What we have said in the Introduction to the First Letter to Timothy is equally suitable for this second letter. It is supposed to have been written by Paul from his prison in Rome, shortly before his death. There is no reason for doubting the authenticity of a few details that Paul gives on his situation while awaiting his sentence. As for the rest, both Paul and Timothy are only pseudonyms: the counsels and the warnings are actually those the unknown author wanted to give the ministers of the Church, some decades after the death of the apostle.
• 1.3 Fan into a flame the gift you received. See 1 Tim 4:14. Paul tries to give his own energy to Timothy and he reminds him of God’s love and promises.
The sound doctrine… the precious deposit… which you have heard from me (13-14): see 1 Tim 1:3. The doctrine of the faith cannot be altered, but neither can it be put in storage. It must be lived, which brings into play our creativity as well as that of the Holy Spirit that lets it be rediscovered each day.
He saved us and called us: see Eph 2:8-10.
He is capable of taking care of all I have entrusted to him (v. 12). These words invite us to remember the exact meaning of the word “faith.” In Hebrew, for the Old Testament, the word “faith” had the same root as “to be firm,” or “to lean on something.” In Greek, the word that has become “faith” signifies both the trust that could be had in a debtor, and the guarantee given to the creditor. So Paul considers all his apostolic life as the deposit he has placed in God’s hands. Like Paul a person of faith is not deceived by the mirages of a happy life but prefers to use his life in an often thankless labor and persevere as if he already saw what couldn’t yet be seen (Heb 11:27).
• 2.1 Entrust to reliable people (v. 2). We have seen in Paul’s first missions that he took care to establish elders in each community (Acts 14:23; see also Titus 1:6). They must be able to preserve the faith in full. We often give more importance to immediate effectiveness of our actions rather than to doctrinal exactitude. In the long run, there is never an error that is not paid for. Saint Irenaeus affirms that the primary mission of the Church is to maintain in the world a true knowledge of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. See however the com. on Galatians 2:5.
Then Paul invites Timothy to surrender completely, with the assurance that his efforts will be rewarded.
Be strong with the grace you have in Christ Jesus, Christ’s witness must be courageous and strong, as the messenger of the victorious Christ. His own conviction will convince others. He must avoid the many ways of wasting time and getting off track in his mission: idle conversations devoid of value. Things that do not promote a better service of God (1 Tim 1:4): false religious problems unrelated to real life.
No soldier gets involved (v. 4). It happened at times that Paul earned his living while preaching (2 Cor 11:9; 2 Thes 3:7), but now here the letter speaks for those who waste their time in working for a living when the community has the duty of seeing to their needs. For a minister of the Church, work can be a way of placing oneself in the world and in the midst of people; but it could also be a way of escaping the difficulties and humiliations of every apostolic task.
• 14. Return to the experiences of the apostolic worker. In time the converted are tested: some make progress and others are lost. The apostle should not be astonished: no fall, no scandal can shake the solid foundations laid by God (v. 19): the Church will never be defeated.
They hold that the resurrection has already taken place (v. 18). Faith in the resurrection was accepted with as much difficulty in those times as it is today, and many wanted to keep the word without being embarrassed by a God who shatters our way of thinking. Perhaps those named here held that a spiritual resurrection took place at baptism and there was nothing more to hope for after death. On this subject, see in the Gospel of John the precision given in 5:28 immediately following 5:25.
• 3.1 In the last days (v. 1): see 1 Tim 4:1. Even the presence of evil in the Church should not surprise us.
The paragraph 14-17 gives us in a few words a full message on biblical meditation: the Scriptures will give you wisdom (v. 15). Biblical meditation is the best means of making faith mature (15-17). When these lines were written Scripture was essentially the Old Testament, but already the Church possessed and considered as Scripture several Gospels and some of Paul’s letters.
Just before the mention of Scripture we read: Continue with what you have learned—knowing from whom you received it. “Tradition” means precisely what we receive from our elders. The reading of the Bible is inseparable from the “Tradition of the Apostles,” which is the “Tradition of the Church,” and it is a way of understanding the Bible, just as Jesus immediately after his resurrection opened to his apostles a new way of reading salvation history. This tradition is the second support of faith.
All Scripture is inspired by God (v. 16) and there we look for a message from God to his people rather than an occasion for personal speculation. The same Spirit that directs the Church has equally inspired the biblical authors.
For many years, we spoke of the ”inspiration” of the Bible, not so much to encourage the reading of it in the family or community, but to affirm the fact of it being without error. It was also because some people saw contradictions between Bible and science. These problems have partly disappeared. Each book is as the human authors wrote it, reflecting their culture and their limitations (before the coming of Christ, faith had not attained full maturity; before rational science, people could not express themselves according to scientific views). The entire book is also from God and every text is part of a definitive message. It is there we find the truth of God, and not in the exactitude of details and literary form, which we necessarily must adapt to our modern language.
Above all we must remember that the Word of God is the normal nourishment of faith. It is not only useful for teaching: Bible reading has the value of a sacrament for the faithful. No preaching, no catechism even though “biblical” can replace the frequent meditative reading of the word of God for the development of faith.
