Note: Thom Wolf’s dissertation that I’m taking notes on is an expansion and defense and explanation of his work the Universal Disciple Pattern which has been previously referred to here at Missio Links…
First, Paul and the Apostles are unfolding a Christian Halakah … a Christ centered prudential interpretation of God’s will. He mentions this in Romans 6: 17-18 when he refers to “the teaching” or elsewhere (e.g. 2 Timothy 1:13) as “the pattern of sound words”.
Second, this teaching is universal throughout the early church across the empire. In the letter to the Romans this teaching is a common ground they already share though Paul has never met them before and this letter serves as an introduction for his ministry. The “ways” aka “pattern” was not his alone but commonly received everywhere the faith was taught and Paul simply endorsed and amplified this teaching that existed before him and after him.
Third, the Thessalonian letters being the earliest epistles help us identify this early teaching and note how it is developed subsequently but remains the starting point for Paul’s ethical instruction. The instruction is not optional … to reject it is to reject the God who gives the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 4:8).
This threat that disobedience is tantamount to rejecting God is not a sanction against ignoring arbitrary human rules. The teachers themselves stand under the authority of the pattern and must not distort it at their own whims. These are commands that carry the authority of the Messiah Jesus (I Thess. 4:2)
The purpose of the instruction is so that those Paul reminds may “please God” (1 Thess. 4:1).
Here in 1 Thessalonians, sexual immorality and covetousness or “taking advantage” expressed “negatively”.
Expressed positively there are the commands to love and work in such a way as to win the respect of “outsiders” and achieve a level of self-sufficiency for themselves.
These negatives and positives are further amplified in other letters of the apostle but they are present from the beginning in these earliest letters.
The warning of punishment against those who disobey bears stylistic resemblances to later warnings in the letters of Paul and evidently the warning is attached to the positive and negative prescriptions in the Apostolic teaching.
The pattern then involves reference to Jesus’ authority, a flexible cataloging of vice and virtue, and a stylistic warning on the dangers of disobedience.
Whatever apostle founded the church (Wolf calls them “Apostolic zones”) – whether Paul, Peter, James, etc. – they shared this common but flexibly implemented outline of teaching.
As Mike Breen and others have noted, movements require a common vocabulary. Here Wolf (following Seeberg et al) initiates us to that trans-national and trans-cultural language common to Jew and Gentile that characterizes the early Christian movement.