Lesson 2*July 7-13
Read for This Week’s Study: Acts 17:5-9, 10-15, 16-34; 1 Cor. 1:18-2:2; 1 Thess. 2:17-3:10.
Memory Text: “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20, NKJV).
Key Thought: True evangelism leads to relationships that can stand the test of time and last for eternity.
This lesson covers the aftermath of Paul’s attempt to evangelize Thessalonica. It would have been easy after such an experience for Paul to focus on the opposition and other obstacles along the way. Instead, Paul’s mind was focused primarily on the relationships that he had developed with members of the new Christian community in Thessalonica.
Paul was heartbroken that he wasn’t able to spend more time with the believers. He knew that the short time he had been with them would leave them vulnerable to discouragement and negative influences. Not being able to be there in person, he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write letters to them instead. Those letters make up the books in the New Testament known as “Thessalonians.”
*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, July 14.
Sunday July 8
Read Acts 17:5-9. According to this passage, what was the primary motivation for the opposition to Paul’s message? What statements did his opponents make to get the city authorities interested in the case? How did those authorities respond?
When someone preaches new teachings and people get excited, the leaders and teachers of other religious groups may become jealous. Attention that was once placed upon themselves is now directed to others. As a result, they may behave in irrational ways in order to try to reduce the influence of the new teacher.
According to the Roman historian Suetonius, shortly before the events described in Acts 17, conflict arose among the Jews of Rome over a man Suetonius calls “Chrestus.” This term probably reflects a Roman misunderstanding of the Jewish concept of the Messiah, or, in Greek, “the Christ.” Apparently someone’s preaching of the gospel had just split the Jewish community of Rome.
To Roman officials, debate over the Messiah sounded like preparation for the installation of a new king on the throne of Rome (see Acts 17:7). Probably for that reason, the emperor expelled all Jews from his capital city (Acts 18:2). Some of these exiles settled in or passed through Thessalonica, bringing knowledge of these events to the city. Because the gospel had turned the world of Rome’s Jews upside down, religious leaders in Thessalonica were determined to prevent something similar from happening there.
Thessalonica itself was ruled by a city council of perhaps five or six “mayors” who made decisions as a group. This arrangement allowed for a considerable amount of independence from Rome, which they would be loath to give up. So, the behavior of the city officials in this matter was quite impressive under the circumstances. The similarity to recent events in Rome could have led to severe physical punishment for the new Christians. Instead, the city leaders responded even-handedly (contrast Acts 16:22-40). They took a significant amount of money from the new Christians as security so that they would not be the cause of further disturbances. Then the leaders let everyone go.
Jealousy and envy can destroy us. What can we learn from the life and teachings of Jesus that can help us gain victory over these deadly sentiments?
Monday July 9
Persecution can be a two-way street. It is often provoked by malicious slander against those who have done nothing wrong. But it can also be provoked by inappropriate actions on the part of believers (1 Pet. 3:13-16, 4:12-16). It is very likely that the disturbance in Thessalonica was prompted not only by the jealousy of Paul’s opponents but also by the inappropriate actions of the new believers. The two letters to the Thessalonians reveal that Paul had major concerns about the lack of appropriate public behavior by some in the church.
Paul urges the Thessalonian Christians to live quiet lives and behave properly among their Gentile neighbors (1 Thess. 4:11, 12, NKJV). He admonishes the unruly among them (1 Thess. 5:14, NKJV). He commands them to avoid those in the community who are disorderly (2 Thess. 3:6, 7, NKJV). And he notes that some members of the church are not only disorderly and idle but have become “busybodies” (2 Thess. 3:11). Thus, some members were not only troublesome to the church but also to the wider society. The persecution in Thessalonica was malicious, but there was blameworthy behavior among some new Christians, as well.
How was Paul’s experience in Berea different from that in Thessalonica? See Acts 17:10-15. What’s the message for us in that difference?
The Bereans were eager to know more about God and to better understand their Bibles. But while they listened with much openness, they also tested everything they heard from the apostles on the basis of what they found in their own study of the Old Testament.
This is an example for us. We can be open to new ideas, but we must always test these ideas on the basis of the teachings of the Bible. We have many things to learn and many to unlearn. At the same time, we must be careful to avoid error, as it will lead us away from truth.
