Laid into Suffering

In 1 Thessalonians 2:17 and 18, Paul remembers being forced to leave Thessalonica—their time cut short by a mob that attacked, abused, and jailed some of them (Acts 17:5-9).  Paul talks affectionately of their desire to return but says satan hindered them.

Acts 17:13-15 tells the full story: Paul and co. went to Berea after being driven from Thessalonica.  When word got out that Paul and his companions were in Berea, the angry mob came after them.  Paul had to flee to Athens while Silas and Timothy stayed behind.  When Paul said satan hindered them, he meant the trouble inflicted by the angry mob. 

Paul’s worried that the infant church in Thessalonica would not survive the violence they experienced because of their fellowship in the gospel. Yet he reminds them of something he said while with them: we are appointed to afflictions (1 Thess. 3:3).

Satan used a violent mob to hinder Paul and his group, yet the greater thing is that God appoints us to such hardships.  This is the same nexus of the divine and satanic wills described in Acts 2:23–“Though He was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him.”

God determined His Son would suffer and die; satan used wicked people to nail Jesus to the cross and kill Him.

Everyone agreed Jesus had to die: God, because He loved the world, satan and fallen man because they hated God.  As the body of Christ we are appointed to experience this same nexus, the nexus of the cross.

The word “appointed” is keimetha.  It means, “laid down” and was typically used of laying down a baby or a foundation.  When talking to the infant church of their sufferings, Paul said, “For you know that into this we are laid.”

We are laid into suffering by our tender Father.  But why?  And how can we see God’s love in this?

Our very creation meant suffering for God.  He has borne with us our long, sad history.  Jesus died in agony for us.  How can we know the long-suffering God of love unless we suffer with Him?  Even if God prescribes a small dose of His pain for us, it’s enough to heal our antagonism and nurture closeness with Him.

Viewed properly, the dire straits into which God takes us are a gift—a gift of being close with Him.  He is drawing us right up next to Him, to His pierced side.  He is holding us close enough to share everything with us.

It is only in close relationships that we share one another’s pain.  Pain is too personal, too vulnerable, to share with strangers or acquaintances.  Only loved ones can touch our wounds.

Pain is intimate, not only because it is so personal but because we are in the image of God, a God who desires to be close enough with us to share His most private self—even His hurts.

It is also encouraging that we suffer by God’s design, for His purpose.  Hard times are not determined or governed by satan’s animus; God allows satan’s activity and uses it for His ends.  We are not at the mercy of satan who hates us but of God who loves us.  Because of this we can endure suffering as babes in the arms of our Father: even in distress we are safe and held fast in love.

We do not suffer merely because of circumstances or opposition from others; we do not suffer alone.  We suffer because we are one with Jesus, the suffering Lamb, and we suffer *with* Him.  Our union with Jesus is the first reason for any trying circumstance.  Other reasons are secondary.  We are not above our Teacher and Master (John 13:16).

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