1 Thessalonians 3 v 3 That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we
In 1 Thessalonians chapter 3 Paul was most concerned for Christ’s precious sheep that he had left behind in that city. He had expressed this loving concern at the end of chapter 2 of this letter. He had called the believers by some interesting terms
19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? 20 For ye are our glory and joy.
There are five main areas of Paul’s concern and he expresses his deep love towards them by
1. SENDING Timothy back to them – at great personal cost – PROVISION THROUGH SACRIFICE – v 1 - 2
We thought about this, from these 2 verses, a few weeks ago.
Paul is saying in verse 1 – “In light of the fact that you are so very dear to me, and how I long to see you and to be there with you – because of this – I want you to know something!”
What did Paul want them to know?
WHEN I COULDN’T STAND IT ANY LONGER I SENT TIMOTHY! When the separation became unbearable – when we had received no news and were not sure if you were surviving under the pressure of hostility from Jews and others – when we became so desperate for news – we made a decision!
Paul all alone at Athens. Christianity represented by a single, lonely man standing in the middle of a well populated city of pagan culture and wholly given over to idolatry! Paul had every reason to wish that Timothy could stay with him.
But Paul spared Timothy to be sent back to Thessalonica.
Verse 2 –
2 And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith:
Paul sent his right hand man – his best asset – his dearly loved son in the faith whom he would miss greatly.
He is called
1. A brother in Christ. 2. A minister of God 3. A fellow worker in the Gospel of Christ.
Timothy was a fully accredited and highly valued member of the team. He was a fitting representative of the Apostle Paul, and more importantly, a worthy representative of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Timothy was available to go to Thessalonica – but not merely to gather information, but as this second verse says
to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith:
Paul realised that no effort should be spared to see that the faith of the believers there at Thessalonica was strong and vigorous. Private conversations and public ministry would be the means of ESTABLISHING the Christians. And loving exhortation and gradual setting up of local missionary activity by Christians growing in grace and Christlikeness would be Timothy’s other task – covered by the word in this verse COMFORT concerning the faith.
This morning we come to the second of Paul’s five areas of concern for the believers at Thessalonica. He believed that he should be WARNING them of afflictions to come
2. PERSECUTION PREDICTED v 3 – 5
3 That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. 4 For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know. 5 For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain.
Sometimes when we look back to 2000 years ago and the spreading of the Gospel by Paul and the other missionaries, we could be in danger of having an almost ROMANTIC view of the pioneering work of the Gospel. We read of remarkable conversions – Lydia, the jailer, Timothy, Sergius Paulus the Deputy of Cyprus in Paphos – and many others. We read of sermons preached and people considering seriously the message of the Gospel.
We may be gripped by the adventure of the 3 Missionary journeys of Paul and his companions.
We may think that it was all a happy and positive experience for them and we fondly think that we too perhaps could be involved in pioneering work like this – and that we would enjoy it!
My friends we need to dissuade ourselves of romance and adventure – and think reality – which includes, for these missionaries, and for many others who have gone to preach Christ, persecution! The infant church was not rocked in the cradle of ease, nor nursed in the lap of luxury. Right from the start it had to face the fiery baptism of persecution.
Soon after the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ there was Paul persecuting Christians with the backing and authority of the ruling Jewish Council. King Herod joined in and executed James with the sword which Dr Luke records in Acts 12. That passage says that when it pleased the Jewish leaders Herod wanted to kill Peter as well. The Lord Jesus said in as many words, “So far but no further!” And we all know of Peter’s remarkable escape. But persecution was a part of the scene of the early church. The author of persecution is the evil one – Satan. He is intent on disrupting as much as he can the work of the Gospel and the proclamation of Jesus’ salvation to sinners.
If Satan always presented himself as an obvious enemy then Christians would ever be on their guard and recognise him and be ready to resist him.
But he does not always come with a sword – on the offensive. Sometimes he appears as a lamb with horns. What could be weaker and more docile and insignificant than a lamb with little horns? John saw Satan appear like this in his vision in Revelation 13 v 11
And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.
On other occasions Satan can present himself as an angel of light. Not only is he out to attack but also he is out to deceive.
How do you know that a dog is friendly? When he is bearing his teeth and snarling or when he comes up to you, softly nuzzles you and wags his tail?
The verb SAINO rendered “moved” in verse 3 has the primary meaning of a dog wagging his tail in a very friendly manner. This was expanded in meaning in the Greek language to indicate someone who came along with soft words and flattery, fawning over you and thereby deceiving you and lulling you into a false sense of security.
This kind of approach can at first be helpful – but it is not long before you become suspicious of motive behind the flattery, and you become disturbed, disquieted or unnerved. This is what Paul means by the Thessalonians becoming MOVED by the afflictions.