While troublemakers from Thessalonica soon inserted themselves into the Berean situation, the Jews there did not close their minds to the new message; indeed, “many of the Jews believed” (vs. 12). While it was thought expedient for Paul to move on to Athens, Silas and Timothy were allowed to remain in Berea in order to encourage and strengthen the new believers.
What are some examples where the Christian church acted in ways that were clearly in the wrong? What lessons can we learn from those mistakes? Bring your answers to class on Sabbath.
Tuesday July 10
According to Acts 17:14-16, Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea while Paul was escorted to Athens. Paul instructed his escorts to have Silas and Timothy join him in Athens, but there is no mention of their doing so. On the other hand, in 1 Thessalonians 3:1, 2, we learn that Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica from Athens. So Timothy, at least, seems to have joined him there for a short time.
When speaking to Jews in Acts 17:2, 3, Paul begins with the theme of the Messiah in the Old Testament. When speaking to the pagan philosophers of Athens (Acts 17:16-34), where does he begin? What can we learn from these different approaches?
Paul does not simply enter Athens, march up to the Areopagus (known also as Mars Hill), and engage the philosophers there. He begins by spending some time walking around and making his own observations. He also engages the Jews of Athens and some of the Greeks in the synagogue there. Besides evangelizing to them in his customary way (see Acts 17:2, 3), he also would have been learning about the dominant culture in the city. The first step in any missionary effort is to listen and learn about the faith and world views of the people you are trying to reach.
Paul also spent time in the marketplace of Athens (which was below and within sight of the Areopagus, or Mars Hill), reasoning with anyone willing to talk with him. In the process he provoked the curiosity of some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, who invited him to address them in the traditional place for such discussions.
He began his address to the intellectuals of Athens with observations about their city and religions. His theological beginning point was creation, a topic in which both he and they were interested. In contrast with his approach to the synagogue, he did not argue his case from Scripture but from writings with which they would have been familiar (Acts 17:27, 28 both echoes and quotes Greek writers). But when he stepped into territory that went beyond the boundaries of where they were intellectually comfortable, the philosophers seemed to have abruptly ended the discussion. A few individuals, however, continued to talk with Paul and became believers.
How well do we understand the worldviews and religious beliefs of those around us? Why is it important for us to have at least some knowledge of these things as we seek to witness?
Wednesday July 11
Acts 18:1-18 contains two major intersections with secular history. The first is the expulsion of the Jews from Rome during the reign of Claudius (Acts 18:2). Information from extra-biblical sources locates this event in a.d. 49. The other major intersection is the mention of the proconsul Gallio (Acts 18:12). Because proconsuls in Corinth were appointed for one-year terms, information from inscriptions and other data accurately dates Gallio’s term of office to a.d. 50-51. Critical scholars often doubt the historicity of the book of Acts, but there are many casual references such as these that confirm its picture of history.
Timothy must have traveled from Thessalonica to Berea with Paul and Silas (Acts 17:10, 14, 15) after their expulsion from Thessalonica. He then briefly joined Paul in Athens, and was sent from there to Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3:1, 2). There he joined up with Silas (Acts 18:5) and eventually journeyed to meet Paul in Corinth. First Thessalonians must have been written from Corinth shortly after Timothy’s arrival. Paul knew what people were thinking in Achaia, where Corinth was located (1 Thess. 1:7, 8), and in 1 Thessalonians he was responding to information brought to him by Timothy (1 Thess. 3:5, 6).
Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:2. What’s Paul’s main point in this passage? What do we learn from these verses about Paul’s missionary strategies in Athens and Corinth?
Paul must not have been satisfied with the outcome of his encounter with the philosophers of Athens, for in Corinth he decides to take a more direct approach to the Greek mind. In doing so, he does not reject the idea of “meeting people where they are,” for he clearly promotes such an approach in the same letter (1 Cor. 9:19-23). What he demonstrates in Athens and Corinth is that the process of meeting people where they are is not an exact science; it requires constant learning and adjustment. Paul did not take the same approach in every city. He was very sensitive to changing times, cultures, and circumstances.
Read again the passages for today. How is the main message there relevant to us today, when the “wisdom” of the world so often clashes with the “foolishness” of the Cross?
Thursday July 12
Read 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:10. What does this passage tell us about Paul’s emotional attachment and relationship to these believers? What can we learn from it regarding how we should relate with those to whom we minister?
Paul’s depth of thought and confrontational tone (see, for example, Gal. 1:6, 7; 3:1-4; 4:9-11) sometimes make him appear dismissive of feelings and personal relationships. But this delightful interlude in 1 Thessalonians shows otherwise. He was an intensely relational evangelist along the lines of the Great Commission, which places primary emphasis on making disciples (Matt. 28:19, 20).
