1 Thessalonians 1:6-8
And you became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.…
"Man can do without happiness, and instead thereof find blessedness, wrote Carlyle, and Paul preached it with his life. But that life was only a faint echo of a greater life. "The Man of sorrows" was "God over all, blessed forever." If a man cannot understand how "many afflictions" may be consonant with "the joy of the Holy Ghost," he may be a Christian by courtesy, but he knows little of Christian experience. The calling of a son of God does not exempt from sorrow, but it opens beneath it a spring of joy. This was proved by Paul, and his life work was the noblest, and has left the deepest mark on the progress of the race. Where are the Caesars? Much of their work abides, but their names are little more than shades. It is the man who brings regenerating work to bear upon his age who is shrined most lovingly in the reverence of mankind. And so Paul lives because Christ lived in him. Those who followed Christ live amongst us because Christ is amongst us. Three hundred years ago Paul shook Christendom as he shook heathenism and Judaism in his day.
I. FOLLOWERS OF US AND OF THE LORD.
1. There is something startling in these words. A man of like passions with ourselves dares to propose himself for imitation to those who were seeking to follow the incarnate God. And the world is never without its Christlike ones. And there is nothing more wonderful than that men and women like ourselves may be and live like the Son of God. He does not shine in unapproachable isolation. As the elder among many brethren, a bright particular star amid a cluster of constellations, He leads the human host with which He has cast His lot and mixed up His life forever.
2. Where are the points of likeness? (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 12:10). In the power of self-sacrifice. It may seem strange to this self-loving age, but it is well worth noting, that these men whose lives have been so fruitful had no thought of any interest but Christ; no self-will, but were absolutely open to the will of God. Are we then to have no will of our own? God forbid! Paul had a mighty will of his own, and expressed it in defiance of the whole secular and religious world. But it was his own and yet not his own; it was moulded and refined into harmony with a higher will; and just as the blood gets purified from its carbonic dross as the vital air breathes through it in the lungs, so the will of Paul was purged of the acrid leaven of self by prayer that God would use him, strengthen him to follow Christ, and teach him to spend himself for the service of mankind.
3. A man need not adopt the calling of an apostle to enter such a life as this. There have been soldiers, statesmen, merchants, whose deepest thought has been "I am not mine own." Hard as it may be, it is the beginning of peace to say it and try to live it. You may have your own way, and you will weary of it as soon as you have got it; while you may give up our own way, and make it your effort to care for others, and a glow of heavenly joy will enter and abide in your spirit. Likeness to Christ lies expressly in the power of self-sacrifice, and this is to grasp the difference between blessedness and happiness which the text expounds.
II. THEY ENTERED INTO THIS FELLOWSHIP BY RECEIVING THE WORD WITH MUCH AFFLICTION AND JOY OF THE HOLY GHOST.
1. Confession or profession is in these days cheapwork. Then it was dear work, and at any moment might cost dear life. It is not good to be out of fellow ship with the heroisms of the past. How many a stout citizen has stained his hearthstone with his life's blood that you may sit with your loved ones without fears around yours? An age out of fellowship with the martyrs is neither noble nor blessed, however prosperous.
2. We learn from Acts 17 and the Epistle some thing of these afflictions. Strain your imagination to realize them —
(1) Feel the cords tightening, see the glaring eye of the lion, hear the hiss of the red-hot iron or the swing of the axe; and bethink you in the last dread moment of a gentle wife, or a dear boy, etc., whom you are leaving obnoxious to the same doom. Does it seem to you that you could utter the name of Christ with your last breath with passionate devotion? Then you can understand how none but as martyrs can taste the joy of the Holy Ghost.
(2) Then there was the utter rupture of all the bonds of kindred and social relation, and the loss of means. It is evident, from the Second Epistle, that there was deep poverty in the Church. They received the Word as England did at the Reformation — as Hindoos, Chinese, and South Sea Islanders receive it today.
(3) And this is independent of the sorrow which springs out of the stern struggle against the world and flesh and devil.
3. To understand this better, notice —
(1) That the purest joys are independent of surroundings. What a man has is nothing in comparison with what he is. If two persons love each other, to be near, even in penury, is bliss; to be separate, even in wealth, is misery.
(2) So the joy of the Holy Ghost is the joy of a man who has found the true Lover and Lord of His being, whom he can obey with supreme delight. It is the joy of the lonely soul that has found its kindred, of a sick man who feels within himself that the spring of his life is healed. Men can glory in tribulations if they but bring them fully into the sphere of Christ's fellowship and love. Suffering ceases to be pain if love consecrates it.
4. And let the careless understand that the choice in life is mainly between suffering with joy in the Holy Ghost, and suffering without it. Life is no holiday pastime for any of us; but the true agony of life must be with those who are without God and hope in the world.
(Baldwin Brown, B. 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: