The Manifest Token and Persecuted Saints
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles, please, to II Thessalonians. You will remember that the believers at Thessalonica were led into a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, as recorded in chapter 17 of the Acts of the Apostles, by Paul on one of his missionary journeys. He stayed only a few brief months in their midst and was quite concerned about their spiritual welfare and their growth; and as soon as he got to the city of Corinth he sat down and wrote the first Thessalonian letter, which is the oldest book in the New Testament, though it does not come first in order.

No sooner had he written the first letter and sent it off to the Thessalonican believers than the emissary who carried the letter came back to him and reported to him the manner in which they received his first letter and also called to his attention some other things that were going on in the church at Thessalonica that needed correction. When we speak of correction, we are not thinking of things that were sinful, but of things that were not right in relation to the Word of God. And so the apostle wrote what we refer to as his second letter to the Thessalonians, and we find as we peruse it that it is a letter both of compliment and correction. When the report came to him about their spiritual condition, he had much he could praise them for. When the report came to him concerning their attitude in relation to certain things he had something that he needed to correct them with.

The Purpose of Persecution

As we look at the first portion of the Thessalonian letter, we are going to notice that Paul dealt with them in relation to the persecution, the tribulation, and the trials which they were enduring; and what he recorded provides for us an interesting discussion on the purpose, the power, and the product of persecution. Notice, please, II Thessalonians, chapter 1, verses 1-10..

I Thessalonians 1

1Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
2Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;
4So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:
5Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:
6Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;
7And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
8In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
9Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
10When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.

We are going to stop our reading right there, and we would like for you to notice the purpose of persecution in the life of every believer. Will you notice, please, verse 5.

I Thessalonians 1

5Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:

Notice the pronoun “which.” It refers back to two words in verse 4–“persecution” and “tribulation.” If we are to accept language at its ordinary meaning, then we are to accept the fact that persecution and tribulation as part of a believer's life are a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God. Persecution and tribulation become a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God.

Let's stop for a moment and give consideration to the word “judgment.” Every time we see it, immediately there flashes into our minds the word “punishment,” and we get the idea that tribulation and persecution are God's punishment for some evil doing in our lives, but that is not the case. These words “righteous judgment” refer to the justice of God, the righteousness of God, the righteous acts of God, the wisdom of God, the righteous plan of God, which suggests to us that persecution and tribulation are part of God's righteous plan for every individual who is a subject of the kingdom of God.

Tribulation Inevitable

Turn, please, to chapter 14 of the Acts of the Apostles. There we are told that Paul went on a preaching tour. He preached the Gospel, and many people accepted the message of the Gospel. He went on to other places, but he made a return trip. He made a return trip that he might be able to accomplish a specific purpose. That specific purpose is revealed in verse 22 of Acts, chapter 14, where we read:

Acts 14

22Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.

It is as though the Apostle Paul added a postscript to his ministry in these various cities. He went through them first to preach the Gospel of Christ, and people accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. He made a second trip, and he said, “There is something I didn't tell you the first time, and I want to tell you now. If I don't tell you, you will never be able to understand some of the things that happen to you. I want to tell you that you must enter the kingdom of God through much tribulation. There is no way to escape a hard time if you are God's child. There is no way to escape a difficult experience if you belong to God.” May we suggest to you, then, that the purpose of tribulation is to reveal that God knows what is best in each individual life. It is a manifest token of the overall plan of God as we rest in the promise of the Word. “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.”

There is another reason for persecution, another reason for trouble. If you will look again at verse 5 of II Thessalonians, chapter 1:

I Thessalonians 1

5Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer.

I do not know that I have the answer to every statement given in the Word of God, because I do not know that my finite mind can always comprehend the plan and the purpose of God, but this passage of Scripture says that through the persecution and tribulation that comes into our lives as the children of God, we are counted worthy of the kingdom of God for which we suffer.

Now don't jump to conclusions. The phrase “counted worthy” in the original text is different from the phrase, “make worthy.” It isn't that you have to suffer a certain length of time before you are worthy of the kingdom of God. The only way that you and I are worthy of the kingdom of God is that we have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, and our worthiness is found in Him. It is, rather, that these sufferings will reveal to those who are on the outside that you are of the material that will bring praise and honor and glory to God in the midst of your sufferings. You are counted worthy of the kingdom of God.

Before we leave these two verses, it might be wise for us to emphasize that which you have probably already noticed. There are two words that describe the suffering of Christians in these verses. One of them is the word “persecution,” and the other is the word “tribulation.” They are not talking about the same thing. They are related to suffering; they are related to a difficult time, but they are talking about two different things. The word “persecution” is that kind of suffering that comes to us because we have taken a stand for the Lord Jesus Christ. Persecution is that kind of suffering that comes to us because we dare to hold up our head and say, “Yes, I belong to Jesus.” That persecution may come from your friend; it may come from your family; it may come from your neighbors; it may come from the authority; it may come from many different sources, but it is always related to the fact that your testimony is a vibrant thing, and people don't like you because of your testimony.

