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January 6 lesson: Walk in Love

December 16, 2018
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Walk in Love

Winter Quarter: Our Love For God
Unit 2: Loving God by Trusting Christ

Sunday school lesson for the week of January 6, 2019
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers

Lesson Scripture: II Thessalonians 3: 1-5; 2 John 4-11

Greetings on this Epiphany Sunday, the Twelfth Day of Christmas! Also, Happy New Year! We pray you have had a blessed Christmas. Our unit title would make the greatest of all New Year’s resolutions: “Loving God by Trusting Christ.”   

The authors of these two texts are Paul, and, probably, John the Apostle. We won’t get into a scholarly debate about that! We have more important matters! We will study each text and setting separately.

Thessalonica is a Greek city Paul and Silas visited on the Second Missionary Journey, as recorded in Acts 17. As was his strategy, they went on the Sabbath to the synagogue, the Jewish place of worship during the Diaspora. There he presented Jesus as the Christ (Messiah). He did this for three weeks. The results were encouraging, as both Jews and God-fearing Greeks responded. Specifically, women are mentioned.

Some Jews became upset, a riot ensued, and some of the locals who were believers were taken to the city leaders with the charge: “These who have turned the world upside down have now come here.” As a result, Paul left town, leaving Timothy and Silas behind.

The letter was written to encourage these early believers from Corinth in 52 CE. Thessalonians may well be the very first of the Pauline letters, which are the earliest writings in the New Testament!

Conflict with the culture has always been a hallmark of the Christian faith. This one was with those Jews who insisted on keeping the Law of Moses – even for converts, whether Jew or Gentile. This conflict would follow Paul to his death; for the charge became political, when the preaching of Christ as Lord (King) became a challenge to Caesar’s authority.

What does Paul say to help these early followers of Christ cope? As he closes the Thessalonian correspondence, he asks for mutual prayer. Prayer is our contact point with God, and we cannot live in the world victoriously without it! For Paul, the focus of praying is two-fold: the rapid spread of the Gospel message and deliverance from the world’s opposition. 

The Church must be a praying church, for without God’s empowerment, we will be overcome by the powers of the world. Prayer is a mutual responsibility, leaders and followers alike – if you will, clergy and lay. Paul states boldly why we can face the world and its power: God is awesome and ever faithful.

The final verse of this passage opens the door to different translations, and thus different meanings. When Paul writes “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance,” does Paul mean God’s love for us or our love for God? You see the problem of translation. The same applies to “Christ’s perseverance.”

Why not both? Without knowledge of the Greek, we can rest assured of God’s eternal love for us. As faithful children of the Father, we love God in return. Christ’s perseverance in life, death, and resurrection to fulfill God’s plan of salvation and redemption gives us the power “to keep on keeping on.”

The second part of today’s lesson is from the very short letter of 2 John. There is scholarly debate about who John is. From the first century, these three letters have been attributed to John the Apostle, one of the sons of Zebedee. Jesus from the cross entrusted Mary into John’s care, and, again, according to tradition, they went to Ephesus to live.

The writer of the Gospel of John is the only one who tells us of this “word from the cross.” The three letters and the Book of Revelation have all been attributed to this same John. Whether or not this credit is true is, in one sense, irrelevant, but what is not irrelevant is the similarity of the letter to the Revelation of John.

In the salutation, the letter is addressed to “the chosen lady.” She could be a person. We have often seen how central women were to the early church, but we believe this feminine reference is to “the bride of Christ” – the Church! The children are, of course, the growing number of sisters and brothers in this new human family. (2 John 1-2) 

Our scripture begins at verse 4 with a familiar Johannine refrain – Gospel and Letters: “Love one another.” This time he defines love as obedience to Christ. “Walking in love” is the manner of our obedience to Christ. We believe this is “the way, the truth, and the life” of the Gospel of John. (John 14:6)

As Paul contended with those who were misleading early believers about continuing to keep the Law, the Church in John’s old age was facing a different crisis. As the church grew, the Gentiles (Greeks) had become dominant. Some began to merge Greek philosophy with Christian belief.

Once again, the Christians were in a cultural conflict. This earliest of heresies was called Docetism – a denial of the humanity of Jesus. He only seemed to be real. This heresy evolved later into another, more complicated one called Gnosticism. The Gnostics claimed to have special, revealed knowledge about God which was a sophisticated blend of Platonic and Christian ideas. Taken together the two heresies emasculated the power of the Incarnation. The cross would have no meaning if it was only a spiritual event, not reality. One writer’s definition is: “Christ’s existence was mere semblance, without any true reality.”

Within the Church, such ideas can grow and become destructive to the Christian’s daily walk with Christ. The term “antichrist” is often identified with an evil personage who will appear at the end of time, but that is not the primary meaning here (7b). The prefix “anti” has the sense of “alternative” or “substitute.” 

John’s concern is with counterfeits. Today’s church lives in the midst of many counterfeits to the “way, the truth, and the life” of Jesus. We walk a tightrope of loving acceptance of people and a rigid rejection of false ideas and competing ways of living. Discerning the truth requires a personal commitment to Jesus, an open heart to hurting humanity, and a firm conviction based on the biblical faith revealing God’s loving plan to redeem the world.

Forgive us, but once again John Newton’s admonition to Wilbur Wilberforce rings true: “Be sure you are in the world, but not of it.” Newton wrote “Amazing Grace,” and Wilberforce won a long fight to abolish the slave trade. Two good examples of men who lived in the world of the 19th Century, changed it, but did not succumb to its seductive ways. They walked the way of Jesus. We can do the same – with God.

Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at sgr3@cox.net.

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