Today: [1 Thessalonians 3:] Understanding Tribulation when it Comes: In our chapter today, Paul directly addresses the heavy persecution and difficulty the Thessalonians are facing. Many times, we misunderstand why such things happen, and bad doctrine can result from this. Paul attempts to make sure that the people maintain the simplicity of their faith and the strength of their love for one another even in the midst of great difficulties.
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[1Th 3:1-13 KJV] 1 Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone; 2 And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellow-laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith: 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 labor be in vain. 6 But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also [to see] you: 7 Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith: 8 For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord. 9 For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God; 10 Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith? 11 Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. 12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all [men], even as we [do] toward you: 13 To the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
In chapter 3 Paul continues his account regarding an abortive attempt to return to Thessalonica to connect with the congregation there. It is from Athens where he states he was hindered by Satan to affect a return there but instead sends Timotheus now grown from a protege to the status of a peer and fellow laborer in the gospel with the apostle. Timothy’s commission is to establish the saints and confirm their faith so that they are unmoved and unfazed by the reports of Paul’s troubles and the scandal that followed him after his departure from them. You will remember from the account in Acts 17 that the Jewish cohort in Thessalonica brought so much trouble against Paul that he departed after only a short time in the city and then they likewise drove him from Berea after he had fled to that location. After leaving Berea he attended to his affairs in Athens and being a large metropolitan city the Jewish resistors to the faith could not stir up much trouble there because their influence was not as strong. To all of this Paul shrugs (v. 3) stating that such afflictions believers are appointed to if they are going to carry out their walk with God faithfully. This agrees with the words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew 5:11:
[Mat 5:11 KJV] 11 Blessed are ye, when [men] shall revile you, and persecute [you], and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Accordingly, we read then in Matthew 10:23:
[Mat 10:23 KJV] 23 But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.
Paul’s message to the Thessalonians as he reminds them in v. 4 did not exclude the fact of suffering tribulation and as they well knew it came to pass. The distress spoken of here as something believers are appointed to however, has nothing to do with God suspending the merits of the cross where we are concerned. It is specifically regarding persecution, hatred, and resistance from non-believers against the faith. Many erroneously teach that the tribulations of the believers by God’s design included sickness, poverty, etc., but these are things that Jesus went to the cross to deliver us from according to 1 Peter 2:24 and 2 Co. 8:9. Paul is so urgent that the believers in Thessalonica get this straight in their minds that he sent Timothy to take their measure in the faith. Remember Timothy’s commission is to establish them in the faith lest the pressures of outward circumstances speak more loudly to them than God’s word. This is very important for us as well. You cannot allow circumstances of life to speak more loudly into your understanding of God than His word testifies. You may be going through something difficult and something contradictory to God’s promise but what is your commitment? To what God’s word says or to accepting some false teacher’s spurious explaining away of the explicit guarantees of God that you have yet to enjoy?
Remember that Jesus endured contradiction of sinners against himself (Heb. 12:3) and you will likewise in your life have circumstances and situations that don’t line up with the word but don’t let that diminish your faith.
In v. 6-8 Paul recounts that Timothy went to the city of Thessalonica and returned with reports of stability and strength from the congregation there and Paul is comforted that they haven’t lapsed or turned away from their newfound faith. He assures them that night and day he continues to pray “exceedingly” for them that anything that was lacking in their faith or understanding of the kingdom would be restored and imparted to them by the Holy Spirit.
Paul continues in prayer (v. 11) that the hindrance to his return to them would be removed that he might direct Paul’s return back to them. In the meantime, he petitions the Father in his letter to the people (v. 12) that they would increase and abound in love toward each other and to all men so that their faith would be established and that they would be holy and unblameable before God. This is very important because this is a congregation under fire and experiencing much pressure against them in the community. When things like this happen, love grows weak, and tolerance is thin. When a group of people is undergoing such things, it is easy to point fingers and to blame each other for making things more difficult and to adopt a fortress mentality toward those that are without considering those as enemies that they are supposed to love and see brought into the kingdom.
What you can take away from this teaching is a resolve to remain constant in faith and to hold up under pressure without blaming God or seeing your commitment to your brothers and sisters in Christ grow cold. Many times, when we are facing difficulty we withdraw from fellowship and from our church relationships but be reminded that only engenders more difficulty. We need one another. The fellowship of the saints is not a random happenstance but rather arises from the intentionality of God that we continually strengthen and encourage one another in the midst of life’s difficulties. Likewise, our faith must remain strong by establishing in our thinking a commitment to the testimony of God’s word and abiding patience in our hearts regarding contradictions to those promises in our situation that sooner or later must yield and will yield to the faithful hand of God to deliverance.
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