“Tribulation” is a much broader word. Elsewhere in the Word of God, it is translated by the word “affliction,” and it is a word that describes suffering that is not necessarily related to you because you are a Christian. The people who are in the world endure tribulation; people who take no stand for the Lord Jesus Christ endure afflictions. This word “tribulation” is a word that describes sufferings that are yours because it fell to your lot to be born a human being in a sinful world. And yet, God uses the afflictions which the world suffers to accomplish a very definite purpose in your life as far as He is concerned.

Product of Affliction

Phillips translates this very phrase in the last part of verse 5: “God uses your affliction that you may be proven worthy of the kingdom of God.” The difference between the afflictions of the world and the afflictions of the child of God is the thing which it produces. Affliction in the lives of people who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ may not produce anything but bitterness and heartache and sorrow and distress. But in the life of the child of God, affliction can produce much that will count for God.

It is an amazing thing that many of us would like to have the product of affliction without the price of affliction, that many of us would like to have what is produced in the lives of those who undergo affliction without our undergoing the affliction. That can never be, because if you want what is produced by affliction, you will have to go through the school of affliction. There isn't any other way. That becomes very evident if you will look at the text before us. In II Thessalonians, chapter 1, verse 3, Paul said:

I Thessalonians 1

3We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;

Do you realize what he is saying? He says, “I want to thank God for your faith which grows exceedingly. I want to thank God for your love which abounds.” He did not only say, “I want to thank God, ” he said, “I have got to; I am forced to; I must do it.” Now, why? One reason is that Paul is never guilty of the sin of ingratitude, and most of us are. Most of us ask God for certain specific things. God grants to us those things, and we never one time stop to thank Him.

Healthy Faith

When did Paul pray about these particular things? Turn back to I Thessalonians, chapter 3, and notice in verse 10, where Paul said:

I Thessalonians 3

10Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?

Do you see what he is saying? “Your faith isn't healthy; it is not flourishing; it is sickly, and I am asking God to make it possible for me to visit you that I might bring your faith to a healthy state.” And then in verse 11:

I Thessalonians 3

11Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.
12And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:

“I am praying,” he said, “that God will enable me to make a visit so that I can do something that will cause your faith to be healthy. I am praying that God will enable me to make a visit that I might do something that will cause your love to abound.” That was his prayer.

God did not answer his prayer in exactly the way he prayed it, and if you haven't had that experience, you haven't gone very far with God. God doesn't always answer your prayer in the way you pray it, but He will always answer your prayer; remember that. And He did for Paul, because you will notice in II Thessalonians, chapter 1, he said, “I have just got to thank God. God did the very thing that I asked Him to do. He gave you a faith that grows exceedingly. I have got to thank God. He did just the very thing that I asked Him to do. He gave you a love that abounds. God answered my prayer.”

Someone may say, “But, Paul, I don't remember that you ever went back to Thessalonica.” “Oh, I didn't,” he said. “Well, why do you say God answered your prayer?” “Well, I wasn't interested in going to Thessalonica; I thought I had to. I was interested in abounding love and healthy faith, but I didn't have to go there for God answered my prayer.” Sometimes in relation to our prayer life we ask God for something, and we tell Him how to get it done. That is what Paul was doing. He was saying, “Lord, give them a healthy faith; give them an abounding love, and you had better send me over there to do it.” The Lord said, “Well now, Paul, you just sit down. I don't need you over there. I will give them a healthy faith, and I will give them an abounding love, but you just cash in your ticket because you are not going to need it.”

If we could remember that in relation to so many of our prayer requests, we would be so much better off. Sometimes we are that way, you know. We have a little thing here; we know it must be done, and we say, “Now, Lord, do this and do it this way.” And the Lord just brushes the way off as so much surplus and does the thing. That is all that we should be interested in anyway.

Abounding Love

How did He do this? How did He give them a faith that groweth exceedingly? How did He give them an abounding love? By letting them go through the worst persecution and the worst tribulation that anyone could possibly imagine. But Paul said, “Oh Lord, I didn't pray for a hard time for them.” “No, but you prayed for exceeding faith.” “Lord, I didn't pray for tribulation.” “No, but you prayed for abounding love. And Paul, you are going to have to learn,” God might have said to him, “that when I answer prayer, I answer prayer in My way.” That is a lesson we all have to learn.

That leads me to suggest to you that if you are not willing to pay the price, you had better not pray. If you are not willing for God to do it His way, you had better not ask Him to do it, because God is going to do it His way.

Was it worthwhile? Look at what happened to these individuals. They had a faith, we read here, that grew exceedingly. This phrase, “groweth exceedingly,” is the translation of one Greek word that speaks of a faith that is like a great big healthy plant that began life as just a puny little old stem and no one thought it had a chance to live; and the next time anyone looked at it, it had burst into a tremendous growth that was almost unbelievable. Without the tribulation it couldn't have been accomplished.

