First Thessalonians 009 – Examples of Suffering (Part 2)1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 • Dr. Andy Woods • December 11, 2022 • First Thessalonians
First Thessalonians 009
Examples of Suffering, Part 2
1 Thessalonians 2:14-16
December 11, 2022
Dr. Andy Woods
I’m grateful for the fact that You brought us through another year. I just pray, Lord, at this special time of the year in our culture and in our church, we would do spiritual inventory. Looking backward to Thanksgiving, the things that we’re thankful for and then also looking forward to celebrating the birth of Your son coming up just in a few weeks. I do pray, Father, that You would be with us in Bible study. Both in the Sunday school hour and also in the main service that follows. I do pray for the illuminating Ministry of the Spirit. I pray the spirit would take texts which at first- at first face value don’t seem to apply to much. But I do pray specifically that You would apply them deeply to your people as they diligently listen to Your word being taught today. And so to prepare ourselves for that ministry, Father, we’re going to take a few moments of silence to exercise First John 1:9, if necessary, for restoration of broken fellowship. Knowing that our position can never be altered, but we exercised First John 1:9 this morning so that we might receive from You the deep things of God today. I do specifically ask, Father, that You will be with the Ministry of Sugar Land Bible Church and all of its different facets today right on down to some meetings taking place after the service.
I just pray that everything will be done in a way that advances Your purposes. And we do pray, Lord, that we would not try to fit You into our plans, but we pray the other way around, that You would fit us into your plans. And only You can do this work, and we ask these things in Jesus’ name and God’s people said, amen. Well, if you can take your Bibles and open them to First Thessalonians 2:14. Continuing our verse-by-verse look at the books of First Thessalonians and Second Thessalonians. In Sunday school we’re in that section where the Apostle Paul is sort of dialing backwards into experiences he had had with the Thessalonians when he planted the church at Thessalonica and was forced out by unbelieving Jews who came in, you know, in Paul’s absence. And basically, stirred up a lot of strife against him, said a lot of things about him that weren’t true. So what Paul really does in these first three chapters is he looks backward and he sort of rehabilitates his reputation by reminding them what he was like when he was with them about six months to a year earlier. And once he rehabilitates his reputation, he’ll then be in a position to correct them, answer their questions, etc., which he does in chapters 4 and 5. So in chapter 1, essentially what Paul did is he defended the genuineness of the Thessalonians’ conversion.
They had probably trumped up a lie about Paul, that his gospel really wasn’t true. It has no power to save. It has no power to change lives. So everybody just forget what Paul said and go back to daily business. So what Paul does in chapter 1 is he explains that their salvation is in fact true. And in fact, the things that they are experiencing in their lives as Thessalonian Christians they could not experience without the supernatural power of God. Then in chapter 2, he defends himself against another charge, which is basically the impurity of his motives. And so what Paul does in chapter 2 verses 1 through 12, at least, is he says his motives have always been pure when he was with the Thessalonians. And his motives continue to be pure. And right in the middle of that section, which is where we left off last time, he kind of dials back verses 13 through 16 into just a few more thoughts about the genuineness of the Thessalonians’ conversion. And his point here- and we saw this last time in verse 13- his point here is, your lives have been changed, which is the greatest testimony a person can really have concerning the gospel. A changed life. So your conversion was, in fact, true.
And he continues with that thought as we move today into verses 14 and 15, where he is explaining to them that, yes, you’re suffering. But you’re suffering doesn’t disprove the fact that you’re a Christian. In fact, your suffering proves the fact that you’re a Christian. So what had happened is this tiny flock that he had brought to faith by God’s power is now experiencing persecution. Because the unbelieving Jews that drove Paul out of Thessalonica have now turned their hatred against Paul’s fruit. This little tiny Thessalonian church. And because they were baby Christians and they were going through persecution, a lot of them were sort of falling for the idea that, well, Jesus must not be true, because I guess Jesus comes into your life to make it better. Look at your lives now. You’re being persecuted. And I’m here to tell you that that is a very real spiritual attack that Satan will love to insert into your mind. He wants you to believe that because you’re going through a hard time somehow you don’t have favor with God. You know, somehow you’ve lost your position in Christ. Somehow God’s love is for everybody else except for you. And I remember when I was about 16 years of age, when I came to Christ, I probably had- this would go back to 1983- the worst year I could ever have from a human perspective. And it was very confusing to me as a new Christian because I thought, well, wait a minute, I just trusted it in the gospel. Why have all of these negative things happened? And so if you’re not on doctrinally good footing or if you’re not in a church that’s teaching you the doctrine of suffering, you’ll fall very fast for the lie that, well, I guess my Christianity is not true.
