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Gospel Suffering

1 Thessalonians 2:14-16
For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: you suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last. (NIVUK)

Paul had previously commended the Thessalonians for allowing God's Word to work in their lives (1 Thessalonians 2:13). That was particularly demonstrated when they were under persecution. God's Word sustained them when they were pursued and harassed by religious people who hated Jesus. Opposition did not stop them from believing, instead it affirmed their faith; as it did for the churches in Judea.
 
Although the Jews should have welcomed their Messiah, they resisted Him and were determined to kill Him. Paradoxically Paul was also one of them before He met the risen Jesus (Galatians 1:13). Paul was present at Stephen's martyrdom (Acts 22:20) and could personally remember how much he loathed people who believed in Jesus (Acts 26:10-11). But in the same way that the death of the Lord Jesus enabled salvation for many, the persecution of the believers had the effect of forcing many to leave Jerusalem and the surrounding area. As they travelled they spread the gospel and churches were formed (Acts 8:1-4).
 
Although God uses the anger of man to achieve His purposes (Psalm 76:10), He does not excuse the evil behaviour. Paul calls it 'heaping up sins to the limit'. Unrepentant sinners face judgement, however religious they may have been. God is particularly offended when persecutors inhibit believers proclaiming the gospel and hinder the unsaved reaching out to the Saviour.
 
Suffering should be expected by people who follow the crucified Christ (Philippians 1:29). So when it comes, we should not be surprised (1 Peter 4:12-14). Some Christians think that opposition and suffering are signs that God has removed His blessing because of their sins or because they have not been zealous enough: that comes from false teaching. Opposition is normal for faithful disciples of Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12); it does not mean that God has left you because His Word sustains the faithful (Isaiah 50:4). Be encouraged when the Lord entrusts you to bear hostility. He is refining You (1 Peter 1:7). God's blessing is not only in abundantly supplying what you need but also generously sustaining you through great hardship. Either way, thank Him and trust Him for whatever may come tomorrow.

Prayer 
Sustaining God. Thank You that Your Word does sustain the weary. Forgive me for wrongly believing that trouble means you have left me, when You are allowing my faith to be tested. Please help me to trust You in all circumstances and to see opposition as an opportunity for the gospel, instead of retreating and becoming ineffective in Your service. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams

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