Summary: We continue to travel through Paul’s letters and find many gems in the letters to the Thessalonians and Philemon. Paul has much to teach us about the character of Jesus God is working in our hearts and lives. What can you learn from these letters?
In my last post, I explored Christian character development from Paul’s prison letters to the Ephesians and Colossians. In this post, I continue the study of Christian character development from First and Second Thessalonians and Philemon.
We have been traveling through Paul’s letters and seeing how he applies actionable material to teach us about Christian character development and our growth in Christ. We have come to the letters to the Thessalonians and Philemon. Paul writes about the end times, the rapture, and how to live differently as Christians, even within the master-slave relationship.
We will gain character development principles from Paul as he deals with a sensitive issue between a master and slave, now that Christ has affected their relationship. We will also see Paul encourage a church under extreme persecution fearing they had concerned of Jesus. Paul shows different sides of himself as he approaches these sensitive issues. Let’s get started.
Character Development in 1 & 2 Thessalonians
Paul writes two letters to the Thessalonian church to disciple them on the matter of the second coming of Christ and the great persecution they are facing in their city. When Paul and Silas visited Thessalonica, they spoke first to the Jews in the synagogue (Acts 17:1-9). Some Jews listened to their message and became Christians. But other Jews were jealous because Paul and Silas had affected some of the Jews, Gentiles, and some leading women in the city with Jesus’s message.
These jealous Jews caused an uproar, a right within the city by riling up some wicked men to form a mob. When they can’t find Paul and Silas, they settled for Jason, the man who housed Paul and Silas. Jason had to pay bail to get out of jail. From the very start, the Thessalonian Christians faced opposition and persecution. It was so bad that Paul and Silas had to leave the city. As we open First Thessalonians, we find Paul was concerned he left before he could teach the Thessalonians everything they needed to know about Jesus to grow in their faith.
Despite Paul’s concerns for the Thessalonians, he found they kept the faith (1 Thessalonians 1:3-10). The great persecution they faced when Paul and Silas visited them did not affect their salvation or faith. He thanked God for them, for faith that remained strong despite their tribulations and trials.
He compared their perilous persecution to what the Jews in Judea were suffering (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). We must not let our faith, a strong anchor firmly fixed to the foundation and rock of Christ, to be challenged by surface persecutions, tribulations, and trials. In these times, we fix ourselves to Jesus, who walks with us and brings us peace.
Paul wanted to visit the Thessalonians again, but the devil tried to stop him (1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5). We don’t work for glory, honor, or riches in this life. Our goal must be to minister to others and bless them. This gives glory to God and people are the only ones we can take with us to heaven.
Paul often speaks of suffering for Christ as a Christian. He talks about the suffering through persecution the Thessalonians endured and the suffering he does for Christ every day. We do not make earth are heaven. Even Jesus told us we would suffer while on this earth, and for Him. We glorify Jesus in our suffering. Unlike the world, the disciple of Jesus says, “If I am suffering, I must be doing something right for Jesus.” But let’s not say we must suffer for Christ all the time. We suffer when we must.
We see once again Paul’s concern that the Thessalonians had lost faith because of their great persecution and suffering (1 Thessalonians 3:5). We should receive comfort from good news about other Christians. When we see an excellent example of Christ in others, we should be pleased and glorify God. We should be happy to see one another, excited to meet with others who share our faith in Jesus and love for one another (1 Thessalonians 3:6-13).
God calls us to be holy and pleasing to Him (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). How do we that? Through action. Sometimes, holiness means to abstain from the practices of the world. We must look like Jesus. God avenges wickedness, and we don’t want to have God judging us. We must not run other Christians. We have God’s presence through the Spirit dwelling in us. We love one another because Jesus teaches us how to love (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12).
