Saturday, July 30, 2011

Acts 15-18; Epistles to the Thessalonians

Acts 15:36-18:22; 1 and 2 Thessalonians


"Jigsaw learning" is when individuals or small groups discover some small part of the subject, and then all share with each other, "putting together the puzzle pieces" of the complete topic.  If you would like to use this type of learning for this lesson, hand out one of the following scripture references to each of the students in your class as they enter the room and ask them to spend 3-5 minutes reading and discovering things about Paul for sharing later in the lesson.
  • What can we learn from the Apostle Paul's teaching style? (Acts 17:16-34)
  • What can we learn from the Apostle Paul's missionary travels? (Acts 16:4-15)
  • What can we learn from Paul's imprisonment in Macedonia? (Acts 16:16-40)

"The Latin adjective paulus means "little" or "small" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 66), but though small in size, Paul is a big, big figure in Christianity.

The importance of Paul to the New Testament cannot be overstated.  "We know more about [Paul's] life than that of any other New Testament personality.  Of the New Testament's 260 chapters, 118 were written either by Paul or about him, more chapters than were written by or about anyone else, save Jesus only.  In fact, the 100 chapters of Paul's recorded epistles and the 18 chapters of Acts that detail his activities compose a little more than 45 percent of the chapters of the New Testament.  Moreover, 123 of the 404 pages of the New Testament, just less than one-third of the entire work, express Paul's written witness of the Savior; another 31 pages recount events of his ministry" (Middleton, p. 110-111).

"Paul's exemplary life and preeminent writings mark the path toward eternal life.  Considered together, Paul's life and his writings paint a stunningly complete picture of what it means to be an 'example of the believers' and a special witness of Christ" (Middleton, p. 110).


Joseph Smith must have observed Paul for some time personally in vision, although he never gave the details of the occasions, because he offered this "Description of Paul--He is about five feet high; very dark hair, dark complexion, dark skin; large Roman nose, sharp face; small black eyes, penetrating as eternity; round shoulders; a whining voice, except when elevated and then it almost resembled the roaring of a lion.  he was a good orator, active and diligent, always employing himself in doing good to his fellow man" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 180).


"Paul was uniquely prepared to take Christianity to the world.  He was a Roman citizen of a Benjamite family, perhaps of some prominence, and a native of Tarsus, a distinguished Greek city, whose residents had been given Roman citizenship by Mark Anthony.  He was also, as he wrote, a Hebrew of the Hebrews.  Thus Paul is both the Hellenistic [Greek] Paul and the Hebraic Saul.  Upon his becoming a disciple of Christ, Paul's Pharisaic family would have considered him apostate and possibly disowned him.  No detail of his preparatory life was accidental; all circumstances were part of God's foreordained plan for Paul" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 71-72).


"[Acts 14:4] contains the first mention of Barnabas and Paul as apostles.  Although Paul's relationship to the Twelve has been debated in literature on the New Testament, President Joseph Fielding Smith maintains that 'Paul was an ordained apostle, and without question he took the place of one of the other brethren in that Council' (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:153)" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 69).

Acts 18:21 seems a very likely spot for his ordination to the apostleship:  He had an important appointment in Jerusalem, and his next epistles (1 Cor.) bears the salutation, "Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God..." (1 Cor. 1).

Paul did not have the privilege of being an eyewitness of Jesus Christ during Christ's earthly ministry, but he was definitely an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ.  Knowing only the resurrected Lord gives him a different perspective than the others had.  "At least four different times he saw the Lord or was visited by him.  On the road to Damascus, Jesus appeared and spoke to Paul in person; He then presented him a mission call (Acts 9:3-6, 17, 27; 26:13-18; Gal. 1:12; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8).  From the book of Acts we learn that the Savior appeared to Paul once in Corinth (Acts 18:1, 9) and twice in Jerusalem (Acts 22:14, 17-21; 23:11)." (Can't find my reference on this--I'll fill it in when I find it.  It is one of the sources already quoted here, but I can't find the page.)


Now ask your class members what they learned about Paul as they read.  You can do this one of several ways: 
  1. In a large, crowded class, simply ask for volunteers
  2. In a small class, go around the semi-circle of students in turn
  3. In a medium-sized and active class (or one that needs to be enlivened), divide the class into groups of four or so, all with the same scripture.  They can briefly discuss what they each discovered.  One person then, as the spokesman, shares what the group learned.  Designate the spokesman yourself by saying it is the person with the next birthday, or the person with the largest graduating class, or the person with the longest hair, or something like that so the usual people don't automatically take charge.  They only need share one item, so it shouldn't be too hard.
As class members share, supplement what they discovered with the following information:


"Athens was a quiet university town, still talking philosophy and religion.  It was the world center of idol worship; some claim it was easier to find a god in Athens than a man" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 85).

