1 Thessalonians 2:13-16
Faithfulness in the Tough Times

 Copyright 2009 (c) American Journal of Biblical Theology 
www.biblicaltheology.com     Scripture quotes from KJV

2 Sam. 22:3.  The God of my rock; in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour; thou savest me from violence.

This Bible study lesson is the third in a series on Paul's first letter to the church at Thessalonica.  The church was started by Paul, Silas, and Timothy on Paul's second missionary journey, and followed the imprisonment of Paul and Silas in Philippi.  The letter was written in response to Timothy's report from a visit to that church.  In the first chapter Paul commended the church for its faithfulness.  In the second chapter Paul defends his position, influence, and theology against those who are trying to minimize it.  He then returns to the subject of faithfulness as this chapter closes.


This last week has been one like most of us have never known.  Only a few  short days ago, September 11, 2001, the entire world graphically witnessed the largest single event of mass murder committed in modern history.  The entire world watched in unbelief as terrorists hijacked four commercial airlines and used them as missiles, one crashing to the ground in Pennsylvania, one hitting a wing of the Pentagon building in Washington DC, and a pair hitting each of the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.    We watched in horror as the Trade Center towers collapsed, raining down millions of tons of concrete, steel, glass, and debris while fully knowing that there were still thousands of people who had not escaped from the burning buildings.  We knew that hundreds of fire safety, EMS, and police personnel had entered these doomed buildings in an effort to get people out.  


At the time of this writing the death toll from this attack is estimated to be between five and seven thousand.  Hundreds of rescue works are working in New York and Washington, taking on the dangerous task of digging into the rubble in an effort to find any possible survivors.  We are seeing the emotions of profound grief over the senseless loss of so many people, beloved by their friends, family, and the God who created them.  We are witnessing the outpouring of love and concern by untold millions of people around the world.  We have seen and participated in the largest season of world-wide prayer that has ever taken place.


The events of this week will certainly mark one of the seminal moments in world history.  It is one of those page-turns in the history books where the world view is altered, never to return to the previous days of innocence or ignorance.  Every person who witnessed this tragic event will never forget that terrible day or the images that are burned into the very being of our senses.


We are still too close to that page turn.   We have not yet completed the process of grief.  We are months away from the resolution of so many issues surrounding this event.  Through this flood of images and information come many unanswered questions.  Why does this type of event take place?  Why does God not intervene in all of the sinful acts of man and save us from such suffering?  How do we forgive those who have wrought such death and destruction?  What is our response to such events?  Can any good come out of such disaster?  The questions surrounding these types of events are as unending as the grief that they engender.


Paul's letter to the Thessalonians addresses their faithfulness to the Lord in times of persecution.  Certainly, the attacks on the American people that took place this last week were a form of persecution.  The attackers are using a radical religious platform to justify their campaign of terror against Judaism and Christianity.  The conflict is essentially no different that that between Israel and its surrounding nations during the years of its infancy.  That 3000+ year conflict between Israel and Canaan continues today.  By appropriately aligning itself with Judaism, Christianity is now also despised by the Canaanites.  All that is changed is that we refer to the Canaanites by a different name:  Arabs.


As Christians, how do we respond to these events.  Naturally, we want to lash out against anyone who had a part in, or supports the terror of the past week.  Some are lashing out against Moslems in this country.  Just as in the time of early Israel, not all Arabs were in conflict with Israel, and even today as we try to understand the current conflict we must be very careful to understand that this is still true.   Called upon to love our enemies, there is no justification for the persecution of the peoples of any nation.  The primary responses we have seen have been very positive, and pleasing to God.  Most people are contributing in any possible way to the resolution of the pain.  Some give blood.  Some have gone to the venues of the disaster and are working.  Many have and are continuing to pray.  Many have come under the Word of God and are responding.  The positive way in which the American people and the world have responded is something to be witnessed, and something to be encouraged by.


1 Thess. 2:13.  For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe. 


How do we respond to this terrorism?  When Paul entered Thessalonica to spread the Gospel, he was spreading God's Word of truth.  Having experienced and witnessed the persecution that comes upon those who trust in God, Paul could have turned away from the task.  He could have simply given in to the demands of the terrorists of his day.  By doing so he could have saved those to whom he preached the consequences of taking a stand for God.  Of course, to do so would not be possible, any more than we, even today, would surrender our faith to avoid conflict with evil.  Even amidst the inevitable conflict with this world, the people of Thessalonica received God's word, and recognized that it was truly from God, and not simply another of the many philosophies debated in Greece and Macedonia at that time.  Today we are engaged in similar debate over many of the same philosophies that vexed the ancient Greeks, and many people align themselves with one of these, and by so doing consider Christianity simply another philosophy, another world view that is equally defensible as a platform of truth.  Fundamentally, it is the position that God's Word is the only truth that brings Christianity into conflict with the world's philosophy, and is often the basis of most of the persecution it receives.  Paul was complimenting the faithfulness of the Thessalonians amid the persecution that their faith brought down on them.  They were persecuted from both all sides, in conflict with Jewish religious leaders who wanted to destroy the Christian movement, and by the Greek philosophy that was so much a part of their culture, a philosophy that demanded tolerance and "open" minds.  The Greeks saw Christianity as being intolerant and closed-minded when it declared that God's Word is truth.  This is no different from the conflict with our world views today.  


