Thessalonians: Embrace the right suffering, avoid the wrong suffering.

Class Outline:


We’ve all heard of suffering for a noble cause. Which causes are noble in God’s eyes, whose sufferings are legitimate and in fact good for us?


Masada was the last stronghold of Jewish Zealots who revolted against Rome. According to Josephus, the 1,000 or so of them committed suicide before the Romans could capture them (73 A.D.). Their suffering was a waste. They were fighting the wrong enemy.




Why did they suffer? They revolted against Rome and what they considered unfair taxation as well as loss of national autonomy.


Is this the legitimate suffering of God’s people? No.


They revolted against the wrong enemy.


As we will see in the letters from the apostle Paul, we are to turn the world upside down, but not governments, political parties, or even tax laws. These are not our enemies, nor are they the enemies of mankind. Our true enemies are sin, spiritual death, the thinking of the world, and the devil. We overthrow them in each individual’s soul with the gospel and the truth of the Word of God with the power of the Holy Spirit. Christianity has turned the world upside down, but not with the sword.


Today we start 1Thessalonians and our focus at first will be the suffering and persecution that comes upon all Christians when they pursue the truth that exposes the weaknesses of the real enemy.




The background for Paul’s relatively brief ministry in Thessalonica is his second missionary journey.



Paul’s heart burns to know what has happened to the church he just started in Thessalonica. He left them in the midst of great persecution. Would the pressure snuff out their faith, their zeal for the Christian life (the life of Christ)? When he could stand it no longer, he sent Timothy to slip into Thessalonica to see how they were and to report back. Timothy returned with very good news. By this time Paul was in Corinth facing further pressure from the failure of his ministry in Athens and the daunting task awaiting him in the cosmopolitan city of Corinth. Timothy’s news, that the church in Thessalonica was strong in the faith, was very welcomed by Paul. From Corinth he immediately wrote his first letter to the Thessalonians in 50 A.D.; his first letter that would be a part of the eternal N.T. Very soon after, a year or less, he would write his second letter to them. These are the earliest letters by Paul that are in the N.T.




Every letter in the NT is written for a particular reason to a particular people. To know these reasons and the audience to whom they were pointed, helps us to understand the main theme or themes of the letter. God the Holy Spirit has inspired every word, and therefore, each book of the NT has a particular message for us from Him. There is a lot of overlap, but each book has its own particular message. Altogether, the 27 books of the NT give us 27 messages from the HS that complete His revelation to us. Our quest this year is to have an idea of all 27 themes.


Theme of Thessalonians (1 & 2):

Encouragement to live a godly life despite persecution and in view of the coming of the Lord. [pic theme: narrow road, new and living way]


This is a book of encouragement in the journey of staying on the right path, the new and living way, despite the suffering that comes upon the faithful believer. And with that encouragement, Paul exhorts them to excel still more, even though they are currently doing very well.


After initially praising them for their faithfulness to the Lord and their work in love, Paul points out that they did so in much tribulation.


1TH 1:6-7

You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.


Paul then reminds them of the very difficult time he had when he was there ministering to them (2:1-12), but how faithful he was to the good of the Lord. And he pulls them together with himself. Paul’s love for the church shines in all his letters. He wants them to know that as he suffered for the glory of the gospel, so did they.


1TH 2:13-15

For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. 14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus 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, 15 who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out.


This is not the suffering of revolt. There obviously isn’t something like religious freedom in Thessalonica. There isn’t a first amendment to violate. And that is not the concern of the believers there. They are suffering as revolutionaries against the government. They are revolutionaries of a kind, but against the lies of the devil with which he has soaked the world. And Paul shares with them that he has suffered in the exact same way.



Encouragement of comradery= sharing suffering in the same noble venture. [Image - comradery of D-day]


This happens in the military and it should happen in the church. We all suffer for righteousness’ sake. And we need to encourage one another in that venture. We are not to encourage one another in wrong ventures. We pick up our crosses and follow Christ. We follow what He valued and what He loved because only those things are worthy of our love and energy.


The encouragement of the letter also includes the coming of Christ to rapture the church.




Encouragement of Jubilee = trials are temporary and Christ is going to judge all.



We’ll see this this week. If you are suffering in the trials for Christ’s sake, His coming tells you that it might not even last your whole lifetime, and even if it does you will be in heaven soon enough. His coming is also comforting in trial, in that no on is going to get away with anything. He will judge all.


These letters contribute a major part to the scriptural doctrine of Christ’s coming, but that is not the primary reason that Paul wrote them. He writes of the coming of the Lord for the reasons of both accountability and comfort. The primary reason for the letters is to encourage new believers in holy living.


Now, most normal people are not looking for suffering of any kind. We must avoid timid, silent Christianity that hopes not to offend or cause waves or especially bring attention to us.


Today’s class is going to focus on the reasons for legitimate suffering in contrast to reasons for illegitimate suffering.


1PE 4:15-16

Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.


So, let’s go back to before Paul wrote 1 and 2 Thessalonians, to his visit to that city. He was on his second missionary journey.


By this time, we can see Paul’s M.O.; upon entering a city, he established himself in the local synagogue where he explained from the O.T. Scriptures how the Christ [Messiah to the Jews] had to suffer and rise again.


ACT 17:1-3

Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ."


Actually, this teaching method was not initially Paul’s idea. The Lord Jesus, just after He was resurrected, instructed the disciples in this method for evangelizing Israel.


LUK 24:44-49

Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."  45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  48 "You are witnesses of these things.  49 "And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."


Notice also that they were not to do this method of evangelizing without the Holy Spirit’s ministry within them. And therefore, none of them would be able to do it without God’s help from within. So before we’re tempted to elevate Paul or any other great missionary or pastor, etc., let us remember that the Lord gave the means and the instruction and the Holy Spirit. Every one of us are called to be witnesses of the gospel, and none of us are worthy of it, including Paul. Still, God will fill us with His power and His wisdom if we are willing to be heralds of Him by faith.


After Paul taught in the synagogue, some Jews and Gentiles proselytes would believe and some would not. For several reasons; jealousy, financial loss of the idol makers [Ephesus], the message that they’re no longer being under the law of Moses being taken as an insult - drove both Jews and Gentiles to want to get back at Paul. In Thessalonica, the unbelieving Jews became jealous, but when they couldn’t locate Paul, they dragged the unfortunate Jason out of his house.


Persecution is going to be unfair. Remember Christ and patiently put all in the hands of your Father who will recompense His enemy. Vengeance is the Lord’s.


It seems that Jason and some others were kind enough, and God fearing enough, to open their homes to Paul and his team. For this, they got dragged out of their home and forced to the civil authorities.


ACT 17:4-9

And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. 5 But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. 6 When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, "These men who have upset the world have come here also [they had no idea how prophetic that statement was]; 7 and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus." 8 They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. 9 And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them.


The “pledge” from Jason is interesting. The Greek word (hikanos) means sufficient or satisfaction. Jason agreed to something that was satisfactory to the officials, and it may have been [not to throw them under the historical bus] that he and the others agreed to not let Paul return to their security.


1TH 2:18

For we wanted to come to you — I, Paul, more than once — and yet Satan hindered us.