I guess it’s not authentic. And so what Paul does in verses 14 and 15 is he says, look, your suffering doesn’t disprove your Christianity. In fact, it’s the opposite. Your suffering proves you’re a Christian. You’re suffering doesn’t somehow disprove God’s love for you. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. You’re suffering proves God’s love for you. So with those thoughts being said, let’s pick it up here with verse 14. He says, “For you, brethren.” So you’ll notice that this word, brethren, we know what it means. We know it means Christians. It’s an expression that Jesus Christ himself used in Matthew 12:46 through 50. When he was asked, you know, Where are your brothers? Where is your mother? Where is your sisters? And he points to his disciples and he says, Here is my brother, my mother, my sisters. Are not they the ones that do the will of my father who was in heaven? Hey, Adam, can I make a suggestion with the door rather than trying to fix it now? Because it’s just not going to. It’s going to just squeak. Can you just have someone maybe stand there and ask people not to use the door? And I think we’ll get that all straightened out when Bible study is over.
Do I get an amen on that? All right. Just makes life a little easier. So. Who is my mother? Who is my brother? Who is my sister? Who is my father? These are the ones that do the will of my father who was in heaven. So when he says there in verse 14, “For you, brethren.” He’s making a statement about Christians. James 1:2-4 says this. “Consider it all joy.” And the next phrase is, anybody know what the next phrase is? “My brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, not lacking in anything.” So what Paul is going to begin to describe here is the doctrine of suffering which specifically applies to the believer. And we know it applies to the believer because he says here, My brethren. Or, “For you, brethren.” So the unbelieving Jews in Thessalonica had driven Paul out of Thessalonica and had now turned on Paul’s new converts. Such persecution did not challenge the authenticity of the salvation of the Thessalonians. Rather, it proved their salvation. And what Paul does in verses 14 and 15 is he says, your suffering, actually puts you in an elite group of people.
And he mentions here, second half of verse 14 into verse 15, four elite groups. So it’s a completely different way of looking at suffering. We have a tendency to look at suffering as some sort of unwanted intruder. Now we think, Oh my goodness, I’m suffering. I must have missed the will of God. I must have missed the call of God on my life. And the truth of the matter is, it’s suffering that puts you into an elite group. And so what, who are these elite group members? The first elite group member he mentions in verse 14. “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Jesus Christ that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews.” So the Judean believers also endured persecution from their fellow countrymen, the Jews. Just as the Thessalonians were in the process of receiving persecution from their own countrymen, the Thessalonians. So your own countrymen have turned on you. The Thessalonian authorities had turned on the Thessalonian believers. I guess I’m not a Christian. I guess somehow I’ve missed God’s call. Paul says, No, you haven’t missed God’s call. You’re, in fact, exactly directly in God’s call, because the exact same thing happened to the church at Jerusalem when the church at Jerusalem came into existence, Acts chapter 2, it was the Jewish nation that turned on the church.
So it’s very painful when your own nation, your own ethnicity, your own tribe, your own clan turns on you. I mean, you start to really think, is Christianity true since that’s happening to me? Here, the Thessalonians were saved and yet their own countrymen had turned on them. Paul says, basically, if I can put it bluntly, take a number and get in line. Join the club. You know, don’t think that your circumstances are somehow totally unique. The exact same thing happened to the Jerusalem church. When you have those 3000 conversions on the day of Pentecost the church is born. And who attacks the church? The Jewish nation. The Jewish religious authorities attack the church. So your own countrymen have turned on you. You’ve just joined an elite group. You’re just like the Jerusalem church, you Thessalonians. So don’t second guess whether your salvation is true or not. Don’t second guess whether your call from God is true or not. In fact, you’re directly in God’s calling. And then he gives a second group. And the second elite group that they have joined. You see that in verse 15? “Who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and also drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men.” So who’s the second elite group that they’ve joined because these Thessalonians are suffering? Well, look no further than the Lord Jesus himself. You who killed the Lord Jesus. The ultimate example of suffering is Jesus Christ.
