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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Resisting Fear

Resisting Fear

"Did Paul cleverly deceive us"?

That might have been the question that kept hounding the Thessalonians. The first chapter of Paul's letter to the Thessalonians was meant to encourage and praise their pursuit of God. But there is a hint of defensiveness in Paul's words.

For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain: But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with with much contention. For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness: Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ. (1 Thessalonians 2:1-6)

That Paul defends his actions and motives suggests that there were some who doubted him. Some in the church at Thessalonica discounted his ministry, accusing Paul of deception, uncleanness, and trickery. The Thessalonian Christians may have been discouraged by the wave of persecution that resulted from their faith. They seem to have struck out against Paul.

That's what trouble will often do. It will cause us to forget or doubt what we once held strongly. Paul is reminding the Thessalonians of the truth: from the beginning, not only had they responded in faith to God's ministry, but Paul himself had been completely honest and faithful in bringing God's Word to them.

Fear of Emptiness

The first attitude that Paul addressed was the Thesslonians' fear that their faith, and Paul's ministry, was emptiness.

For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain... (1 Thessalonians 2:1)

"Vain" means empty. Bringing a cup empty of water to one who thirsts is vain. Promising to bring a cup of water, yet coming empty-handed renders the promise vain. The Thessalonians must have felt that Paul's preaching were just empty promises of peace and prosperity.

Paul experienced this lack of support during his ministry to the Corinthians. Some in the church doubted that Christ had physically been resurrected from the dead. Paul argued that our entire spiritual life depended upon the certainty of Christ's resurrection. Without faith in a living Christ, all faith is empty.

And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. (1 Corinthians 15:14)

Fear of deception

The Corinthians and the Thessalonians shared a common fear. They feared that the work, faith, and endurance that they had first experienced were based upon a clever lie of Paul...that Paul had come to them empty, devoid of truth. The overwhelming persecution surrounding them had caused them to lash out at the one they felt was at the center of their troubles. They blamed Paul for empty promises.

Paul recognized the stress the Thessalonians were under.

...ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men... (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15)

How does Paul respond to their fear? How does he reassure them? He reminds them of his own personal suffering on their behalf.

Responding to Fear with Boldness

But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention. (1 Thessalonians 2:2)

Here, Paul refers to a previous incident. In Philippi, Paul and his companions were met by a slave girl who was controlled by a spirit who gave her the power to predict the future. Paul commanded the spirit to leave the girl, and her owners convinced the authorities to arrest Paul and Silas on charges of inciting riot and advocating unlawful customs. They were stripped, flogged, and imprisoned. Their very next destination after Philippi was Thessalonica. (Acts 16:16-40)

The word, "bold" means to speak freely, confidently. It means literally, "pouring forth all".

Paul had every reason to expect the Thessalonians to respond to the gospel as the Philippians had: with arrest and violence. Yet he boldly preached; he "poured forth" the gospel.

A part of encouraging those who are in the midst of trouble is to remind them of those who were bold on their behalf. The Thessalonian Christians were discouraged by the persecution they were encountering, and they were doubting the truth they had accepted when Paul first preached to them. So Paul is reminding them of his boldness and confidence, even in the midst of similar trouble.

Are you discouraged now? Are you struggling to remember why you became a Christian, what good it has done you? Think back now and see if there were any bold Christians in your past. Was there someone who took the trouble to speak to you in the beginning about your relationship with the God Who created and loves you? Did someone risk personal embarrassment, or even harm, to reach out to you?