Willing to Suffer for the Sake of Christ

"For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews,..."
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14

Having heard, received and accepted the Word of God, the Thessalonian saints became imitators of the churches in Judea. In what way did they become imitators of these churches? These churches that the Thessalonians imitate are in Palestine, where many Jews live. These churches are in Christ Jesus, which means they are in union with and belong to Christ. They are to be distinguished from the assemblies of Jews that are also in Judea but are not followers of Jesus Christ.

“Being in Christ Jesus is what makes a group of people a distinctively Christian Church,” says one scholar.[1] Another commentator notes that these churches are composed of “the original church of God in Jerusalem (cf. Gal 1:13; 1 Cor 15:9), now in dispersion (as a result of the persecution which broke out after Stephen’s death), together with her daughter-churches.”[2] These churches suffered persecution in the hands of fellow Jews who did not believe that Jesus is the Messiah of God.

What is interesting to note here is that one of the fiercest persecutors of these churches used to be Saul of Tarsus, who is now Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ, the one writing them. Paul was there when Stephen was martyred. Now Paul is testifying to them that these churches in Judea have endured tribulations because of their faith in Christ.

Paul’s transformed life to Christ may have served as a testimony of God’s powerful Word and as an encouragement to these young Christians in Thessalonica. Saul the persecutor has now become Paul the persecuted, just like them.

So in the same way the Thessalonian believers have become imitators of these churches in Judea because they suffered the same things from their own countrymen (v. 14b). When they accepted Paul’s message the Jews started to cause trouble in the city by taking some wicked gang members to form a mob.

This mob tried to hunt down Paul and company and when they did not find them they turned to the new converts, particularly to the man named Jason. And they dragged him, together with some of the brothers, before the city authorities, accusing them falsely (Acts 17:5-6). Since then, these believers have been objects of harassment and discrimination by the Jews and local authorities for their undivided loyalty to God and to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Can you imagine yourself being dragged in the middle of the night to the city jail for believing in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? It’s awful, isn’t it? But these young believers are being harassed by their own people who turned against them because of their faith in Christ Jesus.

Often it is true that the most intense persecution we suffer as Christians comes from those who are somehow related to us: a co-worker maybe, a classmate, a relative, or a fellow believer.

Don’t be surprised when a relative hate you because of your strong conviction against sin, injustice, or immorality as a Christian. You will suffer rejection and isolation in this world because of your solid commitment to Christ, His Word and His Church. But be of good cheer. Do not be afraid. You are one with Christ and His Church. You are not alone. There are other believers who are as committed to Christ in their faith and conduct as you are.

Pray together and encourage one another. God promises that He will be with us. No persecution, suffering, sickness, famine, sword, not even death, shall separate us from the love of Christ. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us and freed us from our sins by His blood. That is our confidence in life. That is our comfort even in death.

So Paul encourages the believers by saying that in enduring these afflictions as Christians, they are fellow-members of the same body as the Judean churches. Paul already mentioned in 1:6 that they became imitators of him and his co-workers and of the Lord Jesus for they received the Word of God with joy even in affliction. And that’s the ground for Paul to say thanks to God. He is so delighted to see these Thessalonians willing to pay the price of following Jesus Christ even through persecution.

How about you? Are you prepared to suffer for Christ? Are you willing to forsake the comforts of this world for the joy of belonging to Christ?

We see here an emerging pattern or pathway of obedient faith in Christ Jesus. Just as Christ endured suffering for doing the will of God; just as Paul, Silas, Timothy, and the churches of God suffered much affliction because of their labor to get the Word of God out to the world, so also the Thessalonians on account of believing the gospel. So for the sake of the gospel of Christ, are you willing to suffer, whatever that affliction might be?

The Scripture attests that persecution is a natural outcome of being a Christian. We don’t go out seeking persecution here and there, do we? But they come as our priorities, desires, and pursuits as Christians collide with the culture around us. For the believers in Thessalonica to undergo suffering for Christ’s sake proves that they belong to the same body of Christ in Judea and all over the world.

They are, in fact, one with us in this 21st century Philippine context. Their firmness in affliction testifies to the fact that their faith is genuine. And the joy that they manifest proves that the work of the Holy Spirit is present in their lives – joy in affliction…suffering gracefully in the name of Christ. What a tremendous testimony of God’s transforming power to a world filled with grumbling and whining!

As you and I endure many trials we not only unite ourselves with the body of Christ but also testify to the fact that our faith in God and in all that He promised is genuine. Our patience, joy and peace amid these trials further reveal the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. And that’s one way of witnessing to the world about our faith in Christ.

You and I are willing to suffer with joy as Christians if necessary. The world doesn’t like pain and suffering. They are willing to pay the price just to avoid affliction and discomfort. We are different, and we ought to be different. We ought to accept willingly every trial and affliction for doing the will of God. That’s a powerful testimony to the world! That's a powerful witness that we belong to Him who is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

[1] Andrew W. Young, Let’s Study 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2001), 37.

[2] F. F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, in Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard & Glenn W. Barker, Vol. 45 (Waco: Word, 1982), 45.


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