Paul acknowledged as we have seen from the text, that the believers were under great pressure. They were already oppressed by their fellow citizens for having stood up for the Lord Jesus Christ. But the danger now was that those already suffering may be beguiled by another satanic strategy – deception through flattering words.
William Hendriksen creatively suggests that such language as this, inspired by Satan, could have come from the mouths of their neighbours who did not believe in Christ –
“We can fully understand how it was that you were led astray by these enthusiastic foreigners (Paul and Silas) who came from Philippi. You were led to believe that they had your best interest at heart. But their sudden departure and their failure to return clearly proves that they are not concerned about you at all. Moreover the things that have happened to you since their coming shows that the gods are not pleased with you. Why exchange that which is tried and tested in our culture for something novel? Rejoin our ranks, the ranks of those who you have always admired and respected you, and we will promise you that we will never mention the subject again.”
What a subtle pressure this was. Not only did the Thessalonians have outward hostility towards them when they were criticised and ridiculed for believing in the Lord Jesus Christ – but there was this attempt to lead them astray as well.
Have you ever suffered these kinds of persecutions?
If you have been a Christian for any time you will know people who will try both means of persecution – in order to get you to change your mind and renounce the faith!
Paul was so conscious of the danger. Persecution can easily dishearten a believer. It can become a real burden in the soul. I used to find that young soldiers and airmen who professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ suffered greatly from their colleagues in this area – and there was no let up for them. In the services there are no grey Christians! You were either a clear and professed believer or you were not! Black or white! Which is why such communities are a proving ground for genuine faith. The pressures, the afflictions as Paul calls them here, are such that you stand or fall.
Paul had warned the new believers about persecution. There was an inevitability about their suffering as Christians. Can we comprehend this in our relatively safe British culture, where no one really minds what you believe – or don’t?
We have to look no further than Egypt and Pakistan today to find intense persecution of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. In yesterday’s edition of the British Church Newspaper we can read that there have been further arrests of Christians in Alexandria as part of a widespread sweep targeting converts from Islam and those who helped them to obtain new identities – to have Christian names on their identity documents. Two Christians were seized without a warrant and taken into custody and are being held without charge. In the wake of this, the paper reports, converts throughout Alexandria are now living in a state of heightened fear believing that they could be next.
In Sind province, Pakistan, a 15 year old Christian boy was kidnapped and taken to an Islamic religious school where he was beaten and forced to become a Muslim. He was kidnapped in broad daylight on his way home from school on 7th November. He was beaten until he recited the Islamic creed – after this it was declared that he was Muslim and that if he tried to return to Christianity they would kill him. His mother appealed to the local courts and an officer was sent to the Madrasa School where he found this terrified boy who simply repeated that he had converted willingly to Islam. At a court hearing he said the same things in the presence of the Director of the Muslim school. His mother begged the judge to meet her son alone. Under escort he was allowed home to collect some clothes. He was then told that he would be going to fight in a Jihad in Kashmir, and he could go home to say goodbye to his family – UNACCOMPANIED. It was only then that Zeeshan felt able to reveal the truth to his mother, that he had been kidnapped, forcibly converted and held against his will. The family has fled south to Lahore where they are in touch with sympathetic lawyers.
These are incidents of persecution TODAY my friends.
Whenever any one stands up for the Lord Jesus Christ and commits his soul to Him in faith, he or she is a target for persecution – the devil makes sure of it.
The next phrase appears to be difficult.
For yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.
Has God really planned for His servants the apostles to be persecuted and afflicted?
That is asking the wrong question – it puts the Lord God in a bad light. Rather we must ask this – is it normal, part of being a Christian, to be persecuted for our faith and for our belonging to the Lord Jesus Christ? And the answer is yes! Other scriptures point this out to us.
2 Timothy 3 v 10 – 15 But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, 11 Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. 12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. 13 But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. 14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; 15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
This part of Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy tells us indeed that — persecution is inevitable for ALL of us – to a greater or lesser degree; — godly living will bring criticism from others – a form of persecution; — deception will get worse and worse; — the way to cope with persecution is to know the scriptures which will make us wise and able to bear it – for Jesus sake.
This is why Paul had warned the believers about persecution before hand. He had told them of the cost of being a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ we see this in the next verse
4 For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.
The plain truth is that the inevitable consequence of becoming a Christian is persecution!
Paul uses two related Greek words to describe this persecution – translated affliction in verse 3 and tribulation in verse 4.
1. Affliction is THLIPSIS – a noun. Let us see where else it occurs –
Acts 11 v 19 Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.
Acts 14 v 21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, 22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
Hebrews 10 v 32 But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; 33 Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used.
To the church at Smyrna the Lord Jesus Christ said this
Revelation 2 v 10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
And there are other occurrences too. Persecution causing pressure and a burden in the spirit goes with our Christian faith.
