1Thes2v13to20: CHRISTIANITY UNDER ATTACK
Introduction. Read 1Thes2v13to20
Once again I found Warren Wiersbe's treatment of this passage a great help. Paul deals with the resources a Christian has to cope with opposition. This is of abiding relevance because there has never been a time when Christianity was not under attack. There remain many parts of the world where it is dangerous to be a Christian.
(A) The Christian's opponents.
The enemies of Christ reject, eject and object.
(1) Reject. You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches (in Judea) suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets .... . 14and15.
The vast majority of the Jews rejected Jesus. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because of its inhabitant's stubborn refusal to accept him as the Messiah. In the end they rejected him to the extent of engineering his death by crucifixion. So it was hardly surprising that the devotees of Judaism rejected such Christian churches as sprung up in Judea.
The Thessalonian Christians faced the same problem. Their presence was not welcome in Thessalonica by either Jews or Gentiles. Christianity disrupted family life, social life and business. The very existence of a Christian church in a town was an affront to Judaism and Paganism.
(2) Eject. And also drove us out. v15.
Paul and his associates were forced out of Thessalonica. This has been a recurring theme. One of the tactics of militant Muslims is to make things so dangerous for Christians that they flee for their lives. Thousands of Christians left Baghdad after they were targeted by Muslim extremists and their residential areas bombed. (I was interested to read that this vicious campaign largely stopped when Sunni and Shia Muslims joined forces and issued a fatwa against the bombers)
Christians have been displaced in Sudan and there is a determined effort on the part of Muslim extremists to drive Christians out of Northern Nigeria.
(3) Object. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. v15and16.
There is no doubt that the authorities in militant Muslim nations like Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Eritrea do everything they can to prevent Christians spreading the word about Jesus Christ. It is nothing short of scandalous that these countries want to exclude from their territory a Christian presence. Draconian laws exist to punish converts to Christianity and preachers of the gospel.
Even in Britain that has been a Christian country for over 1000 years there is growing hostility to evangelism. Christians are not expected to draw attention to the fact that they are Christians. So people are suspended for displaying a cross at work. A nurse was suspended for offering to pray for a patient. It seems to me the deliberate policy of the BBC to keep the name of Jesus hidden - unless it is being taken in vain - and to deny the church any positive publicity. The role of clergymen is trivialised.
(A) The Christian's resources.
According to Paul the Christian has three great resources:
(1) God's word within us.
It was appreciated. And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word, which you heard from us. v13.
Paul thanked God because the Thessalonians welcomed the word of God - they drank it in.
I taught all sorts of boys and girls during my career as a teacher. Some were really eager to learn Geography. They were fascinated by the subject and hung on my every word. Meteorology was probably the hardest module of the A level Geography course. Very few pupils took to it! But I can remember a lad who was determined to be a fighter pilot in the RAF. Boy, did he want to learn about Meteorology! Not only did Tufts become proficient in the subject but he also became a fighter pilot. Sadly, there were other students who were totally disinterested. They scarcely heard a word I said. Their minds were on other things. Geography was of no relevance to them.
Today in Britain it can hardly be said that the majority welcome the word of God. The most people are dreadfully ignorant about the Bible and perfectly happy to remain that way. On TV quiz shows even the simplest questions on the Bible are the ones invariably answered incorrectly.
Many Christians do not welcome detailed and rigorous Bible study. There are not many like my old friend Arthur Rutterford who takes notes while listenin to one of my expositions and then later accesses my website to read through it.
Yet as Paul said writing to Timothy: All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equiped for every good work. 2Tim3v16.
The Scripture is a powerful friend to those who welcome it. There is absolutely no doubt that it has a power that no other writing possesses. I can recall several years ago our former pastor decided to do a series of talks on church history at our prayer meetings. They were well researched, well delivered and interesting. After a few weeks our pastor abandoned his initiative. Why? He knew, we all knew, that those talks on church history - however fascinating - did not have the cutting edge of his talks based on Scripture. They just didn't.
If we welcome Scripture - if we receive the word - we will acquire a most valuable resource.
It was accepted. When you receive the word of God .... you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God... . v13.
