For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Judea that are in Christ Jesus. You suffered from your own countrymen the very things they suffered from the Jews,
I. IT IS A HIGH HONOR AS WELL AS PRIVILEGE FOR CHURCHES TO BE SELECTED AS PATTERNS OF PATIENCE TO OTHER CHURCHES. "For ye, brethren, became followers of the Churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus." We are first to be imitators of Christ, then of all who follow in his steps, who keep on "looking to Jesus" (Hebrews 12:2). There were many Churches in Judaea, for Christianity was founded by Jews; its first converts were Jews; its first martyrs were Jews; and the Churches among them rejoiced in the fellowship of Christ, as the Source of their life and comfort.
II. THE PATH OF THE THESSALONIANS WAS ONE OF SEVERE TRIAL AND CONTINUOUS PERSECUTION. "For ye also have suffered like things from your own countrymen, even as they from the Jews."
1. They had received the Word "in much affliction." (1 Thessalonians 1:6.) The first outbreak of violence against them occurred after their conversion (Acts 17:5). They belonged to one of those Churches of Macedonia of which the apostle long afterwards wrote to the Corinthians as "enduring a great trial of affliction." It came from their heathen countrymen.
2. Their trials attested the genuineness of their conversion. The heathen would have had no quarrel with a dead faith. The Thessalonians did not "sleep as did others." They discovered by sharp experience that "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12).
3. Their trials involved the precious experience of a "fellowship in Christ's sufferings." (Philippians 3:10.)
4. Their trials manifested at once the strength of their faith and their Christian constancy.
III. IT WAS SOME COMFORT TO THE THESSALONIANS TO KNOW THAT THEY WERE NOT THE ONLY SUFFERERS FROM THE FURY OF PERSECUTORS. "Even as they have of the Jews: who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and drave us out." This terrible invective against the Jews illustrates the saying that the apostle often "goes off at a word." It recalls the language of Stephen before his murderers (Acts 7:52). The malignity of the Jews against their believing countrymen was extreme.
1. The Jews were murderers of Jesus and the prophets. Though the Savior was executed by the Romans, the responsibility of the terrible deed rests on the Jews, who "fur envy" delivered him up, and "killed the Prince of life." They likewise killed their own prophets, whose very sepulchers they afterwards built and garnished. What wonder, then, that the Thessalonian converts should escape!
2. The Jews, though zealous for God, did not please him. "They pleased not God," but rather provoked him to anger by their unbelief and their wickedness.
3. They were at cross-purposes with all mankind. They were "contrary to all men." They were anti-social, exclusive, and bitter, so that the heathen Tacitus could describe them as "holding an attitude of hostility and hatred to the human race." But it was specially manifest in their resistance to the calling of the Gentiles - "forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved. The Acts of the Apostles supply abundant evidence of this fact.
4. The end to which all this wickedness toward God and man was tending. "To fill up their sins at all times."
(1) God often allows nations to complete the sum of their wickedness before bringing upon them final retribution. "The iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full" (Genesis 15:16).
(2) The judgment upon the Jews was at hand - "but the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost." "There is now nothing between it and them." The destruction of Jerusalem was still future, but "the days of vengeance were already come." The fire was already burning, which would never be quenched till the vengeance was complete. The apostle seems to regard the moment of the rejection of the Messiah as marking the outpouring of the Divine wrath. The history of the Jews from that moment is a significant commentary on the passage. - T.C.
For ye, brethren, became followers of the Churches of God which are in Judaea
I. THEIR SUFFERING HAD A COMMON ORIGIN. "Ye of your own countrymen" — they "of the Jews."
1. It is the unkindest cut of all that comes from the sword of our own people — people with whom we have lived in amity, but from whom conscience compels us to differ (Psalm 55:12), when natural love is turned into unnatural enmity.
2. What a revelation this of the devilish nature of persecution. Its insensate malice rudely sunders all bonds of fatherland, friendship, or kindred. The close affinity between Cain and Abel does not arrest the murderer's hand. The tender ties between Saul and David avail not to curb the mad cruelty of the king.
3. How deep and changeless is the truth — "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." The suffering that tests is still from the same source. "A man's foes are they of his own household."
II. THEIR SUFFERING WAS BORNE WITH EXEMPLARY CHRISTIAN FORTITUDE. The same thought is expressed in 1 Thessalonians 1:6. At the head of the long line is Jesus, the captain of salvation; and all whom He leads to glory walk in His steps, imitate His example, and so become followers one of another.
1. It is not suffering in itself that purifies, so much as the spirit in which it is borne. It was enough to cool the fiery ambition of the aspiring disciples when Jesus said, "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?" And yet the following of Christ in suffering is the true test of discipleship. "He that taketh not his cross and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me."
2. It is a proof of the supernatural efficacy of the gospel that it inspires so intense a love of it as to make us willing to endure suffering for its sake. The love of truth becomes supreme. John Huss, lamenting the rupture of an old and valued friendship, said, "Paletz is my friend; truth is my friend; and both being my friends, it is my sacred duty to give the first honour to truth."
3. The soul, penetrated with this devotion, will pass unscathed the fiery test. On the destruction of the London Alexandra Palace by fire, it was found that, while many specimens of old English porcelain exhibited there were reduced to a black, shapeless mass, the true porcelain of Bristol, though broken into fragments, still retained its whiteness, and even its most delicate shades of colour uninjured by the fire. So the truly good, though wounded, shall survive the fiercest trial, and retain intact all that distinguishes the Christian character.Lessons: —
1. Our love of the Gospel is tested by what we suffer for it.
2. The similarity of experience, in all times and places, is a strong evidence of the truth of the Christian religion.
3. Suffering does not destroy, but builds up and perfects.
( Gregory Nazianzen.)
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
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