And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, 1 Thessalonians 1:6 (NKJV)
Paul faced great opposition when he arrived in Thessalonica and began preaching the Gospel. The unbelieving Jews stirred up trouble for Paul. They not only rejected and opposed his message about Christ but they also gathered up evil men from the market place and had them gather a mob that set the entire city in an uproar and attacked the house where Paul was staying. Paul was then forced to flee the city under the cover of darkness so that he wasn’t caught and probably beaten.
The church in Thessalonica was a brand new church at this time. Paul had only been there preaching for about three weeks. With Paul gone, they faced a serious problem. Should they continue to follow Christ and possibly face the same wrath of the people? Or should they give up on Christ and go back to life as it was before Paul? This was the choice that was before them. They understood that if they chose to follow Christ and Paul that they would most certainly face the same sort of suffering that Paul had endured. Those who hated and stirred up evil men against Paul weren’t going to greet them warmly and become their best friends if they followed the Christ Paul preached about. In the end, they chose to imitate Christ and Paul regardless of the consequences.
Jesus and Paul are both lifted up as examples that we to follow in our lives. Christ set a pattern for us to follow and so did the Apostle Paul. The question we want to answer is what kind of pattern did they set? Jesus obviously set a pattern of perfection in all things. However, given the context, there is one particular pattern that Jesus set, that Paul imitated and that we are to imitate as well. It is the pattern of doing God’s will regardless of the circumstances. Let me show you how Christ and Paul set an example in this.
Jesus knew that the path He was going to walk in this life was going to be rough at times. Jesus came to earth knowing that He would be rejected, beaten, crucified, would suffer God’s wrath against all the sins of the world and would die alone and abandoned even by His followers. There was never a second in His life when He wasn’t aware of the suffering that was to come. His awareness of this suffering came to head the night of His arrest as He prayed in a garden called Gethsemane.
“He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.’” Matthew 26:39 (NKJV)
Scripture records that He prayed this prayer three times, over what appears to be about three hours in prayer. Why did He spend so much time praying basically the same prayer? It’s because He knew the suffering that was coming. Jesus prayed and asked if it was possible for “this cup” to pass from Him. What did He mean by this cup? The cup Jesus refers to is the cup of God’s wrath (see Jeremiah 25:15 and Revelation 16:19).
When Jesus died on the cross He wasn’t just being abused and murdered by the Romans. He was also taking the fierceness of God’s wrath against our sin in our place. We know that Scripture teaches that the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:26). However, what we have to understand is that the punishment for sinning against an infinitely holy God isn’t merely physical death or spiritual death it is eternal death. Eternal death is to be cast into hell for all eternity. Revelation calls this the second death (Rev 20:14). The horrors of hell show us the terrible wrath of God against sin. Christ took that wrath in our place. We could accurately say that Christ experienced hell on the cross.
The physical suffering Christ endured before the cross and on the cross was horrific. However, the physical suffering wasn’t all that was going on and it probably wasn’t even the worst part of what was going on. There was spiritual suffering from drinking the cup of God’s wrath as well and this was the worst part of the suffering. What Jesus was praying here wasn’t merely that the Father would allow Him to miss the cross. He was asking that if there was another way for mankind to be redeemed than for Him to have to drink the cup God’s wrath, then let it happen that way. Jesus prays this same prayer three times.
However, we do see that Jesus prayed more than for the cup of suffering to pass from Him. After telling the Father what He wanted, Jesus chose to surrender His will to the Father’s will. What we see is that Jesus prays specifically about what He wants and then He surrenders His will to the Father’s will. Please Father, take this cup away, that’s specific, yet I want your will not mine, that’s surrendered. Jesus was surrendering to the Father’s will, even when He knew that will involved suffering the wrath of God .The example of Christ that the Thessalonians imitated, and that we are to imitate, is that of doing God’s will regardless of the circumstances.
Paul followed this example as well. Prior to his conversion Paul was wealthy, influential and seemingly on the fast track to success as a Pharisee. All of this changed when he trusted in Christ for His salvation and began preaching the Gospel. Paul would tell the Philippians that he had suffered the loss of all things and counted them as rubbish because he had gained Christ (Phil 3:7-8). Paul’s conversion to Christ not only cost him all the things he once considered to be so precious but it also brought suffering and hardship into his life.
But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; 2 Corinthians 6:4-5 (NKJV)
None of these things kept Paul from faithfully following Christ. He was committed to following Christ regardless of the circumstances. Paul set an example of a changed life by following Christ regardless of the circumstances. Paul’s example served as a pattern for the new Christians of Thessalonica to follow. They also set an example of a changed life by following Christ regardless of the circumstances.
Is this the example we are setting in following Christ? What we see from Scripture is that the example of a changed life is that of following Christ regardless of the circumstances. The example of Jesus, Paul and the Thessalonians is pretty challenging. As I was preparing the message, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would do in these situations. Following Christ doesn’t cost much in Guymon Oklahoma. Would I faithfully follow Christ if I lived in a place where following Christ was costly?