A Concern for Their Sufferings
Copyright © Indian Hills Community Church, Lincoln, Nebraska
The following text is taken from sermons preached by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. The text has been edited and condensed by IHCC staff and may contain some material from adjacent sermons in the series.
In our last study we examined 1 Thessalonians 2:5-12. In verses 5 and 6, Paul continued his defense of himself against those who questioned his motives. He said, "For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed-God is witness nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority." Paul did not use his ministry to cover up his real motives, including "greed." He didn't come to the Thessalonians and preach the gospel in order to get something for himself ("flattering speech"). He said "we never came" with those types of motives. His ministry was centered on proclaiming the Word of God only.
In verses 7 through 12, Paul used the analogy of a physical mother and father to prove how much he cared for the spiritual growth of the Thessalonians. In verse 7 Paul said, "But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children." Just as a mother tenderly cares for her children, Paul cared for the Thessalonians. He was willing to make any personal sacrifice necessary in order that the gospel would have a more effective impact on their lives (vs. 8).
Paul continued his analogy in verse II; "Just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children." A physical father, like a physical mother is to be characterized by love, warmth, and compassion. But a father is also to be the disciplinarian of the family. The concept is the same in the spiritual realm. Paul exhibited warmth and love toward the Thessalonians, but he was also firm, demanding that their conduct conform to the character of Christ.
Paul concluded this section of 1 Thessalonians with a reminder of our purpose in ministry. Our ministry goal is not that everyone simply have a knowledge of the Word of God. In verse 12, Paul illustrated the true reason for our ministry; "so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory." As believers, we will inherit the kingdom of God, and rule with Christ in His earthly kingdom. Therefore, our conduct must reflect our glorious purpose. We must "walk in a manner worthy of God."
I Thessalonians 2:13-20
And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted (it), not (as) the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they (did) from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost. But we, brethren, having been bereft of you for a short while--in person, not in spirit--were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. For we wanted to come to you- I, Paul, more than once-- and (yet) Satan thwarted us. For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.
Beginning in verse 13 Paul begins to address the response of the Thessalonians to his ministry. He says, "And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe." We have seen Paul offer his thanks for the Thessalonians before (1:2). Now, he is offering thanks for the way they received the gospel. He says "...when you received from us the word of God...you accepted it." They recognized that the message Paul brought to them was more than "the word of men," it was the "word of God."
There are two dimensions to the Thessalonians response to Paul's message. First, they "received" it. This word has to do with the intellectual emphasis involved in their decision. They heard the message and recognized that it was from God. After realizing that Paul's message was the Word of God, they "accepted" it. In other words, they personally welcomed and received the Word into their own lives. This is the personal aspect of the decision making process.
It is important that we realize how convicted Paul was that the message he proclaimed was not human, but "...the word of God." This is essential in our own lives if we are going to have the confidence and assurance to serve Jesus Christ as we are commanded. Paul addresses this truth in 1 Corinthians 14:37; "If any one thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment." Paul believes without a doubt that his message is from God, and that is the standard for everything else. He is saying, "If you think that you have a message of God, measure it against what I say, because I am proclaiming the very Word of God." We need to have the same standard today. If anyone claims he has a message from God, we need to measure it according to what God has already revealed. Unfortunately, this is rarely done in the church today. We have pastors teaching in our churches whose message is being enthusiastically accepted, even though they stand in direct opposition to what the Bible says concerning personal sin and salvation.
A perfect example of this type of heresy is the "Christian" psychology movement. The Bible is perfectly clear that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross is totally sufficient to meet our every need. When we trust in His person and His work on the cross, we are made new creatures, freed from the bondage of sin. But these "Christian" psychologists tell us we need something more. They say we need to confront the events of our past in order to truly be free. They are telling us that Jesus Christ, the Creator of the universe, is not enough to save us from our sin. But they mask their false teaching by saying things like, "God told me to tell all of you this." Or, "I'm simply a tool sent to help you understand the true meaning of God's Word." And instead of measuring their teaching by what God's Word says concerning such false teachers, many in the church today embrace their message with open arms. We must live Paul's example, and stand firm on the truth of the revealed Word of God.
