Today’s selected reading continues in the first New Testament epistle written by the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Thessalonica. More specifically today’s passage is found in the fourth chapter of this New Testament book. “Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: that no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8).
“But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanaded you; that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing” (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12).
“But I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so then also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to met the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
When you come to this particular portion of the first epistle written by the apostle Paul unto the Thessalonian saints you will find him continuing to exhort and admonish them concerning the Christian life. The first epistle written unto the Thessalonian saints was not merely a first epistle written unto this church and congregation but it was also the first epistle which the apostle Paul would write out of thirteen. If you study the New Testament you will find the apostle Paul wrote a total of thirteen epistles with the first epistle being the first epistle written unto the Thessalonian saints and the final epistle being the second epistle written unto Timothy. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this for there is something truly captivating about the words which are found in this epistle for it marks the beginning of the writing of the apostle Paul. What’s more is that when you read the words which are found in the New Testament you will find that of the thirteen epistles which were written by the apostle Paul four were written unto individuals. The epistles which were written unto individuals were the first and second epistles written unto Timothy, the epistle written unto Titus and the epistle written unto Philemon. The remaining nine epistles written by the apostle Paul were epistles written not unto individuals but unto churches which were present in Asia and Europe during those days. Of those nine epistles there were four which were first and second epistles written unto the same congregation. The churches and congregations which received two epistles from the hand of the apostle Paul were the congregation which was at Corinth and the congregation which was at Thessalonica. The other churches which received one epistle from the hand of the apostle Paul were the congregation at Ephesus, the congregation at Philippi, the congregation at Colossae and the congregation which was at Rome. With this being said it’s important to recognize and understand that the Galatian epistle wasn’t merely written unto a single congregation but rather unto the churches which were at Galatia.
When you come to the first epistle written by the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Thessalonica you will the first epistle ever written by the hand of the apostle. What’s more is this epistle was written by the apostle Paul in the presence of both Timothy and Silas—both men who accompanied the apostle Paul unto Philippi, unto Thessalonica and even unto Corinth and Ephesus. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this for there is something to be said about the first in many situations and circumstances. There is something to be said about the first epistle written by the hand of the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Thessalonica for it would mark the beginning of the writing of the apostle Paul. If you study Scripture you will find the apostle Paul would indeed write thirteen different and thirteen distinct epistles with four of these epistles being two epistles written unto single congregations—the congregation at Corinth and the congregation at Thessalonica. This is important for us to recognize and understand for it calls and draws our attention to the absolutely wonderful truth surrounding this first epistle written by the hand of the apostle Paul unto these dear saints. Important to note is that the apostle Paul might have viewed his departure from the saints which were at Thessalonica as being too soon and perhaps even premature. Undoubtedly the apostle Paul might have wanted to spend additional time with those who were in Thessalonica, however the opposition, the blasphemy and the rejection of the Jews toward the word, the name and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ would prompt the brethren which were in that place to send the apostle Paul and Silas from that place unto Berea.
As you read the words which are found within this epistle you will encounter and come face to face with the tremendous reality of the apostle Paul’s afflictions which he experienced—both in Philippi as well as there in Thessalonica. You cannot read the words which are found in this epistle and not encounter the tremendous language contained within it surrounding the apostle Paul and the afflictions, the suffering and the persecution which was experienced in both Philippi and in Thessalonica. That which makes this all the more important and intriguing when you take the time to consider it is when you recognize that the afflictions which the apostle Paul experienced in Philippi did not deter, discourage nor dissuade him from continuing to preach the word and name of the Lord Jesus unto Jews and Gentiles whithersoever he and his companions journeyed. It would be one thing to preach the gospel and experience and suffer persecution as a result and to not only grow offended and bitter in the midst of and as a result of it but also to become discouraged, dismayed and dissuaded from preaching the gospel any further. In all reality I wonder how many preachers in our generation have the courage, have the boldness, have the stamina, have the endurance and have the fortitude to continue faithfully preaching the word and gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ—despite affliction, despite persecution and despite suffering. How many preachers present within our generation would be able to stand in the midst of affliction, suffering and even persecution without wavering? How many preachers among us within our churches would throw in the towel and would give up the minute they started experiencing suffering and persecution for the sake of the word, the gospel and the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? It is with these questions in mind I find it absolutely necessary to call and draw your attention to the following words which are found in the New Testament gospel narratives written by the apostle Matthew, John Mark and the beloved physician Luke:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:38-48).
“Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy and stay there till you go out. And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city! Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of man comes. A disciples is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Therefore whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who si in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, him I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and d sought e rin law against her mother in law, and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. And he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 5:11-42).
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26).
“And Jesus answered and said to them: Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:4-14).
“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened. Then if anyone says to you, Look, here is the Christ! Or, There! Do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, Look, He is in the desert! Do not go out; or, Look, He is in the inner rooms! Do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, form one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:21-31).
“Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:25-35).
There is a great need for us to recognize the tremendous importance of the words which are found in these passages of Scripture for they not only speak a great deal to discipleship but they also speak about what those who preach the gospel might very well expect in this world when they speak the name of Jesus of Nazareth. If there is one thing we must needs recognize when reading the words which the apostle Paul wrote in this first epistle unto the saints which were at Thessalonica it’s that he not only experienced affliction in Philippi but he also experienced affliction in Thessalonica. This is something which warrants strong consideration for it forces us to answer a question we would rather not ask—much less answer. Perhaps one of the greatest truths surrounding the apostle Paul and his apostolic journeys and life in Christ is that in virtually every city and place he journeyed and came to preaching the word, the gospel and the name of the Lord Jesus Christ he would experience afflictions, suffering and persecution. In fact when you read the words which the apostle Paul spoke unto the elders of the Ephesian congregation you will find him declaring how the Spirit bore witness with his spirit that in whatever city he journeyed bonds and afflictions awaited him in that place. Moreover the apostle Paul knew from very early on that he was going to be a man who would suffer greatly and suffer a very many things for the sake of the word, the gospel and the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul spent his entire life in Christ being persecuted which was a far cry and powerful shift and transition from he who once persecuted the churches. That one who once targeted and hunted down Christians would now himself be targeted and would be hunted by Jews and Gentiles alike.
Perhaps one of the greatest questions we must needs ask ourselves when reading the words presented in this epistle—and not only the words which are found in this epistle but also in the other writings of the apostle Paul—is how we respond to suffering, affliction and persecution when it touches our lives. In all reality I would dare say there are very view among us in our churches in this generation in Western culture—specifically the churches in America—who has indeed experienced persecution, affliction and suffering. There are very few among us within our churches who have truly experienced suffering and persecution the way the early church and Christians do and the way those Christians living in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, and other Islamic countries have faced day in and day out. There are very few among us within this generation in this country who truly know and understand what persecution, what suffering and what affliction truly means and what it truly looks like. In fact there have been many men and women who have prayed what has been referred to as “the sinner’s prayer”—a prayer of repentance that is usually led by the minister or preacher of the word in a church building, in a tent meeting, in an arena, over the television airwaves or even on the streets. This prayer is such that men and women believe is what’s needed to transition from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light and to make Jesus Savior within their lives. The truth of the matter, however, is I am convinced this is only part of the picture. I have previously written that there is a second prayer which all who believe on the name of the Lord Jesus must needs pray—namely what I would call “the sufferer’s prayer.”
I sit here today thinking about and considering the words found in this passage of Scripture and I am brought face to face with the awesome and powerful truth surrounding this “sufferer’s prayer.” I firmly believe that while there might have been many men and women who prayed “the sinner’s prayer” there are very few men and women who would dare pray “the sufferer’s prayer.” There are those who have absolutely no problem praying a prayer that makes Jesus Savior within their lives who delivers them from sin, who delivers them from darkness and who delivers them from death and hell. With this being said I would also declare there are very few who would pray “the sufferer’s prayer”—a prayer which takes Jesus beyond the place of being Savior within our lives and truly positions him as being Lord within our hearts and lives. The sufferer’s prayer is such that emphatically declares and proclaims that Jesus is Lord and that we are willing to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. The sufferer’s prayer acknowledges that our lives are not our own and that we are willing to walk with and follow the Lord Jesus Christ even if means walking with Him through the fire and through the flood. Oh what we must needs recognize and understand is there are many who might very well have prayed “the sinner’s prayer” in some type of setting or context who do not possess the courage, the endurance, the faith, the trust nor the confidence to stand in the hour of trial, suffering, affliction and persecution.
