Dealing With the Devious - Part 2
There is hope even when we face the fiercest trials and opposition. Join Dr. Marty Baker as he unpacks 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20 and how the Apostle Paul spoke hope and encouragement to a church that faced all kinds of hardship.
Pastor Charles Swindoll once stated, “If no one leaves during your sermon, then you are not preaching the Word of God.” Why did the seasoned, effective shepherd say this? Because he knew, after years of preaching and teaching, that the clear communication of the Holy Scriptures causes darkness to flee.
Darkness, however, doesn’t always leave the building, the conversation, or the Instagram discussion. From what we see in the Scriptures and what I see from shepherding people and preaching and teaching the Bible, those who oppose spiritual light do everything within their power to sideline and silence its delivery and impact on people.
The recent disclosure of an internal FBI memo calling for conservative Catholics to be watched and potentially investigated as threats to our society is a case in point. They are a threat because they speak the truth about the unborn and what constitutes marriage. They are a threat because they believe in the Holy Trinity and Scriptures. They are not a threat because they seek to use any means to overthrow the government. Their desire, like our desire, is to employ noble, logical means to hold back evil in its various forms. (As a sidenote, I have great respect for the FBI and all federal officers. My father was a federal officer, and he worked, at times, with the FBI, DEA, and so forth. So, I know how dangerous and demanding this type of service is. But, I also know that mankind is sinful, and sin motivates some to pursue false ideologies.)
What is going on here? What has been going on since man’s fall in the Garden? In its various forms, spiritual darkness seeks to make believers' lives difficult so they will either quit talking or, at least, retreat into the shadows. From what we have seen in our study of First Thessalonians, this is precisely what happened to the Apostle Paul. As he taught messianic truth in Jewish synagogues around the known Roman world, some embraced the Messiah, while the majority vehemently opposed the former rabbi. Some argued with him in person, some followed him from place to place and sowed seeds of disinformation to turn people against him, some formulated mean-spirited and baseless rumors to malign his character, and some even attacked him.
Did any of this stop Paul in his tracks? No, he boldly kept moving down the path, preaching and teaching truth about the person and redemptive work of Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah as foretold in the Old Testament prophets. What should you do as you lovingly and logically speak up and out for God? You should prepare yourself for the opposition, and you should learn from Paul how to answer and apply this one central question from his second chapter to the Thessalonians:
How Should A Godly Leader Defend Their Work From Opponents Of The Faith? (1 Thess. 2:1-12)
Since Paul eventually left Thessalonica under persecutory duress, where he had led many Jews and Gentiles to Christ, and had planted a new church there, his jealous and jaded Jewish opponents wasted no time besmirching his character to diminish his impact and discredit his preaching and teaching. From what we learn in this chapter, believers do not have to sit there and take the onslaught. Indeed, there has to be balance because you cannot possibly put out every fire anti-Christian naysayers articulate about you (I’ve been there and done that). You should, however, offer a defense for several reasons:
- To protect those under your care who are exposed to lies designed to thwart you.
- To call liars and deceivers to task about who you really are and what you believe and teach. Translated to showcase truth and expose lies.
- To show other believers what courage looks like.
- To build up and encourage believers facing the brunt of cultural angst.
These are just some reasons a Christian leader like Paul defended his ministry.
From this second chapter of Paul’s letter to the beleaguered Thessalonians believers, Paul’s defense consisted of several strategies, and we can certainly learn from them. By way of review, from the Apostle’s model, you know you must . . .
- Defend Your Motives (1 Thess. 2:1-4)
- Defend Your Methods (1 Thess. 2:5-10)
- Defend Your Message (1 Thess. 2:11-12)
To these three concepts, Paul adds two more:
Defend Your Mentees (1 Thess. 2:13-16)
Why do you have to defend them as a leader? Because they will be attacked for what they believe, as Jesus said ( John 15:20, "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also” ), and you, as the mentor, will be attacked to diminish and destroy your influence over and with them. Concerning this, remember the words of Paul to the Ephesian spiritual leaders before he left them for his last trip to Jerusalem:
28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20).
“Wolves,” of false teachers and leaders, were prophesied to infiltrate the flock from without, to subvert it from within. According to Paul, those who held anti-biblical and anti-Christian doctrines would infiltrate even the elder council. What would their goal be? To trash godly leaders while getting parishioners to buy into their twisted, distorted, and false views of “things” covers everything from world ideologies to theology. You name it, and these devious people would and will seek to do much harm to local churches for the sake of their erroneous belief system(s). One way they dupe people is to attack the character of godly leaders, to earn the trust and allegiance of people so they can push their false and heretical agendas, resulting in the church becoming benign and malleable. Concerning the wolves, Paul told leadership to always be on guard for “themselves,” so they wouldn’t be duped, and “for all the flock,” so they wouldn’t be duped.
