Last week we started our journey into Paul’s second letter to the church at Thessalonica. Paul is thankful that their faith and love are growing more and more.
This church is not stagnant and they demonstrate their faith and love by being examples in Macedonia and Achaia. In fact, they are growing in Christ and are so changed that Paul has bragged on them to other churches that even amid persecution, they are persevering. Today, I hope to answer the age old question of why Christians suffer.
Grab your Bible and read 2 Thes. 1:5-10. You can listen to the accompanying podcast here.
The first thing I want to look at is biblical suffering. Before we get to the why of suffering, we need to understand what Paul is talking about. Is Paul talking about suffering from financial troubles, or sickness, or lay-offs, or even the financial state of America? We often talk about our trials and persecutions, but is this what Paul is talking about?
To fully understand what I’m talking about, we need to understand the meaning of the words Paul talks about. In v. 4, Paul spoke of the persecutions and afflictions the Thessalonians were undergoing. Persecution is a very specific word that means persecution inflicted by an enemy of the Gospel. Afflictions comes from the word that primarily means a pressing or pressure; anything that burdens the spirit. This refers to something that comes upon someone from an external source. In the case of the Thessalonians, the afflictions could be a direct result of the persecution.
V. 5 definitely relates to v. 4 and really explains what is going on. It is God’s righteous judgment for believers to be considered worthy of His kingdom. God is the One who is in charge of our sanctification, or our refining even though it may come in the form of persecution and suffering. These believers have perseverance and faith even as they endure persecution and suffering. Judgment in this verse can also be translated decision and this verse indicates that God does decide to allow persecution and suffering in our lives. As Christians, we need to be willing to endure the persecution and suffering in order to get the refinement from the Lord that comes with it. Paul says it is a, “Plain indication of God’s righteous judgment.”
So why do Christians suffer? A question of the ages, right? We’ve seen that in the lives of the Thessalonians, it was to determine if they were worthy of God’s kingdom. Do you think it’s any different for us? What is the goal of suffering? What are the benefits? James told us in 1:2-4 to, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Look at 1 Peter 1:6-9. Peter said that trials and pressures and suffering are tests of fire for believers whose faith is proven as a result of those trials. The outcome of that faith is salvation. Endurance is the proof of true salvation.
While you’re in 1 Peter, check out 1 Peter 4:12-19. Peter uses the word test again. Sharing in the sufferings of Christ means believers suffer as a result of their association with Christ; for His name. When people talk about the suffering they are enduring as a Christian typically has nothing to do with the fact that they are a Christian. The tests of suffering are for those things that glorify the Lord, not because of our sin. That’s where we miss the mark. Many of us suffer because of our own poor decisions and disobedience. When we suffer the consequences of sin, the only glory God receives is because He is just and righteous and holy and gracious. So do we sin to bring God glory? Paul said in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” If we suffer because of our own misdeeds, then we suffer because God cannot let sin go unpunished.
Let’s look into biblical justice. For those that are truly suffering because of their faith, God will take care of that. Back in 2 Thessalonians 1, look at v. 6. It is only just, which can also be translated righteous, for God to bring pressure to those that bring pressure to Christians suffering because of their faith. God is the One that determines what refining needs to be accomplished for us to be considered worthy of the Kingdom. He knew what was going on in the church at Thessalonica and He knows what’s going on in the world today. V. 7 says God will, “give relief to you who are afflicted.” But it won’t happen until, “Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire.” Relief comes from the word that means loosen. Think about your hand being in a vise. When the vise is loosened, the pressure is relieved. That’s what Paul is talking about. There will come a time when the pressure will be relieved from those Christians that are suffering for the sake of the Gospel. For some of our Christian brothers and sisters in: Egypt, Sudan, Belarus, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Pakistan just to name a few, the suffering will not end until Jesus returns.
The Thessalonians endured their suffering well. Remember in v. 4 Paul said he, “Speaks proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure.” If you are suffering for Christ, how are you doing? Are you persevering or complaining?
The Thessalonians weren’t the only ones suffering for the cause of Christ. V. 7 says Paul, Luke, Timothy, and Silas were looking for some relief too. Paul told the Philippians that, “It has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Phil. 1:29) Jesus said in John 16:33 that believers would have tribulation [affliction] in the world. 2 Tim. 3:12 reminds us that, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Speaking of Jesus Hebrews 5:8 says, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” We need to be ready to suffer persecution
So what are the biblical consequences? What about those that would persecute Christians? What’s going to happen to them? Read vs. 8-10. Retribution is also translated vengeance. Retribution will be given to, “Those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Some say “those who do not know God” refers to the heathen Gentiles Paul mentioned in 1 Thes. 4:5 and “those who do not obey the Gospel” refers to the Jews. This distinction probably would have been lost on the Thessalonians. I think it’s more likely that these two phrases simply refer to non-believers in general. Their punishment will be “eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” Eternal destruction is bad enough, but these will also endure separation from Jesus Christ. If that’s not bad enough, look at how Paul contrasts what’s in store for believers. V. 10 says it all, “When He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.” Everyone will marvel. It will be a great day for believers.
Biblical persecution comes as a result of our stand for Christ. It refines us, it gets us ready for His glory. Are you ready?