In the above passage Paul reveals his inner emotions. He misses the Thessalonian believers with “intense longing.” When Jesus comes, Paul intends to present the Thessalonian believers to Jesus as examples of his ministry. Paul is not content merely to be saved at the end of time; he wants evidence that his life made a permanent difference for the kingdom of God.
When Paul could “no longer endure” his intense longing for the Thessalonians, he sent a mutual friend to learn how they were doing. Paul was afraid that somehow Satan might lure them away from their original convictions. But he was comforted tremendously when Timothy reported that they were standing firm in the faith.
There is an interesting hint of a deeper dynamic in 1 Thessalonians 3:6. Paul rejoices at Timothy’s report that they have a good opinion of him and that they are longing to see him as much as he is longing to see them. Paul’s departure from Thessalonica was sudden, and he seems to have some uncertainty about how they viewed him and his absence. Thessalonian faithfulness made a big difference to Paul. Paul’s sense of personal worth was, perhaps, to some degree tied to the success of his mission. He was, after all, only human.
Timothy’s report brings Paul an intense experience of joy in his prayers to God. But his present joy does not squelch his intense longing to see them face to face and to complete their education in the Christian walk. However, unable to be personally present with them, Paul first sends an emissary, Timothy, and then engages the Thessalonians by letter. Those letters make up part of the New Testament corpus.
Friday July 13
Further Study: “If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful (emphasis supplied), there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one. But, though professing to be converted, we carry around with us a bundle of self that we regard as altogether too precious to be given up. It is our privilege to lay this burden at the feet of Christ and in its place take the character and similitude of Christ. The Saviour is waiting for us to do this.”-Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, pp. 189, 190.
“During His ministry, Jesus had kept constantly before the disciples the fact that they were to be one with Him in His work for the recovery of the world from the slavery of sin. . . . In all His work He was training them for individual labor, to be extended as their numbers increased, and eventually to reach to the uttermost parts of the earth.”-Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 32.
Discuss your answer to Monday’s final question. How can we avoid making the same kind of mistakes? Or are we in some cases making them even now?
Summary: In a mere three weeks, Paul had become intensely bonded to the new believers in Thessalonica. Not being able to return to them, he first sent Timothy. Under the power of the Holy Spirit, he also put his heart in two letters. Meaningful evangelism must not settle for mere acceptance of Christian beliefs. The whole life-physical, mental, and emotional-is involved in Christian faith.
Inside Story ~ Euro-Africa Division Madeira
Laura and Paulo live in town on the island of Madeira in the Mediterranean Sea. Paolo had once been an Adventist, but he had stopped attending church before he married. However he often read from Acts of the Apostles, a book he treasured.
One day an Adventist pastor visited them. Laura and Paulo were pleased, and the pastor continued visiting every week, even though the roads were treacherous and no other Adventists lived nearby.
The family began attending the only church on the island. They made the four-hour trip by bus, often arriving late if there was any delay..They stayed for afternoon meetings, arriving home late at night. Nine months later they were baptized. Not everyone in the community was happy that Laura had left her church to become an Adventist. Sometimes the family returned home from church to find windows broken. Other people stopped doing business with Paulo, a tailor. When his business dropped off, Paulo found other ways to make a little money to support his family.
The family couldn’t afford to take the bus to the distant church every week, so they went only once a month. On the Sabbaths when they stayed home, they sang songs and read the Sabbath School lessons to their children. They invited friends to join them, but no one was interested.
The couple’s children have faced a lot of prejudice in school for refusing to eat unclean food and for keeping the Sabbath. But they’ve remained faithful.
Their son Fernando shared his faith with a girl he liked, and she became an Adventist. Her father told her to leave home and refused to speak to her for seven years or attend her wedding. But she visited him when he became sick, and at last the two were reconciled. Now her father thinks Fernando is the best son-in-law in the world.
Now that the roads on the island of Madeira have been improved, a group of Adventists from the church in the capital city drives to Ponto Muniz to worship with Paulo and Laura. The family continues to invite their neighbors to join them, but the family remains the only Adventists in the town.
“We will continue to share our faith with anyone who will listen,” Laura says. “And we invite our friends to join us for worship. We just want to break down prejudice and invite people to meet Jesus.”
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