1 Thessalonians 1:6
And you became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.…
The Christians of Thessalonica had no sooner accepted the gospel than they were attacked with swift, sharp persecution; and it is to be remarked that, while in other places the apostles were often assailed and the converts spared, here the full force of the assault fell on the infant Church (Acts 17:5-10). St. Paul frequently refers to the sufferings that so quickly tested the faith of this brave Christian community at the very commencement of its new life (1 Thessalonians 2:14; 1 Thessalonians 3:2 5). But in spite of persecution a peculiar joy seems to have possessed the Church at Thessalonica. The Epistles to the Thessalonians are to be distinguished for hearty congratulations and a spirit of gladness. Here is an apparent paradox, which, however, when regarded from a higher standpoint, resolves itself into a spiritual harmony.
I. AN EARTHLY PARADOX. St. Paul was much inclined to the use of startling paradoxes. His vigorous mind seemed to delight in facing them. Thus his style is rugged with great contrasting ideas.
1. The gospel does not prevent affliction. To the Thessalonians it was the means of bringing suffering. Christians often suffer more of earthly trouble, rather than less, than others (Hebrews 12:8). Though the gospel is good news, and though it brings gladness to the soul, it may be ushered in with storms and sufferings in the outer life. This might be expected, seeing that it is in conflict with the prince of this world.
2. Affliction does not prevent the experience of the joy of the gospel. In spite of much affliction, the Thessalonians had joy. The world sees only the outside. Hence its common verdict that religion must be melancholy. It can see the flaming fagots; it cannot see the exultant heart of the martyr. It is a great truth to know that, when God does not remove trouble, he may give us such gladness of heart as shall entirely counteract it. Surely it is better to rejoice in tribulation than to be sad in prosperity.
II. THE SPIRITUAL HARMONY.
1. The affliction is external, while the Joy is internal The two belong to different spheres. It would be impossible for one and the same person to be in temporal prosperity and adversity at the same moment, or to be at once m spiritual sunshine and under spiritual clouds. But it may well be that, while the earthly sun is shrouded in gloom, the heavenly sun is shining in full splendor.
2. The affliction comes from earthly causes, the joy from heavenly. Men persecute, the Holy Spirit inspires joy. Here are different sources of experience, and accordingly the experiences differ.
3. The affliction rather helps the spiritual joy than otherwise. It prevents men from looking to external things for comfort. It enables them to see that true joy must be inward and spiritual. In conclusion, observe that affliction is no reason for the rejection of the gospel, since this is not therefore the less true, and it claims to be received on its truth, not on our pleasure, and also because the joy it brings will not be lessened by any external trouble. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: