Paul of Tarsus was not only a malleable instrument in the hands of God, but was most admirable because of the richness of his personality. On the one hand, he was a well educated member of both the Hebrew and the Hellenistic cultures. He was able to build cogent arguments and to analyze what others argue with critical acumen (2 Cor. 3: 4 – 18); Gal. 3: 15; 4: 21 – 31; Rom. 5: 10, 15, 17). He trusted the intelligence of his audience and their capacity to evaluate what he said or wrote.
The summer after I graduated from college (now more than 35 years ago), I volunteered at an Adventist Hospital as a chaplain while auditing the chaplaincy training course. I became good friends with two young Roman Catholics who were preparing for the priesthood and in the program. It was my first opportunity to discuss theological issues with one of “them” and I enjoyed it very much. I quickly took on the role of protector assuming they would face a hostile Adventist environment.
It might be easy to skip past the first several verses of 1 Thessalonians. Paul often begins his letters with grateful praise to the people to whom he’s writing. (The one notable exception being the Galatians, proving that, if necessary, he can take a more confrontational approach. In Galatians, Paul demonstrates that he won’t use an introduction of thankfulness if it is not deserved.)
Two weeks ago I “promised” my wife, “this won’t take long.” This is more in-depth than planned, with generous endnotes for the source-hungry. Take time to read and think, look some things up. If what follows is disconcerting, welcome to reading the New Testament in the world of its initial audience, instead of ours. In doing so, we gain a deeper, multi-dimensional and more complete picture of the context of Paul’s messages.
Editor's Note: This is a work in progress, and is part one of a longer work that seeks to establish a Biblical basis for evaluating the effectiveness of Christian mission (in a Seventh-day Adventist context). Increasingly, Adventists recognise the need to stop and take a look at ourselves, to see how we are doing, whether we are doing it as effectively as we might, and whether we have made the best use of resources, whether of money or people.
This week’s lesson emphasises the need to report about witnessing and to keep accurate statistics. This is not the most exciting topic. I taught history and religion at Newbold College for ten years but in one course, on economic history, I regularly taught what I called “quantitative data methodologies for historians”—i.e., statistics. Every year, as the students, realised that, though they were taking a history course, they were going to have to grapple with statistics, I could see certain looks on their faces—first tedium, then often, fear and finally something like betrayal.