Introduction: We saw recently in 1 Thess. 2:1-2 how Paul was emboldened by the Holy Spirit to finish his work in Philippi and then travel to Thessalonica in order to bravely declare the Gospel there also. But this week we return to these verses in order to appreciate afresh how Paul suffered at the hands of the enemies of Gospel truth. Why? Because, despite all the successes and blessings which Paul and the Thessalonians shared, there were each day new battles for him to wage by faith. Paul shows us the truth of Watt’s hymn # 573, which challenges us with this question:
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?
Monday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2 and Acts 16:16-24. The scholar Marcus Loane writes of Paul’s “shameful treatment at Philippi” (1 Thess. 2:1) that: “No single experience of persecution left so deep a scar on Paul’s mind as what befell him at Philippi, with the terrible exception of his being stoned at Lystra in Acts 14:19.” Paul and Silas were seized and scourged; locked in the innermost prison with their feet in stocks. Loane continues: “It was true that they had found grace to pray and sing hymns of praise at midnight, but these words tell in a poignant manner how terrible their sufferings had been.”
Meditate and Pray: “Lord, thank you that singing your praises is not only for times of joy and celebration. We ask that you would give us the grace to have hearts full of song to you especially when our hearts and bodies are broken, just as you filled Paul and Silas’ hearts with words of praise when they had been so shamefully treated. Teach us, therefore, to sing with the Psalmist from Psalm 124 in hymn # 614:
Now Israel may say, and that in truth,
If that the Lord had not our right maintained,
If that the Lord had not with us remained,
When cruel men against us rose to strive,
We surely had been swallowed up alive.
Blest be the Lord who made us not their prey:
As from the snare a bird escapeth free,
Their net us rent and so escaped are we:
Our only help is in Jehovah’s Name,
Who made the earth and all the heav’nly frame.
Tuesday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2 and Acts 16:35-39. What we said two weeks ago about Paul’s abuse at the hand of the Philippian authorities merits repeating: “We see the hard-heartedness of the city officials who sanctioned the beating of Paul and then tragically begged him to leave Philippi in the darkness of unbelief in Acts 16:39.”
But there’s more. In order to understand the scale of Paul’s shameful treatment, we need to remember that he was a Roman citizen who had the right to a fair trial. In fact, it is reasonable to assume that had Paul insisted on his citizenship all charges against him would have been dropped. Instead, Paul was seized, scourged and subjected to the kind of treatment reserved only for the worst criminals and enemies of Rome. But why didn’t Paul stop the beating and imprisonment by declaring his Romans citizenship? He could have been immune from such terrible floggings without trial! Ah, well, though we don’t know the entire answer to this question, we do clearly see the fruits of Paul’s suffering in Philippi in the strong bond of love and affection which existed between Paul and the Philippian church!
Meditate and Pray: Thank you Lord Jesus that Paul was willing to undergo great abuse in Philippi in order to identify with that weak and fledgling church. Thank you, dear Holy Spirit, that you gave the Apostle Paul the courage to “lay down his life” for the sake of his new-found Philippian brethren. Most of all, thank you for the blood-sealed bond of love and affection between Paul and the Philippians which made them Paul’s most generous supporters in Phil. 4:15-16. Give us grace, Jesus, to show such great love for each other in the body of Christ that we would be willing to suffer in each other’s place. Amen.
Wednesday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2 and Philippians 2:5-8. Pastor William Harrell’s Bible notes from 1999 on Paul’s sufferings in the jail at Philippi (and the resulting conversion of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:34) are full of instruction for us:
That which Paul later wrote to the Philippians, telling them to have the attitude of Christ Jesus, who humbled Himself to serve, suffer, and die on the cross (Phil. 2:5-8), the apostle himself did at his first coming to Philippi. He who could have spared himself suffering by asserting his Roman citizenship, suffered so that the jailer and his household would join him in heavenly citizenship. He also suffered so that the world would know that the servants of Christ are, despite the slanders of the wicked, most innocent and powerfully connected people, to whom respectful attention should be afforded.
Thursday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-6 and Galatians 6:17. In contrast to greedy false teachers, who like Balaam preach because they “love the wages of wickedness” (2 Peter 2:15), Paul declared the Gospel when he knew it would mean – not wages or profit – but loss for himself. According to 1 Thess. 2:2, Paul declared the Gospel in Thessalonica in the face of “much opposition,” or literally “many agonies.” Such willingness on Paul’s part to continue in this costly kind of apostolic work when it brought so many trials upon him proved the authenticity of his labors for Christ. As he declares to the Galatians in Gal. 6:17, he “bore on his body the marks of Jesus” and therefore commanded the false teachers “not to cause him trouble”!
Meditate and Pray: Thank the Lord for the costliness of the Gospel which has been handed down to you from previous generations of faithful messengers. Ask the Lord to give you the courage to “contend for this faith” even as previous believers all the way back to the Apostle Paul have defended it for your sake. Use hymn # 570 as your prayer:
Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword;
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whenever we hear that glorious Word:
Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.
Friday/Saturday/Sunday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:7-16 and Hebrews 13:3. Having concluded last week with the supportive love and affection which Paul shared with the Thessalonian church in 1 Thess. 2:7-13, we conclude this week’s notes with Paul’s final words of judgment upon the enemies of the gospel in 1 Thess. 2:14-16. Here Paul for the first time names these opponents – identifying them as the Thessalonian Christians’ “own countrymen” in 1 Thess. 2:14 and likening their persecuting ways to the persecution of the Jerusalem church by the Jews. What a bond, therefore, does God forge between these European Christians in Macedonia (Philippi and Berea as well as Thessalonica) and the suffering Jewish Christian church in Judea! Nothing like the “fellowship of suffering with Christ” to produce bonds of love between believers – even on different continents!
Meditate and Pray: Thank the Lord for the privilege of sharing in the sufferings of the universal church. Thank Him especially for the assurance that, when you suffer for the Name of Christ, there will be provided for you other believers to support you in that dark hour. God does not leave His own alone to suffer. At the same time, let us confess our failings as believers and as churches when it comes to ensuring that no believers are left alone in their trials:
Forgive us Lord when our love for your suffering church has grown cold, and when our care for even local believers in their trials has been unreliable. Restore within us a fervent love which will seek to comfort wandering, wounded sheep. Give us grace to heed the command of Hebrews 13:3 and to identify with all of your people “as if we were mistreated” along with them. In the Name of Jesus, who promised in John 14:18 never to leave us as orphans in this painful world, Amen.