The Athenians were so superstitious about their idols as to have made an altar to the UNKNOWN GOD, just to be sure they hadn't offended any god by leaving him out.  Paul took this openmindedness about an unknown god, and used it as a wonderful opener to teach them about the real God, who was indeed "unknown" to them.

"[In Acts 17:28] we see Paul's wise teaching method: to quote from a work familiar to his audience, a passage highly regarded by them, and then show its relationship to, and fulfillment in, the gospel of Jesus Christ" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 86).

President Gordon B. Hinckley said, in a television interview, "We recognize the good in all people. We recognize the good in all churches, in their efforts to improve mankind and to teach principles that lead to good, stable, productive living. To people everywhere we simply say, ‘You bring with you all the good that you have, and let us add to it. That is the principle on which we work’” (Interview with Philippines Television, 30 April 1996, quoted in the June 1997 Liahona magazine).  This is precisely what Paul did.  He recognized the true beliefs, however basic, in the people he was teaching, creating a point of mutual understanding, and then added further light to their knowledge base.

"We can all become better teachers, speakers, and writers by learning some of the arts of rhetoric [the study of persuasive speaking].  Even though the Spirit ultimately changes a person's heart, knowing how to analyze an audience and adapt language to the needs of that audience can create an environment in which the Spirit can be felt...When we follow a divine model for persuasion--gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, without hypocrisy or guile--then we grow closer to God: we emulate him and, in the process, worship him.  Following that divine model gives us the freedom to place the art of rhetoric within the context of the gospel of Christ..." (Hatch, p. 76).


Acts 16 shows clearly that Paul's itinerary in his travels was set by the Spirit's guidance, by visions, and by prayers of those seeking truth.

"The apostle Paul journeyed by ship and by foot at least 13,400 airline miles [21,565 km.] during his years of missionary labors, a figure that would increase enormously could we measure all the circuitous routes that he actually traveled.  He was an indomitable laborer for the cause of Christ...He was on fire, and his desire to save souls energized him" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 73-74).  Ogden and Skinner offer the following mileages:
  1. Acts 9--Jerusalem to Damascus to the Desert: minimum 690 miles or 1,110 km.
  2. Acts 11--Tarsus to Antioch: 90 miles or 145 km.
  3. Acts 11--Antioch to Jerusalem to Antioch: 560 miles or 901 km.
  4. Acts 13-14--First missionary journey: 1,400 miles or 2,253 km.
  5. Acts 15--Antioch to Jerusalem to Antioch: 560 miles or 901 km.
  6. Acts 15-18--Second missionary journey: 2,800 miles or 4,506 km.
  7. Acts 18-21--Third missionary journey: 2,700 miles or 4,345 km.
  8. Acts 27-28--Journey to Rome: 2,250 miles or 3,621 km.
  9. Various travels mentioned in the epistles after his two-year imprisonment in Rome: minimum 2,350 miles or 3,782 km.
"The New Testament record provides us a fairly comprehensive list of Paul's missionary companions: Barnabas, John Mark, Silas, Timothy, Luke, Erastus, Gaius, Aristarchus, Sopater, Secundus, Tychicus, Trophimus, Priscilla and Aquila, Epaphras, Demas, Jesus Justus, Epaphroditus, and Sosthenes" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 237).


In Acts 16:16-40, we find the awesome story of Paul's imprisonment.  He shouldn't have been imprisoned to start with, since the charges against him were false, but also since he was a Roman citizen.  Imagine Paul's compassion: on being miraculously freed from prison by an earthquake, he did not escape.  He knew the jailer would be routinely killed as a punishment if he did.  Undoubtedly, he was once again following the Spirit and not logic.  Because he did this, the jailer and his entire household were converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ.