• 4.1 Preach the Word (v. 2): this is Paul’s last advice. It must be the first concern of the Church and of any church leader.
Paul knows that he will not be freed and that he will be condemned to death. He embraces his own sacrifice just as Jesus did.
We find the comparison of the soldier and the athlete that Paul liked so much. In those days athletes received a crown of laurels as a symbol of immortality: As for me the time of sacrifice has arrived, and the moment of my departure has come.
INTRODUCTION And COMMENTARIES
Cultural changes taking place in all areas of existence also affect the Church. In the beliefs and practices we have been taught, not all comes from Christ, and consequently, many things may change. There is nevertheless a risk of distorting authentic faith. Where then is the rule of faith, to which all our opinions must submit?
This problem already arose in the Church when in 64-67 A.D. Peter and Paul died as martyrs in Rome. The Church, especially in the West, no longer had these witnesses of Christ capable of proclaiming both his deeds and his words. It was as difficult for the Greeks to accept the Christian message as it was for the Jews, and even those of good will among the listeners understood the message—as we do today—through their own ways of thinking, distorting it in proportion to the prejudices of their time.
Then came an opportunity for people eager to discuss, to recount in a better way than did the apostles, even to say what they had not said, and some even took the liberty of teaching their own doctrine. How quickly the imitation of Christ could be replaced by theories and discourses on religion!
So it was that the successors of the apostles had to defend the doctrine they had received from them. At the same time they had to take care in the choice and in the formation of the ministers of the Church for these would have to keep the genuine message. Such are the concerns that we find in these letters to Timothy and Titus.
These letters of similar origin are entitled Paul’s letters. Both the form and content of these letters show that they are not from him. They must have been written in the pressure of circumstances we have just mentioned about 90-100 A.D. It was thought well to place this teaching of the Church under the authority of Paul and doubtless some more personal paragraphs written by him have been inserted: in several passages, we certainly find Paul’s counsels to Timothy and Titus or to other of his assistants.
These three letters of Timothy and Titus are called “pastoral letters” because they address Church shepherds. They truly deserve this name for still another reason that is not always perceived. They are addressed to Paul’s delegates who, although they did not enjoy the title of apostles, were like the itinerant ministers and had authority over the local churches. They are reminded of their missionary ideal for they had devoted their life to Christ and to preaching the Word. Yet at the same time they are ordered to watch over the Church local ministers. Whether they are bishops, elders or deacons, they were elected by the community and spent part of their time in leading and in teaching their brothers and sisters; they also celebrated the sacred sacraments of the Church, baptism, Eucharist and the anointing of the sick.
So we find here two kinds of ministries which complement one another to fulfill the pastoral duties. The first, of which Timothy and Titus are examples extends the mission of the apostles, follows the patterns of their consecrated life and enjoys apostolic authority. The second, trained themselves within the community which elected them. Today we would speak of lay ministers, for they go on belonging to their family and community, although they have been ordained by a laying on of hands and have been accepted or acknowledged by the apostolic authority. We shall strive to understand this complementarity because the subsequent evolution of Latin Church unified these very different ministries in the span of some centuries framing them into one hierarchical clergy. See on this point Num 4:1 and Heb 9:1. New Testament witnesses the different organizations of the early Church in the many cultural areas of Roman Empire. For a part it wanted to be and to remain the Church founded on the apostles, on the other hand, it took example of the Jewish communities with their elders. Afterwards the ministries would evolve or become fixed according to the needs and the social context.
• 1.3 In this first chapter we have a mixture of various topics: it practically repeats what Paul said in other letters where the commentaries have already been given.
We will note only what refers to false prophets. Since the apostles who had seen Christ were dead, some people forgot that all of faith is based on what Christ taught. Instead of reading and actually living the Gospel, certain people began to discuss and work out religious theories. See Introduction to Colossians.
The aim of our warning is love which comes from a pure mind (v. 5). Timothy must be firm in eliminating these discussions that weaken the Church and prevent development of the love that saves people. Even bloody wars came out of sterile religious arguments. The center of the paragraph is doubtless verse 15: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The new masters remain with their theories instead of facing the reality of sin. It is the reality of our sin that makes the grace of God a grace, and our salvation a true salvation.
• 2.1 Heading the rules for every category of believers, we find rules for the community assemblies with two outstanding points:
– praying for rulers;
– the behavior of women in church.
I urge that petitions be made (v. 1). Paul wants Christians to be in solidarity with their compatriots, loyal toward their nation and praying for them. In spite of its sins and superstitions, the pagan world was religious. Religion accompanied their every action. This explains why, some years later, Christians were persecuted as rebels and traitors because they did not worship the emperor, nor his gods. Perhaps this insistence on prayer for rulers is due to the fact that the paragraph was written when there already was some suspicion about Christians: it was necessary to remove these suspicions.
Faithfulness to Christ does not prevent loyalty to the nation unless the nation becomes an idol, and this happens when, in the name of the nation, people are asked to obey its rulers blindly. We cannot give up criticizing their errors, nor stop considering as our brothers and sisters those who do not agree with us.
