In Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians, he acknowledged their suffering in the face of persecution by their own fellow countrymen who were envious of their turning away from Judaism. Their steadfastness and faith (verse 4) is the evidence of the righteous judgment of God that they may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God (verse 5). This evidence may confuse some but verses 11 and 12 paint us the background that God first called the Thessalonians into His Kingdom and they subsequently need to walk in God's way.
Andy (an MTSer) who preached last Sunday explained this concept using this illustration: Imagine a class of students which a boy (we shall call him Johnny) belong to. Every year, the Most Loving Student award is presented to a student in the class as deemed right by the teacher. This year, Johnny's teacher selected him to win the award (the prize was a ticket to the World Cup finals in South Africa). Now, Johnny did not ask to be selected - it was his teacher who saw him fit to win and go to South Africa. His classmates, however, were jealous and started hurling abuse at him while some bullied him physically. While Johnny had many opportunities to retaliate, he did not but endured patiently instead, thus proving that he was indeed worthy of the Most Loving Student award.
Similarly, it was God who first chose the Thessalonians to inherit His Kingdom. Their fellow countrymen, jealous of the entire situation, began persecuting and afflicting them. The Thessalonians showed their outwardly love and endured with steadfastness and faith, hence proving that they were indeed worthy of the kingdom of God (i.e. the evidence of the righteous judgment of God).
As Christians, how do we deal with the issue of persecution? Just as how the Thessalonians endured, knowing that God will one day provide justice (i.e. no more suffering for them while their persecutors will be judged), so should we. Romans 12:14-17 and Matthew 5:43-45 teach us to not repay evil with evil but to bless those who persecute us. We are to love our enemies and pray for them - not for them to receive justice, but to pray for their salvation.
That said, do we modern Christians in religion-tolerating Australia (and in many other parts of the world) face the same kind of persecution as the Thessalonians or Christians living in anti-Christianity countries like North Korea? No? Why not? Perhaps we are reluctant to step out of our comfort zone in being more zealous in our sharing of the gospel? Maybe we dare not cross over the line that borders casual chat from a serious Christianity-all-the-way-in-your-face discussion? Could it be that we fear we may offend others by telling them that Christianity is the right way and all other belief systems have gotten it wrong as we are threatened by the idea of subsequent restrained relationships?
This is where the rest of this first chapter in 2 Thessalonians come in: Verses 8 to 10 tell us that vengeance will be inflicted on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus as they suffer the punishment of eternal destruction. Is this not enough motivation for us to be more bold in telling others about Jesus that they may not face the consequences described in verses 8 to 10? Simultaneously, it also comforts both us and the Thessalonians that any persecution we/they may face is worth the suffering as the kingdom of God is at stake. If we/they should give up, there will be worse judgment to suffer in the future. Furthermore, it challenges us not to succumb to the pressure to live like the rest of the world in pursuing the things of this world or to remain in our comfort zones (being a slightly different form of threat to our faith).
Are you for the gospel? If yes, what are you doing about it?
Labels: 2 Thessalonians, Australia, Christianity