Summary: What is Paul saying about troubles in a Christian’s life? Expository sermon. Clip from movie "Men of Honor" illustrates endurance.
The Good News That I Didn’t Want to Hear
I have entitled the message this morning: The Good News That I Didn’t Want to Hear.
I think we all agree that the gospel is good news. It’s good news that I am forgiven of my sin—that I have been born into the family—that I am destined for heaven not hell. All of that is very good news. And all of that is possible because of what Jesus has done for me.
The Bible is full of good news for the believer.
When we consider God’s plan for us and where it ultimately takes us it is absolutely, unquestionably good news. But I found in the Bible some aspects of that good news that I was hoping I wouldn’t find. One such verse is in our text. Look with me at 1Thessalonians 3:3 - Paul’s concern for these believers “that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.” What is Paul saying believers are appointed to experience? Trouble, distress, hard circumstances, suffering —that is basically the meaning of the Greek word “thlipsis” which Paul uses in this verse—trials, affliction, trouble. No matter how you translate it, it is still not what I was hoping to find concerning God’s plan for my life.
I find it very easy to embrace passages like Phil 4:19 “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” That sounds good to me. Deut 28:8 "The LORD will command the blessing on you in your storehouses and in all to which you set your hand, and He will bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” Deut 28:6 “Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.” That ‘ill preach. Those are truths in the Bible that I believe and I embrace.
But what am I going to do with a verse like 1Thessalonians 3:3? Well, there are several things I can do with it. I could just jump over it and try to find something more positive to think about. Have you ever thrown a rock across a pond or river and in such a way that it sort of skipped across the surface? That’s the way some people read the Bible. They hit a verse that suits them and kind of bounce over others until they get to another verse to land on. Another way I might deal with this verse is to just apply it to Bible days—that might solve my problem. “Trouble was something God walked those first century Christians through, bless their hearts, but I’m an American. This was for them but it doesn’t really apply to me today.” Except if I do that, then perhaps Deut 28 is just for Bible days and Phil 4:19 and all those other nice scriptures that I do like. There are ways to explain away or avoid certain subjects in the Bible. But if we will let the whole council of God speak into our lives we may find that it actually is profitable for us after all.
What is Paul saying about troubles in a Christian’s life?
1. He is saying don’t be surprised when it happens.
In verse 4 Paul says, “For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know.” Poor Paul had not been taught the importance of keeping everything positive in his message. Didn’t he know that these people had not come to hear him talk about troubles and difficulties? Didn’t he know that the way the cults got their following was to promise the moon and avoid such subjects? No, Paul had not read the American books on how to think positive and grow rich. He had been too busy talking with God. And the revelation he was getting from God included some truths not very appealing to our carnality.
Even when these people were new converts Paul was warning them of the trouble they would experience.
Now in that context the trouble came as a result of their testimony of Christ. It probably came in the form of lost opportunities on the job or maybe even lost jobs. In that culture many of the trade unions that protected the good jobs had their own pagan deity that was to be worshipped. There were probably financial consequences to their faith. Certainly there were social consequences. A Jewish family would often disown children who turned to the Christian faith. They would loose their inheritance. They would loose their family support system. The community at large was not Christian. In fact, the whole economy and political structure centered around the “divine” Caesar and his favor. Of course, we know from Acts that Paul and others were physically beaten and imprisoned because of the public stand for Christ.