In Redemptive Suffering or Damnable Oppression

1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 (NIV)

13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. 14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone 16 in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.

“Big, if true” versus “big, because true.” 

The young people and political pundits say, “Big, if true.”  

The meaning; “Would be big if not completely preposterous.” For example, “We are all going to have affordable, safe, green helicopter transportation in 2 years.” Big. Not true. 

Some things are true, and therefore big.  

For example, these are the two options in responding to the gospel: 

  1. It is the word of God heard through men 
  2. It is the word of men ascribed to God.  

1 Thessalonians 2:13  13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. 

Our acceptance or rejection of the gospel leads to one of two broad paths:  

  1. Redemptive suffering in loving the Word of God 
  2. Damnable oppression in suppressing the Word of God 

Objection: But aren’t there more options? What if I’m just not interested in Jesus or religion? Most irreligious people don’t care about your religion, we just don’t find it interesting or relevant. To reject the interests and drama of the gospel, is to claim its interests and drama are false, irrational emotionalisms. 

Response: This isn’t a third option because to reject a message’s interest in us, its claimed relevance, and to be indifferent to its drama, is to reject it completely.  

Illustration: Imagine a wife come to confront her husband about a way of life ruining their life together. Her message isn’t just her claim of fact, and what is right and wrong, but is also bound up in her interest in him, his interest in her, the relevance to their relationship and future, and the drama of what hangs in the balance—the incredible difference his response makes for them.  

If he responds with indifference, disinterest, or as though her message is irrelevant or an overreaction, he has rejected her entirely because he has rejected the meaning of her plea. 

Even if he says, “There is some truth to what you’re saying,” or concedes some facts or meaning, if he rejects the drama, the relevance, what is at stake—his and her interest in the questions—he has abandoned her. He has rejected the truth, and committed his way to self-destruction—whether he is passionate or not.  

Responding to some messages with indifference is the worst kind of rejection and the most complete form of betrayal. It is one of the worst betrayals because it offers so little hope of redemption.  

Therefore, the two paths from facing the gospel must be dramatically opposed because the very nature of the gospel is highly significant, deeply interested, holistically demanding in its claim on our nature and being, and full of the good drama of love and justice.  

The gospel is the Word of God heard form men, not the word of men put into the mouth of God. Your acceptance of this makes all the difference in your destiny.  

Your response to God’s word will set your path. You will either be in solidarity with the Word, or complicit in its suppression. Receiving the message as the Word of God will set your feet on the path of imitating Christ’s redemptive suffering. Conversely, rejecting the gospel message will set you on a path of persecuting the Christ unto damnable suppression.  

Accepting the gospel as God’s Word will set you on a path of redemptive suffering rather than damnable oppression.  

Recognizing that something is the very Word of God means it is more formative to your authentic being than your intuitive pursuit of the authentic self.  

Accepting the Word of God will set your life on one of two paths.

  1. If we accept that the gospel is the word of God entrusted to men, then we will follow the path of people of the Word—the path of redemptive suffering. 
  2. If we reject the gospel as the word of men attributed to the mouth of God, this will lead us to the path of imitating those who resist and suppress the gospel (even though we think we are just minding our own business or doing God/the universe a favor). This must be, since the Word and its people are an affront and an intolerable threat to those who reject.  

We might not feel like we are intentionally serving either path—or are doing either intentionally. Yet, one of these two paths will come up under your feet based on your response to the gospel. 

You will organically either find yourself walking more in solidarity with those walking in the redemptive suffering of Christ, or you’ll become subtly complicit in the damnable oppression of the Word. The human heart is never truly indifferent to the dramatic claims of the Word—the Word must turn us to embrace or hostility. 

In these verses, the apostle doesn’t argue for the gospel’s truth—he explains the results that will flow from our responses.  

 1. You’ll walk in the solidarity of redemptive suffering 

1 Thessalonians 2:13-15  you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.  14 For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews,  15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out.  

Assurance: Evidence that the Word “is at work in you who believe.” 

Receiving the gospel as the Word of God places you in the line of redemptive suffering—from Abel to the present global church. From those closest to you: your family (like Abel), your faith (like prophets, Jesus and apostles), your people (“your own countrymen”).  

Honor: In the heritage of the people of the Word 

  • Judean churches 
  • The Prophets 
  • Jesus himself 
  • The Apostles 
  • Hebrews 11 

This is a fundamental part of Christian identity, not peripheral or minor. Jesus called his words an offense, and the existence of the Word is an affront to the World. It is an indictment of their idolatry and way of life. We are a living insult to those that will not be corrected by the Word.  

Varying levels of intensity:  

  • Solidarity: Even when we are not suffering active persecution, we will always be brothers and sisters to those who are. We are in familial solidarity with them. They are our interest, we are bound to them in the same drama.  
  • Sober humility: Persecution prepared vs. Persecution complex. The goal of realizing this is so that we can be happy warriors and builders, not cranky.

2. You’ll stray into complicity in damnable suppression  

1 Thessalonians 2:14-16  You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews,  15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men  16 in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.  

Straying into suppression: The result of not recognizing the Word of God in the gospel is to actively or passively resist it—to suppress it. To see that it should not spread openly and unhindered. 

  • You may actively oppose the gospel—lightly or intensely—by isolating, caricaturing, disenfranchising, passive oppression, or active oppression.  
  • You may make excuses for suppression and hindering of the gospel.  This is fairly common, even among believers.  We naturally suppress the truth of our complicity in oppression. You won’t let yourself accept you are going down this path—every step will be accompanied by a ready supplied justification.  

Results:

  • Displease God: They think they are doing the right thing, but they displease God—to the point of wrath.
  • Hostile to all men: They are not only hostile to God, and to his church, but to all men—those who the gospel is for. By hindering the message of life and salvation form reaching more and more people, they are hostile to the people they hinder it from reaching, and they do all humanity a material evil.  They may do it in ignorant good faith—it may be subjectively blameless—but it is objective hostility and a material evil against humanity.  

Prudential humility: Resolute understanding. 

  • Resolute: Don’t excuse oppression of any kind when you see it, including suppression of the gospel or Christians. 
  • Understanding: We are threatening to people, and people don’t understand the gospel, and many have suffered at the hands of those called Christians.  Also, we have no right to be put above people legally or in privilege in our society. We cannot try to force other voices out of a public square to privilege our own. This means we should stand up for all those being suppressed and oppressed. However, we must resolutely stand up for our right to express the word of Christ in the gospel, and that no one does right in stopping us. 

Humility: “We thank GOD.” The Apostle credits them receiving the Word of God with the preceding work of God. That Word “is at work in you who believe”—meaning, if you believe, the Word is doing its work. 

So we should not think of ourselves as those that are better than others, but those that have received the treatment of the Word, that we have heard in a way God used to reach us.  

We are not judges but heralds—singers, tellers. We should not mistake the role of sharer with the role of judge.

1 Thessalonians 2:13  13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe

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