2 Thessalonians 3:2-4 (NIV): 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.
In many countries around the world, it is simply accepted that to be a Christian means that you will be persecuted. Paul not only accepted that fact, but he taught it to those whom he led into the kingdom. He didn’t see the beatings, the imprisonments, or even the stonings that he endured as something strange or out of place, or as an indicator that he had moved outside of God’s will. Jesus Himself taught His followers that they would be persecuted or even killed for His name’s sake. (Matthew 5:11-12, 44-45, 10:17-31; Mark 10:29-31; Luke 21:12-19) And Jesus had already shown Paul “how much he must suffer for My name.” (Acts 9:16)
But in America and other nations where Christians have enjoyed favored status, suffering and persecution seem out of place, and people who suddenly experience them, or who see others experiencing them, feel like God has dropped the ball; that something is seriously amiss. They teach and have been taught that being a Christian is a way to experience only good things and blessings, and that God will protect us from suffering and persecution. (By the way, Paul would heartily agree that being a Christian is the only place that a person can experience all of God’s abundant good things and mighty blessings from His hand. But he would see no conflict between that and the persecutions that he endured.)
Any of us who truly lives for God and genuinely follows His commands will find ourselves swimming against the flow of our society. And that, by its very nature, will leave us battered by the current. When we, as God’s people, experience that battering, especially if we have been taught that a life serving God is ONLY a life of goodness and blessing, it is easy for us to lose heart, and to even turn away from God, believing that He has lied to us about what to expect. Some people who turn away have been written off as “shallow soil,” people who turn away from their faith during hard times (Luke 8:13). But many of those people have actually been misled by their teachers and fellow Christians to expect an easy road that is exactly the opposite of what God has told us to expect all throughout His word. Paul, in presenting the gospel, told those new believers clearly that persecution would be the norm for them, just like Jesus had done. (John 16:33) But he also noted that those “present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)
Father, I don’t’ think anyone looks forward to suffering and persecution. But it is so vital to know that it is the norm for those who are set on following You so that we don’t lose heart and give up or pull back when things get tough. I instead we must keep on pushing, keep on persevering, faithfully doing the job You gave us to do, and making the whole world lighter every single day. Amen.