We should pray for rulers. Does that mean that we cannot look for more honest and better rulers? Of course, we can: see Romans 13.
Verses 9-14 concern women, and to understand why the letter is so strict, we must recall that there was a lot of talk about freedom in the Church, and there were abuses.
On the other hand, we always have a hard time accepting the demands of the Gospel when society teaches us something different. Jesus’ attitude regarding women was revolutionary and liberating, and at the beginning, the Church followed his example (see 1 Cor 7). Before long, they went back to the usual way of giving a very limited place in society to women and that applied also in their religious assemblies.
In the whole history of the Church there was a great respect for the dignity of women and there were many initiatives favoring them; yet there were few periods when women enjoyed equality with men. In many places women were more emancipated during the Middle Ages than closer to our times, in the 19th century. Likewise, in urban societies dealing with business, in the world and in the Church, women occupied a place very different from that granted them in more closed societies.
In fact, the Church alone does not change the world and society until people have learned to know the human reality better.
This passage, reminding us of 1 Cor 11:1-10 and 14:34, opposes women’s emancipation with the same biblical arguments commonly used by the Jewish masters.
God wants all to be saved. Paul repeats in his own way the passage from the last words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel: the Gospel must be preached to everyone, to all the nations. Perhaps only a minority will believe but this evangelization is necessary so that all humanity may reach the goal fixed by God.
• 3.1 Here Paul deals with leaders, bishops and deacons (see commentary on Titus 1:6 and Phil 1:1).
• 14. This short paragraph reminds us that, if indeed we are in charge of the Church of God, we are neither its founders nor its masters. The Church was born through a merciful intervention of God, when he decided that his Son should identify with the human race, as is expressed in this short poem.
Here we use divine blessing (v. 16) for a word that we translated elsewhere as “piety” or “religion” (see 2:2; 4:7; 6:3; 5, 6; 2 Tim 3:5 and Titus 1:1). In those years, the word was mostly used to mean a loving attitude toward the Father and neighbors, characteristic of true believers who simply imitate God’s example.
The Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. We must understand this phrase as referring to the concepts of that time: from above, from a world in which everything is truth, God lowers his Truth to the earth, as a column or a visible sign on which we can lean. In spite of all the infidelities of the Church, God uses it to preserve true knowledge of the Father, the Son and the Spirit in the world. Without this knowledge, people cannot be free, nor can humanity reach its maturity.
• 4.1 After the death of the apostles, new masters who tamper with the faith appear in the Church.
One of the numerous errors of these people is to despise all that comes from the body: they condemn marriage, forbid meat and wine. Concerning marriage, see the Introduction to Colossians. For those who said matter comes from evil powers whereas souls come from God who is good, having children was to imprison in an evil body souls which later would have to be saved. This is why they condemned, not sexual relations but marriage and procreation. In this contempt of the body and of a nature created by God, there is nothing Christian (see Col 2:23).
In the last days (v. 1): these are the days beginning with Jesus’ resurrection and stretching to his second coming (Heb 1:2; James 5:3).
The Spirit tells us clearly. The prophets of the Church often predicted that people would come to preach their own theories, and not authentic faith.
The believers receive with thanksgiving. From the beginning, it was the custom in Christian families to give thanks to God at the family meal.
Train yourself in godliness (v. 7). Here we have another danger. Contrary to teachers who despise life and want us to live as strange characters, there are others who are totally absorbed in external things. In the Greco-Roman world there was much enthusiasm for sports and races. Without despising the body we are asked to check if we give each part the importance it deserves and the time corresponding to it.
• 11. Faced with all these false teachers, Timothy must be an example of a true apostle.
Let no one reproach you on account of your youth. Usually, in the Christian communities and in the Jewish ones, the leaders were older men. This is why they were called “elders“ or “presbyters” (which means the same thing). Timothy, who is visiting the church on behalf of Paul, has authority over these elders, even though he is much younger than they are. The example of his sincere faith and profound knowledge of the Bible will be his strength.
Do not neglect the spiritual gift (v. 14). If someone was named to a ministry or an official position in the church, this was considered as a spiritual gift: for example, presbyters, deacons, bishops, prophets. While other gifts, such as healing the sick, came directly from the Holy Spirit, ministries were received through a laying on of hands. An apostle or a prophet would lay his hands on the candidate to transfer to him the authority that he had received in a similar way. Thus, in the Church, every leader receives his authority from Christ through a succession of people going back to the apostles.
On this occasion the prophets present would also address the candidate with exhortations and warnings (see 1:18).
Devote yourself to reading, preaching and teaching until I come. This counsel is always valid. To be steadfast in reading and study is what costs most in the majority of liberal professions. Very few people are courageous enough to persevere in study once they have passed their examinations. This is so, even in the Church. The “pastors,” clergy and lay, are constantly tempted in thinking such and such an activity is pastorally useful, that leisure is “relaxing” even at the cost of postponing study and meditation on the Word. The Church is always lacking people able to express their faith creatively – a gift that springs from spiritual knowledge and habitual contact with the Word of God: smiles, goodwill and psychology cannot replace this charism.