In reading the words which are found in the first epistle written by the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Thessalonica you not only discover the apostle Paul experiencing persecution, suffering and affliction in Philippi but you will also discover the apostle Paul experiencing affliction in Thessalonica. Oh this causes me to ask one very important question—namely what would you do if you experienced affliction in one place, departed from that place and experienced affliction in the next place you came to? What would you do if in every place you traveled and journeyed to you experienced suffering, affliction and persecution? What would you do if you experienced suffering, affliction and persecution in one place, departed from that place and that same affliction, suffering and persecution followed you unto the next place you came? I cannot help but think about the words which are found in this passage of Scripture and ask myself how I would respond if in every place I journeyed and came to I would experience suffering, affliction and persecution. Would I be able to stand and withstand if in every place I journeyed and came unto I experienced suffering, affliction and persecution? Would I be able to stand firm and stand strong in the midst of suffering, in the midst of affliction and in the midst of persecution—not only in one place but from place to place? What’s more is would I be able to stand and endure if persecution awaited me in every single place I came to? Would I be able to stand if suffering and affliction awaited me in every single place? What if the Lord spoke to my heart and emphatically declared to me that in every place I journeyed and came to I would experience suffering, affliction and persecution? What if your life in Christ was guaranteed to be marked with and marked by suffering, affliction and persecution in every city and place you journeyed unto regardless of where that place was?
There is something incredibly powerful about the words we find within this epistle for it calls and draws our attention to the fact that the apostle Paul suffered great affliction, suffering and persecution in Philippi and would come unto Thessalonica and would experience the resistance, the opposition and the unbelief of the Jews in that place. Although the affliction experienced in Philippi would not follow the apostle Paul from Philippi to Thessalonica he would experience a different type of persecution and affliction—one which he had experienced before in different places. The apostle Paul was no stranger to experiencing the resistance and opposition of the Jews for he had experienced the resistance and opposition of the Jews as early as his days in Damascus when the Jews in that place sought to kill him. Almost from day one of his life in Christ the apostle Paul would indeed experience the persecution, the resistance and the opposition of the Jews in many of the places whithersoever he journeyed and traveled. In fact we find this persecution, this opposition and this resistance of the Jews during the apostle Paul’s first missionary journey which was recorded for us in the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of the New Testament book of Acts. One thing we must needs understand when reading the words found within the first New Testament epistle written by the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Thessalonica was that he would suffer and experience persecution and affliction in Philippi, would come to Thessalonica and would experience affliction and suffering in that place as well. Ultimately the apostle Paul would be sent forth from Thessalonica by the brethren unto Bearea and the same affliction and persecution which was experienced in that place would follow him to Berea.
What we must needs recognize and understand when reading this epistle is that there were two elements and two factors to this persecution and affliction which was present in Thessalonica. The first reality surrounding this affliction and persecution was that which the apostle Paul would experience at the hands of the unbelieving Jews who were dull of hearing and hard of heart. There in that place the apostle Paul would experience the resistance, the oppositions and the blasphemy of the Jews who rejected the word, the gospel and the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. With this being said it’s important to note that this persecution wasn’t merely experienced by the apostle Paul, Silas and Timothy but was also witnessed by those to whom the apostle Paul preached the word, the gospel and name of the Lord Jesus Christ. THE WITNESS OF PERSECUTION! WHEN AFFLICTION HAS AN AUDIENCE! AN OBSERVED SUFFERING! There is absolutely no denying the fact that the affliction the apostle Paul experienced in the midst of the Thessalonica was indeed witnessed by those present in that city as they watched how he responded to the suffering, the affliction and the persecution he experienced in that place. The eyes of all those whom the apostle Paul would preach the word, the gospel and the name of the Lord Jesus to would watch and behold the suffering and the affliction he would face in this place. Their eyes would see whether or not he buckled and folded under the weight, the pressure and burden of suffering and affliction. What’s more is we must needs recognize and understand the importance of our witness in the midst of the suffering and affliction we face within our lives for there are those around us who are indeed watching and observing how we handle and how we respond to such affliction and suffering within our lives. The eyes of those who were present in Thessalonica were indeed watching and observing the apostle Paul and how he would respond to the suffering and affliction he experienced in that place and how he handled and how he responded to it could and would make or break anything he preached unto them in that place.
