In response to Timothy’s report on the Thessalonians, Paul complimented them for their steadfastness under trial and offered encouragement to them for whatever future conflicts they might experience.
The Thessalonians had become “imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own people as they did from theJews” [I Thessalonians 2.14]. Like the churches in Judea, the Thessalonian believers faced fierce persecution from their neighbors [Acts 17.5–9]. Their enduring this persecution with faith and joy proved that the power of God’s word was in them. God’s working in their hearts caused the Thessalonians to respond like all who follow Christ. Despite the suffering, the Thessalonians readily accepted the Gospel as the Word of God, a fact confirmed by their faithfulness to the gospel.
Do our congregations today imitate “the churches of God in Christ Jesus” that were in Judea and Thessalonica during Paul’s days? Do we compromise our beliefs in order to not look different from our neighbors?
Each day we hear of Christians around the world under severe persecution dying for their beliefs. Yet, due to peer pressure, which is not truly life threatening, many of us are tempted to shift Christ from having top priority in our lives. Therefore, I ask, why are our Christian brothers and sisters around the world willing to die for Christ when the ‘Christians’ around us are not even willing to live for Him?
In I Thessalonians 3.1-4, Paul sent Timothy, “our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage [the Thessalonians] for the sake of [their] faith, so that no one would be shaken by these persecutions.” Having experienced tribulation and affliction, Paul sent Timothy to them to encourage them, instruct them, and let them know that such trials are normal for the Christian church. Paul was concerned that unbelievers may tempt them to compromise or abandon their faith because of their tribulations.
Paul reminds the Thessalonians, “In fact when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we were to suffer persecution.” Paul was honest with the new believers. He did not promise the followers of Jesus a life of ease or public approval—and neither did Jesus.
True, the Psalms are filled with wonderful reminders that God protects us, comforts us, and shields us like a shepherd watching over his flock. Even our Good Shepherd promised to be with us always, even to the end of the ages. Yet, even being wrapped in the arms of Christ, we still are filled with fears and questions. Jesus is the answer to those questions, though He is not the answer to all questions (e.g., “Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?”).
Scripture is filled with encouraging words from God and examples of people who remained faithful. Like Paul, we should encourage and remind one another that when we face persecution, affliction, and even peer pressure to remain faithful as God has been faithful to us since the beginning and throughout eternity.
Grace and Peace