Paul develops this all-important point with this statement:
NAS 1 Thessalonians 2:13 And for this reason, we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.
WHT 1 Thessalonians 2:13 Καὶ διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ἡμεῖς εὐχαριστοῦμεν τῷ θεῷ ἀδιαλείπτως, ὅτιπαραλαβόντες λόγον ἀκοῆς παρ᾽ ἡμῶν τοῦ θεοῦ ἐδέξασθε οὐ λόγον ἀνθρώπων ἀλλὰ καθὼςἀληθῶς ἐστὶν λόγον θεοῦ, ὃς καὶ ἐνεργεῖται ἐν ὑμῖν τοῖς πιστεύουσιν.
The prepositional phrase “dia touto” refers to what Paul just said in verse 12. In this verse, he commended the saints for not only hearing spiritual truth, but applying it to their lives and growing spiritually. Trust me, a shepherd or spiritual leader can hear nothing more extraordinary from those under their care. When saints listen and don’t apply the Word, they disobey the Spirit and enjoy a carnal, sinful life. Conversely, when they hear the Word and waste no time permitting it to change their thinking and lives, they begin to reflect the character of Jesus, their Lord, and Savior. This growth cycle is why Paul frequently thanks God for these types of saints. They were the real deal. Are you? Do you hear the Word of God in this church in various settings and walk out determined to let that divine Word shape and hone your soul, thinking, and life? If so, you make my heart glad, and like Paul, I give thanks for a maturing church.
Watch how Paul opens this point up further.
Whether these new saints were grounded in many generations of Judaism or came from families devoted to the massive and complicated pantheon of Greek and Roman so-called gods, when they encountered true truth (as the famous Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer used to say), they knew immediately their belief systems were erroneous, false, and full of logical holes. The legalism of Judaism’s Jews and God-fearers were left wondering if they would everdo enough to earn God’s favor through the strict observance of a plethora of rules and regulations. The adherents of polytheistic worship were left wondering many things:
- If God is perfect, there can be no difference in him.How, then, can there be differences between our so-called gods?
- If God is perfect, how can our gods act no better than the creatures they supposedly created?
- How can a mere man like Julius Caesar be deemed a god after his death by his great-nephew Octavian, or Caesar Augustus, and have the words Diuus Iulius or Divine Julius stamped on coinage? How could the bronze statue of Julius Caesar Octavian erected in the Temple of Venus be a god, which mere men formed the massive image?
When you hold onto man’s thinking about life’s big questions like, “Where did sin come from?” “How is sin dealt with before God?” “What is man’s ultimate purpose?” you always have a gnawing suspicion that your system has significant holes. This, of course, leaves you wondering, “Is there something more? Is there a belief system that answers life’s most profound questions?” The answer is, Yes. The biblical system culminates on a hill called Golgotha and at the site of the empty tomb where the Savior rose from death to defeat sin and death.
When these folks heard that message from the Scriptures and Paul’s eye-witness testimony, they knew it was actual truth, and once they embraced it by faith, they became part of Christ’s heavenly family on earth (2 Cor. 5:17, “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5). The more they dug into the Scriptures, the more they studied its rich, timeless, and divine truths, it changed them daily into the likeness of their Lord and Savior. No wonder Paul thanks the Lord for these saints for they lived as saints should. They heard God’s voice, and they obeyed. Amazing. Really, I feel the same about you, as well. The change I’ve seen in your lives over the last fourteen years brings me much joy.
Behind all of this, you can hear the voice of the spiritual naysayers, “You’ll get over Paul in due time. This is just a lame phase you are going through. Admit it; you haven’t really changed. You are the same old you with the same old issues. So, get over it. This gospel Paul gave you isn’t good news at all. You’ve been duped.”
Paul’s words, of course, countered those of the menacing mockers. He saw a radical change in them, even from the distance of Corinth. He also knew these saints were deeply committed to Jesus because they didn't fold like a proverbial lawn chair when they faced persecution, as Paul had on many occasions. On the contrary, they stood firm and true despite relentless opposition to the faith. Paul opens up this truth with these comforting words:
14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, . . . (1 Thess. 2).
These believers imitated the Jewish saints at the mother church in Jerusalem insofar as they stood their ground when their countrymen, brothers, and people opposed them for believing in Jesus and following the Scriptures. Jesus talked about this when he offered this warning:
51 Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; 52 for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two, and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against mother; mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law (Luke 12).
The gospel divides people, by definition, for it is truth. Those who reject and chafe against the gospel do so because to believe it is unloving, unkind, judgmental, close-minded, puritanical, mean-spirited, intolerant, and so forth. So, they do what comes naturally: sever relationships, break off friendships, and pit themselves against anyone who’d dare believe man is a sinner, and Jesus is the only Savior.