With all of this being said there is a great need to recognize and understand that within this epistle the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Thessalonica how they received the word in much affliction. That which the apostle Paul is suggesting to them is that they observed the affliction and persecution he experienced for the sake of the word, the gospel and the name of the Lord Jesus Christ while at the same time the apostle Paul preached the word unto them. In all reality I would dare say that perhaps the greater witness and greater word which could have been manifested within that place was that of the apostle Paul’s response to the suffering, the affliction and persecution he experienced in that place. One thing we need to understand is that how we react and how we respond to suffering, to affliction, to persecution—how we react and respond when we are wronged, when we are sinned against, when we are blasphemed, when we are slandered and when we are spitefully treated—serves as a great witness unto those we would seek to minister to in whatever place we journeyed and traveled. This is important to recognize when reading the words which are found in this passage of Scripture for within it we encounter something that is truly unique and interesting when you take the time to think about. That which we must needs recognize and pay close attention to when reading the words which are found in this passage of Scripture and epistle brings us face to face with the truth that how we handle and how we face affliction, suffering and persecution within our lives is not only witnessed by others but can also serve as an example to them when suffering, persecution and affliction arises within their lives. What’s more is when you read the words found in this epistle written by the apostle Paul unto the Thessalonian saints you will find that his preaching unto them was indeed accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit, however, it was accompanied by something else—namely persecution.
The more I think about and consider the words which are found in this passage of Scripture the more I am brought face to face with the tremendous reality that there are many who seek the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit to accompany the preaching of the word. There are ministers among us within many of our churches who read the words of Jesus when He declares that signs and wonders will follow the preaching of the word. These same individuals read the words which Jesus spoke and declared about receiving power after that the Holy Ghost came upon them and their being witnesses and continually seek the power of the Holy Spirit within their lives. With this being said, however, it is important for us to recognize that in the days of the early church—in the lives of the original apostles as well as in the life of the apostle Paul—the preaching of the word was not only accompanied by power but it was also accompanied by persecution. In fact if you read the words which are presented in this passage of Scripture you will encounter and come face to face with the tremendous truth surrounding the preaching of the apostle Paul in Thessalonica and how that preaching came unto them with power and with the demonstration of the Holy Spirit. With this being said, however, it’s important to note that the preaching of the apostle Paul was also accompanied by persecution. We must needs recognize and understand that while the apostle Paul, Silas and Timothy were in Thessalonica there were indeed signs, wonders and healings which most likely took place and accompanied the preaching of the word but there was also persecution and affliction. The preaching of the apostle Paul in that place wasn’t merely accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit but it was accompanied by persecution, but suffering and affliction.
If the Lord appeared to you right now—whether in a dream, or in a vision—and He declared unto you that you have been called to preach the gospel and it would be accompanied by power would you accept the calling? Take this a step further and ask yourself a different question—or perhaps a different spin on that question. What if the Lord Jesus appeared to you and declared unto you how you were called to preach the gospel and would be accompanied with the power of the Holy Spirit but persecution would also play as much a part and role as the power of the Holy Spirit? What if the Lord Jesus declared unto you that you would preach the gospel but you would experience the same degree of persecution as you would the power of the Holy Spirit? Taking this a step further—what if the Lord declared unto you that if you wanted an increase in the power of the Holy Spirit within your life you would also need to experience the same degree and measure of persecution within your life? What if each time the power of the Holy Spirit increased within your life persecution also increased the same degree and measure? What if to the degree and measure the power of the Holy Spirit increased within and upon your life the persecution would also increase the same way? Elisha asked Elijah for a double portion of the spirit that was upon him and Elijah declared that he had asked a hard thing of him. Nevertheless if he saw him when he was taken from him and departed unto heaven he would receive that which he asked for. This is important for us to recognize for what if Elijah had told Elisha that if he wanted a double portion of the Holy Spirit he would experience a double portion of the persecution that would accompany the anointing? Elijah experienced the persecution of Jezebel and Ahab but what if Elisha would experience a double portion of the persecution which Elijah experienced within his life and the ministry entrusted unto him.