There isn’t anybody that was more mistreated than Jesus. There isn’t anybody that was more slandered than Jesus. There isn’t anybody that was more mischaracterized than Jesus. It was Jesus who was essentially rushed through the judicial system by the Jewish leadership to get him turned over to the Romans, to get him to be martyred or killed as fast as possible. And when the Jewish nation did this, they basically broke every single law of evidence that they had on their books. It was a sham trial. They broke all of the rules of evidence in the Old Testament. They broke all of the rules of evidence in the Mishnah. They broke all of the rules of evidence in Talmud. And you want to talk about a sham trial? You want to talk about someone, a miscarriage of justice? You want to talk about someone being treated unfairly? It was Jesus himself. So you Thessalonians put a smile on your face because you’re just like Jesus. So you shouldn’t think that because you’re being mistreated that somehow you’ve missed God’s call in your life. So you’re just like the Jerusalem church, number one. Number two, you’re just like Jesus. And I think this is a message we need to hear today in America because we’re sort of preaching a gospel of man-centeredness if you know what I mean. They say things like this, Invite Jesus into your heart.
Which right then and there should raise the antenna because that’s not how you present the gospel. The gospel isn’t Jesus coming into your heart. The Gospel is believing on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ so as to be saved. But they say, if you invite Jesus into your heart, then you can have your best life now. And after all, Jesus is a great provider. He’s going to provide all of your needs and He’s got a lot of money, by the way, so you might become rich in the process. He is the God that made you. So He’s going to fulfill the deepest void in your life. All of these things are true, by the way. Not necessarily becoming wealthy, but Him providing for us and Him meeting needs in our lives, Him giving us meaning in our lives. And we hear this presentation of the Gospel around the clock in Christian media. And then you trust in Christ and you get saved and your whole life falls apart. And you say, well, what happened? Well, what happened is God is taking you and putting you into an elite group of people. You’re just like the Jewish Christians, Acts two, you’re just like Jesus himself. And because you never heard that part of it, you think that somehow your Christianity is inadequate. And that really has to do with the fact that the church really has not laid down the principles correctly concerning the doctrine of suffering.
And we’ve presented Jesus in such a way that He’s going to make a happy face of, you know all of your- everything going on in your life when in reality, Jesus never promised that at all. What He said to the child of God is in the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world. John 16:33. And so when suffering hits or problems hit, people think they’re not really Christians. This is likely the kind of thing that happened to the Thessalonians. And Paul’s point is your suffering doesn’t disprove your Christianity. In fact, it proves it. In fact, you’re just like the Jerusalem Church. And you’re just like Jesus himself. The ultimate individual who suffered unjustly and unfairly. And then Paul in verse 15 gives a third group. “Who both killed the Lord Jesus,” and here comes group number three, “and the profits.” So in other words, you’re just like the prophets of old. Now, how are the prophets of old in the Old Testament- how are they treated? Very, very poorly. You know, the prophets wouldn’t have showed up and had these mega followings on social media. They wouldn’t be writing bestselling books. They wouldn’t be showing up to speak and having masses and masses of people hanging on their every word. The prophets were basically hated because the prophet’s job was to file what we would call a reeb or a covenant lawsuit against the king.
Because the Kings were violating God’s law. So you see things like this in Micah. I think it’s around chapter 4. The Lord has a case against you. And the Kings never really liked hearing what the prophets had to say because the prophets were always talking about how the king was violating God’s law and that’s why there was all of these curses that had come upon the nation of Israel. It’s why the captivity was around the corner. And the problem is the king had the political power, the prophets didn’t. And so what the king would do is he would just cancel the prophet. We’ll just throw the profits in a pit. We’ll just take the profits and cut their tongues out so they can’t talk anymore. And the king could get away with it because the king had the political power. And so if you were called to the office of Prophet, by God, you were in store for a lot of problems and suffering. Jesus, in Matthew 23:34-35, gives a summary statement of the prophets. And He says, “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; and some of them you will kill and crucify.” It’s kind of interesting that Jesus wasn’t the only one to be crucified. The prophets were typically crucified even before Jesus. “Some of them you will flog in your synagogues.”