"In the writings of Paul, we find more passages about Jesus' resurrection than about any other subject" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 232).  Paul wrote extensively about the Atonement of Jesus Christ and its power to save.  He also addressed such important LDS subjects as the three degrees of glory (1 Cor. 15:40-47), the teaching power of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 2:10-16), the purpose and continuity of the family unit (1 Cor. 11:11), and baptism for the dead (1 Cor. 15:29).  "Perhaps the most beautiful and detailed treatise on faith in the canon of scripture is Hebrews 11...Paul was also a man of hope, who realized the word's true meaning.  He made 52 of the New Testament's 59 references to hope, including the only New Testament reference to Christ as the 'hope of Israel'...Paul wrote the earliest and arguably the most complete treatment of charity found in the scriptures...Perhaps to a greater degree than any other biblical writer, Paul extolled the many aspects of the divine nature...Paul himself worked on developing these divine attributes, receiving grace for grace, he became a partaker of the divine nature and qualified himself for sacred spiritual experiences which, although available to all, are obtained by few of the children of men...The Prophet Joseph Smith revealed [that]...Abel 'was sent down from heaven unto Paul to minister consoling words, and to commit unto him a knowledge of the mysteries of godliness' (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 169)" (Middleton, p. 121-123).

"Paul began every letter he wrote with the same foundation teaching: the Father and the Son are two separate beings" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 230)  You may want to read these aloud as a class--it's so instructional!  Here are the references:
  • Rom. 1:7
  • 1 Cor. 1:3
  • 2 Cor. 1:2-3
  • Gal. 1:1-3
  • Eph. 1:2-3
  • Philip. 1:2
  • Col. 1:2-3
  • 1 Thess. 1:1-3
  • 2 Thess. 1:1-2
  • 1 Tim. 1:2
  • 2 Tim. 1:2
  • Titus 1:4
  • Phil. 1:3
  • Heb. 1:1-2
"In addition to details about Jesus' mortal life and the purposes of his coming into mortality, Paul taught about the Savior's current exalted status and our potential to become like him...The apostle also spoke of the Lord's glorious return to earth at the end of the world" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 233).


Acts 18:17 is the point at which the epistles to the Thessalonians were written. 

"1 Thessalonians [is] the oldest book in the New Testament [written] to the church in Thessalonica, a port located on the northern shore of the Aegean Sea.  This city was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia and was devoted to the imperial cult of Rome, but culturally it remained a Greek city governed by Greek Law.  Its location...ensured commercial prosperity...

"The letter is pastoral, warm in tone, and affectionate throughout...Aware of the Thessalonians' Greek culture, Paul draws on language from Greek philosophy to discuss issues treated by many Greek writers: marriage, community life, engagement in civil life.

"Because the Thessalonian converts were not Jewish, Paul does not refer explicitly (except in 2:14-16) to Judaism, to problems affecting Jewish Christians (e.g., the Mosaic law), or to any Old Testamnet person, institution, or event (e.g., Abraham, Moses, the temple, or sacrifice.)  He also does not quote the Old Testament, though it often lies behind his language or thought, for Paul's Jewish heritage shaped him decisively.

"1 Thessalonians gives us our earliest insight into Paul's missionary activity and continuing concern for his congregations.  It reveals problems early Christians faced living in Greek society..."  (Edgar M. Krentz, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, writing for The Harper-Collins Study Bible,   p. 2218-2219)

If I couldn't live in my own wonderful ward, I would want to live in the Thessalonian ward.  The words of Paul to them are so complimentary, so sweet and encouraging, it is clear they were truly saints striving for Zion.  As Paul said of them, they were filled with works of faith, labours of love, and the patience of hope in Jesus Christ to the point of being confident that they were the elect of God (1 Thess. 1:3-4).  They had gained their testimonies through the Holy Ghost and had joined the Church amidst much affliction, which they bore with "joy of the Holy Ghost" which made them great examples to other new congregations, making the missionaries' work easy (1 Thess. 1:5-8).

Anyone who wonders about whether serving a mission might be worthwhile should read 1 Thessalonians.  Paul's great love for and joy in the converts is expressed continually:  "So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own soulds, because ye were dear unto us" (1 Thess. 2:8).  "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?  For ye are our glory and joy" (1 Thess. 2:19-20).  Imagine experiencing the joy of bringing the gospel to people such as the Thessalonians!

The main theme of 1 Thessalonians is the Second Coming.  After receiving the epistle, the Saints were confused about whether it would happen right away, so 2 Thessalonians was written to inform them that there would be a falling away first.  (Be sure to note JST footnotes when reading Thessalonians.)

Paul gave beautiful counsel to these good saints which we could all use to make our own characters more holy and our congregations more loving: 

"And we beseech you, brethren, to know [stay close to] them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord [in other words, your local leadership] and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves.

"Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded [disheartened], support the weak, be patient toward all men.  See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves and all men.

"Rejoice evermore.  Pray without ceasing.  In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 

"Quench not the Spirit.  Despise not prophesyings.  Prove [examine] all things [and then] hold fast that which is good.  Abstain from all appearance of evil.

"And the very God of peace [will] sanctify you wholly."  (1 Thess. 5:12-23)


"One of the most inspiring characteristics of human personality is having the ability to hold persistent, steadfast, constant, and unwavering devotion to a great purpose without complaint or relief.

"Think if you will of Paul the Apostle, as he sits in his prison cell in Rome awaiting his execution.  He is an old man.  For over 35 years he has turned neither to the right nor to the left, but said, 'This one thing I do.'  He had no sidelines, he made no excuses, and he indulged in no wasteful startings and stoppings; instead he always had that sure and steady quality of always being there, of always going forward, of always keeping in focus the one great aim and purpose of his life"  (Sterling W. Sill, "Dedication," Church News, 22 April 1967, quoted in Ogden/Skinner, p. 226-227).

At the end of his life, Paul was able to confidently say, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:  Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day"--but listen to this part we often leave off!--"and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (Tim. 4:7-8).
Our lives may be very different from Paul's in details, but he reminded us that all of us have that same possibility of complete confidence in a "crown of righteousness."  We must simply follow Paul's example of:
  1. Always being there
  2. Always going forward
  3. Always keeping in focus the one great aim and purpose in life
Elder Bruce R. McConkie affirmed this in a redundant and pointed statement (sometimes this is what it takes to get through our Latter-day Saint heads):  "As members of the Church, if we chart a course leading to eternal life; if we begin the processes of spiritual rebirth, and are going in the right direction; if we chart a course of sanctifying our souls, and degree by degree are going in that direction; and if we chart a course of becoming perfect, and, step by step and phase by phase, are perfecting our souls by overcoming the world, then it is absolutely guaranteed--there is no question whatever about it--we shall gain eternal life.  Even though we have spiritual rebirth ahead of us, perfection ahead of us, the full degree of sanctification ahead of us, if we chart a course and follow it to the best of our ability in this life, then when we go out of this life we'll continue in exactly that same course.  We'll no longer be subject to the passions and the appetites of the flesh.  We will have passed successfully the tests of this mortal probation and in due course we'll get the fullness of our Father's kingdom--and that means eternal life in his everlasting presence."  (Bruce R. McConkie, "Jesus Christ and Him Crucified," BYU Devotional Speeches of the Year, Sept. 5, 1976, quoted in Robert L. Millet, Within Reach, p. 14) 

I suggest you copy out and print up Elder McConkie's statement for your class members to read over and over again.


D. Kelly Ogden, Andrew C. Skinner, New Testament Apostles Testify of Christ: A Guide for Acts through Revelation
Michael W. Middleton, "Paul Among the Prophets: Obtaining a Crown," The Apostle Paul: His Life and His Testimony--Sidney B. Sperry Symposium on the New Testament
Gary Layne Hatch, "Paul Among the Rhetoricans: A Model for Proclaiming Christ," The Apostle Paul: His Life and His Testimony--Sidney B. Sperry Symposium on the New Testament


mormonismo said...

Today is may first time in your blog, it is great. I love your work. You use many diferents source. This is very useful for my class and study.
Sorry my english.

Anonymous said...

where are the rest of the chapters? these are so helpful.

Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

If you are asking where the rest of the lessons are, you just go to the "Blog Archive" on the top right hand side, and click on the lesson you want. If it doesn't appear on the list, click on another month and more will pull up. If you are looking for a specific lesson or topic, you can type it into the "Search" bar just above the blog archive.

You can also go to the bottom of the lesson and click on "older post" or "newer post" and it will take you to the next lesson or the last lesson.

Tiffany Jensen said...

Hey Nancy, I was researching my lesson for sunday and found this website and thought, Hmm, I wonder if that is my sister in law? And it is! Wow, I love your blog, it helped me a ton! Love you guys! Tiffany.

Aaron said...

Excellent Lesson. I'm a new Gospel Doctrine teacher and am struggling to find my own voice. I love the gospel and the scriptures - but I think my lessons have been too "scriptural." I'm going to mix in some of the great statements (quote from president Hinckley about building non-members up when preaching to them) and questions you bring up.

For my own edification, (I doubt we'll have time in class) I've also researched the scriptures you mention where Paul specifically distinguishes between God the Father and Jesus Christ, His son. That is absolutely amazing. In token of giving something back, I wanted to mention that it looks like you're missing Philemon from that particular list - but Paul is still true to form in that letter also (verse 3).

Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

Thank you, Aaron. I have made the correction.

Nancie Ellison said...

Love your blog. Lots of good info and ideas. Thanks for sharing. Just looking for the complete reference for Ogden/Skinner and Middleton. Can't find them anywhere in the lesson.