I used to enjoy giving school assemblies during my time as a teacher not least because several of my pupils expressed appreciation. They rarely showed much appreciation of individual Geography lessons. I am sure that a lot of children found the assemblies entertaining, amusing and moving. But that does not mean they were accepted - pondered upon and retained for future reference.
On a special anniversary of the establishment of Debenham High old pupils were contacted to write about their memories of the school. One girl, Charlotte, was very complimentary about my assemblies. What pleased me most was that she had often found them helpful in life. In other words she had accepted them, retained the sense of them and used them.
Jesus describes four types of hearer in his Parable of the Sower. The seed that eventually brought forth fruit was the one accepted by the good soil. The fertile soil closed around it and held it safe until germination occurred.
We should absorb God's word and have it in our minds so that it is there to draw upon in time of need. I have a lot of knowledge that I can draw upon at will. Some of that knowledge, like the multiplication tables, I use all the time and will never forget. We need to be as familiar with God's word as we are with the multiplication tables.
It was applied The word of God which is at work in you that believe.
Paul is absolutely clear what the purpose of God's word is: Training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equiped for every good work. 2Tim3v16.
The word of God bore fruit in the lives of the Thessalonians. The seed germinated, grew and yielded a harvest.
Many Christians fail to apply God's word. They study it, discuss it, argue about it and use it to formulate doctrine but remain unequipped for every good work.
The Bible is more like a cookery book than any other sort of book. It is possible to read a cookery book out of interest and indeed to remember some of the recipes. But the purpose of a cookery book is to actually help you produce enjoyable, sustaining meals. It will fail in its purpose if it is not put into practice. So it is with the Bible; it must be put into practice. The Sermon on the Mount is very interesting and quite easy to remember but it exists to inform our behaviour. We shouldn't have the spirit of retaliation; we shouldn't try and get round rules we don't like; we shouldn't insist upon our rights. We should be generous; we should be forgiving; we should be men of our word.
Warren Wiersbe put it like this: We appreciate the word in our hearts, accept it into our minds and apply it by our wills. If we do this we can overcome rejection, ostracism and hostility just as surely as did the Thessalonians.
(2) God's people around us. For you brothers became imitators of God's churches in Judea. v14. But, brothers ... v17.
When Paul calls the Christians at Thessalonica, 'brothers', he is reminding them that they are not alone. They suffer together with other Christians.
Christians need to stand together in times of difficulty to encourage one another. We need each other in the battles of life. One of the saddest statements in the whole of Scripture is made by Paul writing to Timothy from prison: At my first defence, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. 2Tim4v16.
We need to pray regularly for men like Saeed Abedini who was sentenced to 8 years in prison in Iran for planting house churches. He is undergoing torture, death threats and pressure to renounce his faith from prison officials and inmates. Saieed Abedini is alone. At least Paul had the companionship of Luke. Saieed is in desperate need of our support.
The hymn, 'Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war,' is not as popular as it used to be. However, it should be regularly sung to remind Christians that they are in a war. If soldiers marching into war are disunited defeat is the inevitable outcome.
It is highly destructive when Christians fight among themselves. It reveals lack of awareness of the enemy without. Satan is a mighty foe. He has innumerable agents to do his bidding. Faced with such a strong and implacable enemy Christians should show solidarity and unity of purpose. The problem is, Satan has infiltrated their ranks!
(3) God's glory before us. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. v19and20.
(a) Paul reminds the Thessalonians of Christ's return. We shall be in his presence when he comes again. This was something always in Paul's mind. His great aspiration was to share in the resurrection from the dead. The apostle wrote to the Philippians: I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in is sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Phil3v11.
In the Daily Bread for March 23rd 2013 Bill Crowder wrote: Although I try not to be shocked by the things I see these days, I was caught off guard by the message on a woman's T-shirt as she walked past me in the shopping centre. The bold letters declared: "Hope is for suckers."
Paul would not have agreed! He had a steadfast hope. He told the Corinthians: If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1Cor15vs 19, 20 and 57.
(b) Paul exulted in the men and women he had both helped to faith in Jesus and established in that faith. They were his hope and joy. When Christ returned they would be his crowning glory.
The old Sankey hymn is a great challenge:
Thus my dear Redeemer meet?
Not one day of service give Him,
Lay no trophy at His feet?
Must I go - and empty-handed?