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The joyful convicts

As Paul writes to the disciples at Thessalonica, he praises them because, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” (1:6).  Acts 17:1-15 provides us with an introduction to some of the things that happened and our imagination can fill in much of the rest (but see also 2:14).  Despite these circumstances, the Thessalonians followed the example set by Paul, Silas, Timothy (and of course, Jesus), by embracing the good news.

Perhaps you’re like me and find it all too easy to nod your head and superficially acknowledge the noble response by this group of believers. If so, I don’t think the solution is necessarily to try harder (If you haven’t been in such circumstances, it’s difficult to honestly appreciate what the situation was like and effort doesn’t change that). Instead, I think our time might be better spent seeking to understand the things that prompted this behavior. 

As you comb through the letter the first thing that stands out is the level of conviction with which the Thessalonians received the message from Paul and his companions.  Paul will note, “You received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe” (2:13). There’s a big difference between agreeing with something and being convicted about it. It’s the difference between being passive and being passionate.  Passive people define their faith in terms of attendance, passionate people live as disciples.

Accompanying this passion was a genuine sense of joy (1:6).  Joy is not an outlook --- it’s an up-look.  It’s knowing your relationship with God transcends the circumstances of life.  Joy is given by the Spirit but as with any gift, we have the choice whether we want to accept it or not.  In the midst of their suffering, these disciples made the choice for joy. It didn’t make their problems go away, but it did help them to deal with them. 

In Nehemiah 8, Ezra reads the law to Israel.  The walls around Jerusalem have been rebuilt and it’s time to fortify the people inside the city.  From the break of day until noon the law is read while the people stand and listen “attentively” (8:3).  They respond with “Amen, Amen” and bow in worship to God (v. 6). It’s a great occasion and Nehemiah tells the people, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10). Too many times, we’re well reversed in the Scripture.  We think as soon as we get strong, we’ll have joy.  This text tells us the opposite.  The joy of the Lord is our strength.

It is these joyful, convicted disciples that become models to believers near and far (1:7)!
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