Which Side Are You On?
Text: 1st Thessalonians 2:13-16
By: Ken McKinley
Well as we continue on in our study of Paul’s 1st letter to the Thessalonians we come to our text. If you remember, the first 12 verses of this chapter we saw that Paul had a deep conviction of his stewardship to preach the Gospel. But Paul never knew what kind of reaction he was going to get when he did preach. Prior to coming to Thessalonica Paul had faced persecution, so he didn’t know for sure what was going to happen when he came to Thessalonica, if they would receive the Gospel, or if he would have to wipe the dust from his feet, he just knew that he was supposed to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. But Paul had a good result with the Thessalonians, at least in the church, and he was filled with thanksgiving at the way they had embraced the message, and that’s what he writes about in our text.
Now there are some people who think that verses 14, 15, and 16 are anti-Semitic and some of the so-called “Liberal Theologians” say that there is no way that Paul could’ve written this, and that it must’ve been added at a later time. But there’s no evidence for this at all.
Paul was not anti-Semitic, he was anti-unbelief. Paul loved his fellow Jews, and he longed for their salvation. It was his practice to come to a city and first he would preach at the synagogue before going into the homes of Gentiles. He loved his country men according to the flesh, but; he wasn’t going to avoid the fact that his own countrymen had also rejected the prophets, one after the other – something that Jesus even said in Matthew 23. They had killed not only God’s prophets, but also were now rejecting the Messiah that they had been waiting for.
Now like I said, that doesn’t make Paul anti-Semitic, it makes him anti-unbelief. In other parts of Scripture, he uses just as strong language to describe and condemn unbelief among the Gentiles. What Paul teaches, and what all of Scripture teaches, is that anyone, whether Jew or Gentile, anyone who opposes the message of salvation, is opposed to God Himself. That’s why Paul says in verse 15 that they were contrary towards all men. The most loving thing a person can do for another is to allow them access to the message of the Gospel. Or better yet; present it to them.
I once took a graduate level class on the psychology of learning, and in that class we talked about the way people learn. And I remember one time we were talking about babies and how they perceive certain things. It was kind of amusing actually, but they did a study where they would sit a baby down and then build a tower of blocks, three or four blocks high, with a red block on the top of the tower. The baby would watch with fascination and the idea was that the baby was taking it all in and that he or she was satisfied with the logic of it all. Then they suspended the red block in the air, with no visible means of suspension. Meaning that the baby couldn’t see how the red block was floating in mid-air. And even babies were troubled by this; it was illogical to them. In-other-words, they couldn’t attach meaning to what they were seeing. And sometimes I think that’s how people can be with the Gospel. They hear the message, but it doesn’t register with them. They can open a Bible, or come to church and hear a pastor preaching the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, but to them it’s only words. For those kinds of people, the Gospel doesn’t come in power, it doesn’t weigh on them, there is no sense of personal application of the message, no embrace of the message. It’s like the teacher from the Old Charlie Brown shows:
“Whaa – whaa, whaa – whaa –whaa - whaa.”
This is the one true thing that divides the human race. What they do with the Word of God. You may have two people who live in the same town, one knows the Word of God, believes it to be true, and lives it. The other person doesn’t know the Word of God, rejects it, and lives how they think they should. Now those two people may eat the same kinds of food, shop at the same stores, attend the same football games and so on the outside, it seems that they are no different; but the reality is that there is a vast, eternal difference between them. That difference is more than obvious to God, and it should be obvious to all of us, in how they live. And that’s what Paul is saying when he writes this. He says, “You saw how we lived our lives before you, and of course so did God, so now we are telling you to live the same way; live in a way that its obvious Who you belong to and Who you serve.”
Now it’s interesting that in most of his letters, Paul begins them with a word of thanksgiving, and he does that in chapter one verses 2 – 10, but he returns to thanksgiving in verse 13 here in chapter two. So Paul says he is thankful for what the Thessalonians did with the Word of God when they heard it. The reason for this is the same thing I told ya’ll last time; that Paul believed with all of his heart that there was nothing more important than the Word of God. He knew without a shadow of a doubt that the Word of God was necessary for the regeneration of mankind. Paul knew that the Thessalonians eternal destinies were at stake – all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And his life gave evidence to that belief.
We saw back in chapter 1:9-10 that Paul is talking about the day when Jesus returns and He will deliver us from the wrath to come. That wrath is the eternal punishment in hell for those who reject the Gospel. Paul knew that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which a person can be delivered from the wrath of God. Jesus took our punishment on the Cross. He was delivered up for our trespasses, and raised for our justification. If a person hears the good news and believes it, they can have assurance that on the last day God will welcome them into His kingdom. It will be a day of rejoicing. But if a person hears the Gospel and rejects it; if they think its nothing more than self-help, or a philosophical school of thought, then they will face God’s wrath in eternity. So Paul was thankful that they received the Word of God for what it was.
Paul goes on to say in verse 14 that the Thessalonians became like the Christians in Judea. Meaning that their faith was evident, but also that they began to endure persecutions for their faith.
In the Bible you never see a Christian who isn’t persecuted for their faith in Christ. 2nd Timothy 3:12 says this, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Why did persecution come to the Thessalonians?
Turn with me to Matthew 13 – the parable of the sower (Read vs.18 – 23); now I want you to look again at verse 21 – persecution came because of the Word. The seed was the Word, but also persecution came because of the Word. In Acts 4:1-3 – Peter and John were arrested because of preaching the Word. In Acts 5:40 the apostles were beaten for preaching the Word. In Acts 7:58 Stephen is martyred because of his faithful proclamation of the Word of God. In Acts 9:23-24 the Jews plotted to kill Saul (later to be known as Paul) for preaching the Word. In Acts 12:1-4 James is killed and Peter is arrested for preaching the Word. In Acts 14 at Iconium, Paul and Barnabas are chased out of town by a mob because he preached the Word of God. Also in Acts 14:19 Paul is stoned for preaching the Word.
I could go on and on, but the fact of the matter is; Scripture teaches that in this world you will have trouble. It teaches that Christians who are living for the Lord, who are not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who are bold in their profession of faith, will be persecuted. In-fact, in our text, Paul takes the persecution of the Thessalonians as a sign that they have received the Word of God.
But it’s His Word that brings salvation. It’s His Word that shows us the way along this straight and narrow path. The Word of God is our map, it’s our ammunition (or if we lived in ancient times – it’s our sword). The Word of God is our light, our protection, our greatest weapon, and most important – it shows us Jesus who loved us and gave Himself for us.
The Word of God is not only important for unbelievers to hear, it’s just as important for Christians. It leads us and guides us in the ways of wisdom, and helps us avoid the traps of temptation. It leads us in the paths of righteousness and teaches us to be holy.
As Christians, we should all spend as much time in God’s Word as we can. I know that in life we have things that have to be done; we have things that demand our time and attention. But let me just say this...
MariJo knows me, she knows what I like, what I don’t like, she knows what makes me happy, or sad, or angry; she knows my hopes, my dreams, my desires… And the reason she knows me so well is because we have spent 10 years together, and let me just say this so I don’t get into trouble, women are better at this than guys. MariJo can go to the store and buy me a shirt and 9 times out of 10 I’ll like it… I don’t even presume that I could do that for her. If I went and bought her an outfit she’d probably hate it. And maybe that’s not the best analogy, but here’s the thing; do we know what God likes and dislikes? Do we know what pleases Him and displeases Him? We can, we’ve just got to take the time getting to know Him and we do that through prayer and the study of His Word.