I am sitting here today thinking about the words which are found in this passage of Scripture and I am brought face to face with the absolutely wonderful truth surrounding the importance of these questions within our own lives. How would we react and how would we respond if the Lord Jesus appeared unto us and declared unto us that for every increase of the power of the Holy Spirit within our lives we would experience an increase in persecution in similar manner? How would we respond if we were informed and learned that the power of the Holy Spirit and persecution were intrinsically linked and connected and could not be separated from each other? Would you accept the call of Jesus upon your life if you knew that the power of the Holy Spirit that would accompany the preaching of the word would also include persecution in this life? This is a question we must needs ask ourselves for the Lord doesn’t always give us the whole picture when He calls us. This is truly unique when you consider the lives of the apostles and even the life of the apostle Paul for in both instances the Lord Jesus would reveal unto them how they would suffer many things for the sake of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus declared unto the apostles how they would be put out of the synagogues, how they would be dragged before governor and kings as a witness unto them and that they would even be hated of all nations for His name’s sake and would even be killed. The Lord Jesus would reveal unto Ananias when sending him unto Saul that he would suffer many things for the sake of his name.
All of this is incredibly important for when you read the words found within this first epistle written by the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Thessalonica you will find the preaching of the word was indeed accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit, however, it was also accompanied by persecution. It might very well be said that the preaching of the word could not be accompanied by power alone but would also be accompanied by persecution. Not only this but I would dare say that more often than not the Lord Jesus can and will allow persecution to accompany the preaching of the word for there is an additional witness that is produced by and through our response to persecution. Oh there are those who will hear the word which is preached unto them concerning the name and person of the Lord Jesus and men and women may or may not receive that. It is also true that there might very well be the power of the Holy Spirit that accompanies the preaching of the word as the demonstration of signs, wonders and miracles accompany the preaching of the word as a witness. With this being said I wish I could say this was enough and that preaching and the power of the Holy Spirit is enough to produce within the hearts and lives of those who hear the gospel the life in Christ that is so desperately needed. What we must needs recognize and understand is that more often than not the Lord Jesus can and will allow persecution to accompany the preaching of the word for there is something about the witness of persecution that adds an entirely different level and layer to the witness found in the preaching itself. When the apostle Paul wrote the words contained within this epistle he would indeed speak unto them how the preaching of the word was accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit, however, there was something else that accompanied the preaching of the word and the power of the Holy Spirit—namely, persecution.
I am convinced we dare not and must not miss the incredible importance of what is found within this epistle for I believe the witness of persecution which was found in that place served a greater and powerful witness for those who would hear the preaching of the word. On the one hand it showed them what walking with and following the Lord Jesus was truly all about and what the cost of following Him would indeed be within their lives. With this being said the persecution which was witnessed in the lives of the apostle Paul and his companions would also serve as a witness unto the preaching of the word of the Lord Jesus and would be an invitation unto them to bear up under suffering, under affliction and under persecution within their own lives. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this and how incredibly important it is for within this epistle we not only learn of the afflictions the apostle Paul experienced in Philippi and Thessalonica but the Thessalonian saints would themselves experience suffering, persecution and affliction from their own countrymen. Within this epistle we not only see the witness of persecution within the life of the apostle Paul, Silas and Timothy but we also see the affliction which the Thessalonians themselves would experience from their own countrymen just as their brethren which were in Judea had experienced suffering, affliction and persecution within their own lives. This is something which warrants strong consideration within our own hearts and lives for there is indeed the witness of persecution that accompanies the preaching of the word, however, that doesn’t exempt nor does it give immunity to others from suffering, affliction and persecution within their lives. The apostle Paulo would indeed suffer and experience persecution, suffering and affliction within his life in the midst of Thessalonica, however, even after his departure the saints which believed in that place would themselves experience suffering, affliction and persecution themselves. Those who were present in the midst of this place were not themselves exempt nor were they immune from suffering, affliction and persecution within their lives after the apostle Paul departed. In fact I would dare say that the witness of the apostle Paul in the midst of suffering and persecution would indeed help produce the courage, the endurance, the strength, the confidence and the faith within these saints to endure and bear up in the midst of suffering, affliction and persecution.
