How Can You Suffer Without Getting Bitter?

1 Thessalonians 2:2 – 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.

In any battle, the ultimate goal is to eliminate the highest-ranking leader on the other side of the fight. In Thessalonica, this person was the Apostle Paul. Acts 17:1-9 is the historical record of how the church there was planted. Paul and his ministry team arrived in town, preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, many were saved in a revival, then a riot broke out trying to put down the revival, and Paul fled for his life, which explains why he sent Timothy and other leaders along with a letter – because he could not be physically present. 

In Paul’s absence, as is the case in every age, those who were anti-Christ were also anti-Paul. They began spreading lots of lies about him, which would have confused and concerned the new Christians who were saved under his preaching. History has confirmed that Paul has one of the most brilliant minds in human history. In this section of the letter, we also see that he has one of the most tender hearts. He is clear that the driving intent of his entire ministry is the glory of God, saying he wants “to please God”. 

In math class, a good teacher will not allow a student to just present an answer, but also requires them to show their work. In showing their work, the teacher wants to see not only what their conclusion is, but why they came to that conclusion. In this section of the letter, Paul is showing his work and assuming the sovereignty of God over his afflictions, believing that everything he and the people are suffering is ultimately being used “by God who tests our hearts”. Sometimes, like Paul, when we have “suffered” in “conflict” and been “shamefully treated”, we can get bitter against those who wrong us, or even bitter against God. 

Paul’s example is incredibly helpful in our day when those who stand up for God get cut down by others. Instead of using his difficulties to make him bitter, Paul uses them to make him better. His motives become purer, and his heart becomes warmer as he begins thinking more about the people who are hurting than his own hurts, trying to set an example for them as their leader. 

Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 slowly and prayerfully, asking the Holy Spirit to help you see and feel what Paul is communicating from his perspective. What burden would you have felt as their founding pastor if you had to leave the young church during a crisis knowing that they were suffering and doubting your love for them?

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