A Commentary by John Stott
1 Thessalonians 4:1-12. 3). Christian behaviour or ‘How the church must live according to the gospel’.
We have reached the watershed of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. There is an abrupt change of topic between chapter 3 and chapter 4. So far (in chapters 1 to 3) Paul has been looking back to his visit and the events which followed it, and has been defending himself against his critics accusations. Now (in chapters 4 and 5) he looks to the present and future of the Thessalonian church, and addresses himself to certain practical problems of Christian conduct which were evidently troubling them. In so doing he turns from narrative to exhortation, from his *apologia* to his appeal, from explanations regarding his own behaviour to instructions regarding theirs. This change of subject is indicated by the opening words *loipon oun*. They do not introduce Paul’s conclusion (he is still two chapters away from this), but only his transition to a new topic, and should therefore be translated not ‘Finally’ (NIV) but simply ‘And now’ (REB).
Paul’s sudden shift of theme does not mean, however, that there are no links between chapters 3 and 4. For one thing, his prayer that the Lord would cause them to grow in love and holiness (3:12-13) paves the way for his teaching about both (4:3, 9). For another, Timothy must have been the source of Paul’s information both about the slanders which he has countered in chapters 1 to 3 and about the deficiencies in the Thessalonians’ discipleship (3:10) which he proceeds to remedy in chapters 4 to 5. It seems likely that Timothy brought with him to Corinth not only his own impressions of the Thessalonian church but also some questions from them, whether oral or written. At least the formula ‘Now about’ (*peri de*), which introduces three sections (4:9, 13; 5:1), is reminiscent of its use in 1 Corinthians where we know that the apostle is responding to questions (1 Cor.7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1).
Tomorrow: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12. Introduction: the teaching of ethics.
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|