Suffering and Joy: An Odd Combination
1 Thessalonians 1:-10, emphasis on verses 5-6
1. Recognize the Context:
In verse 4, Paul identified the Thessalonian congregation as brothers and sisters, loved by God, and chosen. These terms were originally used in the Old Testament to describe the people of Israel, and here Paul used them to identify the people of God in Christ. He reminded them they were part of God’s family, and their election was rooted in God’s love.
2. Read the Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10, emphasis on verses 5-6
4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
3. Reflect on the Scripture: Verse 5 identifies what Paul knew to be true in light of their election by God. Namely, the message of the gospel came to the Thessalonians not only with words, but with power, the Holy Spirit, and deep conviction. For Paul, the presentation and reception of the good news of Jesus Christ were dynamically experienced realities for himself, his missionary companions, and the Thessalonian community.
These believers came to imitate Paul, and in doing so, they were imitators of the Lord (verse 6). But how were they imitating Paul and the Lord? The answer is provided in the remainder of verse 6. The Thessalonians responded to Paul’s message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit, even though they experienced severe suffering. This word “suffering” means an external oppressive force or affliction.
Paul knew firsthand about a life filled with suffering and joy in his ministry of the gospel. He sought to model his life after the Messiah, the suffering servant (Mark 10:45). Therefore, the Thessalonian experience of suffering and their response to it put them in “good company” with Paul and Jesus himself.
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 the example set by the Thessalonian church. Consider their response to the gospel message and life characterized by joy from the Holy Spirit in the midst of suffering. How does your life situation compare? Take time to talk to God about it.
Today, prayerfully consider those you know who are experiencing suffering in their lives or struggling to have joy in their current difficult situation.
Today, prayerfully consider those in the greater church community throughout the world who are suffering for the cause of Christ. Pray the Holy Spirit will give them joy and strength.
Ask the Holy Spirit for help to identify someone in your life you can model Christian character and share with words the message of the gospel with power and conviction.
Identify someone in your sphere of influence, experiencing suffering, and hardship today. What is one concrete action you can specifically take to encourage them?
At the end of your day, take a few minutes to reflect. Were there moments and activities in your day you would want friends and family to imitate or not?
To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passage.)
If you want to know more about the persecuted church around the world, check out persecution.com (The Voice of the Martyrs)
See also Phil. 4:4.
Use a concordance or a website like bible gateway.com and search other verses on suffering and joy.