• 5.1 From the beginning, women had their own unique role in the Church. Some of them, called widows occupied an official position.
Paul sees three kinds of widows: some did not need help from the Church because they had relatives; others did need Church assistance. Finally, there were some, with or without the help of the Church, who were in charge of certain functions.
They deserve condemnation… (v. 12). This means that by leaving her position and marrying, the “widow” of the third category broke a commitment she had made publicly. The “widows” were dedicated to the service of Christ in the same way as religious women of today.
A true widow is she who has set her hope on God. We should read what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 concerning the greater freedom celibates have to serve the Lord. Every baptized person is called to belong totally to Christ. If, through circumstances of life, we are alone again and free from family responsibilities, this may be an invitation from God to dedicate ourselves completely to the service of the Church and to constant prayer.
If today retired Christians looked into their lives in the light of God’s presence, the Church would have more leaders and missionaries than are necessary.
• 17. Paul speaks again of the elders or “presbyters” who are in charge of the local community. Paul wants the community to help its leaders spiritually and financially.
We have already noted that the elders who were in charge of the community and who presided at the Eucharist were chosen from the most esteemed believers. This paragraph shows that the primary service expected from them was the preaching of the Word.
They deserve double compensation. It is rather astonishing to see that in many parishes the council consists of more lay people competent in social or material matters than persons of the Word, learned or prophetic, capable of giving life to the community.
They must fulfill their duties. Rebuke him in the presence of the community as a warning to the rest: the first Christians were no angels. Sometimes their enthusiastic and sincere faith needed strong discipline in order for them to remain faithful to their commitments. Besides when have leaders of communities not caused problems?
In 5:18 note the quotation of the Gospel: “the worker deserves his wages” (Lk 10:7). This passage shows us that when this letter was written, towards the year 90, the Gospels were already considered “Scripture.”
At the beginning and end of the chapter, the author insists on faithfulness to tradition. Faith is not a doctrine that can be adapted to one’s tastes. Leaders are required to have a respectful and humble attitude towards this treasure entrusted to them to be transmitted to others. We can already see two faults:
– instead of deepening faith, some multiply words;
– some replace surrender to God’s Word with a critical attitude that attempts to judge faith and decide if it agrees with their own ideas.
Money is mentioned twice (6:10 and 6:17-19). After the first years of enthusiastic faith, the Church finds that, even for believers, everything is lost when love for money persists. That is the drama in certain countries where solid Christian groups have been caught up with the best of society in the pursuit of money: faith continues to be important for them but this faith only motivates fidelity to religious practice. Money that has become our security lessens our trust in God (6:10) and isolates us from others.
The pastors of the Church should be the most aware of the danger (6:11). Salvation for them will be to place themselves in the less secure areas of life and society, where an act of faith is constantly necessary to overcome difficulties and joyously accept sacrifices (v. 12). It is not in seeking first of all our personal fulfillment that we become God’s agent and a witness of Christ, as he himself has been the witness of the Father (6:13).
Paul calls upon Timothy to avoid all those dangers and remain true to faith and free from greed. By doing so, he will be “a man of God,” a witness of Christ.
The First Letter to the Thessalonians taught us the importance of looking forward to the coming of Christ in Paul’s preaching.
The hope for the Day of Christ was a powerful incentive for preserving the faith of the first Christians. Yet it could lead to an unhealthy nervousness. The Church of Thessalonica was the first example of those minorities and persecuted groups in whom the expectation of the end of the world distorts the normal development of Christian life.
In this letter, written a few months after the first one, Paul tries to reassure the community.
• 1.1 We again encounter the same ideas we have explained in 1 Thessalonians. A persecuted community. The basis of Christian life: faith, hope (or endurance), love. The day of Christ.
• 6. When the apostles preached to the pagans, they insisted on the judgment of God (Rom 1:18; Acts 17:31). In fact, these pagans never thought they would be judged at the end of their lives. For almost a century there has been a tendency among us Christians not to mention judgment in reaction to several centuries when it was over emphasized and with it the fear of punishment. Actually, the evangelization of modern pagans, in whom conscience has not even been awakened in the family, demands that it be spoken of as in Paul’s time.
To know that good and evil exist, that life prepares for definitive salvation (or the loss of it) and that God will judge us is an essential basis for Christian life. It is precisely from this truth that many turn away, saying for example that God is all-love, or imagining successive existences where we can catch up for our mistakes.
Indeed it is just that God repays with affliction. Let us not forget that the letters to the Thessalonians are the earliest of Paul’s letters. Even if it was his duty to remind them of the judgment, as did the prophets, and Jesus himself—certainly he had not yet totally purified his thirst for justice of every trace of violence. This violence against the wicked has been (and still is in many religions) a support for faith, but Jesus has invited us to get rid of it (Mt 13:29).