How did the Jews oppose the faith as it germinated, sprouted, and grew in Jerusalem? Here is Paul’s answer:
15 who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, 16 hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.
Three verbs and one adjective tell how the Jews in Jerusalem sought to thwart the gospel’s advance. First, they worked through the Romans to eliminate Jesus, along with all the prophets who spoke truth before Him, who became THE prophet (Deut. 18). Second, they physically ran men like Paul out of town so they couldn’t speak to anyone any longer. Third, they were openly hostile to anyone and everyone, significantly if they believed in Jesus or wanted to hear about Him. Fourth, they constantly worked to hinder Paul’s ministry of truth to the Gentiles. The Greek word for “hinder” literally speaks of a stiff wind blowing against a small boat.
ἐναντίος, α, ον literally, of direction opposite; substantivally ἐξ ἐναντίας opposite, over against someone (MK 15.39); of the wind contrary, blowing against (MT 14.24); figuratively, of attitudes hostile, contrary, opposed to (1TH 2.15)
ἐναντίος A--NM-S ἐναντίος.
The Thessalonians saints knew the drill well, and it didn’t cause them to quit talking about the redemptive work of Jesus Christ or the power of the Word of God. No, they doubled-down and continued to speak, for eternity was at stake.
Had the spiritual belief system the Thessalonians embraced been of men, they would have caved under the pressure of the persecution. The fact that they didn’t surrender but became even more courageous showed that, contrary to their opponents' claims, something marvelous had occurred. The Savior of sinners had come to earth, He had taught the truth about how to live for Him, He died on the cross for man’s sins, and He rose from the grave on the third day as the victor over sin and death, and now all those who come to Him in faith will be saved and made His children (Acts 4:10ff). No amount of persecution can ever silence this gospel! But still, the godless try.
In our day, nothing has changed. Those who don’t know God, or think they do but don’t, are still continually committed to the old, worn-out strategy the Jews employed against believers in the early Church.
- In some cultures, they kill believers. Just read persecution.org or www.persecution.com (The Voice of the Martyrs), and you will see what I mean.
- In most cultures, they drive Christians out of town, as it were. They litigate them into silence. They de-platform them for they are deemed hateful. They fire them if they are teachers for not wanting to lie about what is being promulgated at school about sexuality: https://www.theblaze.com/news/teacher-fired-for-refusing-to-conceal-students-gender-transitions-from-parents-i-realized-that-i-couldn-t-be-a-christian-and-a-teacher.
- They are openly hostile (Opposition used to be more covert and less overt. Legal, and educational gains, coupled with media support, have reversed this). Just say you won’t bake a cake for a couple because their impending marriage goes against the biblical model and see what happens.
- They are like a stiff wind that constantly blows against Christians trying to enjoy their First Amendment rights. Whether it is Christians attempting to have a Christian club on campus, or a Christian website being de-monetized, the storm is always kicking up in an attempt to malign and marginalize the faith and followers of the faith. Here’s an example I won’t forget soon.The last time I attempted to teach on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a man infiltrated our group and began to shout at me to stop talking and to leave. I stuck around and finished my Bible lesson, but I had to do it with him screaming in my ear for “Silence!”
This is why a leader like Paul, had to defend his mentees. They needed encouragement as they took hits for living courageous lives for Christ. Again, everything has stayed the same in the last 2,000 years. Any godly leader worth a grain of salt will defend his ministry by defending those in his ministry who fearlessly and lovingly take the life-giving gospel to the lost. Like Paul, I, along with all the leaders at our church, encourage you as you shine the gospel and God’s truths into our dark, spiritually blinded world. Keep up the good work despite the opposition, for we know blessing rests on the persecuted (“10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me,” Matt. 5), and we know victory will be ours when Jesus arrives.
Paul also wanted to remind the persecutors that their day would come wherein the Lord would deal with them personally.
16 hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.
The metaphor here reminds one of a cup filled to the brim. When it reaches the top, then divine judgment is unleashed. How is the cup of the carnal filled up? It is filled a little more each time they oppose the faith and lash out against Christians. Paul’s words here demonstrate that the Lord does permit a certain degree of wickedness from people who oppose Him and His people; however, there will come the day when He rises from His throne and says, “It is enough!” At that moment, divine judgment will fall, and each person will be judged based on the fill level of their “cups.” This is all reminiscent of Paul’s warning to the Roman Jews in the second chapter of Romans:
5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,
6 who will render to every man according to his deeds . . . (Rom. 2).
If you are hostile to the faith and followers of Jesus, you need to reconsider your activity and position, for it will cost you when Jesus shows up. Let today be the day you turn to Him in saving faith (John 5:24-25).
