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Joy In Difficulties

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

A few weeks ago, I was able to attend a presentation and lecture from The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. They are doing some fantastic work and research. They are traveling throughout the world and digitizing as many of the Greek New Testament manuscripts as they can. Their goal is to preserve all of these ancient manuscripts before we don't have them anymore. These manuscripts are incredibly fragile, written on papyrus and parchment. Through digitalization, they can preserve, catalog, and make them available for study and research. Through their work, we have learned much more about the Scriptures we hold today and have discovered manuscripts we did not know we had.

P52 is about the size of a credit card, and many scholars date it to about 100-150 AD. It is possible this manuscript was copied 67-70 years after Jesus' ascension, making it the earliest manuscripts we have record of. What is absolutely amazing is what it contains, several lines from John 18:31-33, Jesus' trial before Pilate. What an amazing gift and treasure we have in our hands, the Scriptures translated into English so we can read them today.

We are looking into Paul's letter of 1 Thessalonians. Today, we notice his words in (1 Thess. 2:13-16), where Paul talks about joyfully receiving God's word. They had received God's word not simply as the teaching of Paul but as it actually is, the word of God.


In our studies, we have noticed The Power of the Gospel and Paul's example of Service through Love. We know that these Christians were experiencing hardships and trials because they accepted Christ. Paul had to depart company with them early because of riots and mobs that were stirred up because of his teaching about Jesus (see Acts 17). He is very concerned for them and their faith. After hearing an encouraging report from Timothy concerning their steadfastness in the Gospel (1 Thess. 3:6) and their longing to see Paul, he pens this short, heartfelt letter—a letter about faith and endurance amid trials and persecution.

Have you struggled because you follow Christ? Following Jesus can cause friction with family and friends. Following Jesus calls us to a life of holiness that challenges our conceptions of what is good, loving, and honoring to God. Following Jesus is not easy and often calls us into a life of participating in suffering. In our thoughts today, I hope we can discover the importance of God’s word and how his word connects us to a larger family.

Receiving God's Word

1 Thessalonians 2:13

“And we also thank God continually because, when 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.”

In (1 Thess. 1:2-3), Paul begins his letter with thankfulness and rejoicing.

1 Thessalonians 1:2–3

“We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Again, we notice another reason for the apostles joy in (2:13); they had received God's word for what it was: God's word and not the teaching of men. The word of God and the good news of Jesus are not simply words printed on a page, but as the apostle Peter records:

2 Peter 1:20–21

“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

The message of Christ and God's word is revelation. It's the revelation of God and his purposes in our world through his Son, Jesus. As the psalmist records, God's word is God's wisdom for our lives today, wisdom that we should meditate on.

Psalm 1:1–3

“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.”

As we meditate on God's word and take delight in his word, his word is powerful and transformative.

Hebrews 4:12

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

When we regulate God's word to printed text on a page, we can and often will miss the powerful working of the Spirit as he shapes our lives through the message of God's word. As Paul said, the word of God received in Thessalonica was at work in them (2:13b). They had received it as God's word, not simply the teaching of human origins. This message had transformative power in their lives.

This is the message we receive today. The good news of Jesus and God's kingdom is the message we receive, just as they did in Thessalonica. Have we regulated God's word, or do we receive his wisdom with joy as we allow his word to shape our lives?

Participating With Jesus

We spend much of our lives and resources trying to avoid suffering and pain. I am very thankful for air conditioning in the middle of hot Texas summers that eases the discomfort of 100-degree days. I am grateful for advancements in medicine and doctors who can do amazing things to ease suffering, prolong life, and provide us with a better quality of life. These examples and many others are ways we try to alleviate suffering and pain. I am not opposed to any of these; it is normal for us to desire to ease pain and suffering as we can. I don't think we are comfortable when we see suffering, pain, or the mistreatment of others, nor should we be. Although none of us like to experience pain and suffering, we will.

Accepting the message of Christ and committing to following him can and often will lead to hardship, difficulties, and trials. These are what our Christian brothers and sisters experienced in Thessalonica. Paul had a way of viewing this type of pain and suffering as a participation with Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 2:14–15

“For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone”

Those whose lives are being transformed by the wisdom and message of God's word will often find themselves as the objects of criticism and attacks. In these moments, we can think God's presence has abandoned us. We can be tempted to believe the cost of following Jesus is not worth the suffering we experience. Paul connects his readers to the story of Jesus and God's people.

Other Christians have suffered, even from their own communities (Acts 8:1-3). God's messengers, the prophets, who spoke to the people of Israel, were driven out and rejected (see Jeremiah 11:18-23). Jesus was criticized, mistreated, rejected, and put to death (see Matt. 26-27). Although suffering is not something any of us would enjoy experiencing, Paul assures his readers they are not alone or abandoned in their suffering. Their trials connect them to the people of God and Christ himself.

Today, we may experience suffering and criticism for following the word of God. God has not abandoned us. In our suffering and trials, we participate with Jesus.

Crossing The Context

God's word is his wisdom for our lives today. When we understand his words are not just printed text on a page, we can embrace them and meditate on them as we allow the Spirit to shape our lives.


Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).

resources & downloads

Notes & Handout: Joy In Difficulties

Slides (PDF): Joy In Difficulties


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