Recently my Sunday School class worked its way through 1Thessolonians.  One of the more interesting aspects of the study for me was making note of what formed the core of Paul’s discipleship.

The Thessalonian church was discipled in haste.  We don’t know exactly how long Paul was there, but it probably wasn’t very long at all.  And when Paul was driven out of town, he left behind a church clinging to the minimal amount of teaching he had been able to provide while struggling to survive in an incredibly hostile environment.  Desperate to know how his young congregation was doing, Paul eventually sent Timothy to scope out the situation.  1 Thessalonians is an expression of Paul’s overwhelming joy over how the church is holding up, mixed in with some new teaching and a few corrections/answered questions based on Timothy’s observations while he was there.

What stood out to me in the teaching sections of the letter is the foundational instruction he is building upon from his previous visit.  It gives us a glimpse of some of the very first things Paul would have taught new converts, since he wasn’t able to spend much time with the Thessalonians.  Here’s what stood out to me:

Suffering is the “destiny” of believers
Paul is worried about how the Thessalonians are holding up under persecution and suffering, but he’s not worried that it’s taken them by surprise.  When he was there, he explained to them that both he and they would suffer because of the gospel, that it was in fact their destiny.

The return of the Lord is our hope
Paul looks forward not to the day a believer dies, but to the day the Lord returns as the consummation of a believer’s hope.  Everything will be made right when Christ returns, and we live, love, hope, etc, in light of that day.

Allegiance to the gospel necessitates life change
Paul expects believers to act as if they really believe the gospel! Now he makes clear that living rightly is a result of the power of the Spirit in the life of a believer, rather than the believer’s own efforts, but he is quite insistent that those who belong to Jesus cannot live as if they don’t.  

Looking back at my own discipleship in various churches over the years, I realized with a shock how long it took for any of these topics to come up, if indeed they came up at all.  Suffering we almost never talked about in my churches.  As for our eternal hope, we talked about flying away one day to an escapist paradise, but never talked about how our eternal destiny is in a new Heaven right here on a new Earth.  I was told about a Savior that would save my soul, but not about the one that would make all things right.  Finally, we talked very little about expectations for Christian living, probably because we didn’t want to look legalistic, or maybe because we were scared Christianity would sound boring and joyless if that stuff came up too quickly.  

According to Paul, however, suffering, the Lord’s return, and holy living are foundational Christian understandings – and not just when you become mature enough in the faith to risk being exposed to them.

So what do you think?

Why do you think we don’t focus on these things in discipling young believers?

What was your own discipleship like?