In 1st Thessalonians 2:13-16, the apostle Paul gives thanks to God for the Thessalonian believers. Despite persecution from their own countrymen, they were staying faithful to the Lord Jesus and the teaching of the apostles. Paul describes how they were similar to the churches in Judea who also experienced persecution from the Jews.
Paul then specifies five sinful actions from the hands of the Jews:
- They killed the Lord Jesus.
- They killed the prophets.
- They drove Paul and other missionaries out of their area.
- They displeased God.
- They opposed all humanity.
The action of opposing humanity is clarified in verse 16 which says, “by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved…” Or, as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, the Jews were “offensive to God and everyone else by trying to keep us from telling people who’ve never heard of our God how to be saved.” The conjunction “by” provides additional detail on how the Jews were opposing all humanity. This is referred to as an “Action-Manner” relationship between two propositions. Thus, the Jews were opposing humanity by hindering the preaching of the gospel.
Two observations are helpful here. First, the connection of “all mankind” in verse 15 with the “Gentiles” in verse 16 reminds us of the power and beauty of Gentile inclusivism. To clarify, Gentile inclusivism does not negate the exclusivity and necessity of Jesus Christ for salvation. Rather, it is a phrase used to describe the availability of the gospel for all ethnicities, or as Simeon uttered in worship over baby Jesus, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32).
Second, Paul demonstrates how the inability to speak the gospel message is an act of oppression against all people. This is one reason why religious liberty is a priority for Christians – the freedom to preach Christ crucified is an essential part of showing love to neighbor. This is not the only way we seek to end injustices around the world, but it must be an ever-present way. Loving other people well demands a gospel-infused approach to injustice.
Which leads us to this application – our zeal to defend religious liberty in the political sphere should be matched by our zeal to share the gospel in the social sphere. Liberties afforded to us by our Creator and recognized in the Constitution describe not only the freedom to have personal religious beliefs and accompanying worship, but also to practice our religious convictions. For Christians, practicing our religious convictions means to be “zealous for good works” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” This, in part, means a willingness to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5).
Thus, our personal religious freedoms are worth fighting for, but not just because we want to preserve our own personal rights. According to Paul, they are worth fighting for because we want to be a source of freedom for all people.