Pastor Phil Andrukaitis, January 8, 2023
The Apostle Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians
General Theme: Living Righteously While Waiting Patiently for Jesus to Return
Sermon Title: When Trouble Comes Because of the Gospel
Sermon Text: First Thessalonians 2:13-16
Subject: godly response to the gospel
Complement: When the gospel is embraced by the church, hostilities will arise.
Big Idea: Expect deadly opposition when you embrace the gospel.
Overview & Review
I. Spiritual leaders prove their concern for the church. (1:1a)
II. Spiritual leaders provide care for the church. (1:1bc)
III. Spiritual leaders pray for the church. (1:2-10)
IV. Spiritual leaders pattern a life of loving service. (2:1- 3:13)
A. By evangelizing lost sinners with the saving gospel (2:1-16)
- How do Christians conduct their lives in the presence of sinners? (2:1-12)
- How do Christians respond when trouble comes because of the gospel? (2:13-16)
B. By edifying separated saints with loving concern (2:17 – 3:5)
C. By encouraging spiritual saints with hope and prayer (3:6-13)
What on earth is happening all around us? There is a roaring lion prowling around seeking whom he may devour. There is a Satanic force in this universe trying to deceive, divide, and destroy and he is being far too successful…there will never come a time in your life when Satan (and his minions) will leave you alone. (Charles Stanley).
In a recent broadcast of Understanding the Times with Jan Markell, Pastor Brandon Holthaus of Rock Harbor Church in Bakersfield, CA stated that the fallen angles are influencing every segment of our society, from Hollywood, to education, medicine, governments, the economy, and even the church.
We live in a world where godly values are falling by the wayside. Apostasy throughout the world and in our nation is on the rise. Behind the turmoil we see in our culture, in our political environment, economy, education, and within the church are “…rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). These demonic forces have marshaled their forces and have accelerated their wrathful assault against God, against Israel, and against the church because they know their time is coming to an end. It’s as if they are implementing a “scorched earth” policy.
And the church will experience increased demonic attacks because many Christians are warning this world of a coming one world government, the rise of the Anti-Christ, a global economic meltdown/collapse, the lies of a environmental apocalypse, and divine judgment upon this wicked, fallen world. Therefore, when the church embraces the gospel of Jesus Christ and CALLS sinners to repent and to believe Christ – to receive Jesus by faith, Satan “steps up” his attacks against Christians and every local church that dares to stand firm in Christ and embrace the gospel.
Remember, every sinner who has been born again is a son / daughter of Almighty God. We are citizens of heaven; ambassadors for Christ as God makes His appeal through us for sinners to be reconciled with Christ (2nd Corinthians 5:20).
The apostle wrote: “For our sake He [God the Father] made Him [Jesus] to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2nd Corinthians 5:21). The gospel is the only message that can save your soul. The gospel comes from the righteousness of God with the power of God. Quote Romans 1:16.
As we return to the sermon series in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, remember, this letter from the apostle Paul describes the Thessalonian church as a model church. Paul’s general theme throughout his letter is living righteously while waiting patiently for Jesus to return; yes, even in these challenging days of 2023.
You may recall that we concluded a major section in chapter two [verses 1-12] where Paul explained that the following ideas reveal the fruit of God’s saving faith and grace at work in our lives:
- A worthy walk with God brings glory to God.
- Attitudes determine our actions.
- Harboring godly motives in our heart brings the gospel to sinners.
- Our conduct impacts a person’s response to the gospel.
And now, Paul expresses his thankfulness to God for a second time. What was Paul’s reason? Their reception of the gospel amid their trials and tribulations glorified God. The Thessalonians held firm their faith in Christ. Learning of their steadfastness through Timothy’s “welfare check” (1st Thessalonians 3:2-5), Paul wrote this letter to them. Let’s read 1st Thessalonians 2:13-16.
“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the Word of God, which is at work in you believers.
“For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews,
“who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displeased God and oppose all mankind
“by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved – so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!”
(1st Thessalonians 2:13-16)
Open with prayer.
The city of Thessalonica was a hostile environment for the gospel. [One day, our community may become hostile towards the gospel.] Having been shamefully mistreated in Philippi, Paul and the mission team entered Thessalonica only to encounter greater hostility. As a result, in the brief time Paul and Silas ministered in Thessalonica, they were forced to leave the city prematurely. And from there, things only got worse as their opponents followed them to Berea and created more trouble for them (Acts 17:1-15).
In Paul’s mind, there was no doubt that his Thessalonian friends had become believers “under fire.” Concerned for their well-being in the brief time Paul and the mission team had with the Thessalonian believers, Paul repeatedly encouraged them that they would suffer affliction before he departed from Thessalonica.
“For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know” (1st Thessalonians 3:4).
When Paul finally arrived in Athens, he had to find out how the Thessalonians were doing. Consequently, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to learn of the church’s welfare.
