We who have lived our lives in a nation that has enjoyed freedom of Religion cannot fully grasp the trials of those in countries like Myanmar. In Myanmar pastors are threatened, imprisoned, killed, and harassed along with their congregations. Churches are burned to the ground. Christian villages are uprooted and driven into refugee camps. To a greater or lesser degree this was the experience of the churches in the first century. They were seen as a threat to the old ways. The government systems had made peace with idolatry and worked out a civilization. The Christian faith threatened that civilization with dramatic changes that took place in individual lives. The result was persecution.
How can we relate to this? We, like them, should experience a change that challenges our culture. Jesus did not come to help us fit in. Our lives by their very nature should be discomforting to the worldly systems around us. We should be growing in faith and in the love of God. God brings about a certain radiance in the lives of those changed through a relationship with Jesus. Some are drawn to Christ by that radiance and some are repelled by it. Though our persecutions are far less severe, we may be whispered about, ridiculed, mocked, excluded, and generally dismissed as not being very bright.
Another reality bears consideration. It was not just that the Thessalonians suffered persecution, but how they handled trials that set them apart. Every one of us will endure trials of some kind or another in life. Nothing so reveals the nature of Christian faith as how we handle trials. When those who do not know the Lord see the way we endure afflictions of various kinds, they can be led to see the power and victory that faith brings. This strength in the face of trouble can cause them to see the emptiness in their own lives and expose their own fearfulness that has no solace.
In the end, God will wipe away every tear and settle every score. Paul’s prayer for his readers was not so much that they would never suffer as that they would grow more like Jesus and live transformational lives. In this world we will inevitably face our challenges. What is most important is that the name of Jesus is magnified by the way we deal with them. Our future is bright beyond description. In the words of a great old hymn, “We cannot fail. We must Prevail. Have faith in God! Have faith in God!”