2. Tribulation in verse 4 is THLIBO – a verb – here rendered in the passive form – suffer tribulation, to be troubled. It has reference to the pressure of circumstances and the antagonism of people pressing on us as believers. There is an interesting use of the same word in the incident in the Lord’s life when he climbed aboard a fishing boat because the crowd was pressing him – not persecuting Him at this stage – but there was physical pressure –
Mark 3 v 9 And he spake to his disciples, that a small ship should wait on him because of the multitude, lest they should throng him.
The word throng is THLIBO.
So there was much pressure on the believers. Paul had warned them – together , when he and Silas and Timothy were there in Thessalonica, they had experienced it; and now that he was away from them, he was pastorally concerned for them, that they were suffering alone.
It may be that there is someone here this morning who is on the verge of becoming a Christian. You have heard of the Gospel; you know that you have sin in your life and you need to be forgiven. You know that from what you have seen, that the change that comes into the life of a person when he or she is converted to Jesus Christ, is remarkable. And you know that things have changed for the better. You know that God promises eternal life – a glorious future before every believer.
You know too that the Lord God has promised to save all those who sincerely come to Him confessing their sins and believing in the death of Christ – and His resurrection. You know that you need to repent and to believe!
BUT – and it is a big but – you still have not come to Him – this wonderful saviour who saves His people from their sins.
Could it be my friend that your sticking point is this whole area of PERSECUTION – AFFLICTION – TRIBULATION – the inevitable consequence of trusting the Lord?
You are in for hard times. Friends at school are likely to give you a hard time when you believe in Jesus!
People at work are bound to pass snide comments and seek to persuade you that you have made a mistake getting religious!
Your family could well be in the forefront of your post conversion persecution when they fail to understand what Jesus has done for your soul!
As we have seen for some people in some countries, becoming a Christian can cost you your liberty – you could be beaten up and forced to say things that you don’t believe. Just because it does not happen here at the moment does not mean that it will not in future!
Jesus says “Take up your cross and follow me!” There is a cost to being a disciple.
And you may not be ready to pay the cost. You are counting it right now and it is too much for you!
The Lord God is doing this morning with your soul just what Paul was doing in his letter and in his sending of Timothy – How is it with your soul? He asks.
How are things with you?
Verse 5 says I sent to know your faith. Has the tempter come to get an advantage over you?
Is there a voice in your mind saying, Don’t do it – it will cost you too much. Wait a bit longer. Wait till the time is right. Wait till you are a bit older. Wait till you have left school or that job. Wait till you feel more like it.
My friend – you cannot afford to wait. The time is short. God may not give you more time. You may leave here today and be called to meet Him. What will you do then, if you have put off trusting the wonderful saviour of sinners?
The affliction and persecution and loss that we Christians suffer in this life are nothing to be compared to the eternal loss to your soul if you die without Christ!
I was telling the students at the Seminary last week of the philosophy of one Evangelical Seminary on the other side of the world where the cost of discipleship is taken very seriously. Erroll Hulse, editor of Reformation Today, has reported a recent visit to SETIA evangelical school of theology in Jakarta, Indonesia. In the last 16 years 677 students have graduated from this school, and 450 churches have been planted. He writes,
“The students live closely together in dormitories. Each student has a rough mattress on the floor and each is allotted about 7 foot square floor area. Training includes preparation for martyrdom.”
I’ll repeat that – Training includes preparation for martyrdom.
Does the fear of martyrdom fill you with this reluctance to trust your whole life and eternal future into the hands of the carpenter from Nazareth?
And we who love the Lord and profess to serve Him with all of our being – are we too, that serious about the Lord Jesus Christ? Would we die for Him – who has died for us? Let the word of God instruct us if we are apprehensive
Isaiah 35 v 4 Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not:
1 Chronicles 28 v 20 And David said to Solomon his son, Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed: for the LORD God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee,
Daniel 10 v 19 And said, O man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong. And when he had spoken unto me, I was strengthened, and said, Let my lord speak; for thou hast strengthened me.
Knowing that persecution is certain does not in itself make the pains any easier to bear. But at least it can keep us from being unsettled, disturbed or surprised when persecution does come.
Suffering for the Lord Jesus Christ is no indication that we have somehow gone off track, as it were. Rather persecution is a proof that we ARE the true followers of the Lord Jesus Christ and are fellow heirs with Him. Paul says in Philippians 1 v 29
For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;
What a privilege we have.
And in Romans 8 – those lovely verses 17 – 18
17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. 18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
May we be certain that persecution has been predicted for all who love the Lord!
But may we also be certain that our faith will grow stronger through the trials of persecution. For the Lord Jesus Christ has said in those words in John 16 v 32
Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. 33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.