You ever been flogged? Not an enjoyable experience. “Some of them you will flog in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you will fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” So Jesus is basically saying, from Abel to Zechariah, all of the prophets suffered. He mentions Abel because Abel is the first martyr in human history. His story is recorded in Genesis 4. And then he mentions this man, Zechariah, who’s not the Zechariah you’re thinking of in the book of Zechariah. He’s another individual mentioned in the book of Second Chronicles. And one of the things to understand is that Jews did not divide the book of Chronicles the way we have it in our Protestant Bible’s First Chronicles and Second Chronicles. It was just one book, Chronicles, and it was at the end of Hebrew Bible. Genesis, the beginning, Chronicles, the very end. And what Jesus is saying when He says from able to Zechariah, He’s saying from Genesis to Chronicles. From beginning to end. We might put it in modern-day vernacular, From Genesis to Revelation. Or from Alpha, the first letter in the Greek alphabet, to Omega, the last letter in the Greek alphabet. So when Jesus says from Abel to Zechariah, he’s using a well-known Jewish idiom from beginning to end. From the very first prophet to the very last prophet.
How were all of them treated? Well, they were flogged, they were crucified, they were persecuted from city to city. And you always know that a culture is on the precipice of either divine judgment or divine discipline based on how they treat the prophets. The worse the treatment of the profits became, the more it was clear that God was about to take the nation of Israel and send them into the captivity. In Second Chronicles 36:16, it says, “But they continually mocked.” Continually. “Continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, until there was no remedy.” So the ridicule and the mistreatment of the prophets was so bad that God finally had to send discipline or judgment or justice, which He did when he scattered the Northern Kingdom at the hands of the Assyrians in 722 B.C. And then when he took the remaining southern Kingdom of Judah into captivity in 586 B.C. and you know, you’re getting close to the disciplinary hand of God because the prophets, God’s messengers, are treated so severely. So they’re mocked, they’re despised, they’re crucified, they’re flogged, and they’re chased from city to city. And so as Paul is speaking to the Thessalonians who are second-guessing, maybe I’m not a Christian because I’m suffering.
Also. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. You’re part of a very special group. In fact, you’re part of an elite group. You’re just like the Jerusalem church that suffered at the hands of its own countrymen. You are just like Jesus himself, who was completely mistreated and abused. And in fact, you’re just like the prophets of old, because from A to Z, from Genesis to Chronicles, every single one of them was mistreated. So one of the reasons that I know America is not moving in the right direction, and that our nation probably is on the precipice of some sort of divine discipline or judgment is basically how our country is treating the truth tellers. I mean, if you’re a truth-teller in this culture, you expect to get canceled, expect to be abused, expect to be made fun of. This is exactly what was going on on the eve of the Babylonian captivity. And that’s how they knew they were close to the Babylonian captivity because of how the authorities were treating the truth tellers. And so don’t second guess your Christianity because you’re suffering. Paul’s point is, you’re just like the prophets. You ought to wear it as a badge of honor. And then he gets to a fourth group of people here. Um, so let’s just back up to the middle of verse 14 and read the whole thing, “become imitators of the churches of God in Jesus Christ that are in Judea, for you also endure the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews.”
Number one, you’re just like the Jerusalem Church, you suffering Thessalonians. Verse 15, “who both killed the Lord Jesus.” Number two, you’re just like Jesus himself. “And the prophets.” Group number three, you’re just like the profits. But what’s group number four? “And drove us out.” Who’s the us? Well, the us is group number four. That would be the apostles. So it’s interesting that Paul, when he preached the doctrine of suffering, could point to himself and say, Look at my life, I’m suffering, I’m an apostle. And when you Thessalonians are suffering at the hands of the unbelieving Jews, you’re just like me and the rest of the apostles. So he talks about, what drove us out? What drove us out of where? Well, what drove Paul and his missionary team on missionary journey number two, when he planted the Thessalonians church? What pushed them out of Philippi into Thessalonica? Suffering. And then Paul was with the Thessalonians believers probably six months to a year. What pushed Paul out of Thessalonica down into Corinth, where he would write the Thessalonian books about six months to a year later? I mean, was it a tour guide that said, okay, it’s time to go to move to the next site? Now, it was suffering that pushed him down into Corinth.
So Paul’s whole trajectory in ministry moving from one place to the next related to suffering. So to the Thessalonians, he’s saying, you know what, you’re suffering and you ought to take it as a badge of honor. It ought to put a smile on your face when you think about it, because not only are you just like the prophets, not only are you just like Jesus, not only are you just like the early church in Jerusalem, but you’re just like the rest of us apostles. So a lot of times we think, gosh, wouldn’t it be great to be a prophet? Wouldn’t it be great to be an apostle? Well, that’s one of those things where you really have to count the cost on that because there’s a lot of suffering involved. In fact, here’s a chart here. It basically shows you what happened to the original twelve. A lot of this comes from a book called Fox’s Book of Martyrs. This is the best we can do from extra-biblical sources telling us exactly what happened to those men assembled in the upper room. I mean, what happened to this crop of people that Jesus- where Jesus said, towards the end of the upper room discourse, “In the world you will have tribulation,”? What happened to them? Well, the Bible doesn’t say. We have to sort of piece it together from extra-biblical tradition. Fox’s Book of Martyrs is one of those that probably does the best job.
