Faithful Servants

I Thessalonians 2:13-16

Sunday School Lesson for September 16, 2001

The note of thanksgiving, initially advanced in 1:2, continues in this section as Paul remembers how the Thessalonians responded to the preaching of the gospel. Two significant reasons for praise surface in the mind of the apostle as he reflects upon the young congregation.

Thanksgiving for their Reception of the Gospel—2:13

The apostle announces that as he contemplates the believers of Thessalonica, he is promoted to "constantly thank God" for them. Specifically, he has in mind their joyful and enthusiastic reception of Paul and his message of salvation through Christ alone. As we analyze this verse, several significant facts surface:

Thanksgiving for Their Christian Perseverance—2:14-16

Verse 14b

Having heard and believed the Word of God, they became "imitators" of their fellow Christians in "Judea" who were also suffering persecution as a result of their faith in Christ. F. F. Bruce notes that this was "no merely external resemblance. Persecution, according to the [New Testament], is a natural concomitant of Christian faith, and for the believers in Thessalonica to undergo suffering for Christ’s sake proves that they are fellow-members of the same body as the Judean churches" (1&2 Thessalonians, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 45, 45). That they had endured the exact "same sufferings" as their brethren in Judea provided convincing evidence of the reality and genuineness of their faith. It is significant that Paul identifies the Judean Christians as belonging to the "churches of God in Christ Jesus." This description, aside from advancing the full divinity of Jesus, reveals the essential unity and fellowship known by all who follow Christ as Lord (see 1:1). When one believer or group of Christians is called upon to suffer for Christ, all who know and confess the same Lord suffer as well. To summarize, Paul notes that their perseverance, in the face of considerable hostility and resistance, was the God-glorifying verification of their reception of the Word that had been preached to them.

Verses 14b-16

In this striking passage, Paul sets forth the exact nature of the rejection of the gospel by the Jews—his "kinsmen according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:3). It was this ethnic group, along with "your own countrymen," that had opposed the missionaries during their initial work in the city of Thessalonica (Acts 17:5), and had also perpetrated the persecution of the Judean believers. As the apostle reflected upon the persistence and faithfulness of the Thessalonians, he depicts here in dramatic terms the nature of the opposition they and the missionaries had faced. This description, far from serving as an unjustified vilification of Paul’s Jewish kinsmen, simply highlights the strength of the Thessalonian’s resolve in their faithful service of Christ’s kingdom.

Major Themes for Application and Discussion

 

One: The place of the Word of God in the life of the believer—Paul claims that God’s Word changes the believer, but how? What is this "work" which the Word "performs" in our lives? What about the believer who, due to neglect, is not regularly exposed to the Word?

 

 

 

Two: The value of suffering for Christ—What benefit is there in suffering for one’s faith in Christ? How does suffering and persecution empower the church’s witness in the world? Should believers today be surprised when they are ridiculed, slandered, or rejected because of Christ? How should we respond to our persecutors?

Three: The consequences of rejecting the truth—What will eventually happen to those people who repeatedly reject the truth of Scripture, particularly the gospel of Christ? How does the release of God’s wrath upon unbelievers factor into the gospel? Is it necessary when witnessing to mention the "bad news"?