Several years ago I thought an interesting exercise would be a read through the Apostle Paul’s Epistles in the order in which they were written, a possible time span of 15-20 years. I thought it would be edifying to gain a feel for Paul’s core message, discovering how his theology developed over the span of time. I began the experience with 1 Thessalonians. Below is Eugene Peterson’s introduction to the Thessalonica letters in The Message paraphrase. It seems an appropriate read as we move into a new year…
The way we conceive the future sculpts the present, gives contour and tone to nearly every action and thought through the day. If our sense of future is weak, we live listlessly. Much emotional and mental illness and most suicides occur among men and women who feel that they “have no future.”
The Christian faith has always been characterized by a strong and focused sense of future, with belief in the Second Coming of Jesus as the most distinctive detail. From the day Jesus ascended into heaven, his followers lived in expectancy of his return. He told them he was coming back. They believed he was coming back. They continue to believe it. For Christians, it is the most important thing to know and believe about the future.
The practical effect of this belief is to charge each moment of the present with hope. For if the future is dominated by the coming again of Jesus, there is little room left on the screen for projecting our anxieties and fantasies. It takes the clutter out of our lives. We’re far more free to respond spontaneously to the freedom of God.
All the same, the belief can be misconceived so that it results in paralyzing fear for some, shiftless indolence in others. Paul’s two letters to the Christians in Thessalonica, among much else, correct such debilitating misconceptions, prodding us to continue to live forward in taut and joyful expectancy for what God will do next in Jesus.
May you live 2020 in taut and joyful expectancy!