Problems bring division. Division brings fighting. Fighting brings debilitation. When it comes to God’s church, this debilitation means that people are no longer engaging others in the truths of the true gospel of Jesus. Therefore, problems in the church cannot go unchecked. When they are recognized, they must be addressed. As we begin our study in Paul’s Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, we must realize that this was Paul’s understanding, and we would do well to understand that we too must see problems, division, and infighting as Satan’s work against the spreading of the gospel.
Under threat of persecution, Paul had labored in Thessalonica to teach the truth of the gospel to all those who would believe. The unrest during Paul’s tenure in Thessalonica never subsided, rather, the feelings of the Jewish leaders in the community continued to be inflamed to the point that they finally hired brutes to raid the house where Paul was staying. Having been tipped off the day before, Paul and Silas escaped unscathed and journeyed quickly by night to the capital of Macedonia, Berea.
While Paul went unharmed, the same could not be said of the young converts he left behind at Thessalonica. The large anti-Christian, Jewish contingent harassed the remaining believers and Acts 17 tells us that they even accused these new believers of maliciously subverting the Roman Empire. There is one word for what these young Christians were experiencing: Persecution.
The words of Jesus in John 15:19 were ringing true, “ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” The believers were experiencing hatred and persecution at every turn. Their belongings had been confiscated by the Romans. Their homes had been ransacked by the caustic Jewish crowds, and now, they would be afflicted for years to come as they sought simply to worship God and to share the gospel.
Having been unable to complete the spiritual instruction that he thought was necessary for healthy growth of the believers, shortly after his departure from Thessalonica Paul was led of the Spirit to write an epistle of encouragement to those he left behind. We now have this letter in the canon of Scripture and refer to as “First Thessalonians.” A few years passed and the believers grew in the faith even in the face of persecution.
However, a few problems arose in the church, and with problems came division. When word came to Paul, he knew that as a spiritual father, he had to address these problems. Persecution was too harsh, and the gospel was too important for the church at Thessalonica to be sidelined by those who would seek to disrupt the work of the church.
Like Paul, we must recognize problems in the church. When people depart from the authority of the Scriptures, or regard the word of men (living or dead) as laudable as the word of God, or when the proclamation of the gospel ceases to be the defining point of true Christianity, problems have come into the church. These problems must be resolved. If allowed to metastasize they will ultimately corrupt the whole church and will leave the saints debilitated.
Food For Thought: Historically, persecution has had a positive effect on Christianity. Do you think that the church has thrived in persecution because being persecuted has helped people focus on the “main thing” and set aside some of the less important things? Explain your answer.