Paul reiterated this point in 1 Thessalonians 2:9. He said, "For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to vou the gospel of God." The word "proclaimed" means to "proclaim as a herald." The responsibility of a herald was to take the message that was given him and boldly pass it on without any changes or additions. Paul says that he functioned as a herald, proclaiming the word he had received from God, without changing any of it.
This is Paul's point in verse 13. Paul says that the Thessalonians received his message, "...not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe." Because Paul's message is the Word of God, it is effective in accomplishing God's purposes in the life of a believer. It is alive and has the power to transform anyone who believes it. This ties to what Paul said in verse 12, "walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory." The only way we, as believers, can "walk in a manner worthy" is to believe and submit to the "word of God." There is something dynamic about the Word that sets it apart from all other literature and material. It can literally change lives because it is the word of the living God.
The prophet Isaiah said, "So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11) This is an incredibly strong statement. God sends forth His Word, and it is always effective in accomplishing His purposes. We need to remind ourselves of this when it seems our ministry may be ineffective. As long as we are proclaiming the Word of God, we can be sure His purposes are being accomplished.
Hebrews 4:12 also addresses this subject. The writer says, "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." The Word of God exposes us for what we really are. This is why people become so uncomfortable when we share the truth of the Word of God concerning sin and salvation with them. Their very soul is being pierced by the eternally true Word of God.
See also James 1:1, 1 Peter 1:23
What enables the Word of God to operate in one's life? It is the faith of those who hear it. First Thessalonians 2:13 says it is effective in the lives of those who "believe." God's Word always accomplishes the purpose of God, hardening the hearts of some, and softening the hearts of others. In this context, Paul is referring to those who God is bringing to salvation and maturity, so that they might live in "a manner worthy" of Him.
The word "believe" is in the present tense. This indicates a faith that continues forever. For example, at a certain point in time, I believed the gospel of Christ, and I have continued to believe ever since. Those who have truly believed in the person and work of Jesus Christ have a permanent, not a temporary faith, that is infinitely continuing.
Paul continues in verse 14; "For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews." What Paul does here is offer evidence that God is working in the lives of the Thessalonians. He draws their attention to one area: they "endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews." The firmness in the faith of the Thessalonians testifies to the reality of their faith. The fact is, that if the Word of God was not at work in their lives, they would not have been able to endure all the sufferings.
Matthew 13 identifies some people as those who hear the Word of God and respond immediately, but under persecution they wither away like a dead weed. The Thessalonians were not like that. They stood firm under persecution. Remember in 1:6 we learned that the Thessalonians "...became imitators of us (Paul, Timothy, and Silas) and of the Lord... ." Now we are told that they also became imitators of "...the churches of God in Jesus Christ... ."
These "churches" were suffering for the gospel in "Judea." In other words, these churches were being persecuted for the sake of the gospel in Jewish territory. And Paul says the Thessalonians are patterning their lives after these churches--they are being persecuted for their stand on the gospel of Christ.
Notice that Paul identifies these churches as "the churches of God in Jesus Christ." Paul is saying "Other churches went through similar experiences, so don't be worried that God has forgotten you, or doesn't love you anymore." This is an encouraging statement. When we, as believers, go through various trials and persecution in our own lives, it is comforting to know that we are not the only ones who experience such a thing. Paul says that the other "churches of God in Jesus Christ" experienced the same type of trial and persecution.
Paul takes their attention specifically to the church at "Judea." He wants them to understand that the church at "Judea" had suffered very intense persecution, because they were in the midst of Jews who stirred up opposition to the gospel. Paul draws his attention to the local churches because they are the manifestation of the universal church. If we want to find out what God is doing in the universal church, we look at what He is doing in local churches.
The focus of verse 14 is the opposition that has been stirred up by the "Jews." Paul is stressing the point that, just as in Judea, the persecution the Thessalonians were enduring originated from the Jews who then stirred up the Gentiles against them (See Acts 17).
