Everyone will have a unique response when it comes to God’s Word and the story of His great love. Continuing the Living In-Between series, today David explores (from 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20) the Thessalonians’ response to the gospel amid persecution.
This single verse tells us much about their overall response to God’s Word. The first aspect of this is the initial reception of the Word – people need to receive it before they can respond. Who shared the Word of God with you? And who have you shared it with recently? We are privileged not only to receive the Word but also to share it with others. By sharing God’s Word, we are obeying Jesus’ final command, to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’.
The second part of their response is acceptance. Anyone can hear the message, but not everyone will fully accept it as the truth. As Jesus emphasised through the parable of the sower, not only do we need to listen with our ears but also with our hearts. By accepting the Word, we are stating that we believe that this message has truly come from God. Acceptance also means that we surrender ourselves to God and allow Him to work within us continually, transforming our lives.
Paul goes on to highlight a sign which proves that once you accept the Word of God, its power in your life is constant:
The sign is imitation; we have become identifiable as having one thing in common – Jesus. Together, we are one body in Christ, called to be imitators of God as His children, as a reflection of His light and love. Being imitators of other believers and an imitation of Christ is a sign of acceptance of God’s Word.
There is a specific aspect of imitation that Paul identifies here and that is suffering. The Thessalonians were not alone in their suffering; in fact, they were imitators of other Christians at this time and even those before them had become targets of persecution for their faith. This is the reality of accepting the Word.
As Paul describes in verses 15 and 16, the Jewish community were amongst those who persecuted Jesus. As a Jew himself, Jesus faced suffering from his people. However, Paul has not mentioned this to spark resentment or bitterness towards the Jews. He recognised that the Jewish community struggled with the true nature of Jesus and he prayed for them:
There may be people in our community who receive the Word but do not accept it. As Christians, it is not for us to judge or condemn anyone but, instead, we pray for their hearts to be turned to God, so that they too will be saved.
As imitators of Jesus, we will face hardships and hatred from others; we are told to expect this. Suffering comes from the enemy. As verse 18 says, the devil will try to hinder us, actively seeking ways to damage our relationship with God and we must be aware of this. But acceptance also means that we believe that, amid these troubles, the victory has already been won through Jesus’ death and resurrection. No matter what trial we face, we can be sure that God will bring us strength, courage and peace.