Paul and the Moral Philosophers

Linda, reading 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6: For we know brothers, loved by God, that he has chosen you because our gospel came you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.

Eldon: The moral philosophers stressed the importance of reason and reliance in yourself for moral growth. And Paul refers the moral life to God and the power of the Spirit. In this verse He says that he has chosen you. So, first of all, it wasn't your idea to begin with. It didn't come from you. It came from God. It didn't come with just words. It came with the power of the Spirit. So it wasn't just about coming to a rational place and then being able to have moral growth on your own. You didn't come up with the idea so It wasn't your rationality. You weren't able to do it, so it wasn't your power! Both things are deferred to God. God chose them and the words weren't a human message, but God's. But what they were there for were imitating was not him, but the divine power in his weakness. What was reflected in his life was not him but Christ's power (him being Paul).

Linda: So Paul is using himself as a model in a sense. The philosophers would point to the ideal philosopher, and not usually identify with the ideal philosopher whereas Paul is saying, 'Look at me. You can model yourself after me but it's not me but Christ in me.'

Eldon: I was thinking that it wasn't about the rational life any more. Not that it was anti-rational but it was God's reasoning. It wasn't our reasoning that had gotten us to this point. And it wasn't by the dint of our effort that we were going to get there. It was going to be through the power of the Spirit. And again it's about the will. It's about having the will given over to obey God. It's not about not having reason but it's about knowledge in a particular way and having that knowledge serve God.

Verda: When Erik had mentioned the other story that you guys had looked at in Stoicism (The Tablet of Cebes). The two characters at the top of the hill were Endurance and Self-Control. You still rely on yourself, when you get to the top, with your sense of will power, whereas here it's Faith and Hope so you rely on God.

Marilyn: Faith and Hope beg for something to put your faith and hope in.

Eldon: Another difference that Paul had with the moral philosophers is the type of speech that he uses. The speech that the moral philosophers used was a means of giving instructions. So the words themselves were meant to bring change. For Paul, the words were a means of preparing the way for the supernatural working of God. We talked about the paranetic letter. The paranetic letter was about ethical teaching, so you would give instructions. You would praise how good virtues are and you would talk about vices, how terrible they are. You would give some instructions about how to live that. And so the words themselves would bring change. For Paul, his words were used in preparing the listeners for God to do the changing.

The paranetic letter was about trying to have people come to a rational place, a translational understanding of things. The difference between an ethical type letter and an exhortational type letter is that in exhortation you are heading towards a common goal, and so there is implicit community in that idea, we're moving together with this thing. And with the paranetic letter you are moving towards a common ideal, so it doesn't necessarily involve community. In Paul's exhortation there was an assumption that there's a common goal, we're moving together.

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