evidently wrote this letter from the city of Athens. Thessalonica is a few
hundred miles to the east; just enough distance in those days to make a return
trip something of an adventure. Paul himself is undergoing persecution by the
Jews of Athens, but it is typical of the caring Christian heart of the man that
he is concerned not by his own sufferings but by others. The church he loves
may have gotten word of Paul’s problem, and might be suffering doubt and anxiety.
So in his anxiety he sends a young Timothy to that church. Timothy has
returned with good news; all is well. This chapter is Paul’s reaction.
however, we need to consider persecution and suffering for Christ’s sake.
– and our reaction to it
in America have yet to suffer any really significant forms of persecution – but
the telltale signs of its arrival can be determined. Already, Christianity is
“politically incorrect.” How dare these Christians say that homosexuality,
adultery, fornication – the list grows lengthy, folks – are in any sense
wrong? Don’t they know that right and wrong are obsolete concepts? Soon the
time will come when Christians find that getting a job is difficult – who would
hire someone who would commit violence against another, homosexual, employee?
(They’re all weirdos, right?).
in this time was much more severe – to the point of death. We can learn from
this example how the Christian should react to it.
should not be disturbed by persecution
of us would be disturbed indeed by such, but the Scripture counsels us to the
contrary. First, we should expect to be persecuted:
Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ
Jesus will be persecuted.
(2Ti 3:12 NASB)
we should not only expect it, but we should consider it a blessing – for it
shows that we are indeed the children of God:
"Blessed are those who have been
persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of
evil against you because of Me. "Rejoice
and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they
persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Mat 5:10-12 NASB)
makes the same point to the Thessalonians – he taught them that persecution
would come. That, however, does not make it easier to take. If your doctor
tells you that you have cancer and very little time left because of it, you
might feel relieved to know what the problem is. But it’s still fatal.
Knowing what’s going to happen isn’t the same as conquering it. But it’s a
are we so disturbed by it?
persecution comes, many Christians feel that it is not a source of rejoicing
but a source of pain. It’s easy to see why. If you are a true Christian, you
will live your life loving your fellow Christians, and those around you. You
will be charitable, forgiving, and otherwise behave as one the world might
label “a nice guy.” One of the white hats, so to speak. In times of ease
they’re willing to overlook your strange notions about God because you seem
both harmless and charitable – a blessing to the community. That sets
expectations for us; we learn to expect to be treated both politely and well.
we also receive that type of treatment from our heavenly Father, for God is
love. So the ordinary experience of the true Christian does not prepare him
for persecution. That’s why the Scripture mentions the point so frequently.
You need to be taught the existence of persecution and its intent before
are a source of blessing; you are also a painful reminder of the existence of
right and wrong. The world in our time rejects righteousness, preferring its
own darkness. We are the light of the world – and the darkness resents it and
will persecute us when possible.
can we do to help those in persecution
way to prepare for persecution is to help those who are suffering from it. By
encouraging them we prepare ourselves for the same thing. Here are three ways
we can do this:
by sharing our own afflictions with them. We’ll tell almost anyone about
our success; our sorrows are reserved for those we hold dear. Share them
with someone, and that person draws closer to you. Share your sorrows
with those in persecution.
material help is always appreciated. Persecution often takes the form of
economic impact – someone losing a job for Christ’s sake. Practical
Christian giving bonds us to such a person.
and most important, lift them up in prayer. Do not ask that the
persecution end; rather, that it will be a blessing and a glory to the
church. God is so strong when we are so weak.
this section of Scripture we shall see how Paul, enduring persecution, reached
out to the church of Thessalonica.
Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left
behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow
worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your
faith, so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you
yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were
with you, we kept telling you in advance
that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.
