3. Persecution

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 1:  3. Persecution

1 Thess 2:2   We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition

Again our starting point must be the historical record of what happened in Thessalonica when the apostles shared the Gospel there: But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go. As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea.” (Acts 17:4-10)  At some point – and we have discussed previously that it was probably longer than three weeks after they got there – the Gospel is having such effect that the religious Jews of the city start a riot aimed at the apostles AND the local Christian community.  Jason is obviously a local who has a house and who lives there and the brunt of their anger is focused first on him. So great is the tumult that the church considers the safest thing is for Paul and Silas to be smuggled out of the city at night.

Now when we come to the letter itself, we find that a big thing is not made of it and yet persecution and opposition is mention no less than five specific times and one implied time. Let’s take them in order in the letter, first the implied one where Paul speaks of “your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:3) Knowing the historical background as we do we are not surprised when Paul speaks of endurance because you endure when the going gets tough. As we’ve noted previously, and is seen here, they are enabled to endure – to ‘hang on in there’ – by the hope that they now have in Jesus. Hope is always about the future and our hope is always threefold: a) our hope of meeting him in eternity when we die and b) our hope that he will be working out his plans and purposes for us while we are still on this planet, and that will be for good and c) our hope that his grace in the form of his holy Spirit within us will always be sufficient to carry us through whatever tomorrow holds.

Now on to the first of the specific references: “in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” (1:6) Severe suffering! The only suffering we know about is that suffered by the believing Jews from their unbelieving fellow-Jews, or the general hostility from these Jews that the new Gentile believers encountered. Anyway, despite this opposition they received the word gladly and with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit. In adverse circumstances when under enemy attack, our resource is always, initially at least, the Holy Spirit within is, the Spirit of Jesus, God Himself.

Moving on through the letter Paul later says, “We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.” (2:2) This is an interesting comment because the subject of persecution falls on Paul as much as on the Thessalonians in that he speaks of the struggles that they had had in Philippi, as well as the opposition they all received in Thessalonica.

A bit later in the letter he focuses it back on them: “You suffered from your own countrymen 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 all men 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. (2:14-16) The Jews generally, even though they had been the core or foundation of the early church, had been the greatest source of opposition to the Gospel. Perhaps it was their fear that the Old Testament and the Law would be cast aside. They were the ones who opposed Paul, not the Romans and not the local peoples mostly.

In the next chapter we find, “We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know” (3:2-4) Trials and persecution were seen by Paul as natural parts of the Christian life. Obviously when the Gospel was first presented there and people turned to Christ, as part of the general teaching, Paul had warned that opposition comes when the Lord blesses. The enemy is never happy about it!

Finally, a few verses on he says, “Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith.” (3:7) That again appears to reflect more on the apostles than on the church in Thessalonica. The apostolic ministry brought with it opposition, hostility and outright persecution, but now Paul hears the good things that have been continuing in Thessalonica and, he implies, that makes it all worth while. That is the truth: when God blesses, the enemy so often rises up in reaction through the unbelieving world, but nevertheless the fruit of salvation and being able to lives changed for the good, makes it all worth while. Press on, and look for the fruit!

38. Hated by the World

Meditations in 1 John : 38 : Hated by the World

1 John  3:11   Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.

I almost passed this little verse by but then was caught by one word – “if”. I have noticed a tendency in Christian circles sometimes that veers towards a martyr complex – the world is against us.  But that isn’t always true – but it is sometimes and there ARE grounds to believe it. Let’s check them first.

We find Jesus speaking these words: Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Mt 10:21-23)  That certainly looks bad! But actually the context seems to indicate he is speaking of the last days when things will get worse. Yes persecution is mentioned but again, I suggest, it fits that specific period more than any other – although as we will see it does fit other times as well. The last sentence of those verses indicates that when it does reach that time his coming will be speedy – they won’t even have enough time to travel throughIsrael. Seen in Mark 13 it is even clearer that it refers to the last days just before he returns.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus declared, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt 5:10-12). Now in those verses we get a further clue as to why people might be against us – for our righteousness, and by that I take it to mean that our righteousness will show up their unrighteousness and that will evoke hostility in them.

At the Last Supper Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: `No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name.”  (Jn 15:18-21) Note again the word “if”. There will be times when they do and times when they don’t. Here Jesus notes that the reason for opposition is himself. Satan is against Jesus and so if we are his followers, Satan will be against us, and will raise opposition against us. So yes opposition and even persecution are likely experiences of the Christian but, as I just observed, not always!

Consider when Jesus was exercising his healing ministry. At those times people thought he was wonderful. When he fed the five thousand, they even wanted to make him king. When he arrived at Jerusalemon the last week they heralded him as their champion. Oh yes, people will be for us when we do the works of God that bless them. Indeed Jesus taught, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) There are times when we are doing the works of God that people will see them, be blessed and will praise God. I am always amazed at the Queen of Sheba’s response to Solomon in 1 Kings 10:1-10. She praises God for what He has done in and through Solomon. Clearly when Jesus was eating with the sinners, the tax collectors and prostitutes, they were blessed by him. Shortly after Pentecost we read about the church, that they were, “enjoying the favor of all the people.” (Acts 2:47)

Listen to this amazing record of the life of the earliest church: “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” (Acts 5:12-16) The general people were blessed by what was happening; it was awesome (literally) but that didn’t stop them coming to the source of God’s blessing, the church, to receive of God. Hallelujah!