Thursday, July 16, 2020

Thessalonians Words ~ Day 11: Suffering

Day 11: Suffering

Throughout his letters to the Thessalonians Paul repeatedly makes reference to the fact that the Thessalonian church faced trials, opposition and suffering.
  • "In spite of severe suffering..." 1 TH 1:6
  • "You suffered..." 1 TH 2:14
  • "So that no one would be unsettled by these trials." 1 TH 3:3
  • "We would be persecuted..." 1 TH 3:4
  • "...In all the persecutions and trials you are enduring." 2 TH 1:4
  • "...For which you are suffering." 2 TH 1:5
  • "To you who are troubled." 2 TH 1:6
Paul encourages them in the fact that he too, along with his disciples, experienced trials, opposition and suffering.
" We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you His gospel in spite of strong opposition." (1 TH 2:2)

Paul goes a step further even, teaching them that trials and suffering are a normal part of life for those who follow Christ. It is at the heart of this letter. A vital life lesson for them, and for us.
"So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain." 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5
We will recall from the story in Acts 17:1-15, that Paul and his disciples spent many weeks sharing the Gospel at the synagogue and in homes in Thessalonica, and thus establishing the church there. It did not take long for the opposition to begin and Paul and his companions had to flee. We are told that Paul then went to Berea, but it was not long before the Jews from Thessalonica turned up in Berea to agitate and stir up the crowds listening to Paul. Paul was then sent on to Athens, and it is from there that he sends Timothy back to Thessalonica to encourage and strengthen the faith of these young believers, to make sure the trials they face have not tempted them away from their faith, and then to report back to Paul to relieve his concern over the Thessalonians.

Both Jesus and Paul spoke often in their ministries of the cost of following Christ. They were both clear to their followers that they should expect trials and suffering, not see them as strange and unusual.

Jesus said,
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Matthew 5:11-12

"Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." John 15:20

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Paul said,

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” Acts 14:22

"Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." Romans 8:17

"For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him." Philippians 1:29

"In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." 2 timothy 3:12

Suffering is a normal part of our lives as Christ-followers. But Paul does not leave it there. To Paul's theology, we can bear with the sufferings of this life because He is confident that God will use them in some way, for our good and for His glory. Our suffering is not meaningless. Look at a few more passages from Paul's letters that help us gain his perspective to view suffering in the light of God's purpose and glory.

"Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord." Acts 11:19-21. The suffering they faced in persecution led to the gospel being spread.

"Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." Romans 5:3-5. Suffering helps our faith and our hope grow.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort...Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead." 2 Corinthians 1:3-7,9. The sufferings we go through bring us comfort from God and help us know how to comfort others, and ultimately, they help us to rely more on God not ourselves.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. Here Paul helps us view our suffering in the light of God's kingdom and eternity. In suffering, there is so much more going on than what we are able to see. 

Over the years of going through many trials, some worse than others, my husband and I developed a saying to help us remember that there was a greater purpose than the suffering we were experiencing. Whatever the trail was, we would say, "It's not about ______." Fill in the blank: the money, the sickness, the relational troubles, etc. We need to look beyond what is going on if we will be able to learn what God is trying to do in and through the trail and suffering. Paul did not say rejoice for the trial, but rejoice in the trial (Romans 5:3). Paul never made light of the trials and sufferings he or his followers faced, or that we face. They are real, they are hard, they cause distress and hardship. Paul just knew from His own experience and from the experiences of Christ, and from His knowledge of Scripture and the character and nature of God, that there is a greater purpose for them. Suffering can cause us to question God, to falter in our faith, and some even walk away from it as a result. But Paul urges us to gain a godly perspective of suffering and allow God to use it to grow our faith, to grow our trust in Him, and to let Him work through us to minister to others and to bring Him glory.

Please continue to go through the Bible Study Techniques and tool tutorial pages. Go through them slowly and get to know the tools and sites and then try going through a small passage of Scripture on your own using these study techniques and tools. I would love to hear how you did either n the comment section below or in The Words Facebook group. Of course, you are free to email me as well! New techniques and tools will be added in a few days.

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