Paul spends much of the rest of the letter teaching us about Jesus’s return and God’s day of vengeance (1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11). Because we have a blessed hope in Jesus’s return and the resurrection, we do not grieve death for Christians who pass away. There will be a reunion in heaven when Jesus returns. We must encourage one another in our hope and faith. Jesus’s return will surprises the world, but we must be ready for Jesus’s return. We must live expecting His return..
Paul closes his first letter to the Thessalonians by giving them several commands, almost in a spitfire approach (1 Thessalonians 5:12-28). We respect those who work among us, pastors, teachers, and leaders. We live in peace, do good, pray without ceasing, and live in thanks to Jesus.
In 2 Thessalonians, Paul begins by thanking God for the Thessalonians and their increasing faith (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4). We are growing in faith. If trials and persecution strengthen it, we welcome them for that purpose. We know Jesus is coming soon, and will judge the wicked around us (2 Thessalonians 1:5-12). We must not have an attitude about this with unbelievers, or treat them any differently. That day is coming soon, and we have a short time to make the most of every opportunity to share Jesus.
Because Paul did not complete his teaching before he was kicked out of Thessalonica, I imagine he does much of his teaching on the last things in these letters. He addresses the characteristics of the man of lawlessness, the Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). He tells much of what will happen in the end times. We must not be alarmed. When this Antichrist is revealed, we will know. We know what he is like. He will deceive the world, but we will not be deceived.
No matter what happens in this world, God comforts us, and we stand firm against the wiles of the enemy (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17). In chapter 3, Paul asked for prayer that he and his ministry companions to be delivered from evil people and to spread the gospel. We need to pray for those on the front lines of evangelism.
Paul concluded this second letter by warning the Thessalonian believers to keep away from lazy people (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15). We must not be busybodies. But we should be strong and want to do good at every opportunity. We have much to do for Jesus, so there is no time to waste. Let us have a great work ethic for our Lord.
Character Development in Philemon
When Paul writes to Philemon, he shares the background of the letter. Philemon is a slave owner, and his slave, Onesimus, has run away and met Paul. Philemon is a Christian and his slave has become a Christian through Paul’s ministry. Philemon is a Christian leader who has shown his love for the saints and faith in Jesus (Philemon 1:4-7). Paul will reference this love when he brings up his runaway slave.
The heart of the letter describes how to love brothers and sisters in Christ (Philemon 1:8-16). Paul does not lay down at apostolic commands on Philemon. Onesimus has run away and broken the law. He has cost Philemon labor. Paul speaks of him in familial terms. Because of this, we call another brother and sister in Christ. Instead of forcefully commanding Philemon to set Onesimus free, Paul speaks as brother to brother in Christ.
We can learn much from Paul in this short letter. Paul does not use his authority as an apostle to force Philemon to do what he wants. Instead, he shows Philemon that unconditional love between Christians means that no matter what our status in this world, we share the same status as Christians. Instead of making Philemon do what he wanted, Paul teaches us to act out of love instead of compulsion. We don’t force our authority on others.
Paul has shown the change in Onesimus since he ran away. He does not return the same man. We are not the same as when we were slaves to sin. Onesimus returns to Philemon when he could have run away again when Paul released him. The status between Philemon and Onesimus had changed. Onesimus is still legally a slave, but now that he is a Christian, Philemon must not treat him the same way. Jesus has made them family of one another.
Our love for one another is not forceful. We don’t do it because Christ commands it of us. We do it because Jesus has changed our hearts and knitted us together. He has made us free, and we should treat one another as free. The system of slavery and Rome Paul could not change even as an apostle of Christ Jesus changed when we become members of His family. Do not regard one another by your worldly titles and statuses. We are all equal before Christ.
What in these letters of Paul has grabbed your attention? Perhaps it’s how we treat one another. Maybe it is something about how we are not afraid of the things that make the world afraid. Whatever stuck out to you, take it before the Lord and ask Him to make it true in your character.
Now that we discussed the character development of Jesus’s disciples from First and Second Thessalonians and Philemon, we will look at First and Second Timothy and Titus, finishing Paul’s letters.
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