Teaching Affliction

There are many running themes in the Scripture. When we study, we see that certain ideas find their way into book after book. These ideas are important, because they show us that God is completely consistent in his word to us. Examples of this include the true deity and true humanity of Jesus, the importance of the local church, the call to sexual purity, the need for Christians to love one another, the necessity of focusing on eternity, etc. You see the same principles of right thought and righteous conduct in book after book, author after author.

One recurring theme in the New Testament is one that we do not love, but which we must understand. Repeatedly in the New Testament, we see that the church of the Lord Jesus is destined for affliction and persecution in this world. I find that, as I prepare sermons or do personal devotions, I see a regular reminder that the lost world will not love the church.

1 Thessalonians 3:2-4 – 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 3 that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 4 For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.

In the book of 1 Thessalonians, Paul tells of his concern for the church in Thessalonica after he was forced to leave the city. IN fact, Paul’s concern for those believers became so strong that he sent Timothy back there to check on the believers in that infant church. Thankfully, when Timothy arrived in Thessalonica, he found the believers standing strong, even in the face of worldly hardships.

Notice what Paul says about his teaching when he was in Thessalonica. Paul says that he repeatedly kept telling the young believers that Christians will suffer afflictions. During his time of preaching and teaching in Thessalonica, preparing believers for persecution was a commonly repeated theme.

The funny thing for us to remember in all this is that Paul was only in Thessalonica for around three weeks. He then had to move on. The apostle had only three weeks to try to pour into the Thessalonians important doctrine. And in that time, Paul says that he not only mentioned the possibility of persecution, but he repeatedly pointed out to them that hardships would come.

Now, believers, if you only had 3 weeks to teach a new Christian what they needed to know, what doctrines would you include? Of course you would teach them the gospel and the significance of Scripture. You would teach them about evangelism and the local church. Hopefully you would point them toward the return of Jesus and our hope.

But if you want to be consistent with Scripture, you also would need to be abundantly clear that a lost world will strive to bring hardships to believers. You would not do a young believer any favors by pretending that God will protect us from pain in this life. Instead, you would be wisest to help them know that persecution is part of following Jesus until he returns. Even in a 3-week crash course in the faith, you would, if you followed Paul’s pattern, speak against any notion of a prosperity gospel or an escapist theology. Instead, you would strive with Scripture to weave steel into the character of young believers so that they would be ready to stand in the face of worldly affliction.