“…because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 ESV).
This passage mentions the persecutions and afflictions the Thessalonians endured as an outgrowth of their relationship with Christ. Some of those afflictions likely involved social rejection. Other members of the church may have been beaten and/or killed for what they believed. We’ll discuss the larger issue of suffering in our next study but for now, one source reminds us that “Suffering is normal for believers in a fallen world (cf. Matt. 5:10-12; Acts 14:22; Rom. 8:17-18; 1 Thess. 2:14; 3:3; James 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 4:12-16). It often is the very means of our spiritual growth (cf. Heb. 5:8).” (1)
Perhaps it would be helpful to consider the lives of some important Biblical personalities to gain some insight into this topic. For instance…
Joseph: Was thrown into a cistern and left for dead (Genesis 37:12-36). Later he was put into prison for a crime he didn’t commit (Genesis 39) and forgotten for over two years (Genesis 40, Genesis 41:1).
Job: Suffered the loss of his finances, family, personal possessions, and physical health for no discernible reason.
Isaiah: Tradition holds that Isaiah was sawn in two for his dedication to God and His Word.
John the Baptist: Was beheaded for telling the king that it was wrong to be involved in a marital relationship with his sister-in-law (Mark 6:17-29).
Peter: Is said to have been crucified upside down during the persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Nero.
Stephen: Was stoned to death for preaching about Jesus (Acts 7:55-58).
Paul: Was shipwrecked, whipped, thrown into prison multiple times, then beheaded according to church tradition.
Each of these individuals were dedicated men of God yet they suffered for doing what was right from God’s perspective. Of course, we find the ultimate example of unwarranted suffering in Jesus Himself. Many who heard Jesus speak during His earthly ministry might have responded to His crucifixion with the following questions: “Why is God allowing this man to suffer? What possible reason could God have for permitting his crucifixion?”
The difference is one of perspective, for we have a better understanding of the reasons behind Jesus’ crucifixion from our 21st century vantage point- and therein lies an important message. We’ll consider that message next.
(1) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 1:4 Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL07/VOL07C_01.html