Boasting in God
1 Thessalonians 2:17-20
1. Recognize the Context:
In verse 13, Paul was thankful because the Thessalonians received and accepted the word of God (1:6), which was at work in those who believed (1:5). He again identified them as imitators (1:6), but this time the comparison was with the churches in Judea, who also suffered. The Thessalonians suffered from their own people, while the Judean Christians suffered at the hands of the Jews. However, Paul was not making some generalization about "all Jews." As a Jew himself, he qualified his statement, referring to a particular minority.
In verse 15, Paul identified several characteristics about this faction of Jews to which he was referring. Although the execution was explicitly carried out by the Roman authorities, they sought the death of Jesus the Messiah, much like their ancestors, who resisted the message of the prophets in the Old Testament. Paul stated they also drove us out. This faction and their ancestors had rejected those who foretold the Messiah, the Messiah himself, and those who proclaimed the risen Messiah.
God was displeased because this group opposed his plan and people. Paul then reflected on how this opposition had specifically hindered his efforts to bring salvation to the Gentiles. In doing this, they heap up their sins to the limit, which created the image of the accumulation of sin. Ultimately, Paul returned to the notion of God’s wrath (1:10). The focus of this discussion was on those who were working against God and presently experiencing his wrath.
2. Read the Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10, emphasis on verses 5-6
17 But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. 19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.
3. Reflect on the Scripture:
In verse 17, Paul was concerned about his absence from the Thessalonian church. He qualified his departure as only for a short time, since he was determined to get back to them. He also indicated that his disappearance might have been physical, but they were not far from his heart and mind. Paul had an intense longing to return to this new church in Thessalonica, and he communicated this with strong emotive language.
Paul and his co-workers repeatedly attempted to return to Thessalonica, but Satan blocked their way. The name or title “Satan” is a transliteration of the Hebrew word meaning “accuser.” Paul frequently used this term to refer to a personal, evil, spiritual being, who opposed the plans and activity of God (see verses below). It should be noted that Satan is a created being and not of equal power to the Triune God. However, Satan does attempt to disrupt God’s work. Here Paul acknowledged this point, but he did not indicate how Satan hindered his travels.
Rather in verses 19-20, Paul explained why it was so crucial for him to visit this believing community. For Paul, the Thessalonian church and the relationship he had with them, represented the fruit of his ministry as an Apostle to the Gentiles (1 Cor. 9:1-2). He communicated this by asking a question. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes?
Paul used the word hope frequently in his letters. Most often, it referred to having hope in God or Christ (1 Thess. 1:3). Here hope has a unique usage. Paul called the Thessalonians “our hope.” They were the certainty of Paul and his co-laborers’ God-given work, the fruit of their labor. They were also identified as “our joy” (Phil 4:1). This church brought Paul and his missionary friends great delight (stated again in 2:20).
The Apostle never encouraged pride or boasting (Rom. 3:27, 1 Cor. 1:28-29). However, he identified the Thessalonians as the crown of boasting, when Christ returns (Phil 2:14-16). Paul never affirmed boasting in human effort and accomplishments. Instead, he spoke of boasting in God’s work, in order that God receives the glory (Rom. 15:17-18; 1 Cor. 1:30-31). This would all take place at the coming (Parousia in Greek) of the Lord Jesus.
At the end of verse 19, Paul returned to a rhetorical question, “Is it not you?" The obvious answer is, “Yes!” Verse 20 repeats the answer in the affirmative. Here the word glory meaning fame, recognition, and honor. Again, the Thessalonian church would prove the work of God through Paul and his missionary friends. Ultimately, this will bring joy to them and glory and honor to God, at the return of Christ.
4. Relate to life:
Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.
Today, prayerfully consider Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonians. Do you have a believing friend or group of friends with which you share the same affection as Paul? If you do, thank God for them. If you don’t ask God to provide someone like this.
Today, prayer consider Paul’s discussion of Satan and how Paul’s plans were opposed. Ask God for discernment to know when the enemy might be at work attempting to frustrate God’s efforts in your life.
Today, prayerfully consider Christ’s return. Do you have a longing for Christ to return to earth as he promised? What is your motivation? Are you excited? Fearful?
Reflect on what you boast in or about. List those things. Are they “God things?”
Reflect on what brings you joy. List those things. Are they “God things?”
Reflect on what you place your hope or confidence in? List those things. Are they “God things?”
If you have never read the book, The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, I highly recommend it. It is the fictional account of a conversation between a senior devil and his younger devil understudy, as they plot to oppose God’s plan in the lives of people.
"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
-C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, p. ix.
To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passage.)
Review the passages mentioned above in the Reflect on the Scripture section.
Read and study Ephesians 6:10-20, which as you may know, refers to the "Armor of God" and the battle Christians face against real, spiritual opposition.
Read and study these passages on the coming of Christ (parousia)-1 Thess. 3:13, 4:15, 5:23, 2 Thess. 2:1, 8. How did Paul talk about the coming of Christ? How does this compare with typical discussions about the coming of Christ in the church today?
Use a concordance or a website like biblegateway.com and search other verses on hope, joy, and boasting.