And love? What is this about love? He prayed that their love might abound. This word “abound” is an interesting word. Do you know what it means? It is a word that is usually used in relation to a flood of water that broke the dam, just broke it apart and flowed out with a great rushing force over everything in its path. Do you experience that kind of love today? Chapter 5 of the book of Romans, verse 5, tells us that the Holy Spirit of God sheds abroad in our hearts that kind of love of God. Now, that isn't love for God; it is the same kind of love that God has. God, through the Holy Spirit, fills our hearts with His love, but it can stay dammed up there for the rest of your natural life, accomplishing absolutely nothing, until the tribulation and the persecution comes. When the tribulation and persecution comes, the wall is broken down and that love that has been shed abroad in your heart by the Holy Spirit flows out like a mighty rushing current and flood and envelops everything in its place. This is the way God answered Paul's prayer. The product of persecution is a healthy faith and an abounding love.

Attitude In Regard to Persecution

I suggested to you that everyone who endures affliction and persecution does not necessarily see the results I have suggested in their lives, and there is a reason. Persecution has power to affect the product about which I speak only if your attitude in relation to persecution is right. The persecutions are going to come; the tribulations are going to come. You can't escape them, but your attitude will make a tremendous difference in relation to them, and I would like to suggest to you what is presented in this chapter in the few remaining moments that we have as to the attitude of these Thessalonican believers. Notice II Thessalonians, chapter 1, verse 4:

I Thessalonians 1

4So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:

Notice two attitudes that are mentioned. One is patience, and the other is faith. Those two attitudes are absolutely essential if persecution is to bring about its perfect work in your life and your experience. What do I mean by patience? “Oh,” someone might say, “that means you have to grin and bear it, that's all.” No, it doesn't mean that. The word “patience” comes from two Greek words which mean “to remain under.” That is what patience is–to remain under. This thing comes into your life, instead of pulling your hair and wondering why and complaining and getting upset about it, you say to the Lord, “Lord, this is your order for me now, and I shall remain under it. I will not try to squirm out from under this load. I will not become bitter and try to throw it off. Lord, if this is your order for me, I shall be here until you have changed the order and the plan of my life.” That is patience–remaining under whatever situation the Lord brings into your heart and your life.

Faith Coupled With Patience

“Oh,” you might say, “that is distressing; that is disappointing. That takes away all ambition and all incentive. That just fixes it so you just take anything that comes your way.” Wait; faith is coupled with patience. This word “faith” does not describe a creed or a body of doctrine which you believe. This word “faith” is a word that points to confidence in God. If you do not have this faith, then you do not believe that God can be trusted, for you will believe that God will permit something to come into your life that will be for evil instead of for your good. God says, “All things work together for good to them who are the called according to his purpose.” If you do not have this faith in God, you will believe that God is going to bring something on you that will crush you and bore you into the ground. You are not believing God when He says, “There is no temptation, tribulation, persecution, testing, no such has overtaken you but such as is common to man and God is able; He will not permit you to be tempted above that ye are able.” He won't put more on you than you can bear, and you must have faith to believe that; and if you have faith to believe that, then you can remain under the circumstance and give the testimony that Job gave when he said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”

Now, sometimes we do break under the tribulations. Sometimes we do fall under the persecution. With all kindness and deep sympathy with everyone who has ever fallen under the persecution and under the tribulation, I say to you, you didn't need to. You didn't need to, because the source of strength is in God.

Rest In the Lord

The third thing that I would like for you to notice, and the three must be taken together if the power of persecution becomes a reality in your life, is what is suggested in verse 7, where the apostle said–and I love these words:

I Thessalonians 1

7And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,

Are you troubled? Do you have burdens, tribulations, difficult times? “To you who are troubled, rest with us, rest with us.” The word “rest” here is a word very literally rendered, “relax, relax.” “You just relax with us,” Paul said. He had his tribulations, he had his trials, and sometimes they were almost too much for him, and he said, “Just relax with me.” Relax? Why? I don't see things getting any better. Relax when? When is the thing going to let up? And then he said, “Relax with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.” And he points our hearts and our lives to the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I would be false to the Word of God today, and I would be misleading you if I told you that you would understand the purpose of the tribulations through which you are going right now. You may never understand it. I would be false to the Word of God, and I would be misleading you if I were to tell you that the particular tribulation in which you are in is going to work out all right in this present hour according to human evaluation. But I can tell you that you can relax because everything that is related to you and to me as the children of God is evaluated in the light of the coming of the Lord, and everything will be just right when He comes. That is the reason the Spirit of God could say, “This light affliction is but for a moment.”

Someone says, “Light affliction? He doesn't know what he is talking about. Light afflictions for a moment? He doesn't know what he is talking about. This thing has been going on and on and on.” But wait. He said this light affliction which is but for a moment worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. When that weight of glory becomes yours because of your light affliction of the moment, you will realize how very light it is. God through your suffering is manifesting His righteous judgment and counting you worthy of the kingdom of God.


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