Genuine faith endures persecution

suffering_for_the_gospel_00036146I am preparing to teach my class on II Thessalonians this coming week. I love teaching this short letter because there is so much truth packed into a small amount of space. During our first lesson, we covered the overview and learned that the Apostle Paul was a master communicator. From reading and studying Acts 17, we learn that the Thessalonian church was planted in the midst of heavy persecution. The Thessalonians were very familiar with persecution. The Apostle Paul was there working as a team with Silas and Timothy. They had a plan to enter the synagogue on the Sabbath and reason with the Jews living in Thessalonica from the Scriptures. Paul took the inductive Bible study approach which involves questions and answers from the Biblical text. The team was there for 3 weeks. While studying, several of the Jews came to Christ along with some God fearing Greeks and leading women. After these people accepted Christ, the rest of the Jews who rejected Christ became jealous of Paul and the team. They stirred the people up and after forming a mob, tried to attack Paul and the team. Paul escaped to Berea and continued teaching in the synagogue in Berea. While Paul was busy planting more churches by making disciples, the new beleivers in Thessalonica continued to grow in their faith amidst persecution. The Word of the Lord went out from them to all of Asia Minor. Paul continued to communicate with the Thessalonians. II Thessalonians is the second letter that we know of that Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Christians. Paul had to write this letter because the attacks shifted from the outside to the inside. False teaching had crept in to the church and people’s faith was in danger.

I. The definition of persecution

The Greek word that is translated into English as “persecution” is “Dioko” and it means to cause to run away or to flee. It also means to drive away. It is also to harass as with actions or words. The root of this word is actually two other Greek words. The first is “Deilos” and it means to produce fear or to make timid. The Jews in Thessalonica who did not accept Christ became very jealous, they wanted to produce fear in Paul and the team so that they would be timid and not continue teaching the Gospel to others. The other Greek word is “Diakonos” which is translated into English as “servant”, “server”, or the transliterated word “deacon”. So, persecution means to harass in actions and words to produce fear in order to make servants timid so that they would not serve. Persecution is supposed to stop the spreading of the Gospel. The other word that is used as a synonym for persecution is affliction. It is the Greek word “Thlibo” and has the idea of pressing hard against, like a wine press. Persecution is supposed to be debilitating. It is to cause harm to the messenger since the message cannot be contradicted. Why are the Thessalonians suffering such heavy persecution? II Thessalonians chapter 1 and verse 8 explain this to us:

8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

The Thessalonian Christians are surrounded by people who do not know God and who do not obey the Gospel. The Greeks in Thessalonica did not know the God of Israel. They were unable to obey the Gospel because of their sin nature. As the Thessalonian believers were sharing the message of the Gospel, it pricked the sin nature of the Greeks. They did not like the message but they could do nothing about that. The alternative was to attack the messengers. This is the plan of Satan. He does not like the message of the Gospel but he can do nothing about that. Instead, he harasses those who preach the message. The other group that was persecuting the believers were the Jews who rejected the Gospel of Christ. They also did not know God and as a result, the message of the Gospel pricked their sin nature and they responded so. Persecution will happen to those who believe the Gospel, obey the Gospel, and share the Gospel with others. There is hope for those who are suffering for their faith.

6 For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you,
7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,
8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,
10 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.

The One whom we obey, the One whom we know, God, Himself will repay those who persecute believers. He will also give relief to those who trust Him while enduring persecution.The idea of persecution was not something new that began with the Thessalonians. Jesus told His disciples and all the disciples to follow them that they would all face persecution and suffering because of the Gospel. In the Gospel of John, chapter 16:

33 “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

Jesus promises that we will have peace in the midst of persecution because we trust Him and walk with Him through persecution. This is not even the only time that Paul has to write to believers about persecution. In II Timothy 3 we find the following verse that Paul wrote to his son in the faith, Timothy:

12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

Anyone who chooses to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to live out the Gospel, and to share the Gospel with others WILL BE PERSECUTED. Persecution is not senseless. God has a plan with it. Do you know what that plan is?

II. The purpose of persecution

We tend to think of persecution as something negative. Apart from God, persecution is negative but, we know that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God and for those who are called according to His purposes. God has a purpose with persecution. It is not senseless. According to II Thessalonians 1

5 This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering.

Persecution makes us worthy of the kingdom of God. In other words, God uses persecution to refine us. The Greek word that is translated “considered” in English is “Kataxioo” and it comes from two other Greek words that shed great light into the original meaning. The first word is “kata”and it means to move forward or to move along. The second word is “Axioo” and it means to mold or make right. Considered means to move us along in our faith in order to make us right. As Romans 8 teaches us:

29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;

God uses everything to conform us to the image (character) of Jesus Christ. Persecution, something that is supposed to stop the work of the Gospel, is used by God to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ. It is a refining tool in the hand of God. He uses persecution to move us along in our faith so that we can be molded into Chirstlikeness. That is why in Philippians chapter 1, Paul calls persecution, or suffering for the Gospel, a gift from God to us. It is just as much of a gift as salvation is. Have you ever been taught that persecution is a gift from the Lord, just as precious as salvation? Are you willing to believe this?

How is it a gift? In other words, how is persecution specifically beneficial to us? We discover the answer in Hebrews 5:

7 In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.
8 Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.
9 And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation,

When we endure suffering God’s way, it teaches us obedience. We all need to learn obedience because of our sin nature. We learn to obey God and rely on Him more and more as we walk through persecution. King David writes of this in the Psalms. In Psalm 119, we learn to following:

67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.
68 You are good and do good; Teach me Your statutes.
69 The arrogant have forged a lie against me; With all my heart I will observe Your precepts.
70 Their heart is covered with fat, But I delight in Your law.
71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.

Before David was afflicted with persecution, he went astray. While walking with God through persecution, he learned to keep/obey the Word of God. In Matthew 10, Jesus tells us that persecution will give us more and more opportunities to be a witness for Him before the world.

III. The proponents of persecution

We touched on this a little earlier in the article when we discussed what causes people to persecute us. They do not know God and do not obey His Gospel. When they hear the Gospel, It pricks their sin nature and they respond negatively. Jesus addresses this issue in the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5.

10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

When we live according to God’s standards, the people around us who do not live according to His standards are exposed. They have not inherited the kingdom of heaven and believers are a reminder of that. They insult the believers to make themselves feel better. They lie about believers also to make themselves feel better. This is not anything new. This happened all throughout the Old Testament to the people who genuinely followed God. This is the way that sin nature reacts to the Gospel. II Timothy 3 also teaches us that religious people who do not know God and who do not obey Him, even though they have a form of godliness, they do not live according to the standards of God. They persecute those who live out and teach the truth of the Word of God. We will end with the idea that all of those who persecute believers, especially those who seem to get away with it in this life, they will pay for their actions and words. They will be eternally separated from God and spend all of eternity paying the price for their actions.

May the Lord help us understand persecution and endure it with joy, knowing that God is going to use it in order to refine our faith and make us more like Christ!

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4 comments on “Genuine faith endures persecution

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