“…and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith” (1st Thessalonians 3:2).
Timothy finally returned to Paul with good news concerning the welfare of the Thessalonian church. All was good! And so, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians was based on Timothy’s report to Paul.
Do you remember the four types of soil in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower? The “rocky soil” [upon which the seed – the gospel message] was sown is likened to those who hear the gospel and are persecuted. Listen, Jesus said,
“As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the Word, immediately he falls away” (Matthew 13:20- 21).
I believe this was Paul’s main concern for the Thessalonian church. He wondered if the Thessalonian church was rooted deep enough in God’s Word so that their faith could endure the hostilities directed against them.
How about you and me? How about BBBC? Are we rooted deep enough in God’s Word to withstand hostilities when they come against us?
While the “tempter” cannot prevent God from bringing the “good news” [the gospel] to those who are lost, the “tempter” can redirect his efforts against young, immature believers, pressuring and demoralizing them with persecution to walk away from the faith, thereby making ineffective any outreach among the lost.
Therefore, I believe the Lord knows how to apply the right balance of trials and tribulations in the believers’ lives to help them mature in their faith because without trials and tribulations [blessings from God according to Romans 5:3] spiritual maturity will not occur.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).
In other words, “The absence of pressure may indicate a lack of spiritual growth.” [Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible]
Okay, now that my transitional thoughts are complete, how do Christians recognize divine conversion in themselves and in the lives of others, especially as it relates to the Word of gospel?
Beside the presence of godly fruit in the person’s life, (1st Thessalonians 2:1-12), Paul was confident that the conversion of the Thessalonian sinners had occurred, based on the way they responded to the gospel even as trials and tribulations fell upon them. Therefore, Paul confidently gave thanks to God!
When trouble comes because of the gospel, here are three outstanding responses towards the Word of God that reveal authentic conversion of a sinner.
I. There is a positive response to the gospel. (2:13)
II. There is a willingness to suffer affliction for the gospel. (2:14)
III. There is a deadly opposition against the messengers of the gospel. (2:15-16)
Expect deadly opposition when you embrace the gospel.
I. There is a positive response to the gospel (2:13).
“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the Word of God,
which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men
but as what it really is, the Word of God, which is at work in you believers.”
(1st Thessalonians 2:13)
What does a positive response to the Word of God look like?
- There is a reception of the Word of God. The word “received” is paralambanō (Strong’s #3880) and it means “to receive from another.” The Thessalonian sinners were enabled by God to receive from God, the Word of God, even though their culture was filled with godless philosophies and world views that did not honor God. Sounds like our culture today, doesn’t it?
- There is an acceptance of the Word of God. The word “acceptance” is dechomai (Strong’s #1209) signifies a deliberate and ready reception of what is being offered. In simpler words, a truly converted sinner will welcome the Word of God into his/her life while at the same time rejecting the culture’s philosophies and lies.
When you invite one another into your home for a meal, you obviously welcome them into your home, when they arrive. But if your attitude “stinks” for whatever reason, your guest is going to feel uncomfortable. Well my brothers and sisters, our God has brought us together to have our souls feast upon His Word. While He is pleased to give us His Word, are we pleased to accept His Word? Do we hunger and thirst after His Word?
- There is discernment between the word of man and the Word of God. The Thessalonian sinners knew the difference between divine and human viewpoints – not because of their intellectual capabilities but because the Holy Spirit enables condemned sinners to recognize the Truth.
No human opinion will ever equal divine pronouncements. No human reasoning can ever save a person’s soul. Only God possesses the ability to awaken the spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-5) with the Word of God. Listen to prophet Isaiah speak on behalf of God.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring for the and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
“so shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
Based on these three positive responses to the Word of God, saving faith converts the soul. God’s Word will always accomplish its purpose and return to God, being fruitful – either unto salvation or condemnation.
The only way to enter God’s spiritual family is by a spiritual birth, through faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:1-16). The Spirit of God (John 3:5-6) and the Word of God (1st Peter 1:23) bring forth the new nature (2nd Peter 1:4) as well as a new and living hope (1st Peter 1:3).
“…you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God” (1st Peter 1:23).
Each human being will die because our bodies were created with “corruptible seed.” Human reproduction will one day cease forever. However, the second birth, the spiritual birth, occurs with the Word of God which is apthartos (Strong’s #862) “immortal” “imperishable,” “undying” and “enduring.”
The Word of God is apthartos sperma [sperm of God] which not only secures the sinner’s salvation but also gives the sinner a new “godly genetic” makeup. To be born of God is to inherit godly characteristics.
When hostilities arise because of the gospel, a second outstanding response towards gospel is…
II. There is a willingness to suffer affliction for the gospel (2:14).
“For you, brothers,
became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.
For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews…”
(1st Thessalonians 2:14)
This response is so clearly seen in the aged disciple John who was exiled on the island of Patmos, “for the Word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:9).
