According to Open Doors, a non-profit committed to helping the persecuted church, in just the last year, there have been:
- Over 340 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination.
- 4,761 Christians killed for their faith.
- 4,488 churches and other Christian buildings attacked.
- 4,277 believers detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned.
Reading these statistics should give you pause. It should also spring you into action, praying for our brother’s and sister’s in other countries living out their faith and experiencing persecution for it. Prayer should be your first reaction.
We are human. We often associate oppression with a lack of power and care. Thinking about the persecuted church might cause you to wonder and ask:
- Does God care?
- If He cares, does persecution mean God is not powerful enough to do something about it?
- Or is persecution a means of God’s punishment?
I am sure the Thessalonians were asking similar questions. After all, they were the one’s experiencing persecution. In an effort to encourage the Thessalonians and help future Christians who experience persecution, Paul reminds us of several truths.
(1) God’s love causes us to live for Christ
Paul is encouraged by the Thessalonians. He gives thanks for them as he prays to the Lord.
“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess 1:2-3)
Paul is encouraged by their faithfulness. He sees them loving one another. As well as he is aware of their steadfastness even in the face of persecution.
Faithful Christians live for Christ no matter the circumstances they find themselves in. It might be dealing with a difficult brother or sister in Christ. It might be caring for others by sacrificing time, resources, and emotional capacity. It might be the choice between freedom and imprisonment. Faithful Christians seek to live for Christ in every situation in which they find themselves.
Christians are able to live faithful lives because God’s love permeates their lives. Paul thanks God for the Thessalonians. Specifically, he thanks God for the life they live. He thanks God because it is God who causes them to live for Christ.
(2) God’s election evidences His love
Paul assures the Thessalonians of God’s love starting in verse 4 when he writes:
“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess 1:4-5a)
God’s love is evident by His choice of them. God elected, He chose the Thessalonians because He loved them. God’s choice is irrespective of their actions. It is not based on anything they did or did not do. God chooses us simple because He wants to. There is no other reason.
How do we know we are chosen. Paul tells us we know because the gospel affects our life.
- The good news of Jesus comes “in power” and changes us, raising dead men to life.
- The “Holy Spirit” sanctifies us, causing us to put away sin and walk in the freedom of Christ.
- We are convicted, we repent, and we believe in Jesus “in full conviction” even in the face of persecution.
These are not the actions of quasi follower of Jesus. We don’t naturally change our entire way of life and remain steadfast even when persecuted. Man naturally moves away from pain not towards it. What has happened to us and the life we now live is evident of God’s gracious and loving election, which provides assurance that God has not abandoned us.
(3) God’s love led to Jesus’ affliction
“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” (1 Th 1:6–7)
Jesus was afflicted. His suffering didn’t occur because He was powerless. Instead it occurred according to plan. God’s electing love is lavished upon us because Jesus suffered. Jesus’ suffering made a way for us to become a part of God’s family. Believing in Jesus connects us to His death, burial, and resurrection, so that His death becomes our death and His new life becomes our new life.
Affliction and persecution doesn’t mean God is not in control. It doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us. It’s not His punishment for our sin. It is the opposite. In God’s upside down kingdom, affliction and persecution are markers of strength, a plan, and His eternal pursuit of His elect.