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 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last. 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 (NIV).
Oh wow…so much to unpack. Let’s not let ourselves get wrapped around some concepts that aren’t easily understood. Instead, let’s speak plainly: Paul isn’t being anti-Semitic. He isn’t ‘hating’ on all Jews, but is rightfully condemning those with ungodly intentions. In doing so, he denounces all sinners. The people who were the subject of his remarks were, of course, the Jewish priests who both crucified Jesus and then persecuted His followers. But one cannot read Paul’s words of love in this and other books and conclude that he was anti-Semitic or advocated anti-Semitism. Paul didn’t hate the Jews: he hated that they were antagonistic to Christ. In some ways, he probably hated that he had once been part of that persecution.
In these verses today, Paul is reminding us that those who turn their backs on God displease Him. They are hostile to believers and whatever believers say and do. In their doing this, they are heaping up sin after sin on themselves, not just for their self-focused lives or meanness to others but because these things are meanness and sin against God. In doing this, they are incurring the wrath of God, namely damnation. They separate themselves from Jesus, possibly for eternity. This is by choice, not because anyone forced them. It’s not on God: it’s on them. As C.S. Lewis once said, the gates of hell are locked from the inside.
Saying “I believe in Jesus” sets you apart in this world, and it paints a target on your back. People who don’t believe will separate themselves from you even as you separate yourselves from unbelieving behaviors (if not unbelieving people). Your “illogical” acceptance of the supernatural will set you against anyone who embraces the easy path of believing other things. The “establishment” doesn’t believe what you do, and they will come after you. Plain speaking about matters of the heart can become common sense to you as you see that there is no real love apart from the love of Christ.
Paul experienced these things just as we do. When he called out his fellow Jews for murdering the Christ, he was persecuted. History has labeled him an anti-Semite for doing this. It simply isn’t true.
For further reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:6, Galatians 1:22, Acts 17:5, Luke 24:20, Acts 2:23, Acts 13:45, Matthew 23:23, 1 Thessalonians 2:15.
Lord, always remind me to never hate people You love.