There are other sources. But James, the son of Alpheus, went to Jerusalem where he was clubbed to death. Simon the zealot went to Jerusalem, where he was martyred. James, the son of Zebedee, went to Judea where he was executed. And you can read about that in the Book of Acts 12:2. It’s one of the earliest, I think, the second martyrdom we have in the church age, the first one being Stephen. Thaddeus went to Mesopotamia with the good news of Jesus, where eventually he was beaten to death. Peter- and this is a tradition that shows up 100 years after Peter’s death. I believe Peter went to Babylon first. If this tradition is right, he made his way to Rome. Where he was crucified upside down. In fact, Jesus even makes a reference to that in John 21 when he says to Peter, You know, when you were younger, you dressed yourself, you went where you wanted. When you’re older, people are going to take you to where you do not want to go. And I love Peter’s answer there. He points to John. He says, Well, what’s going to happen to him? And then that’s when Jesus says to Peter, Well, really, it’s none of your business. And if I want him to remain alive until I come, what business is that of yours? You follow Me! In other words, Peter, I’m in an individual walk with you.
You don’t have to worry about what’s happening to the pastor down the street. So Matthew was taken to Parthia, modern-day Tehran, where he was beheaded. I’ll skip John just for a minute. Philip was taken to East Turkey, where he was tortured and crucified. Thomas, we believe, took the gospel to India, where he was speared to death. Bartholomew took the gospel to India, where he was flayed. That’s basically where they take your skin and they basically peel it off. It’s a grisly, horrible way to die. Flayed and crucified. Andrew, we believe, went to Ukraine, Russia, Greece, and was hanged. And then it’s interesting. Jesus makes the statement, Well, what about John- or Peter makes the statement, What about John? And Jesus says to Peter, If I want him to remain alive till I come, what business of that is yours? Well, there was a special calling on John. John’s job was to be marooned on the island of Patmos, where he would receive the final vision, the apocalypses. He was told to write it down, and that became what we know as the Book of Revelation. So John actually is the only apostle or disciple that we have knowledge of that died of natural causes. Every single one of these individuals was martyred. But the interesting thing about John is they tried to kill him. He was very stubborn. He wouldn’t die. There’s a reference to this in Tertullian, who is one of our early church fathers who wrote a treatment called Prescription Against Heretics.
And he mentions the apostle John. And he says, quote, “…where the Apostle John was first plunged, unhurt into boiling oil.” So they tried to burn him to death. They tried to drown him, they tried to burn him to death in boiling oil. But miraculously, supernaturally, he survived, because he had a calling on his life to write the Book of Revelation. It’s kind of hard to write a book after you’re dead. And so what do you do with the guy that won’t die? Well, you put him out on an island somewhere and let him live out his days on an island. So they marooned him on the island of Patmos. It fits everything we know of the New Testament era under Domitian. We believe John died during the era of Domitian because we have other sources explaining that’s what Domitian did to people. Nero, who reigned earlier, would just cut your head off. Domitian sort of had a different policy. He just took people and put them into, I guess, I don’t want to say solitary confinement, but marooned them on these islands that no one ever goes to anyway. And that’s what they did to John, because John wouldn’t die in the boiling oil. And yet that was God’s purpose for his life, because it was there on Patmos, little island off the coast of Asia Minor, where he would receive a very important book that we call the Book of Revelation.
So my point is, every single one of these 12 individuals, every single one of them, except for John, whose circumstances I’ve tried to explain, did not die of natural causes but died of unnatural causes. And that is what Paul is getting at to the Thessalonians in verse 15 when he says, You’re just like us. You’re just like Jesus. You’re just like the prophets, and you’re just like the Jerusalem church. So don’t let someone- don’t let Satan whisper in your ear, I guess you’re not a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. I guess you’re not saved. I guess you miss God’s will in your life because you’re suffering. In fact, you’re exactly where God wants you. And your suffering doesn’t disprove your Christianity, in fact, it proves it. And do we hear a lot of messages like this in the United States of America today? In American Christianity? I mean, this kind of stuff, you can’t market this very well, but this is the doctrine of suffering. I mean, this is what Paul is communicating to the Thessalonians who were second-guessing their salvation on account of their suffering. And then Paul, it’s interesting, makes a statement about those causing the trouble. And he makes the statement that just because these folks are causing you trouble, and the trouble that they’re causing you puts you in the will of God, don’t think that God is going to let these persecutors off the hook on the day of judgment.
Yes, God is using them as His instruments in your life now, but the day in history will come where God will hold them accountable for everything they ever did to you. And He picks that up, second half of verse 15, “They,” that’s the persecutors, “are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men.” In fact, these unbelieving persecutors in this case, these unbelieving Jews, are God’s enemies. Romans 5:10 says, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” The unsaved people, that God actually was using to persecute the Thessalonians church, were themselves God’s enemies. You mean to tell me that God can take His enemies and use them to discipline His own people? Yes, He can. He does it all the time. Just read the story of the Assyrian invasion, which scattered the north, and then the Babylonian captivity, which took the southern kingdom into captivity in 586 B.C. God used people that did not know Him at all to accomplish the scattering of the north and the Babylonian captivity. Did God, when all was said and done, let the Assyrians off the hook, who caused the problems? Did God, when all was said and done, let the Babylonians off the hook that caused the problems?
No, He didn’t. He dealt with Assyria very aggressively. He dealt with Babylon very aggressively. It’s interesting that those two nations, although world powers no longer exist, but tiny Israel is still in existence. So just because God uses an unbeliever as a rod of His divine discipline, doesn’t mean God is not going to deal with the rod that He chooses to apply to His people. And that’s what Paul is getting at here. These people that are coming against you, although they’re being used by God, A. Are not pleasing to God because they’re God’s enemies. And in fact, they are hostile to all men. In fact, they have a nature that’s at war with God. Romans 8:7-8 says, “because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” So these enemies of you are enemies of God Himself and they are not pleasing to God. So therefore it’s just a matter of time, God says, once they’ve finished their assignment, from Me, not even knowing it’s an assignment from me, then I’m going to turn very aggressively and deal with them. So this is a very important issue to think about when you encounter suffering or persecution as a Christian.
Number one, it puts you in an elite group of people when you’re suffering unfairly. And number two, don’t think that the person that is causing you the suffering that God has allowed into your life is somehow going to get off the hook. They’re in a lot of trouble. And you look at it that way and you really start to feel sorry for the person that’s persecuting. Because God, in His timing, is going to deal with them. Just like He dealt with the Assyrians and the Babylonians. So all of this to say that the suffering that the Thessalonians were going through was not some kind of abnormal thing. In fact, in the book of First Peter 4:12, Peter says this, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though something strange were happening to you.” You had suffering as a Christian, and the American Christian says, boy, this is sure an abnormality. This is certainly not the Jesus that they’re marketing in Christian media all the time. Why have all of these bad things happened to me from the human perspective? That’s where you start to read the book of First Peter. And First Peter 4:12 says, When you suffer as a Christian, why would you be surprised at that? I mean, why would you think that some odd thing is happening to you? This is exactly what happened to Jesus.
And aren’t we Christ’s followers? This is the exact same thing that happened to the prophets. This is the exact same thing that happened to the apostles. This is the exact same thing that happened to the infant church as recorded in the Book of Acts. And yet don’t think that God is going to let these persecutors off the hook. He’s going to deal with them very aggressively. And that’s what Paul starts to talk about in verse 16 as he’s laying out, for new Christians, that had no New Testament, the doctrine of suffering. The New Testament was just being compiled as this was written. I mean, there was no systematic theology that they could consult. Probably one of the first books I ever read as a new Christian was a book by Charles Stanley. I recommend it to everybody because it will explain suffering. How that’s part of the package as a follower of Jesus. I think the title of it is How to Handle Adversity. So if you can get that and put that in your library and read that, that’s a keeper. It’s pure Bible what he says. Every point he makes is Bible, Bible, Bible. So why didn’t these people just go home and read Charles Stanley’s book? Well, you don’t have any Christian books yet. You don’t have any seminaries yet. You don’t even have a New Testament yet.
