One day the apostle Paul and his traveling companions arrived in the city of Thessalonica. (You can read about it in the 17th chapter of Acts.) The city was named in honor of the step-sister of Alexander the Great, and was a prominent city of its day. Three rivers flowed from the city into the Aegean Sea which made it a major seaport for trade and transportation. It was declared to be a “free city” by the Roman government – which meant that it had an elected assembly that governed local matters and it had no occupying military force stationed within its walls.
There was a synagogue in the city. Paul labored at his tentmaking trade through the week, and on three successive Sabbaths, he went to the synagogue. Every day he used the Scriptures (the Old Testament) to share the gospel message of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.
After three weeks of ministry, Paul saw a large number of people believe, especially Greek proselytes and women of influence. Among the men who believed were Aristarchus and Secundus, who would later travel with Paul, as well as Jason, who welcomed Paul and his traveling companions to lodge in his home. But seeing the spread of the gospel, the unbelieving religious leaders became envious, formed a mob and began to incite a riot against this three-week-old church. They declared, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.”
The reputation of Paul and Silas – and more importantly the reputation of the gospel – had apparently preceded them. The only part of that statement that they appear to have gotten wrong was that truly the gospel was turning the world “right side up”. A world that had become disoriented and blinded by sin was now being transformed by the Light of the world, and was being turned to face heavenward and bring worship, honor and glory to the One to whom it is due. And that work which had already begun in other cities in Europe and Asia was now taking place right there in Thessalonica!
The non-believing religious leaders sought to bring Paul and Silas before the city council under false accusations that were very similar to those that had been used against Jesus. He had truly been the One to turn the world “right side up” on the day He rose from the grave. Now these two men who He was using to continue His work were also being falsely accused of disturbing the peace and promoting treason against Caesar.
Unable to find Paul and Silas, the non-believing religious leaders turned to Jason and some of the other new local believers and brought them before the council declaring them to be guilty of treason by virtue of their newly professed belief in Jesus. These believers were now also being accused of “turning the world upside down”. Jason was forced to post a bond and guarantee that Paul and Silas would leave the city and not return. This was the evil one’s attempt through the unbelieving religious leaders to hinder the work that the Spirit of God had begun. But though Paul and Silas would be forced to leave, they all were soon to again be reminded that what God begins, He continues and brings to completion (Philippians 1:6).
Paul himself later wrote regarding these Thessalonian believers and their boldness despite the persecution:
So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord. As a result, you have become an example to all the believers in Greece – throughout both Macedonia and Achaia. And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God. And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven – Jesus, whom God raised from the dead.
(1 Thessalonians 1:6-10 NLT)
So what about us – is anyone accusing us of turning the world upside down? What are we known for? Are we simply known for our religious practices… or our political views… or those things which we are against? Is the truth we are genuinely declaring through our actions and words enough of an indictment of our belief in Christ to make the unbelieving world take notice and be in an uproar? Is that true in our own lives personally, like it was in Paul and Silas? Is that true in the witness of our church, like it was in the three-week-old church of Thessalonica? Is that true in our witness as the larger body of Christ?
It was true in the first century because the believers reflected the One whom they followed. Does the world around us see Him in our lives? Or have we become more content to simply align ourselves with our political views or the issues of the day? Have we become content in maintaining our own status quo? Or are we truly committed to following the One who turned the world “upside down”?
The believers in the Church in Thessalonica are a part of that great crowd of witnesses that surrounds us (Hebrews 12:1). Will we become that same “example to all believers” that they were? Will “the word of the Lord ring out from us to people everywhere” as it did from them? Will others find that wherever they go, that “people tell them about our faith in God, and how we serve the living and true God”? Will the world “speak of how we are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son”? Will the world even notice if we have been here? i pray that we will be found faithful in following the example of the church of Thessalonica as we follow Jesus in “turning the world upside down” – or rather, “right side up” – until He returns.
Excerpt from Until He Returns, Ch. 46