Coming from heaven… he will do justice. In the early years of the apostles, it was believed that the Day of the Lord would soon come and judgment (the Last Judgment) would inaugurate the reign of God the Father (1 Cor 15:24). We now suppose—perhaps mistakenly—that it is not imminent, and we prefer to think of judgment as coming at the death of each one: individual judgment.
• 2.1 Do not be alarmed. What happens in Thessalonica is what frequently occurs in a persecuted community: people tend to withdraw from real life. There are rumors that the Lord’s coming is imminent and hope verges on hysteria. This is why Paul reminds them of certain truths, some of which are not new, for the Old Testament had more than once spoken of crises that would precede the Judgment. We cannot take as literally true all that the prophets have said on this subject, for they spoke with images proper to their time. They did agree in announcing difficult times for believers and almost a triumph, to begin with, for God’s enemies. Jesus did not disagree.
The apostasy must come first. Before Christ’s return, there must be a “general apostasy,” or a worldwide religious crisis. An “antichrist” must come. It is true that there are antichrists in all times (see 1 Jn 2:18). Yet, at the end, there will be a more typical antichrist than all the previous ones. Christ will return in glory at the time the Church seems crushed.
You know what prevents him (v. 6). For us, this phrase is obscure. For Paul the apostasy is that of the nations already converted to the Gospel and the force of evil was already at work within them (v. 7). It is probable that Paul follows the thinking of the “apocalyptic” authors (some of their works are part of the Bible, among others Ezekiel 38–39 and Daniel 2–10). Everything happens at the time fixed by God and every person in history lasts the time needed to carry out the good and the evil that he has within himself.
Therefore, there cannot be apostasy or antichrist as long as two preceding events have not taken place: the Gospel has to be proclaimed to all the nations (Mk 13:10), and judgment passed on the Jewish nation. The fact that these events have not been realized, especially the second (1 Thes 2:16), is perhaps for Paul the reason why the coming of the antichrist is not imminent.
Paul had no idea that the time of the nations mentioned in Luke (21:24) would last for so many centuries; for him, it was a matter of years. Let us keep in mind his way of foreseeing the end of the world. All that is in human history must mature; history will end with a last adventure inspired by diabolical pride; faith or the rejection of the Gospel will be at the heart of the worldwide confrontation.
God will send them the power of delusion. Once again we have the Hebrew turn of phrase that should be translated: God will allow the forces of deceit to act. The same people who do not take into account decisive arguments in favor of the faith, later follow doctrines and opinions without foundation.
Paul invites the Church, as he did in 1 Thessalonians, to follow his instructions and rules. He is more severe in insisting that they have an obligation to work: if everybody works, their faith will be more peaceful.
• 13. Note the word traditions used by Paul. The traditions are the customs, rites and teachings that people pass down from one generation to another. They are also the usages and lifestyles which are adopted upon joining a community. Jesus condemned the exaggerated importance the Pharisees gave to their own traditions, to the point that they prevailed over God’s commandments (see Mk 7:5). Yet Jesus himself, while he was with his apostles, taught them a certain way of praying, of doing, and of living in fellowship. It is in this sense that Paul here speaks of traditions: see Traditions and Tradition in the commentary on Mark 7:1.
In the year 50, Paul arrived in Thessalonica, a major city and the capital of the province of Macedonia (see Acts 17:1). Here, after being rejected by the Jews, he addressed his preaching to the pagans and succeeded in forming a community. After barely three months, a riot caused by the Jews forced him to leave.
What is going to happen to these recent converts to whom Paul taught the mere basics of Christian life?
Paul is quite concerned, so he sends Timothy to see them and to strengthen their church. Timothy comes back with an optimistic report and Paul, reassured, sends this letter at the beginning of 51.
This is the oldest writing of the New Testament.
• 1.1 Faith, endurance, love. For us, sometimes hope (or: endurance) goes unnoticed between faith and love. For Paul it has two important meanings:
– Those who hope bear trials and persecutions with patience and perseverance. That is why Paul speaks of faith, perseverance and love. As we know from the Gospel, hope is not an easy optimism; it is the capacity to endure when faced with trials.
y”>– The person with hope looks forward to the glorious coming of Christ who will judge this world and take us to the next one. He frees us from impending punishment. In those years, all believers were convinced that judgment was imminent and that they would witness Christ’s coming.
The Gospel we brought you was such not only in words (v. 5). There were many signs, miracles and other manifestations in Thessalonica. Perhaps God increased the signs in view of the coming persecution; since very soon there would not be many with adequate formation to orient the community. In fact the Gospel cannot be proclaimed without God doing something to confirm it (Mk 16:17). Jesus criticized those who came to him to see miracles, but he performed miracles throughout his ministry. Let us not say: “I do not need miracles to believe.” Human beings as we are, we will have quite a different enthusiasm if we see that God is beside us, doing the incredible to confirm his word.
