)

Also, on the passing of tradition, he writes, "For you know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus" (1 Thess. 4:2.)

Notice the meaning of the word "commandments." In the original Greek, it is paraggeliaz. In ancient times it had the connotation of wartime military authority. In apostolic tradition it h as an evangelical awe as it carries the fingerprint of Christ, its giver. Paul the Apostle explains, "what commandments we gave to you by the Lord Jesus" (1 Thess. 4:2.) It has the seal of the king and is considered in the Church's tradition as a tradition coming directly from Christ! By this, the Apostle Paul means that he is not handing over commandments which he received from the apostles; rather, they came from the Lord Jesus, and they are all obligatory, a duty to those who are wise.

Saint Paul stresses that his message he delivers to us is comprised of commandments from the Lord Himself. It is therefore considered the holiest and oldest provision of the Christian faith!

Moving from the Tradition of the Word to Its Actions and Behavior:

"For you know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you should abstain from fornication" (1 Thess. 4:2,3.)

This is a summary of the commandment's content, delivered by the Lord Jesus, in a very concise and powerful phrase. It transfers the Word from utterances to action, and from thoughts to the soul.

If the commandment remains limited only to knowledge and instruction, then it has lost its vital, living power. Its nature lies in iaction. It must act in order to become effective, the "active word." The commandment cannot live in the mind if it does not first exist in the willpower. In other words, for it to accomplish its work, it has to be in accord with the will of God. Regardless of what our names and characteristics may be, they do not ensure that the will of God is upheld.

What embodies the will of God are the actions of our willpower. God's will is that we should be holy as He is holy, and if we are not, then we cannot be counted as His or as His children. Holiness is not a human characteristic if it is not active and achieving. .The action of holiness is to abstain from every deed and word, thought, or feeling that invalidates purity and stains it. The actions of fornication, its thoughts and characteristics, put an end to holiness and war against it. The commandments, being conformed to God's holiness, represent His will for us. God's comprehensive will is for us to be holy as He is holy. Thus, the commandments in their foundations, impose a refusal of all the acts of fornication and evil that invalidate any relation with God.

For a person of faith who strives to become a man of God and to live with H im, the most dangerous sin is fornication in all its unclean forms. Saint Paul subsequently summarized it in one comprehensivie phrase: "For this is the will of God, even your sanctification" (1 Thess. 4:3.)

Presenting this very old message to the Christian reader, we draw your attention to the simplicity of the tradition, its origin and power. Its activity is based on the Word of God, handed over to the apostles to be delivered in its force and effectiveness.

Whatever the explanation may be, the condition of Christians has sunk to an alarming degree of evil degeneration, which has prevailed in families, society, and the individual. The names for fornication are plainly presented in newspapers and magazines. Immoral scenes are depicted in homes through television for children and youth to see. While still young, they are learning the art of fornication right in their homes, in the presence of their father and mother. In opposition to this new destructive flood, we offer this message: Let it be ceased by whomever wants to be saved and live.

May we call you to return to the simplicity of the tradition handed over from Christ, the apostles and the saints to be saved and gain eternal life?


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