Like the church in Jerusalem and throughout Judea, the Thessalonian Church imitated (experienced) similar afflictions. Why was Paul able to draw comparisons between the Judean and Thessalonian churches? Paul had great insight because before his conversion, he was the leading “headhunter” during the early days of the church (Acts 7:54-8:3; 9:1-2). Paul understood.
By comparing the sufferings of the Judean churches with the newly formed Thessalonian church (Acts 17:1-10), the reader of Scripture will conclude that the “church planters” and churches were singled out by envious and evil men who persecuted the church.
Remember Stephen? He preached Christ to the Jews and was killed for it. His death triggered a blood bath as the Pharisees and Sadducees joined forces to hunt down, chase, persecute and end the new movement called, The Way. As a result,
- Devout believers lamented over the martyred believers [and family and friends] (Acts 8:2).
- Devastated believers were dishonored as they were driven from their homes and defiled as they were thrown into prison (Acts 8:1-3).
- Determined believers continued to spread the Word of God (Acts 8:4).
Thus, when persecutions and afflictions come and remain in our lives, do not allow fears, prejudices, and hate cripple your walk with God. Like the Thessalonian believers and Judean Christians, let us continue to…
…testify of Christ,
…exercise our faith in Christ,
…repel the wicked influences of our society,
…focus on Jesus and His return.
Illustration: Many active-duty military personnel may be home on leave [rest and recuperation], having completed their tour of duty, perhaps in a war zone. However, they also know that they must go back. For them the war is not over.
Well, in a similar sense, conversion is like war; the battles that Christians face every day remind the church that the war against the spiritual forces of evil is not over. Yes, the victory is won for the Christian because Christ rose from the dead; however, every believer will engage the enemy – but let’s be careful not to engage them in our strength but with God’s power.
Let’s not take off our armor but stand ready always and confront the godless philosophies and their teachers with God’s eternal truth.
When hostilities arise because of the gospel, a third outstanding response towards the gospel can expect…
III. There is a deadly opposition against the messengers of the gospel (2:15-16).
“…who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out,
and displeased God and oppose all mankind
“by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles
that they might be saved – so as always to fill up the measure of their sins.
But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!”
(1st Thessalonians 2:15-16)
Verses 15-16 tells us of those who persecuted God’s messengers and opposed the gospel. God has allowed these hostilities to continue so that the full measure of their sin may be reached – then God’s judgment will fall. Individuals who resist God’s message and messengers are enemies of God. Yet, the wrath of God abides on them (John 3:36) because these unregenerate, condemned sinners…
…ignore the Word of God
…disobey the Word of God
…reinterpret the Word of God
…resist the Word of God, and even
…forbid others to preach and live the Word of God
Those individuals who set themselves against God’s people also set themselves against God. The worst thing about unbelief is not that it damns the unbeliever, but that it hinders the salvation of others. Such people seek to extinguish the lamp of truth and in doing so cause others to stumble (John Walvoord).
But on the other hand, converted sinners stand with those who bring glad tidings of great joy while standing against a wicked world, confronting society’s moral ills.
Satan knows that his time is almost over. He is working to destroy people’s lives and their relationship with Jesus Christ. He encourages the enemies of the cross to mock those who believe that Jesus Christ is the only way.
Intimidation is one of his many weapons of mass destruction designed for the church. Don’t be intimidated but stand strong on God’s Word; and expect to see a greater number of people speaking out against the Truth of God’s Word and the narrow way of salvation.
Concluding Questions & Applications
1. How responsive am I to the Word of God?
- Am I attentive? What can I do to improve my attentiveness?
- Is the Word of God truly important to me? How can I show God that it is?
- Can I tell the difference between man’s word and God’s Word?
- Is my spiritual “genetic makeup” like that of God? Is there a difference in me?
2. What does conversion look like in my life?
- Have I changed the way I think about God, about the Bible, about my sin?
- Am I anti-Semitic? Know this, Paul had a deep love for his countrymen. Antisemitism is a grave sin.
- Have I separated myself from wicked habits? If not, why?
- If I turned away from wickedness, have I turned to God?
- Have I placed my trust in Him? If so, what desires has He given me?
- How am I presently serving Jesus, with these new desires?
3. Why should I seek to strengthen my spiritual muscles?
- To be certain that my commitment to Christ is real and not based on some emotional response. Read Matthew 13:18-21.
- To be able to stand with God and God’s people when “end times” afflictions and tribulations occur in my life. Read Jeremiah 12:5.
- To be mature and complete in my spiritual life. Read James 1:2-8.
4. What can I do to help encourage the messengers of God?
- While each of us are missionaries, some have been led by God to “earn a living” by preaching and teaching the Word of God. Support them in practical and spiritual ways.
As we have asked ourselves these questions, what steps are we going to take to obey God’s promptings?
Expect deadly opposition when you embrace the gospel.
 Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible, “In Depth: Painful Expectations,” (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), p. 2024.