Every Sunday morning, hundreds of thousands of Christians gather together for worship and they hear the Word of God preached.
Morning and evening and times in between on each day, millions of believers open their Bibles and read what God has said.
Throughout each week, followers of Christ meet with one another and exhort one another with the Scriptures — encouraging them to hold fast to the Christ of the Word.
The question in each of these instances is, “will those who hear the Word of God receive the Word of God?”
Multiple times in the New Testament, writers speak of those who received the Word of God. In an exemplary passage in 1 Thessalonians, Paul says it this way:
“You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1 Thess. 1:6–7).
Paul and others preached the Word of God to the Thessalonians and they received it. They took it in. Some translations say they “accepted it,” or they “welcomed it.” Other passages (e.g., Acts 8:14; 11:1; 17:11; 1 Thess. 2:13; Js. 1:21) make it clear that what Paul is talking about is that they believed the Word of God. They believed that it was true and because it was true they acted on it.
Now notice the environment in which the Thessalonians received God’s Word: “in much tribulation.” Thessalonica was not a protected place for believers; it was not a place that affirmed followers of Christ. Paul may have preached there for as few as three weeks before the Jews incited the crowd against him and the others and had believers arrested (Acts 17:5-9). Because of this opposition, the Thessalonian church sent Paul away to Berea. And while the Bereans loved the message of the Word, when the Thessalonians heard of the success of Paul’s ministry there, they went to Berea and worked to incite the crowds against Paul there also (Acts 17:13-15).
The environment in which the Thessalonians heard and responded to the Scriptures was decidedly anti-Christ and anti-Christian. Followers of Christ had no favor in the culture. There were no benefits to being a Christian in Thessalonica. But when the believers heard the Word, they believed and embraced and obeyed it. The Word, like the Christ they loved, constrained them to be obedient to Him.
In fact, Paul says that they not only received it while experiencing much trouble, but they “received the Word…with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” That is, they received it joyfully, as those who were empowered and controlled by the Holy Spirit. To believe the Word of God with joy in troubling circumstances does not come by the power of the flesh. The only way to believe and act on the Word joyfully means one must be living under the domination of the Holy Spirit. And to be joyful in such a circumstance is evidence that one is controlled by the Holy Spirit.
And notice that Paul also mentions two results of this obedient reception of the Word. First, these Thessalonians were simply following the pattern of many godly men who had preceded them — “you also became imitators of us.” When a believer obeys the Word of God in affliction, he is following the legacy of a long line of godly men that extends back to Paul and the apostles — and to our own Savior, as Paul also says. “You became imitators of us and of the Lord.” When we obey the Scriptures joyfully, we emulate the life of the Savior whose name we claim. This is part of what it means to be a believer: to be joyfully obedient to the Word and our Lord.
And a second result of the Thessalonians’ reception of and belief in the Word of God is that they “became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” Their faithfulness to Christ put them in the long line of godly men that they were following and made them worthy of emulating.
So what does all this mean for us? There are several implications:
First, we should not be surprised by suffering and trouble. The world has never loved the Word of God or Christ (Jn. 15:18-20; 1 Pt. 4:12) when we are persecuted and experience trouble, it should be expected. When we are persecuted and mocked for our faith, this puts us in the same company as a great host of other godly men and women.
Second, there is nothing better we can do for our souls while experiencing trouble than to run to the Word of God and embrace it as our hope and obey it with joy. We may be tempted to compromise and sacrifice obedience; we do that to our detriment. The very thing we need in that moment is what the world hates and the very thing the world vilifies us for believing. When persecuted for the Scriptures we need to cling to them all the more.
Finally, when we hold on to the faith and the Word in troubling times and refuse compromise and apostasy, we become a testimony to other believers about the power of the Spirit and the effectiveness of the Word. Others are watching us. They want to know how will we respond to trouble. They want to know whether we believe what we say we believe. They want to know whether the Word is sufficient to sustain us.
Oh, my brothers and sisters, troubling times are increasing around us. The Word is being openly despised and rejected in ways that we have not seen in this country before. This is not a time to be cowardly or hostile or bitter or resentful or weary. This is the time to receive and obey and hold onto the gift of the Word of God.