In verses 15-16, Paul issues the strongest denouncement of the Jewish people found in any of his writings. Beginning in verse 15 he says concerning the Jews, "Who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men." Paul stresses that they "killed" the "Lord Jesus." The way this is written in Greek, the word "killed" is placed between "Lord" and "Jesus," stressing both His humanity and His deity. In other words, the Jews killed the "God-man." What greater crime could anyone commit than killing the Son of God?
We must understand, this letter was written 20 years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and Paul still lays the blame on the Jews. He doesn't say, "Well, I know the Jews didn't mean to do it. Besides, after all these years, what's the big deal?" No, he stresses that they are to blame for His death.
Now, we must also understand that the Jews are no more sinful than anyone else. We are all sinners, separated from God, unless we trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ. But that does not negate the truth that the Jews were responsible for the death of the Son of God.
However, Jews can be, and are saved. And just because someone may be a saved Jew, this does not mean that they should be looked down upon. Remember, Paul himself was a Jew. In this context, he is speaking to the Jews as a nation who have a commitment to oppose the gospel of Christ. Peter addressees this truth in Acts 2:22,23. He says, "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-this man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death." Peter says "You, Israel, are responsible for the death of Christ. You used godless Romans to do the dirty work, but you are the nation on whom the blame of Christ's death is placed."
In Matthew 27:24-25 we see this truth underscored. He says, "And when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the multitude, saying,9 'I am innocent of this Man's blood; see to that yourselves.' And all the people answered and said, 'His blood be on us and our children' " As a nation, the people of Israel asked to have their Messiah executed, and be held responsible for His death. This is the reminder of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:15. He wants them to remember the greatness of the crime of Israel, and it's continuation to this day.
Not only did the Jews kill Jesus Christ, they also killed "...the prophets." It had been the pattern of the nation of Israel to persecute, reject, and kill the prophets that God had given to them. Jesus addressed this truth in Matthew 23, and Stephen exposes it in Acts 7. Isn't it interesting that Israel is a people who claim to belong to God, and represent Him on earth? Yet, when people came to them with a message from God, they filled their hearts with unbelief, and killed the messenger.
Paul continues in 1 Thessalonians. He says that the Jews also "...drove us out." The Jews continue in their pattern of rejecting men sent to them from God. The meaning of this phrase is that the Jews drove Paul, Timothy, and Silas out through "persecution." The result is that the Jews "...are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men." Again, Paul does not hate the Jews (he is a Jew). In fact, he said if it were possible for the nation Israel to be saved, he would be willing to go to hell in their place (Romans 10). But they cannot please God because they refuse to submit to the righteousness that is found only in Jesus Christ.
True, the Jews are described as having a "zeal for God" (Romans 10:2), but "not according to knowledge." They are zealous for religious things, or rituals, not the righteousness found in Jesus Christ. It does not matter how "religious" a group of people are. If they have not trusted in Jesus Christ, they "are not pleasing to God."
Paul ends verse 15 saying that the Jews are "...hostile to all men." Paul explains this statement in verse 16. He says, "hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost." As people become hardened to the Word of God, they become more and more adamant in their obstinate position. They become more set in their opposition to the liberating truth of the Word of God, because they are threatened by what they hear. This was true of the nation Israel. And Paul says that they are still "hostile" in that they attempt to keep men from being exposed to the truth of the Word of God. He says they are the enemies of "all men" because they are keeping the men of the world from what they need most-the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One commentator put it this way, "The worst thing about unbelief is not that it damns the unbeliever, but that it hinders the salvation of others, and the Jews were not satisfied to reject Jesus Christ, but they were consumed with a passion that others must not come to believe in Him either." They were "hindering" Paul from "speaking to the Gentiles."
You may ask, "Why would the Jews care what the Gentiles did? They hated the Gentiles. Why would they care if Paul preached the gospel of Christ to them?" The Jews hated the fact that Paul's message said that even Gentiles could experience salvation. The result of this hostility is that the Jews "always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost." God's wrath is being poured out on them. In the context of Paul's letter to the Thessalonians, the "wrath" mentioned is eschatological in nature, meaning Paul is speaking of the future "wrath" that is to come during the great tribulation.
For example, in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 Paul said, "and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us form the wrath to come." The focal point in this verse is the future wrath that is going to come during the seven year tribulation.
In like manner, 5:1 says, "Now as to the times and epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, 'Peace and safety!' Then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape." This is the same "wrath" that Paul is referring to in 2:16. Again, Paul's main focus is on the wrath of the tribulation that is to come. It is a necessary "wrath" because of the sinful acts of the Jews toward the Word of God that was brought to them by the prophets, Christ, and the apostles. They have continued to fill the cup of the wrath of God. Therefore, it will take the severe judgment of the tribulation to break Israel down and bring them to their knees in acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Messiah.
However, there is also the present ramifications of their sin. We cannot draw a hard line and say, "They will be judged for their sin in the future, but right now they are not being judged." Those who are going to experience the future wrath of God experience present aspects of that wrath as well. Second Thessalonians 1:6-9 says, "For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power." This is the present display of the wrath of God that will intensify in the tribulation. Israel is enduring this present aspect of God's wrath today because of their rejection of the Messiah. And for those who refuse to believe in Christ during the tribulation, this wrath will culminate in hell, as God's wrath is poured out in full strength on those who reject Him.
Beginning in verse 17, we move into a new section of 1 Thessalonians. Paul now focuses on his great love for the Thessalonians. He says, "But we, brethren, having been bereft of you for a short while-in person, not in spirit-were all the more eager with great desire to see your face." This is still a response to the criticism that Paul had experienced. False teachers were saying, "If Paul really loved you, why doesn't he personally stand by you in difficult times? He came in here, stirred things up, and then left you to fight your own battles. What kind of love is that?"
Paul defends himself, stressing that he was "bereft of you." The word "bereft" means "to be orphaned." Not only was Paul separated from the Thessalonians, but he also felt the mental anguish that one feels when he is orphaned. The point Paul is making is that he loves them so much that, although they have only been separated for "a short while," he misses them terribly, like a child who misses his parents who have died.
But Paul reminds them that they were only separated "in person, not in spirit." Although Paul was not physically present with the Thessalonians, he thought about them, and prayed for them often.
He says he was "all the more eager with great desire to see your face." Paul builds one word on top of another in this phrase in order to convey how hard he tried to return to Thessalonica. He says he was "eager" with "great desire" to see them. The phrase, "great desire" usually carries with it a negative association with lust or passion when mentioned in Scripture. However, in verse 17, Paul is conveying his true feelings of extreme passion to be with the Thessalonians. They weren't just people that Paul had shared the gospel with. These were people that Paul deeply cared for, both physically and spiritually. He wanted to be with them in the worst way, but he could not.
We can understand Paul's anguish. It is like taking a trip away from your spouse. It isn't long before you experience the sense of emptiness that comes with the separation from a loved one. This is the same type of emptiness Paul is feeling for the Thessalonians.
Paul continues in verse 18; "For we wanted to come to you-I, Paul, more than once-and yet Satan thwarted us." Paul, Timothy, and Silas wanted to come to see the Thessalonians, but they could not come. The natural question is -lf Paul wanted to go see the Thessalonians so bad, why didn't he just go?" The answer is because "Satan thwarted us." You might ask, "I thought Paul operated in the Spirit? How could Satan thwart him? Couldn't Paul just order Satan to leave him alone, since he was an apostle?" Well, many churches today teach that all believers can bind Satan from their lives. But, it is obvious from verse 18, that we must still deal with Satan's efforts to hinder our ministry.