• 2.1 As a nursing mother who feeds and cuddles her baby (v. 7): Paul’s tenderness. Paul recalls the work and energy he spent to convince, to call each one personally. The conversion of a single person demands perseverance, weariness and struggles for the
All the Christians of Paul’s time know that the mother Church in Jerusalem has been the first to suffer heavy persecution. For the Thessalonians, it was also an honor to have remained
Some people will find Paul’s words concerning the Jews harsh and exaggerated: It is obvious that verses 15-16 do not refer to all the Jews or to the Jewish people of future time. Paul means those Jews and Judeo-Christians who persecute him from city to city. The divine sentence condemning them has already been pronounced yet they reflect his experience, verified in Acts 15–28.
• 3.1 May the Lord increase more and more your love for each other and for all people (v. 12). Love manifests itself first within the community and then it must be expanded to all people.
Note also Paul’s constant preoccupation: his apostolic mission does not allow him to remain in any community. He is always moving, leaving his work unfinished, but he entrusts his converts to the grace of God that does not suppress the freedom of the recent converts nor the work of the Tempter in the world.
You know that such is our destiny (v. 3). There is no church, nor Christian life, without trials and persecutions.
• 4.1 If we have given ourselves to Christ, that should surely make our life different from what we lived before. The Jews who accepted baptism had a solid moral basis in the laws of the Old Testament. On the other hand, the pagans had only the moral laws observed in their society. Chastity, among others, was completely foreign to them. They considered occasional sexual relationships a necessity of nature, having nothing to do with moral values.
Paul reacts strongly: The will of God for you is to become holy and not to have unlawful sex. Facing what humans consider demands of nature, are other demands due simply to the fact that God has called us and put us on the path to divinization (Paul says: sanctification). Paul will take up the same argument in other words in 1 Cor 6:12-20. Here in verses 4-8, Paul is certainly thinking of adultery and relationships with prostitutes. If he were living in our social context, he would surely include sexual freedom among youth.
Paul never ceases telling us we are free. He passes over liturgical rules, customs proper to Jewish people—reminders of the past—all that kept believers in a religion of obedience to laws. He reaffirms fundamental moral rules that are valid at all times and in all places, especially when one has entered through the Gospel the age of spiritual maturity.
• 13. Lest you grieve as do those who have no hope. The Thessalonian community is made up of Christians who are all recent converts with little experience. For years they had accepted the fate of being born to die. Now, on the contrary, they awaken each day with the assurance of overcoming death: Christ will come soon and take them to the heavenly Kingdom. They are grieved nevertheless over their dead relatives whom Christ will not be able to save. This is what they thought because Greek culture had difficulties believing in a resurrection of the dead.
Those who are already asleep. Those who have died are not dead, but they are asleep, waiting for the time of the resurrection, the time of rising as new persons transformed by Christ: we will all be transformed. The word “cemetery” comes from a word meaning sleeping place.
God will bring them together with Jesus. Paul supposes that he and his readers will be alive when Christ returns and he describes the event according to the cultural expressions of the time. Let us not forget that up to the time of Galileo, everyone thought that heaven had its place in the universe, very high above and that God, although a spirit, was in some way present there.
We will be with the Lord forever. That is essential and always true even if it does not mean that Jesus will come on a beautiful cloud to the sound of heavenly trumpets. We already have some experience of the Lord’s presence in our earthly life, but then there will be nothing but this presence and this joy.
This brief message of hope leaves obscure essential questions concerning the resurrection of the dead. Paul will fully deal with this subject later on in 1 Cor 15. There he will show that resurrection is first a transformation of our whole being through the energies flowing from the resurrected Christ.
Comfort one another. The way of celebrating funerals in the Church must comfort the dead person’s relatives and strengthen their faith in the resurrection. There is no room for expressions of despair which Jesus himself scorned (see Mk 5:40): these are peculiar to people who consider the separation to be final. A funeral mass without any spectacular display, when the fervent prayer of the community is experienced, produces a great impact on people who are indifferent.
Paul then gives a warning he will repeat at the end of this letter (5:14): all should work. The community is disturbed by certain believers more inclined to attract attention with an enthusiastic show of faith rather than work; they discredit the Church in the eyes of pagans. Paul, the good Jew and Pharisee he was, could earn his own living by manual labor. He would not have understood how a believer could be without some qualification and unable to find an outlet, be it well or poorly considered and paid.
• 5.1 Christ comes at night and believers are people of the light. These words are rich in meaning. Those who follow their evil desires are people of darkness, hiding to do evil. While children of the light are beyond reproach, transparent before God and with nothing to hide from him. The unbeliever sleeps and is off-guard while the believer keeps watch and stays awake: he likes to pray all night long until dawn as if waiting for the day to welcome Christ. As for those who have died, they are not dead: they are only “asleep,” ready to rise when the Lord comes.
Encourage one another and build up one another (v. 11). In this the Church is seen as the true community needed by believers so they can grow in faith and overcome trials. In every difficulty, the help of the community will be the proof that we are surrounded by the love of God and of Christ, as was said in the first line of the letter.