There is a great need for us as the saints of God to recognize and understand that while it is indeed true we have been called to preach the word, the gospel and the name of the Lord Jesus Christ that does not mean we have been exempt from experiencing persecution within our lives. In fact if you read and study the history of the early church—both in the New Testament book of Acts as well as the writings of the early church fathers and individuals such as Josephus—you will find that the early church suffered and experienced a tremendous amount of persecution and suffering during those days. The early church—including the apostles, the deacons and others—experienced and walked in tremendous power of the Holy Spirit. With this being said, however, we must needs understand that with that power came persecution—first in Jerusalem and then in the various places wheresoever the gospel spread. What’s more is I would dare say that with the spread of the gospel to the various places within Asia and Europe so also would the persecution spread with it. It is in the eighth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts we encounter the tremendous truth surrounding the great persecution which broke out against the church in the city of Jerusalem. As a result of this persecution many but the apostles were scattered throughout Judaea, Galilee and even Samaria. What we must needs understand, however, is that with the spread of the gospel would also come the spread of persecution. Just because the early church was scattered and just because Saul was converted on the road to Damascus didn’t mean that persecution had come to an end. Scripture speaks of a time of rest and peace during the days after the conversion of the apostle Paul, however, the book of Acts would also reveal how in many places whithersoever the apostle Paul traveled persecution, suffering and affliction would follow, abide and await him there.
There is something absolutely astounding about this particular truth for it calls and draws our attention to the incredible truth that with the power of the Holy Spirit comes persecution. Having said this I find it absolutely necessary to ask you if you were told you could have the power of the Spirit but not without persecution to match that power would you accept it? If the Lord Jesus appeared and declared unto you that you could experience a tremendous degree and measure of the power of the Holy Spirit yet you would not experience without persecution would you move forward with Christ regardless of the cost? Scripture reveals how after Jesus emerged from the waters of baptism the Spirit descended and lighted upon Him in the form of a dove. John the Baptist acknowledged the Holy Spirit resting upon the Messiah and that one who was called the Christ and was truly the Son of God. Jesus Himself declared that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him and had anointed Him to preach and to do good works. Even with all of this being said, however, it is important for us to recognize that with the anointing, with the power and with the presence of the Holy Spirit Jesus would still experience persecution. Throughout those three and a half years Jesus walked upon the earth as the Word made flesh manifested unto and among us He would suffer and experience tremendous persecution at the hands of the Jews as well as the religious leaders of the Jews. Time and time again we find the Lord Jesus Christ being persecuted and vehemently opposed by the scribes, the Pharisees, the chief priests, the elders of the people and the religious community of that day. The New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle John serves as a powerful witness to the persecution of Jesus by the Jews while the New Testament gospels written by the apostle Matthew, John Mark and the physician Luke describe in great detail the persecution of the Lord Jesus experiencing suffering and persecution at the hands of the religious leaders of that generation.
I cannot escape the incredible truth surrounding the reality of the apostle Paul and the words he wrote within this first epistle unto the Thessalonian saints. The apostle Paul emphatically wrote unto them concerning his own afflictions, suffering and persecution experienced in Philippi and Thessalonica, however he also spoke unto them concerning their own affliction, suffering and persecution. This is something we dare not and must not miss and lose sight of for it calls and draws our attention to the absolutely astounding truth surrounding the cost of walking with and following the Lord Jesus. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize that it wasn’t the apostles themselves who were called to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow after Christ. It wasn’t the apostles alone who would experience suffering, affliction and persecution during the days of the early church. It wasn’t even the early church nor the early church fathers who would experience suffering, persecution and affliction. If there is one thing we must needs acknowledge and come to an understanding of it’s that all who would live godly in Christ Jesus in this life will experience trials, troubles, tribulations, afflictions, suffering and persecution. Not only this but Jesus Himself declared that in this world we will have many trials but would also instruct us to not fear for He had overcome the world. It was the apostle Paul who also declared that we must through many trials and tribulations enter into the kingdom of heaven. There is absolutely no denying the truth that if we wish to walk with and follow the Lord Jesus Christ we can and will experience tremendous suffering, persecution and affliction in this life. This is something that warrants strong consideration if we wish to walk with and follow the Lord Jesus for it brings us face to face with the reality of whether or not we are indeed willing to accept persecution regardless of what that persecution looks like and how frequently and often we experience it.