They thought they were out of the will of God. So who are they going to consult? They’ve got to consult the apostle who planted their church. And this is Paul’s heart to them is he’s laying out the doctrine of suffering. So he explains here what’s going to happen to their persecutors. And you see that in verse 16. “Hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up,” Look at this here, “..they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.” The first thing Paul does is- he’s talking about their persecutors- is he’s talking about their sins. Why are these persecutors in big trouble with God? Number one, they reject the gospel. Number two, they prevent others from hearing the gospel. Because they prevent others like the Apostles from hearing the gospel, they are thwarting the speaking of the gospel, so people can be saved. So God is very upset with these persecutors because not only are they rejectors of the gospel, but they are preventing other people from hearing the gospel. When you take a man like the Apostle Paul and you drive him out of Thessalonica to some other location, you are inhibiting the ability of other people to hear the truth so as to be saved. And God apparently doesn’t look very kindly on that. This is one of the problems that Jesus had with the Pharisees.
In Matthew 23:13. He says, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,” now listen to this. “…because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” I mean, it’s one thing to reject the truth of God and then be on sort of a fast track to hell. I mean, that’s one thing. That’s bad enough. But then you put in emotion through the forces of persecution, the ability of other people to hear the truth so they can be saved. So essentially what the Pharisees did is they rejected the offer of the kingdom. And because they rejected the offer of the kingdom, they not only hurt themselves, but they hurt everybody else. Because the kingdom, when it comes, is designed to be a blessing to other people. And notice here, this is very important to understand, the connection between speaking and salvation. verse 16, “Hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved.” For the Gentiles to be saved someone needs to talk. Someone needs to speak. Going over and mowing their lawn, I know one guy that- How’s your evangelism going? How is your missionary activity going? Oh, it’s going great. I go over to this guy’s house and I mow the lawn. I mow his lawn every single week.
Oh, well, that’s wonderful. How long have you been doing that for? Oh, about ten years. Oh, well, let me ask you a question. In the course of that ten-year period, have you ever actually gone to his door and talk to him face to face and shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with him verbally? No, I haven’t done that yet. Well, then that’s not evangelism. What you’ve got there is humanitarian work. But humanitarian work doesn’t save anybody. This is part of the struggle that we had with our- we’ve got several people here on our Missions Committee- missions team. This was part of the struggle that we had with some of our missionaries early on when I came here to Sugar Land Bible Church. I mean, they would get up in front and do their missions moment and talk about all the wells they would dig and all of the humanitarian effort. And they would- one of them I specifically remember, would say, Yeah, the gospel is something we really don’t bring up unless we’re asked about it. Folks, you can dig wells and you can mow lawns and you can do Jimmy Carter’s Habitat for Humanity until the cows come home. And you can do wonderful philanthropy. And people, if they don’t hear the gospel, articulated- someone has to say something. You can’t have salvations. Why get into this subject? Because this is the mindset of the evangelical world that we’re living in.
People think if they do humanitarian work, that that is somehow a substitute for evangelism. It is not. This is a false gospel called social gospel. Which places human needs and meeting those way up on a pedestal and way at the bottom somewhere, if it’s even mentioned at all, is the ultimate need that people have that they can’t feel. Which is hearing the gospel and being saved. Now I understand why people like the humanitarian work. The world will love you for that. Everyone will praise you. But you start opening your mouth and you start talking about the exclusivity of Jesus, the world doesn’t really have a lot of tolerance for that. And so there’s this tendency within Christendom to sort of substitute humanitarian work for actual evangelism. So this is why, with our missions committee, we have a rigorous questionnaire that people have to fill out because we have to figure out before they get Sugar Land Bible church money, are they wrapped up in social gospel or authentic evangelism. So here’s this quote, a recent tweet from Kevin Young, who’s sort of a big mover and shaker in what’s called the Gospel coalition. And he says, “The best evangelism Is always done without ever saying a single word.” In which case Jesus was a lousy evangelist because Jesus in John 5:24, and many other places clearly articulated the gospel. And you just compare a statement like this to what the Apostle Paul says.
Where he connects the dots between speaking and salvation. “Hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles.” In other words, they kicked me out of Thessalonica. I’m now in Corinth. And what that has done is it has prevented me from articulating, verbally, the gospel in Thessalonica, which is tragic because the Gentiles themselves need that information in order to be saved. “Hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved.” All you got to do is underline speaking and underline saved, and you see a connection between the two. And you see right through immediately the deception of Dr. Kevin Young, where he’s saying the best evangelism is always done without saying a single word. You have to understand something about the gospel. The gospel, Romans 1:16 and 17, is the dunamis, power, of God for salvation. It contains within it dunamis, where we get the word dynamite. That’s how God has designed the gospel. And so you can hear it from somebody that mows your lawn and someone that doesn’t mow your lawn. And the exact same salvations occur. I’m not anti-mowing-people’s-lawns. I’m not anti-humanitarian concern. But you always have to use that as a platform to preach the truth of the gospel. And if missionaries are unwilling to do that, then they are not real missionaries. They are promoting something entirely different, which is not the gospel of God unto salvation, but social gospel.