According to verse 12, after only three months of evangelization this community already had leaders
• 19. Do not quench the Spirit (v. 19). A community such as this with few traditions and written instructions, depended on the intervention of the Spirit. Among these Christians there were some gifted with the charism of prophets: they would receive their communications during the Eucharistic assemblies. That is why Paul asks to profit by these spiritual messages, but not without first examining them as he will remind them in 1 Cor 14. This is a delicate situation: the community is subject to the Spirit who speaks through the prophet, but it must—and its leaders must—judge if it is truly the Spirit of God speaking.
May you be completely blameless in spirit, soul and body (v. 23). Neither the Jews nor the majority of Greeks would have agreed with our definition of the human: body and soul. They spoke at the same time of the soul that gives life to the body and deals with material activities, and of the spirit that is capable of truth and justice.
Paul’s way of speaking, like the great spiritual Christians, shares this conception. When Paul speaks of the deep life of believers, he does not use the word soul but spirit. We do not face God as we do in facing an interlocutor and look at each other from the exterior: to understand better our relationship with God, through the Spirit we must think of what unites beings who love each other and in some way live in one another.
According to the Bible, God’s Spirit can be omnipresent, insinuate itself, adapt itself, become our spirit without ceasing to be itself. Our spirit is not a part of ourselves, it is us, and it is at the same time our access to God. Our soul expresses itself in different ways, for example in dreams. We only discover our spirit in the measure of our experience of God. Only when we see God shall we truly know what and who we are.
3 1 Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the Word of God may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere as it was with you. 2 May God guard us from wicked and evil people, since not everyone has faith. 3 The Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and keep you safe from the Evil One. 4 Besides, we have in the Lord this confidence that you are doing and will continue to do what we order you. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
Let everyone work
6 We command you, beloved, to stay away from believers who are living in idleness contrary to the traditions we passed on to you. 7 You know how you ought to follow our example: we worked while we were with you. 8 Day and night we labored and toiled so as not to be a burden to any of you. 9 We had the right to act otherwise, but we wanted to give you an example.
10 Besides, while we were with you, we said clearly: If anyone is not willing to work, neither should that one eat. 11 However we heard that some among you live in idleness—busybodies, doing no work. 12 In the name of Christ Jesus our Lord we command these people to work and earn their own living. 13 And you, brothers and sisters, do not weary in doing what is right.
14 If someone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take note and do not have anything to do with him, so that he may be ashamed.
15 However, do not treat him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
16 May the Lord of peace give you his peace at all times and in every way. May the Lord be with you all.
17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is my signature in all my letters. This is how I write.
18 May the grace of Christ Jesus our Lord be with you.
2 • 1 Brothers and sisters, let us speak about the coming of Christ Jesus, our Lord, and our gathering to meet him. 2 Do not be easily unsettled. Do not be alarmed by what a prophet says or by any report, or by some letter said to be ours, saying the day of the Lord is at hand.
3 Do not let yourselves be deceived in any way. Apostasy must come first, when the man of Sin will appear, 4 that instrument of evil who opposes and defiles whatever is considered divine and holy, even to the point of sitting in the temple of God and claiming to be God.
5 Do you not remember I spoke of it when I was still with you? 6 But you also know what prevents him from appearing until his due time. 7 The mystery of sin is already at work, but the one who restrains it at present has to be taken away. 8 Then the wicked one will appear, whom the Lord is to sweep away with the breath of his mouth and destroy in the splendor of his coming. 9 This lawless one will appear with the power of Satan, performing miracles and wonderful signs at the service of deception. 10 All the deceits of evil will then be used for the ruin of those who refused to love truth and be saved. 11 This is why God will send them the power of delusion, that they may believe what is false. 12 So all those who chose wickedness instead of believing the truth will be condemned.
Persevere in faith
• 13 But we have to give thanks for you at all times, dear brothers and sisters in the Lord. For God chose you from the beginning to be saved through true faith and to be made holy by the Spirit. 14 To this end he called you through the gospel we preach, for he willed you to share the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord.
15 Because of that, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold to the traditions that we taught you by word or by letter. 16 May Christ Jesus our Lord who has loved us, may God our Father, who in his mercy gives us everlasting comfort and true hope, strengthen you. 17 May he encourage your hearts and make you steadfast in every good work and word.
1 • 1 From Paul, Sylvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians which is in God our Father and in Christ Jesus, the Lord.
2 May grace and peace be yours from God the Father and Christ Jesus, the Lord.
3 Brothers and sisters, we should give thanks to God at all times for you. It is fitting to do so, for your faith is growing and your love for one another increasing. 4 We take pride in you among the churches of God because of your endurance and your faith in the midst of persecution and sufferings. 5 In this the just judgment of God may be seen; for you must show yourselves worthy of the kingdom of God for which you are now suffering.
The judgment and the coming of Christ
• 6 Indeed, it is just that God repays with affliction those who persecute you, 7 but to you who suffer, he will grant rest with us when the Lord Jesus will be shown in his Glory, coming from heaven and surrounded by his court of angels. 8 Then with flaming fire will be punished those who do not recognize God and do not obey the Gospel of Jesus, our Lord.
9 They will be sent to eternal damnation far away from the face of the Lord and his mighty glory. 10 On that day the Lord will be glorified in the midst of his saints, and reveal his wonders through those who believe in him, that is through you who have received our testimony.