For this reason, when I could endure it
no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter
might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain. But now that Timothy
has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love,
and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long
to see you, for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we
were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. For
what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which
we rejoice before our God on your account, as we night and day keep praying
most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in
(1Th 3:1-10 NASB)
heart of the true Christian thinks first of others in the faith. It is a sign
of great power in the faith and maturity of the soul. Paul here shows his
concern for the works he has done; this church is one he planted and
nurtured. It is not just his labor he is concerned with; no, these have
become his friends and beloved. His concern is not that they uphold him; his
concern is that they might be discouraged because of the suffering Paul is
enduring. Paul now deals with this problem.
attacks the ones you love
usually think of Satan attacking us with temptation, if we think about it at
all. But Satan can also attack a person by attacking a loved one. It’s a very
it weakens you. Some part of the array of friends and loved ones you
counted on is now weaker; you are not an island, living alone.
it discourages you. Particularly if the someone is a person you have
admired, it is painful to see them in bad circumstances. It is important
that you do not stop sharing with them, but it is discouraging to see
someone you love in a hospital bed, for example.
it distracts you. Just when you might be set to do some great service,
something like this arises. It takes mature judgment, guided by prayer,
to know what to do.
course, knowing the attack does not mean we know what to do about it.
should we do about such a situation? Paul gives us an example here:
of course, is to hold them up in prayer.
shows us something not often done these days. He sends someone he loves
to inquire after the church he loves. If God does not allow you to go
yourself, send someone you love.
result of this is comfort, both for the one who is sending and for those who
are receiving. Nothing so pleases us in affliction as the sight of an old
encouragement of good news
you just have to find out. Paul, when he could “endure it no longer,” sends Timothy
to find out. What a joy when Timothy returns with the welcome news that they
are standing firm! Paul’s labor there had not turned useless, but had grown.
It is a joyous moment.
the personal side, it seems they’ve missed Paul as well, and would love to have
him make the return voyage. Is there anything so welcome as that? Paul’s
worries that his troubles (including those with the law) might cause them to
disown him have been relieved. There is nothing like knowing that your loved
ones still love you.
in writing about this, shows us why he cares so much for them. He knows God’s
plan for them. He shows this to us in one of his mid-letter closes – a
benediction before the sermon has ended, so to speak:
Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our
Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound
in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts
without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord
Jesus with all His saints.
(1Th 3:11-13 NASB)
like the rest of us, has only a limited appetite for the new and unfamiliar.
He’d like to return to see his friends. But in saying that, he tells us
clearly that the life of the disciple is not one in which the pilgrim
determines the path:
acknowledges that God himself directs his path. It’s no use asking God
for a return ticket to comfort; it’s not going to happen. Rather, ask
that your steps be ordered pleasantly in the way.
God determines that path, he will clear the obstacles from it. Indeed,
this is often the method by which God makes it clear that he is pointing
he points out the path, and clears the path, then we should be neither
hesitant nor ashamed to walk on it – wherever it goes. Paul saw his own
martyrdom at the end of his road. He walked on it anyway.
the way my Savior leads me, what have I to ask beside?”
Paul asks that his readers should abound in love. Love is the unconquerable
weapon of the Christian. Against it, Satan has no defense – only distraction.
we should abound in love for each other. This builds up the church, which
builds us as well. It also shows the world what it means to be a disciple
we should abound in love for those who are sent from us, like Paul was
here. Our love should include our Christian brothers in all places.
working outward, is our love for all people. Make it the normal method of
dealing with people.
on the prize
this is not just to get us through the day. There is an ultimate purpose to
this: our Lord’s return. By such encouragement as we have seen here – for
both Paul and the church at Thessalonica – we strengthen our hearts to go
forward. We know of our Lord’s return; together we can strengthen each other
looking towards that day.
are to be holy – kept apart, a people who serve God rather than the pleasures
of this world. We ought to be different, for our Master is different.
long? – to the end of the age, should we live to see it.
it’s to be expected as a Christian, counted as joy when it comes – and a time
where sharing love really counts. Satan will attack us in it; using the
weapons of God (prayer and love) and the things of this world (practical help)
we can provide the encouragement needed to overcome. All this is so that we
might be filled to overflowing with love as we live here – and that we might be
seen holy and blameless on the Day of the Lord.