The word "thwarted" is a military term that means "to cut into something." The picture here is of an army that destroys a road so that the enemy cannot use it, cutting off their ability to travel. They are hindered from accomplishing their goal. This is what Satan has done to Paul, making it impossible for him to visit the Thessalonians. This happened more than once during Paul's ministry. In Romans 15:22 he says, "For this reason I have often been hindered from coming to you." The word "hindered" is the same word "thwarted" in 1 Thessalonians 2:17. In like manner Galatians 5:7 says, "You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?" Again, this is the same idea conveyed in verse 17. Paul is asking the Galatians, "You were doing so well. Who has thwarted your obedience to the truth?"
We are not told what Satan did to hinder Paul in 1 Thessalonians, but it is evident that he was successful. This truth indicates that Satan does have the power to hinder and frustrate the work of God's servants. However, he can only operate in the confines of what God allows him to do. In other words, God allows Satan to hinder our efforts at times, but God does not allow Satan to hinder His plan as a whole. But that did not keep Paul from pushing forward. He didn't bemoan the fact that he had been delayed. He simply realizes that Satan was preventing him from going to Thessalonica, and knows that this is part of the providential plan of God.
Paul underscores the fact that he loves the Thessalonians because they will be a credit to him in the presence of Christ. He says, "For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?" This is a logical outflow of Paul's natural love for the Thessalonians. Paul hoped that they would fulfill the expectations that he had for them in the coming day, in the presence of Christ. They will be a credit to his ministry, and bring him true happiness as his "crown of exultation."
The word "exultation" means "boasting" or "rejoicing." The "crown" Paul is referring to is the "stephanos," or "victor's" crown. Paul is saying, "In the presence of Christ, you will be my reason for wearing a crown. I will boast about you in the presence of the Lord."
The focus of verse 19 is on the events that will happen "in the presence of the Lord Jesus, at His coming." Paul is referring to the "Bema" seat judgment. This is the event when every work of every believer is judged and this occurs immediately after the rapture of the church. And at that time, when all believers are gathered in the presence of Christ, Paul says, "You Thessalonians will be my hope. I will realize the expectations I had of you. You will bring me happiness and cause for boasting. This is the reason that I love you- I have a vested interest in everything that occurs in your lives on this earth, and beyond this life. You will be the reason for my happiness in the presence of Christ."
Paul says the same thing in Philippians 2:16. He exhorts the Philippians to be true to the Word of God, "holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ, I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain." Paul wants them to "hold fast the word of life" so that he may have "cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain." Paul wants them to proceed to maturity so that he will have a cause to "glory" in the presence of Christ because he did not "run in vain nor toil in vain." The maturity of the Thessalonians and the Philippians will testify to the fact that Paul submitted himself to the Holy Spirit. This is the reason Paul will not, and cannot lose interest in their lives.
Paul reiterates the fact that, as believers, we have a vested interest in one another. He says, "For you are our glory and joy." Our joy and glory in the presence of Christ is going to be based on the maturity of other believers we minister to on earth. Therefore, all of us need to have an interest in the lives of other believers. This does not mean we are to be looking over everyone's shoulder, but it does mean we need to help each other mature in Christ. Remember, if the believers we minister to are mature, the more cause for "boasting" we will have in heaven.
What kind of believers will you be standing with at the Bema seat? Will they be your "glory and joy," or will they be immature, reflecting your involvement and comment with them. As a believer in the person and work of Jesus Christ, you have the promise of God that you have been saved from your sins, and will spend eternity with Him in heaven. But it doesn't end there. You have a responsibility to invest your life in a ministry to other believers, helping them to came to maturity, as well.
However, if you have not become a believer in the person and work of Christ, no amount of service to your church will bring you closer to heaven. God has provided only one way for salvation-Jesus Christ. You must understand that you are a sinner, destined for an eternity in hell unless you trust in Him and His finished work on the cross. When you understand that Christ, the Son of God, came to earth to die on a cross for your sins, and you believe in Him as your Lord and Savior, He will save you from your sins, and welcome you into His family. Please don't wait any longer.
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.
INDIAN HILLS COMMUNITY CHURCH
1000 South 84th St., Lincoln, NE 68510-4499...Phone: 402-483-4541...Fax: 402-483-6716
Web site: http://www.ihcc.org...E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.
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