6 ¶ And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: 7 So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
There is a great doctrine hidden in this passage in plain sight. The Thessalonians, on the physical level, received the gospel with, “much affliction.” Affliction is distress and suffering.
Genesis 16:11 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction.
Psalm 25:18 Look upon mine affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins.
1Thessalonians 3:7 Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith:
Emperor worship became prominent in the first century and continued. To refuse to acknowledge the emperor as a god or a messiah was considered unpatriotic. Early Christians refused that honor to an earthly ruler, unlike American Christians who are always trying to elect a left or right wing messiah to save them. The Thessalonians would have had great distress and personal persecution if they had been true to their faith which Paul is implying here that they were.
To put yourself in their position mentally, just imagine if you began, because of your faith and not because of your apathy, to refuse to celebrate patriotic holidays like July 4th, religious holidays that are not called for as such in the Bible like Christmas, to vote, to say the pledge allegiance to the flag, to get a marriage license, or any number of other things that a, “good American,” is supposed to do then you can imagine the ostracism and alienation you would feel from friends and family. Now, you say, well it isn’t the same, but it was to the Roman. To the Roman the customs of reverence and worship of the state, the honoring of gods of everything from the farmer’s field to the child’s nursery, and the celebration of civic and religious holidays as a moral duty were part of the cultural fabric that signified being a good Roman citizen.
Imagine the difficulty you would face if you put Christ first and brooked no competition between Him versus family and state. At least you aren’t likely to be arrested and executed for your stubbornness as they would have been.
However, they received the gospel not only with affliction, but at the same time, “with joy of the Holy Ghost.” This underscores that for true, uncompromising Christianity rather than the drivel passed as such in today’s world, our promises are spiritual, not necessarily physical. We can be persecuted, even killed for our faith, and have supernatural joy because of Christ. Just read accounts of the martyrs throughout history.
Today, imagine being a Christian in North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and Iraq. To not go along with the crowd, to resist the government and the culture, results in murder, rape, kidnappings, church burnings and a whole host of evil. Yet, any review of the magazine put out by the organization called The Voice of the Martyrs will show you how many of these Christians express sheer joy at their faith and in their distress.
2Timothy 3:12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
Romans 5:1 ¶ Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; 4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope: 5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
On the other hand, much of the affliction spoken of by Paul in the early church had to do with their great poverty and need.
2Corinthians 8:1 ¶ Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; 2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. 3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; 4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.
We have our example of the joy that comes from fulfilling God’s will in Jesus Christ.
Hebrew 12:2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
With obedience to God through Christ comes great tribulation, affliction, and distress often but also joy in the Holy Ghost knowing that in doing God’s will and being in God’s will He will lift you up and you will experience supernatural and unexplainable joy.