Lastly, Paul returns to how he began this section. From a rhetorical perspective, this is called inclusio. Writing and speaking in this fashion is a powerful way to drive home your significant points.
Defend Your Motives (1 Thess. 2:17-20)
When Paul’s Jewish opponents couldn’t handle Paul’s airtight arguments favoring Jesus as the Messiah, they resorted (again) to attacking his motives. It’s a cheap shot, but it can be most effective if not countered. Listen and learn:
17 But we, brethren, having been bereft of you for a short while-- in person, not in spirit-- were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. 18 For we wanted to come to you-- I, Paul, more than once-- and yet Satan thwarted us.
You can hear what Paul’s opponents said about him based on what he says in these two verses: “When things got hairy for Paul, when he thought things might turn from a verbal fight to a physical one, he boogied to Berea. All of this merely shows he didn’t care about you, and he’s just like all those other religious quacks who’ve traveled through town on the Via Ignatia.” Paul clearly states that his true desire was the exact opposite of this. He loved these saints and couldn’t wait to see them again, which he eventually did on his third and last, missionary journey (Acts 20:1-2). Saints, be very careful of someone, and I don’t care who they are, who specializes in questioning a spiritual leader’s motive(s). Look at the fact(s) of the leader’s life, not hearsay and innuendo.
I know a young, godly, courageous pastor in California who has been wrongfully maligned by some who question his motives. He and his wife lived in a gang-infested area where gunfire was the order of the day. He wanted to leave but was limited on money, so he asked to live temporarily in the church’s empty missionary home. Once he moved in, those wolves who opposed him started questioning his motives, “Look at him. He is just a mooch off of the ministry. He needs to move out.” Shocking, isn’t it? He moved out, and God provided a better place for him and his wife, but still, the mockers malign his character by questioning his motives on other matters. Like Paul, he is pushing back with love and truth.
To those who questioned Paul’s love of the Thessalonians, Paul lays it all out there in the closing two verses:
19 For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy (1 Thess. 2).
For our purposes, we need to focus on the word “coming,” or parousia. It is not a participle but a noun.
19 τίς γὰρ ἡμῶν ἐλπὶς ἢ χαρὰ ἢ στέφανος καυχήσεως- ἢ οὐχὶ καὶ ὑμεῖς- ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ κυρίουἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ ἐν τῇ αὐτοῦ παρουσίᾳ; (1 Thess. 2).
Here is what this important word means in Greek according to Danker:
παρουσία,ας,ἡ [cp. πάρειμι] ‘making an appearance’, w. connotation of reaching a position as condition for being present, and subject to such renderings as arrival, coming, advent – a. of Paul and associates presence, arrival 1 Cor 16:17; 2 Cor 7:6f; Phil 1:26, 2:12; 2 Pt 3:12. Of Paul’s personal bearing, presence 2 Cor 10:10. – b. of Christ, w. end-time focus coming, advent Mt 24:3, 1 Cor 15:23; 1 Th 2:19; 2 Th 2:1; Js 5:7; 2 Pt 1:16; 3:4, 12; 1 J 2:28. – Of the Lawless One as parody of Christ, coming, advent 2 Th 2:9.
Here in Thessalonians, especially in light of Paul’s discussion in First Thessalonians 4:13-18 of the Rapture of the Church before the Tribulation, the word refers to Christ’s Rapture of His saints. When that occurs, saints will be judged by Christ for how well they served Him on earth (1 Cor. 3:10-15). He will, then, give them crowns for various levels of service, and according to Revelation 4:10, they will cast their crowns before the throne of the Lord, for He is worthy of our worship and appreciation.
With this eschatological sequencing in mind, Paul merely says, “Of the crowns I will receive for service to Jesus, the greatest crown will be the fact of seeing you standing there before Him in glory.” The greatest joy would not be what he did for Christ but who was present in glory. Does this sound like a man who didn’t like the saints? No. This man loved them and couldn’t wait to see them in glory.
I identify with Paul. Of all I have accomplished for Jesus, the most significant accomplishment will be seeing you transformed and glorified, as we collectively stand and sing around God’s magnificent and brilliant throne. Is that your motive as a spiritual leader in our body? It should be. True, some may question you to malign you, but you know your heart and motives. Let your motive be Paul’s. And what was that? To love God’s people now and be excited about loving on them when we see Jesus.
Finally, I have to ask you a personal question: Will you be standing around the throne of Jesus on that glorious day? If not, He waits for your to confess Him as your Savior and Lord (Rom. 10:9). Do this, and He will instantly forgive your sin (Rom. 5:1) and adopt you into His heavenly family, forever (Rom. 8:15). Let nothing or no one hold you back from making this faith decision.
 Friberg, Analytical Greek Lexicon.