Tried With Fire: Vindication and Retribution

When we experience persecution, we are entering into a cosmic drama in which God wins—and we win with Him.

When we are persecuted, we need to remember that God has counted us worthy of a great honor. He is entrusting us with an opportunity to put His transforming grace on display. When we remain faithful under persecution, our perseverance matches up with the high position to which God has called us.

 

Paul and Silas arrived in Thessalonica with their backs still torn from their whipping in Philippi. In spite of their pain they made themselves bold to preach the gospel (1 Thess 2:2), so that some Jews and many Gentiles believed (Acts 17:1-4). Quickly, however, opponents of the gospel organized persecution (Acts 17:5-9). The new believers at Thessalonica smuggled Paul and Silas out of town at night, sending them on to Berea (Acts 17:10). The departure of these evangelists did not halt the opposition, though (1 Thess 2:14-15). Finally, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to find out how the young believers were holding up under persecution (1 Thess 3:1-5). Timothy delivered a glowing report (1 Thess 3:6-7), prompting Paul to send a letter of encouragement and instruction back to the church. Still the persecution and affliction endured (2 Thess 1:4), so Paul wrote a part of a second letter to help explain the sufferings of these faithful children of God (2 Thess 1:5-9).

This text is a little gem. It may be the most extended discourse in the Bible about why God allows faithful believers to suffer persecution. It implies that God permits persecution for three reasons.

The first reason is that faithfulness in persecution proves how genuine one’s faith is (2 Thess 1:5). Perseverance is a manifestation of true saving faith and of loyalty to the kingdom for whose cause believers are persecuted. The point is not that persecution somehow merits salvation. Instead, sufferings illustrate that God’s judgment of worthiness—which will be pronounced upon all believers at the Bema—is fully justified. God is not wrong to save people when, as a consequence of saving faith, He is able to turn them into such persevering saints. Indeed, the fact that God entrusts them with suffering is already evidence that He rightly judges them to be worthy (for Christ’s sake) of spending eternity with Him.

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