Fellowship of Suffering
Fellowship of Suffering
Words of Faith 3-13-19
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2019
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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1 Thessalonians 2
 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,  who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men  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.
Being an imitator of Christ has a cost. The Thessalonians had been persecuted. This is part of the brotherhood of following Christ. Without knowing it, the Thessalonians had become imitators of God's churches in the area near Jerusalem where all this began. Those whose lives are being changed by God often find themselves the objects of criticism and attack by people in whom there is no divine life.
Frequently when Christians suffer persecution, they are tempted to think God's blessing has departed when, when in fact, persecution is a common experience. Paul called this "the fellowship of His sufferings" when he wrote to the church at Philippi. "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Philip. 3:10-12). With the power of resurrection comes the fellowship of suffering.
The Thessalonians were not alone in their suffering; they had abundant and worthy company. Their persecutors had killed the Lord Jesus Himself and the Old Testament prophets. They drove out their father in the faith, the Apostle Paul, and his fellow missionaries.
Though Paul speaks of the "the Jews" as responsible for the death of Jesus, he is certainly speaking only of those Jews who had rejected Jesus and plotted against Him. "The Jews" could not corporately be responsible for the death of Jesus, or else Paul and all the Apostles would have been indicted as well. The Roman leaders who were involved in Jesus' trial and execution were also guilty (1 Cor. 2:8) as was every human being for whose sins Christ tasted death (Heb. 2:9).
Those who persecute believers in Christ offend both God and other men. Paul knew this only too well having been a persecutor of the church himself and one to whom God had revealed that he was fighting against the Lord he sought to serve (Acts 26:14-15). Those who set themselves against God's people also set themselves against God. And they also hurt other non-Christians. Unbelief not only damns the unbeliever, but it also hinders the salvation of others. Such people seek to extinguish the light of God and in doing so cause others to stumble.
An unbeliever who is willing to live-and-let-live concerning personal convictions regarding God is less dangerous than one who not only disbelieves himself but also tries to keep others from hearing the gospel. The unbelieving Jews in Thessalonica were antagonistic. These persecutors actions hurt themselves as well as others because they heap up new sins for which God will judge them.
God will only allow an individual or a group of individuals to accumulate so much sin, and then He will judge. He does not judge before this limit, which He alone knows, has been reached (Gen. 15:16). The Thessalonians' persecutors were hastening God's judgment on themselves by their actions.
What is the manifestation of God's wrath that Paul had in mind here? We don't know for sure. Perhaps he was referring to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70, just a few years in the future. Or maybe he was thinking of the wrath of God that is on every individual who fails to believe in Christ (John 3:36).
Perhaps Paul had in mind the Tribulation which will assuredly come upon those who reject Jesus. This was probably his thought since in other contexts in this epistle where he speaks of the wrath to come he has the Tribulation in mind. The point is that the wrath of God will indeed come on unbelievers who hinder the preaching of the gospel.
Why was Paul so concerned about the Thessalonians' persecutors? It was not out of personal hatred for them. It was to emphasize the seriousness of hindering the preaching of the gospel. The Gospel was transforming the Thessalonian believers, and they were spreading the message far and wide.
Are you in "the club"? The "fellowship"? When you receive the Good News of Jesus, you join the fellowship of His suffering in some way. You may live in a place of political freedom and relative peace, but there are other ways we are persecuted. And we may see more persecution in the years ahead. Should that occur, we can know that we stand in a noble brotherhood that goes all the way back to Jesus.
Father God, I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. I know that this comes with the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings. I pray that I may become like Him in death, so somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
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