In the Midst of Suffering (1 Thess. 1:1-10)
In the Midst of Suffering
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
A Christian was in a college class when the professor began making some negative, sarcastic remarks about Christianity and the Bible. The Christian had the courage of her convictions and went up to the professor after class. She did not apologize for her faith and did not argue with him. She simply said that she disagreed with him and had good reasons for her faith. The professor began mocking her for her faith and her belief that the Bible is historically accurate. He said, “Tell me, what did it feel like for Jonah to be three days in the belly of a big fish!?” The Christian said, “Well, I don’t know. Maybe when I get to heaven I’ll ask him.” The professor sneered, “Well, what if he’s not in heaven?” To which the witty Christian replied, “Then you ask him.”
Our society was, at one time, apathetic to Christianity. Now, it seems in certain areas, it has become antagonistic to Christianity. At one time, if you told someone you were praying for them, they would shrug it off. Now, if you tell them you’re praying for them, they unfriend you.
If you stand up for your religious convictions - even your constitutional rights - you might just find yourself in the unemployment line!
In a study released five years ago, the American National Election Studies, sociologist George Yancey analyzed 30 years of data to track approval for those who consider themselves conservative Christians. At one time, those who viewed Christianity negatively were politically liberal, highly educated, and less religious. What has changed in the last 30 years is that anti-Christian bias is coming from people who are far wealthier and they have bigger budgets to bankroll their viewpoints.
In some ways, the suffering we endure today is like the suffering the Christians endured in the first century. So when Paul wrote the 1st letter to the Church in Thessalonica, he had some words of encouragement for them which are relevant for us today…
The city of Thessalonica did not have a very large Jewish population. Paul went there on his second missionary journey (Acts 17), around the year A. D. 51, so this is about 20 years after Jesus’ resurrection and return to heaven. The city was a metropolis, located on a major road through Europe, called the Via Egnatia.
Even though there was not a large Jewish population in the city, those who were there caused problems for Paul and caused him to leave earlier than he had wanted. He had wanted to return to them, but he writes in 2:17-18 that Satan hindered him. So, Paul sends Timothy to encourage them (3:1-7). When Timothy returns to Paul, he brings good news about the Christians’ faith, but there were some misunderstandings about the second coming of Christ (which we will study on our Wednesday night class beginning in January). That’s when Paul sits down and writes 1st Thessalonians and scholars believe he wrote second Thessalonians maybe 6 months later.
There are four reasons why Paul wrote 1st Thessalonians:
1. To encourage them in their suffering for the sake of Christ.
2. To rejoice with them in their victory of faith.
3. To rebuke some who were not living moral lives.
4. To correct mistaken ideas about the second coming of Christ.
As we feed our spirits on Paul’s message to the Thessalonians, we note that in the midst of suffering…
WE SHOULD BE THANKFUL - 1:1-3:
Note that Paul prayed “always” and that he prayed for “all” of them! I have encouraged you to do this multiple times and I will encourage you to do it now: pray for every member of the Swartz Creek church of Christ! And pray with an attitude of thanksgiving.
Specifically, why should we be thankful?
For “works of faith:” Faith in Christ will produce good works. We show our faith by our works (James 2:18).
For “labor of love:” In Ephesians 5:2, Paul talks about Christ’s love for us that motivated Him to give Himself as a sacrifice for us and that’s the kind of love we need to have for each other. For the Thessalonians, since they had the proper love for each other, they labored (worked hard) for each other and for Christ.
For “steadfastness of hope:” Even though these were relatively young Christians, their hope in Jesus Christ, their hope for a resurrection one day, gave them steadfastness, perseverance in the Christian faith. They kept their eyes fixed on the prize of heaven! Their hope was well placed - in our Lord Jesus Christ. He never disappoints!
Observe here that we have: faith, hope, and love - the three Christian graces that are foundational for our Christian lives!
In the midst of suffering, let’s be thankful for the church family that we have and their good example around us that inspire us to faithfulness. There are Christians here who really inspire me to keep doing what I am doing. I hope I can encourage you to stay faithful to Christ in the midst of suffering.
One poet wrote:
Lord, grant that I may seek rather
To comfort, than to be comforted;
To understand, than to be understood;
To love, than to be loved;
It is by giving that one receives;
It is by self-forgetting that one finds;
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven;
It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.
“A Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.”
In the midst of suffering…
BE CERTAIN ABOUT YOUR ELECTION - 1:4-7:
In verse 4, Paul refers to these Christians as “brethren, beloved by God.” Paul uses the word “brother(s)” 25 times in 1 & 2 Thessalonians! We probably ought to use it more frequently!
But notice Paul writes: “knowing His choice of you!” They were chosen in Christ Jesus!
How did Paul know they were chosen? First, because they were “beloved by God!” In John 3:16, we see that God loved the whole world. Yet, there is a special sense in which those who have faithfully obeyed Jesus Christ and accepted that special gracious love of God in Christ are members of His beloved body, His beloved family. In Jude 21, the brother of Jesus wrote: “keep yourselves in the love of God.” So, we have to stay faithful to Christ if we want to stay in the love of Christ.
Now, being chosen by God depends:
On God’s actions: John 3:16 - “God so loved that He gave…”
But it also depends on our actions, summarized in “faithful obedience.” In Hebrews 5:8-9, the writer says that Jesus is the author of eternal salvation for all those who “obey Him.”
Therefore we know that God has chosen a group to be His elect: those who believe and obey. Therefore there is also a group who will be lost: those who refuse to believe or refuse to obey. We get to choose which group we want to be in.
Because the Thessalonians had obeyed, Paul knew they were in the group of the elect. In 2:13, Paul wrote that he knew they had received the word of God which they had heard from him and they had accepted it as God’s word.
Following their obedience to the gospel, they became “imitators” of Paul, of the other gospel preachers with Paul, and of Jesus Christ Himself. Paul was striving to follow Christ (1 Cor. 11:1 - “Be imitators of me just as I also am of Christ.”). When they imitated him (“mimicked”), they were imitating Christ. Christ gave His life for the church (Acts 20:28) and Paul showed a similar concern for the churches under his influence (2 Cor. 11:28).
Therefore, we have a third generation of “imitators.” The Thessalonians themselves “became an example to all the believers” (ver. 7). That encouraged others.
In the midst of suffering, we can be certain of our election by Jesus Christ when we imitate the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as well as His inspired apostles and prophets like Paul and Timothy and Silas.
When we lived in Romania, we saw a handful of people make the decision to become disciples of Jesus Christ. Some of those left the country for financial reasons and we have no contact with them; we lost contact with them. Some of those disciples went back to their old way of life because when persecution and cares of this world come, Satan can choke out the seed. But there is a small remnant of disciples who are still faithful. They heard the word of God; they did not reject it. Despite difficult circumstances, in a society that is very much against them, they are keeping themselves in the love of God (Jude 21)!
We have a congregation here, of 250 members, who are beloved and chosen of God, who are keeping themselves in the love of God. Can you think of someone in this congregation who is careful to engage in good works (as Paul words it in Titus 3:8)?
One man (Robert Leighton) wrote: “He that loves may be sure that he was loved first, and he that shares God for his delight and portion may conclude confidently that God had chosen him to be one of those who shall enjoy Him and be happy in Him forever, for that our love and electing of Him is but the return of the beams of his love shining on us.”
Consider the words of Fanny Crosby from “Safe in the Arms of Jesus:”
“Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on His gentle breast.
There by His love o’er-shaded, sweetly my soul shall rest.”
In the midst of our suffering, we can be sure of our election!
Third, in the midst of our suffering…
LET’S RECOGNIZE THE EFFECT OF OUR GOOD EXAMPLE - 1:8-10:
Paul had written in verse 7 that the Thessalonian Christians were an “example.” The word “example” means a “type, model, or mold.” This is the only congregation in the NT which is described as a model.
How were they a good example?
Paul says the Gospel had “sounded forth” from them (ver. 8). The original Greek suggests that the word, the gospel, was still echoing and reverberating throughout the region of Macedonia (northern Greece) and Achaia (southern Greece). As a part of their example, notice what people were hearing:
They had turned from idols - the idols of Zeus and Apollo and Dianna. These idols were dead; they were false.
They had turned to serve the “living God.” He is the true God, the only God. Back in the OT, the prophet Jeremiah (10:1-7) had said that false gods were like a scarecrow in a cucumber field. There is not much substance there! For the Thessalonians, their good example was having a stronger impact than they had realized!
When we lived in Romania, we sent invitations to Bible studies into the homes - so far as we know - of well over 300,000 people! We did that in a series of mail outs over several years.
There are many here at SC who show quite a dedication both to the work of the Lord, to the work of the church here, and to your fellow Christians. You are models of dedication. I know many of our senior saints have aches and pains that you deal with but you come to worship anyway. I know many of our younger parents have the hassles of little kids and their needs they have to deal with during worship, but you have the kids in worship anyway. You all encourage us; you inspire us. Our example is so very important.
Someone (G. W. Conder) wrote: “What are the great educators of the world - those who insensibly mold us? Are they moral maxims, wise sayings? Not really. None of us begins to live by principles until some signal example of it in action in human conduct has convinced him of its worth.”
We must recognize the tremendous power of example which we have on others and appreciate the good example others have toward us. Let’s not dwell on the defects of each other; let’s see the good in each other and appreciate that.
In the midst of suffering, we should recognize our good example.
The Christians in Thessalonica had some spiritual problems. We know some of them were lazy (4:11). But in this chapter, Paul spoke only of the good. He spoke about the fact that they were part of God’s family, God’s chosen people, a part of the Bride of Christ, the church of Christ. The church deserves our love and respect.
Think of the song by Timothy Dwight: “I love thy Kingdom, Lord. The house of Thine abode. The church our blessed Redeemer saved, through His own precious blood. I love thy church, O God, her walls before Thee stand. Dear as the apple of Thine eye, and graven on Thy hand.”
Yes, all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). Jesus warned His apostles in John 16:2 that people who kill them will think they are offering service to God. In other words, they are doing it out of sincerely held convictions. But they would be wrong nevertheless.
Take home message: When we suffer for the sake of our convictions, let us be thankful for the Christian family we have; let us remember we are chosen by God; let us recognize the power of our example toward others.