Affliction and Joy
In 1 Thessalonians 1:6, St. Paul tells his readers, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit...”
Affliction and joy seem incompatible, don't they? Yet St. Paul deliberately links them together as part of the Christian experience of receiving the Word of God.
A brief word study will help us delve into depths of St. Paul's meaning.
The Greek word for “receiving” is dechomai. It means taking something to oneself, accepting it, and even embracing it. There is a highly personal aspect to this word, which in the Greek suggests a firm decision of the receiver's will to accept and retain the object presented. When people receive the Word, then, they make a deliberate decision to take that Word into themselves and to embrace it in the depths of their being.
The Greek for “word” here is logos. Remember that logos is often used to refer to Jesus Christ Himself, the Logos, or Word, of God and the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. When St. Paul speaks of “the word” in this verse, he is certainly referring to the Gospel message that he preached to the Thessalonians, but he is also suggesting, at a deeper level, Jesus Christ, the Word of God.
St. Paul says that his readers have received the Word in great affliction but with joy from the Holy Spirit. The Greek word thlipsis can be translated as affliction, pressure, oppression, distress, or tribulation. Where does this affliction come from? Remember that the Thessalonians were experiencing persecution from the Jews. They were certainly being pressured to abandon their Christian faith and were oppressed socially, economically, and maybe even physically. Many Christians still face such afflictions today.
Affliction and tribulation, however, can never extinguish the joy that comes with truly receiving the Word of God. The Greek word for “joy” is chara, which can also denote gladness and delight. St. Paul reminds us that this joy comes from the Holy Spirit. It is beyond natural joy or joy in created things. It is a God-given joy, and therefore, it is stronger and more powerful than any affliction or tribulation that Christians might experience in the world.
Questions for Reflection:
* Think about the ways in which you are invited to receive the Word of God, both the Gospel message and Jesus Christ.
* How open is your heart and mind to the Word of God?
* Have you embraced the Word through a deliberate decision of the will?
* How has this made a difference in your life?
* How might you more fruitfully receive the Word?
* Think about the mix of affliction and joy in your own life as a Christian.
* Have you experienced oppression and tribulation because you are a Christian?
* How did you handle those situations?
* In what ways do you experience God-given joy as a Christian?