God at Work: in the Face of Opposition
1 Thessalonians 2:13-16
1. Recognize the Context:
In verse 9, Paul reminded the Thessalonian church of the challenging and demanding work he and his companions regularly endured, in order not to be a financial burden to the people or hinder the proclamation of the gospel. In verse 10, Paul identified them as witnesses, along with God, of Paul and his companions’ conduct within their presence. He used three terms to describe the missionaries’ behavior, holy, righteous, and blameless. By using all three terms together, Paul emphasized their exemplary lives with the Thessalonians.
The Apostle used his third familial image in verse 11, a father with his own children. Paul described this role with three participles, encouraging, comforting, and urging. The purpose of his nurturing efforts was to help them to live worthy of God.
This God is the one who called them into his kingdom and glory. The Kingdom is God’s rule and reign, and it is both a present and future reality. Glory was used frequently in the OT to refer to the presence of God, and Paul applied the same usage here. Therefore, a life worthy of God’s calling is one in God’s presence and under his authority.
2. Read the Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16
13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it truly is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. 14 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 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone 16 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.
3. Reflect on the Scripture: In 2:13-16, Paul transitioned from himself and his co-labors as the subject back to the Thessalonian church. He returned to an expression of thanksgiving in this section as well. Paul was thankful because they receivedand accepted the word of God (1:6), which was at work in those who believed (1:5).
Additionally, Paul revisited several themes introduced in chapter one. He again identified them as imitators (1:6), but this time the comparison was with the churches in Judea, who also suffered. The Thessalonians suffered from their own people, while the Judean Christians suffered at the hands of the Jews. However, Paul was not making some generalization about “all Jews.” As a Jew himself, he qualified his statement, referring to a particular minority.
In verse 15, Paul identified several characteristics about this faction of Jews to which he was referring. Although the execution was explicitly carried out by the Roman authorities, they sought the death of Jesus the Messiah, much like their ancestors who resisted the message of the prophets in the Old Testament (Matt. 23:29-32, Jer. 2:30, 1 Ki. 19:10). Paul stated they also drove us out. He presented a clear pattern of behavior, from past to present. They have rejected those who foretold the Messiah, the Messiah himself, and those who proclaimed the risen Messiah.
As those opposed to God’s plans and people, it's obvious to see why he was displeased. Paul then reflected on how their efforts could be perceived as hostility toward “everyone” and how this has specifically hindered his work to bring salvation to the Gentiles. In doing so, they heap up their sins to the limit (Gen. 15:16), which indicates their sin had accumulated and reached full measure. Paul returned to the notion of God’s wrath (1:10) as punishment for their sin. His wrath has become a present reality for those who work against him (John 3:16-18, Rom. 1:18).
4. Relate to life:
Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.
Today, prayerfully consider what it means for the word of God to be at work in you. How does reading, studying, praying, and doing God's word bring about life change for you? How is the Holy Spirit at work through his word?
Today, pray for those in your life who you know are hostile to the gospel message.
Do you know someone who is verbally or actively hostile to the gospel? Friends, family members, or co-workers? How can you be salt and light to these people? Are there specific action steps you can take?
To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passage.)
Notice Paul has revisited several themes introduced in the opening thanksgiving of chapter one. Now go back and reread chapters one and two together, and look for these reoccuring themes.