The Gospel of God in the Midst of Much Conflict

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. – 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 ESV

Paul had one purpose in life: To share the gospel of Jesus Christ with as many people as he possibly could. It was the commission given to him by Jesus that fateful day on the road to Damascus. He had a personal encounter with the resurrected Christ and his life would be dramatically and unalterably changed from that day forward. Jesus told Ananias that Paul was “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15 ESV). And Ananias would later tell Paul, “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:14-15 ESV).

And ever since that day, Paul had faithfully fulfilled His commission, in the face of intense opposition and even increasing threats on his own life. He fully understood the nature of his calling and the inherent risk associated with his ministry. He told the believers in Colossae:

I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known. – Colossians 1:25 ESV

Now, he was writing to the saints in Thessalonica, reminding them that his arrival in their city and his preaching of the gospel among them had not been without difficulty. In fact, prior to entering their city, he had been forced to flee from Philippi, where he had faced unwarranted attacks from the Jewish community. And his reception in Thessalonica had not been much better. After being accused of fomenting political insurrection, he and Silas had been forced to escape during the dead of night.

But Paul reminds his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica that he had not shirked from his God-given responsibility to share the gospel.

…we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. – Thessalonica 2:2 ESV

Paul wasn’t bragging. He was simply reinforcing the need for believers to practice their faith with resilience and confident assurance, even in the face of opposition. Paul’s life was proof that the Christian life was anything but easy. His calling by Christ had not resulted in a life of ease and comfort. Christ had even predicted that’s Paul ministry would be marked by suffering. He had informed Ananias concerning Paul: “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16 ESV). And Jesus had kept His word. Paul had suffered. But he had also served faithfully. And he expected the Thessalonian believers to do the same. 

And Paul insists that his ministry to them was not based on anything immoral, unethical, or incorrect. He had preached the truth concerning Jesus Christ, nothing more and nothing less. He was not an insurrectionist. He was not a political activist. He was a God-ordained minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ – “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel” (1 Thessalonians 2:4 ESV). And Paul took his divine commission seriously. He did what he did, not out of greed or in an attempt to flatter and win the approval of men. He wasn’t out to win friends and influence enemies. He was obsessed with sharing the life-changing message of faith in Christ. And if it led to false accusations, undeserved persecution, and even death, Paul was perfectly okay with those outcomes.

Paul told his brothers and sisters that he did what he did out of love. He cared for them deeply and was willing to sacrifice everything for their spiritual well-being, telling them, “we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8 ESV). So, when Paul told the Roman believers, “give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable” (Romans 12:1 NLT) – he meant it. And he modeled it.

He told the believers in Philippi that the sacrifice of his life on their behalf was well worth it. “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all” (Philippians 2:17 ESV). Later on in his life, he wrote to his your friend, Timothy, encouraging him with the example of his own life.

Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.

As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. – 2 Timothy 4:5-7 NLT

Paul could have had a much easier life. He could have taken the path of least resistance, preaching what people wanted to hear and promoting a non-controversial message that brought him popularity, not persecution. But that wasn’t Paul’s style. His commitment to the cause of Christ would not allow him to dilute the message or avoid the inevitable controversy it caused.

Paul was well aware of the fact that the gospel message was controversial. He had seen the kinds of reactions it garnered.

Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:21-24 NLT

The gospel was powerful and the preaching of it elicited strong reactions among those who heard it. Some received it gladly, while others responded in disbelief and even violent resistance. Paul had experienced the joy of watching many embrace the good news of the faith in Christ with open arms. But he had also felt the searing pain that came from being flogged and even stoned, all for sharing the message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But for Paul, it was all worth it. Which is why he reminds his readers, “our coming to you was not in vain” (1 Thessalonians 2:1 ESV). His efforts had produced the intended results. The church in Thessalonica was growing and thriving. Yes, the believers were facing difficulty and experiencing opposition, but Paul wanted them to know that these things were to be expected. It all came with the territory. The enemy hated what Paul was doing, but he couldn’t stop it. Satan could attempt to muster all the forces of darkness against Paul, but he would not succeed in his efforts to thwart the spread of the gospel. As Jesus promised Peter, “I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:18 NLT).

Jesus had made it clear that the powers of hell would come against the church. But He also assured Peter that those powers would fail and His church would prevail. And Paul assured the Thessalonian church that he declared “the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict,” fully confident that it would take root and grow – unabated and undiminished in its impact on the world. But the conflict is real nonetheless. The opposition is not a figment of our imagination. The gates of hell stand diametrically opposed to the gospel message. The forces of the enemy are intent on destroying all that Jesus Christ died to make possible. He wants to rob believers of their joy, their effectiveness, and their confidence in Christ. But Jesus assures us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). We have the gospel of God in the midst of conflict. The gospel doesn’t make the conflict go away. It produces it. But it also provides us with the means of achieving victory over it.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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