In fact, doesn’t the book of Romans chapter 10- some of you know the passage I’m thinking of- verses 14 and 15 say, well, first verse 17. “So faith comes by hearing and hearing by the..” Someone that mows your lawn. No, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Romans 10:14 and 15. “How then will they call upon Him in whom they have not yet believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? How will they hear without a preacher?” What’s a preacher? A proclaimer. A heralder of the truth. “How will they preach unless they are sent? Just so it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” So Paul is upset. In fact, forget Paul. God is upset with these persecutors, even though He’s using them in the lives of the Thessalonians, because they kicked Paul out of Thessalonica, which shut off the opportunity for other people in Thessalonica to hear the gospel from Paul and so as to be saved. And God is going to hold them accountable for it on the day of judgment. In fact, when you look at the rest of verse 16, it’s sort of frightening what Paul says God is going to do to these people. “With the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.’
In other words, what he’s saying is the wrath of God is being stored up against these unbelieving persecutors. It’s an analogy we could use as water sort of building up behind a dam. And eventually, the water volume becomes so great that the dam breaks or the dam bursts. That’s how Paul here presents the wrath of God. It’s like being built up. And eventually, it’s going to reach such a point that the only thing left to happen is for it to be released. You can’t hold it back much longer. And you want to read a real sermon? And I mean a real sermon. A sermon that actually led to the first Great Awakening in America. You can find this easily online read. You know where I’m going. Jonathan Edwards. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. And he talked about these kinds of things all the way through the sermon. In fact, what I’ve understood about his sermon is he was not much of a- he was kind of an intellect, but he wasn’t much of an orator. He just got up and kind of read his sermon. Kind of boring by today’s standards. And yet God used that to bring people under very severe conviction of their need to trust Christ for salvation. And it led to the first Great Awakening in the United States. So Edward’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” talked about these kind of motifs of the wrath of God growing to such an extent that it’s about to be unleashed.
And you find this imagery in other places. You’ll find it in Genesis 15:16 where it says, “Then in the fourth generation, they will return here, for the [iniquity] wrongdoing of the Amorite is not yet complete.” Hey, Lord, is it time to wipe out the wicked emirates? Not yet. Their sin debt hasn’t built up enough yet. But within 400 years, it’ll be time. And that’s why Joshua came into the land of Canaan, which later became Israel, and slaughtered all of those people. Because the wrath of God had been built up to such an extent that there was nothing that could be, could happen other than for God’s wrath to be unleashed. And if God didn’t unleash his wrath, He would be denying who He is as a holy God, certainly a merciful God. 400 years is a long time to get your act together. But they wouldn’t heed the Truth of God, although they knew the things of God. And finally, God’s wrath broke forth. Romans 2:5 uses the same motif. It says, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” You look at that and you start to feel sorry for unbelievers that don’t know Christ.
Because they’re under a- a building snowball that can’t be reversed. And then you find the exact same thing happening before the flood, where God says in Genesis 6:3, “My spirit shall not strive with man forever.” 120 years of grace and finally, it got to the point where God says, I can’t hold back My wrath against sin any longer. And Jesus, explains, Matthew 24:39, that the flood came and took them all away. So that is what is going to happen to these unbelievers who are persecuting the Thessalonian crowd. Their persecution of the Thessalonian Christians doesn’t disprove the Christianity of the Thessalonians. In fact, the Thessalonians have joined an elite group of people because they’re suffering unfairly. But then Paul turns around as he’s writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and he says, Don’t think, by the way, that God is going to let your persecutors off the hook. In fact, the wrath of God is being built up against them. And it’s just a matter of time before it’s unleashed. A very un-American way of looking at being treated unjustly, isn’t it? But this is the framework God wants us to have because, in the world, we suffer persecution. And you have to analyze your suffering through this lens because if you don’t have this lens, the devil will whisper in your ear. Oh, you must not be saved. You must not be a Christian. You must be outside of God’s will. So we’ll pick it up there with verse 17 next time. Father, we’re grateful for your truth. Grateful for your word. Grateful for the difference.