11 This is why we constantly pray for you; may our God make you worthy of his calling. May he, by his power, fulfill your good purposes and your work prompted by faith. 12 In that way, the name of Jesus our Lord will be glorified through you, and you through him, according to the loving plan of God and of Christ Jesus the Lord.
You are citizens of the light
5 • 1 You do not need anyone to write to you about the delay and the appointed time for these events. 2 You know that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 When people feel secure and at peace, the disaster will suddenly come upon them as the birth pangs of a woman in labor, and they will not escape.
4 But you, beloved, are not in darkness; so that day will not surprise you like a thief. 5 All of you are citizens of the light and the day; we do not belong to night and darkness. 6 Let us not, therefore, sleep as others do, but remain alert and sober.
7 Those who sleep, go to sleep at night, and those who drink, get drunk at night. 8 Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, let us put on the breastplate of faith and love, and let the hope of salvation be our helmet. 9 For God has not willed us to be condemned but to win salvation through Christ Jesus our Lord. 10 He died for us so that we might enter into life with him, whether we are still awake or already asleep. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, as you are doing now.
12 Brothers and sisters, I want you to be thankful to those who labor among you, who lead you in the way of the Lord and also reprimand you. 13 Esteem them highly and love them for what they are doing. Live at peace among yourselves.
14 We urge you to warn the idle, encourage those who feel discouraged, sustain the weak, have patience with everyone. 15 See that no one repays evil for evil, but try to do good, whether among yourselves or towards others.
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing 18 and give thanks to God at every moment. This is the will of God, your vocation as Christians.
• 19 Do not quench the Spirit, 20 do not despise the prophets’ warnings. 21 Put everything to the test and hold fast to what is good. 22 Avoid evil, wherever it may be.
23 May the God of Peace make you holy and bring you to perfection. May you be completely blameless, in spirit, soul and body, till the coming of Christ Jesus, our Lord; 24 he who called you is faithful and will do it.
25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. 27 I order you in the name of the Lord that this letter be read to all of them.
28 May the grace of Christ Jesus our Lord be with you.
A call to a life of purity and work
4 • 1 For the rest, brothers, we ask you in the name of Jesus, the Lord, and we urge you to live in a way that pleases God, just as you have learned from us. This you do, but try to do still more. 2 You know the instructions we gave you on behalf of the Lord Jesus: 3 the will of God for you is to become holy and not to have unlawful sex.
4 Let each of you behave towards his wife as a holy and respectful husband, 5 rather than being led by lust, as are pagans who do not know God. 6 In this matter, let no one offend or wrong a brother. The Lord will do justice in all these things, as we have warned and shown you. 7 God has called us to live, not in impurity but in holiness, 8 and those who do not heed this instruction disobey, not a human, but God himself who gives you his Holy Spirit.
9 Regarding mutual love, you do not need anyone to write to you, because God himself taught you how to love one another. 10 You already practice it with all the brothers and sisters of Macedonia, but I invite you to do more. 11 Consider how important it is to live quietly without bothering others, to mind your own business, and work with your hands, as we have charged you. 12 In obeying these rules you will win the respect of outsiders and be dependent on no one.
Do not grieve as others do
• 13 Brothers and sisters, we want you not to be mistaken about those who are already asleep, lest you grieve as do those who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose; it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus. God will bring them together with Jesus and for his sake.
15 By the same word of the Lord we assert this: those of us who are to be alive at the Lord’s coming will not go ahead of those who are already asleep. 16 When the command by the archangel’s voice is given, the Lord himself will come down from heaven, while the divine trumpet call is sounding. Then those who have died in the Lord will rise first; 17 as for us who are still alive, we will be brought along with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the celestial world. And we will be with the Lord forever.
18 So, then comfort one another with these words.
3 • 1 As I could no longer bear it, I decided to go alone to Athens, 2 and send you Timothy, our brother and co-worker of God in the Gospel of Christ. I wanted him to encourage you in the faith and strengthen you 3 so that none of you might turn back because of the trials you are now enduring. You know that such is our destiny. 4 I warned you of this when I was there: “We shall have to face persecution”; and so it was, as you have seen. 5 Therefore I could not stand it any longer and sent Timothy to appraise your faith and see if the Tempter had tempted you and made our work useless.
6 But now Timothy has just returned with good news of your faith and love. He told us that you remember us kindly and that you long to see us as much as we long to see you. 7 What a consolation for us, brothers and sisters, in the midst of our troubles and trials, this faith of yours! 8 It is a breath of life for us when you stand firm in the Lord. 9 How can we thank God enough for all the joy that we feel before God because of you? 10 Day and night we beg of him to let us see you again, that we may complete the instruction of the believers.
11 May God our Father and Jesus our Lord prepare the way for us to visit you. 12 May the Lord increase more and more your love for each other and for all people, as he increases our love for you. 13 May he strengthen you internally to be holy and blameless before God, our Father, on the day that Jesus, our Lord, will come with all his saints.