Don’t be surprised by the fiery ordeal

Posted: September 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

As I study through the New Testament, one of the things that I find is that Jesus and the apostles constantly warned God’s people that difficulties, trials and persecutions awaited them, and that they should not be surprised or taken off guard if they encounter such things.  This of course flies in the face of the popular “health, wealth, and prosperity” teachings that many espouse these days. Peter wrote about not thinking that the “fiery ordeal” that we sometimes find ourselves in is some strange happening to us: 1 Peter 4:12, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you.” Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about how he had been warning them ahead of time that trials and persecutions awaited them: 1 Thessalonians 3:4, “For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.” At a later date, Paul wrote the following to Timothy about persecutions being certain for all Christians: 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Jesus kept telling His disciples that just He was persecuted that they too would be persecuted, and He told them also that through all they suffered in this world that in Him they could still have peace: John 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.

On his second missionary journey, Paul had gone with his traveling companions to the Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica on three successive Sabbaths and preached from the Old Testament scriptures Jesus Christ crucified for our sins and raised from the dead.  Some Jews had believed, a number of God-fearing Gentiles, and some of the prominent women.  But, soon afterward Jason, the man from the synagogue whom Paul had been staying with, was arrested by the Jews and charged with various crimes.  Later that night, Paul was escorted out of the city secretly because of the persecution that had arisen.  Paul and his companions (Silas and Timothy) had then regrouped in Athens, and Paul was very concerned about how the Thessalonians were faring.   He knew they were such young believers and now having to face much persecution he feared would be more than their young and tender faith in Christ could endure.  Finally, when Paul could no longer endure worrying about the Thessalonians, he sent Timothy to them to see how they were faring.  Timothy later returned with the good news that the church was weathering the fiery storms of persecution and that their faith and love were increasing, and they were even now preaching the gospel themselves, far and wide. It was this report from Timothy that caused Paul to write his first letter to the Thessalonians.

Suffering and trials can cause us to doubt whether or not God loves us, whether He is in control of this world, whether we are following His plans and have His favor, and whether or not He even exists at all.  Many people who once professed a faith in Christ eventually have turned away when they couldn’t understand why they should have to suffer as they had suffered.  And, lets be honest most people at times wonder and struggle with the fact that many times it is the good people who struggle and have difficulties and the wicked for whom life seems to go well.  A Christian needs to gain a proper perspective on trials and persecutions to be prepared to handle all that life throws at us.  Lets talk about what that perspective should be.

The Bible Exposition Commentary states the following about this letter of 1 Thessalonians and how that God uses trials in our lives as Christians: “The trials and testings that come to our lives as Christians are not accidents—they are appointments. We must expect to “suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29). Persecution is not foreign to the believer (1 Peter 4:12ff), but a normal part of the Christian life. Paul had repeatedly told them this while he was with them. We must warn new believers that the way is not easy as they seek to live for Christ; otherwise, when trials come, these babes in Christ will be discouraged and defeated. Of course, behind these persecutions is Satan, the enemy of the Christian (1 Thes. 3:5). He is the tempter, and he seeks to ruin our faith. Note the emphasis on faith in this chapter (1 Thes. 3:5–7, 10).

To this persecuted church comprised of brand new babies in Christ, Paul did not pray that the persecutions and trials be removed from them. Rather, he prayed for their faith to grow through them, for their hearts to be purified through them, and for their love for God and others to grow through them. The Bible Exposition Commentary writes the following about Paul’s prayer for the love of the persecuted Thessalonians to grow:  “Paul’s second request was that their love might abound (1 Thes. 3:12). Times of suffering can be times of selfishness. Persecuted people often become very self-centered and demanding. What life does to us depends on what life finds in us; and nothing reveals the true inner man like the furnace of affliction. Some people build walls in times of trial, and shut themselves off. Others build bridges and draw closer to the Lord and His people. This was Paul’s prayer for these believers, and God answered it: “The charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth” (2 Thes. 1:3). Our growing faith in God ought to result in a growing love for others. We are “taught of God to love one another” (1 Thes. 4:9), and some of these lessons are best learned in the school of suffering. Joseph suffered for thirteen years because of his brothers’ envy and persecution. Yet he learned to love them in spite of their hatred. The Jewish legalists persecuted Paul from city to city, yet Paul so loved his people that he willingly would have died for them (Rom. 9:1–3). When I counsel young couples in preparation for marriage, I often ask the man: “If your wife became paralyzed three weeks after you were married, do you love her enough to stay with her and care for her?” True love deepens in times of difficulty; shallow romance disappears when difficulties appear. But true Christian love is shown not only to believers, but also “toward all men” (1 Thes. 3:12). We love one another, but we also love the lost and our enemies. Abounding love must not be bound. It must be free to expand and touch all men.

I highlight the phrase above, “What life does to us depends on what life finds in us; and nothing reveals the true inner man like the furnace of affliction”, as I found it profound and true. I think the church today in its preaching of the gospel needs to change our emphasis. So much of the time the emphasis is when we preach the gospel that if people believe in Christ He will make their life easier, their marriage work better, the family life work better, their lives be more successful, etc.  The phrase, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life“, might not be the best statement to make in our presentation.  The motive of “life enhancement” for believing in Christ is just wrong, and it produces many converts who turn back when difficulties and temptations later come along.  I can imagine that when Paul preached the gospel he probably told people that if they thought that they ought to become a Christian because their life is going to get easier, their family will get along, they will be blessed with good jobs and prosperity, etc., that they should not consider signing up to believe in Christ for salvation.

Now, Timothy was sent to the Thessalonians to encourage and strengthen their faith through teaching the foundations of the Christian faith.  But, even in this he was only helping to toughen them up, not giving them the expectation that in everything they should be prospering because they were now believers.  I warn you now, that if you are a believer, you are going to face difficulties, trials, and persecutions. You can have the peace of Christ in the midst of them, as well as joy, for these are fruits of God’s Spirit in our lives.  You can know that God works all things out for good to those who believe in Christ (Rom. 8:28).  But, don’t think for a moment that your peace and joy are going to be dependent upon favorable circumstances for you, they are likely to be in spite of them! Don’t be surprized at the fiery ordeal among you…

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Comments
  1. Allie Kennedy says:

    Jim~

    Keep preaching the word. Believers need to be reminded that they have an enemy that wants to neutralize them and get them off track. The method he uses can work against him (see your article) if people are prepared. Preachers do believers a great disservice by skipping over the difficult stuff.

    Thanks for a timely article!
    Your friend in Christ!

  2. cHad says:

    there’s a truth that Christians need to embrace… God’s favor in your life has nothing to do with riches, trials, health or suffering. The moment we turn Joel off and figure this out, will be the moment we really start to move ahead w/some sense of understanding.

  3. jimbs says:

    Very good points Allie and Chad!!! Thank you for posting.

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