We have been studying the book of 1 Thessalonians which is a book instructing these Christians to live in the light of eternity. Having an eternal view of our lives radically changes how we live in this world. We have noted in our study that these Christians in Thessalonica are going through great trials for their faith in Jesus. In this section of Paul’s letter, 1 Thessalonians 2:13-3:13, this suffering is going to be addressed in greater detail. Paul’s concern is that these Christians would not be moved by the afflictions they are experiencing (3:3). What we are going to see is how Paul encourages these Christians so that they will not be moved by the afflictions they are experiencing. By doing so we are going to learn for ourselves how we will also not be moved by the afflictions we endure.
Accept the Word as God’s Word (2:13)
The first way Paul expresses how these Christians will be able to endure the suffering and afflictions they face for their faith in Christ is by recognizing that they have accepted the word as God’s word. Paul thanks God that these Christians have done this. They do not accept the message Paul proclaimed as human words but as the very words of God which is working in them to change them into God’s image. This approach to God’s word changes everything for us. When we read these words that we hold in our hands, these are God’s words. Just think about that for a minute. This is out of the mouth of God (inspiration, 2 Timothy 3:16). This is God’s revelation to humanity. These are not just words. These are not stories. They are not myths. Every word that you are reading is from the mind and mouth of God. So when we read God’s word, we do not argue with it. We do not change it. We do not bend it. We recognize what it is. Eternal life will not come to us if we ignore God’s word or change God’s word. What God says about our need to have faith and trust in the Lord is critical. What God says about suffering for the cause of Christ is important. We need to hear what God has to say and hold on to those words to maintain our faith. How can we give up on our faith when we know we are reading God’s very words? This is exactly what Peter and the apostles proclaimed in John 6.
So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67–69 ESV)
How can we go away from the Lord? These are the words of eternal life. Paul is so thankful to God that these Christians understood this because this will give you strength in trials and faith when afflicted for Christ’s sake.
God Will Judge (2:14-16)
The second way these Christians will be able to not be moved by afflictions is through the knowledge that God will judge. These Christians have suffered to the same degree from their own people as the Christians in Judea suffered by the hands of the Jews, who were their own people. You are suffering like other people are suffering. Your faith that has made your life difficult because of others is also what others are experiencing. But Paul says that there is a judgment due to those who are causing your afflictions for your faith. These people that are preventing Paul from teaching to the Gentiles as he travels are filling up the measure of their sins. You will notice that Paul pictures the situation like a cup. Sins are being filled up into the cup like water being poured into a glass. At some point the limit is reached and God’s wrath comes upon those people at last. We see this language used elsewhere in the scriptures to communicate the idea that sins are filled up until God’s wrath comes. When God promised to Abraham that his descendants would come back to this land in future generations and not right now, there was a reason.
And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete. (Genesis 15:16 ESV)
In speaking about the rise and then fall of the Greek Empire, listen to why the Greek Empire would fall.
And at the latter end of their kingdom, when the transgressors have reached their limit, a king of bold face, one who understands riddles, shall arise. (Daniel 8:23 ESV)
Jesus spoke about the sins of the leaders of Israel in how they were filling up the measure of their fathers (Matthew 23:32). In all of these instances we are seeing the patience of God as a nation commits sins. But at some point the limit is reached and judgment falls. Paul, in 1 Thessalonians, is speaking about the Jewish nation persecuting Christians but their judgment was about to come in the destruction of Jerusalem. Paul speaks as if it has happened because it was prophetic certainty, as declared by the prophets of God in the Old Testament (cf. Daniel 9:24-27). We can be faithful through trials, adversity, and afflictions because we know that the measure of sins are filling up and God’s wrath will fall at last. God is just and he will deal with sins. God will deal with the enemies of his people. This is a message our nation needs to hear. It is filling up the measure of its sins and God’s wrath will come, just as it has against every nation of the world that preceded us in world history. We are not moved in afflictions because God will judge.
Joy In Christ’s Return (2:17-20)
Third, we are not moved by afflictions because we long for Christ’s return with joy. Paul is constantly drawing the attention of these Christians back to eternity. Paul says in verse 17 that he eagerly desired to see them because they had been torn away from them too early because of the persecution in the city of Thessalonica. Paul wanted to come to them repeatedly but Satan hindered them. But what was Paul’s hope through this separation and difficulty? “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.” Paul speaks of the spiritual warfare we are battling. Yet our joy is you at the coming of the Lord. Your faith and your strength as you wait for Christ’s return gives me faith and strength. This is why we spend time together and worship together. We strengthen each other’s faith. Please think about what Paul is saying. So often we think of eternity in selfish terms. All that matters if I make it. Notice that this is not Paul’s thinking. His hope, joy, and crown before the coming of the Lord is if these Christians remain unmoved in afflictions. Paul does not say, “Well, at least I will make it.” He cares so much for these Christians that his joy is to see them succeed spiritually. We remain unmoved in afflictions because our strength helps others be strong. We remain unmoved in afflictions because we are invested in each other to help each other reach the goal of eternity together.
Destined For Afflictions (3:1-4)
Fourth, we are not moved by afflictions because we understand that we are destined for this. Not only does Paul say that we are destined for afflictions for the cause of Christ (3:3), but Paul told them repeatedly when he was with these Christians that they were suffer afflictions (3:4). Another word for “destined” is appointed. We have been appointed to this outcome as Christians. This is an unchangeable, divine appointment. We are destined for hardships for the cause of Christ. We must adopt this mentality. We are ready for difficulties. We are ready for the discomfort. We are ready for the afflictions. We are ready for the sacrifice because this is what we are destined to do. Friends, what else does it mean for Jesus to tell everyone who wanted to follow him that you must take up the cross to follow (Matthew 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; Luke 14:27). We are marked for trials. Why? Trials and suffering are God’s methods of holy transformation. Suffering is an integral part of the Christian life. We have an appointment for this because this is how God changes us into his image. We are not moved by our afflictions because we know that we are destined for this. God uses these things for our good.
The Tempter Is Tempting You From God (3:5-13)
Finally, we are not moved by afflictions because we know that Satan is using our afflictions and suffering to move us from God. Satan is trying to get us to abandon our faith. Paul fears that their suffering will cause them to give up. Satan wants us to compromise our faith. Satan wants us to abandon our faith. We saw this in our study of the book of Job. Satan hits us from every side so that we will give up on God. “It’s too hard! It’s too much!” This is what Satan is pressing into us. Satan wants your spiritual destruction and he will do whatever he can do against you to bring that about (1 Peter 5:8). We need to see what Satan is doing. We are not unaware of his schemes. We know his goal. The book of Job shows us Satan’s goal: to wreck your life so badly that you will give up on God.
These are the five tools given that Paul gives to these Christians so that they will not be moved by affliction: accept these words as God’s words, know that God will judge those who harm you, take joy in Christ’s coming, know that we have an appointment for afflictions, and understand that Satan is tempting you away from God. Be ready for trials and do not give up on God. Be ready for afflictions but do not give up on God. Be ready for your life to be thrown upside down but do not give up on God. Be ready to suffer but do not give up on God. Be ready to lose your life but do not give up on God. Be ready to carry the cross of Jesus no matter what comes to you in this life.