If you continue reading the words which are found within this epistle you will find the apostle instructing them in purity and in living a godly life in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. Perhaps one of the greatest truths we must needs understand is that we cannot and must not allow our love to grow cold nor our hearts become hardened in the midst of what we face in this life. Trials, troubles and tribulations will undoubtedly come our way, however, we must needs understand that we have been called to stand firm and to stand strong in the midst of it. We must needs possess the courage, the boldness, the conviction and the resolve which the three Hebrew boys—Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah—had when the decree was given to bow down and worship the golden image set up by the king. Not only did they refuse to bow down and worship the image, not only did they declare to the king they would not bow down and worship his golden image but they were also willing to be cast into the fiery furnace rather than bow down and worship this image made of gold. We must possess the resolve, the conviction and the endurance of Daniel who despite the decree issued and signed by the king continued to open his window toward Jerusalem and would pray three times a day—despite knowing that doing so would mean he could be cast into the den of lions. In the midst of the suffering, the affliction and the persecution we face in this life we must needs be men and women of purity, men and women of holiness, men and women of righteousness and men and women of obedience in the sight of the living God. In the final verses of the third chapter of this epistle the apostle Paul prayed and entreated God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ to make them increase and abound in love to one another and to all that He might establish their hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints. It would be in the opening verse of the fourth chapter the apostle Paul would urge and exhort them in the Lord Jesus to abound more and more that they might walk and to please God.
The apostle Paul would continue admonishing and exhorting them—not only in light of the suffering and persecution they were experience but also in light of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ—that they would walk in and pursue holiness in the sight of God the Father and of the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle would write concerning the will of God which was their sanctification that they should abstain from sexual immorality—that each of them would know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor and not in passion of lust. The apostle would go on to write these words that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter because the Lord is the avenger of all such as they were forewarned and heard from the apostle Paul, Silas and Timothy. It was written unto them that God did not call us to uncleanness but in holiness and that one who rejects this does not reject man but God who has given us His Holy Spirit. These words were echoed by the apostle Paul in the first and second epistles written unto the Corinthian saints as the apostle Paul would declare unto them how they were the temple of God and of the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul declared unto them that they ought not defile nor pollute their temple through sexual immorality, through fornication, through the lust of the flesh and through that which would be displeasing and dishonoring in the sight of the living God. Consider if you will the following words which are found in each of these epistles written unto this church which although it was spiritually gifted and moved in spiritual knowledge and discernment was carnal:
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For the two, He says, shall become one flesh. But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God int our body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).
“O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also be open. Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore, Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:11-18).
As I bring this writing to a close I find it absolutely necessary to call and draw your attention to the words the apostle Paul wrote in the final verses of the fourth chapter. The apostle Paul would concerning brotherly love and how these saints were taught by God to love one another as they did toward all the brethren who were in all Macedonia. The apostle Paul urged them that they increased more and more in this love for the brethren and that they aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind their own business, and to work with their own hands that they might walk properly toward those who are outside and might lack nothing. The apostle Paul was very concerned with their witness in the midst of the Gentiles all around them and urged and exhorted them that they carefully guard their lives that they might not compromise nor jeopardize that witness. What’s more is the apostle Paul would also admonish them to guard their lives and how they lived in light of and knowing that Christ is indeed returning and will come again. The apostle Paul was compelled by the Holy Spirit to admonish them concerning the coming of the Lord Jesus that they might be comforted and that they might have hope in the Lord in light of His coming and return. The apostle Paul wrote unto these saints declaring unto them that if we believe that Jesus died and rose again—even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. He would further go on to declare by the word of the Lord that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will precede those who have gone before. He then goes on to declare that the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. It is with this in mind I leave you with the following words which are found in both the fourth chapter of this first epistle written unto the Thessalonian saints as well as the words found in the fifteenth chapter of the first epistle written unto the Corinthian saints:
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this incorruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore my beloved, brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:50-58).