As we have watched the events of the last week unfold, we have seen a significant presence of the Christian church.  Many churches across this country and across this world opened its doors and held prayer for the victims and their families.  Our Christian president declared a National Day of Prayer on September 14th that turned into a World Day of prayer as the rest of the civilized world recognized the attack on America as one on all people of faith and good will.  Those around the world who have experienced persecution felt an instant brotherhood with an America which now was included in their fraternity.  In the aftermath of the attack, the Word of God was preached and seen by many men, not as another philosophy, but as the true help in a time of trouble.


1 Thess. 2:14.  For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: 


Why is this persecution taking place?  When the Thessalonians took a stand for the truth, they realized the conflict with their culture that such a stand would engender.  They experienced the same persecution that was felt by the churches in Judea.  Paul was well aware of the nature of that persecution as he himself was a leader of the terror movement against "the way."  The Jewish members of the Christian church were disowned by their families, losing their inheritance, their land, their employment, and their contact with their loved ones.  The Greek members of the Christian church suffered similar losses as they associated with this new "narrow-minded" movement.  The members of the church were restricted in their ability to buy and sell, to hold jobs, or to take part in the normal daily activities of their culture.  They were subject to arrest and brutality by a government that interpreted their allegiance to Jesus Christ as a king that was in competition to the authority of Rome.


Yet amongst all of this, the Thessalonians remained faithful.  Paul praised God for that, and encouraged them to continue.  Likewise we can praise God for his presence during the crisis of this last week and be encouraged that He is pleased by the tremendous response by His church, a response that included both prayer and action.  There is no way of knowing how many people will turn to God at this time because of that positive posture taken by the church. 


1 Thess. 2:15.  Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: 


Who are these terrorists that caused this death and destruction?  Are they an avenging angel of God as some as said?  Are they psychopathic and insane mad men who cannot understand the consequence of their actions?  They are neather.  Just as Christians have given their souls to God and are reaping the benefits that come from such faith, the terrorists have given their souls to Satan and are an instrument of the death that Satan desires.  They think of themselves as God's tool of judgment against the unbelievers, and by so doing, rationalize their irrational acts.  This was the same motivation that brought persecution to the early Christian church from the Jewish leadership.  The Jewish leaders, including Paul, considered themselves to be appropriately dispensing God's judgment on unbelievers, on those who are breaking the law and undermining their definition of truth.  It was the Jewish leaders who killed the prophets, and ultimately crucified Jesus Christ, the Messiah that those prophets had been revealing.  They were still persecuting the believers in the Church.  


Today's terrorists sincerely think that they are pleasing God by what they are doing:  purging the world of infidels, the unbelievers and their Jewish and Christian heresy.  The Jewish leaders sincerely thought that they were pleasing God in the same way by purging the Christian movement and its heresy.  Thought these people are sincere, they are sincerely wrong.  The persecution of men by men will never please God. 


1 Thess. 2:16.  Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.


Why do the terrorists do what they do?  What will be the ultimate consequence of their actions?  Paul's defense of those who are persecuting believers is interesting.  He states that by persecuting the church they are saving themselves, empowering themselves to continue in sin, and by so doing are bringing upon themselves the very wrath of God that they think they are properly dispensing.  Thinking of themselves as "God's people" they are persecuting and killing the true people of God, and for this they will experience the uttermost of God's wrath in the end.


There is only one judge who has the authority to hold us responsible for our sin, and that judge is God.  The authority for that judgment has been given to Jesus Christ, and each and every person will have to give an account.  John's revelation describes that judgment[1] as an opening of the books that contain all of the deeds of all men for all ages.  Judgment is then pronounced:  all who have not had their names written in the Lamb (Jesus') book of Life will be cast into the "lake of fire," separating them from God for all eternity.  Those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus will be saved, without regard to the contents of those "books" that list all of our sins.


Much of scripture provides us with examples of the campaigns of terror that have been inflicted upon God's people.  That same scripture also shows us how to respond in times of such profound stress, grief, and loss.


What is my response to it all?   We have gotten a little complacent, comfortable, and maybe a little arrogant, placing our safety and security in the things of this world.  Only recently many have seen their financial security compromised by a stock market that is driven by the fickle confidence of its investors.  Like the builders of Babel we place confidence in the things of our own creation, and this week we saw one of our largest and boldest creations come crashing to the ground.  The only true source of security will never fail.


Deut. 33:27.  The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee;


Psalm 46:1-3.  God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; 3Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.


Let us take refuge in the arms of God, and be faithful to our calling as His children to encourage others to do the same.  This period in history may be one of the best opportunities for sharing God's love that we will ever experience.  People are seeing the results of hatred and may be responding with the same.  However, the church is not shaken, and its people are not destroyed.  The faith of the church is not diminished by terrorism, but rather strengthened.


The lost people of this world need God, the peace that comes from faith in Him, and the sheltering arms He provides.  Let us continue to pray for God's hand to be evident in the lives of those who have lost so much this week, and pray for the terrorists who did this heinous act that they will face the true God and turn from their wicked ways.


[1] Revelation 20.