The Greeks had provided the world the great minds of Socrates, Plato and others. Also, the Greeks had developed a system of gods and goddesses that celebrated and paid homage to a plethora of “gods”. Having already committed themselves to this religious system and having already pledged their allegiance to Zeus and their gods that supposedly resided on Olympia, they weren’t ready to tolerate the Christian belief that there was only one God (the Jewish God Jehovah) and that the only way to Heaven was through Jesus Christ His Son. Therefore, they criticized, ridiculed and persecuted the Thessalonian Christians for their beliefs.
Although we don’t like to admit it or talk about it, suffering and persecution are a part of the Christian life. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trial and tribulation” (John 16:33). Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:12, “If anyone lives a godly life, he will suffer persecution.” Also, Jesus said in Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are you when (not if) you are persecuted for My name’s sake.” Just as the blessings of God are connected with becoming and living as a Christian, so are the curses or persecutions of the world.
Question – “Why are Christians persecuted by others?” Jesus said in Matthew 5:10-12 that we are persecuted for two reasons – for “righteousness sake” and for “His sake.” One reason we are persecuted is because of the life we live. Real Christians are committed to living righteous lives. When we do live righteous lives it serves as a challenge and condemnation to those who are living unrighteous lives. A second reason Christians are persecuted is because of the Lord we love. We are persecuted because we are committed to Jesus Christ. We sometimes falsely believe that the world loves Jesus. Most people love the little baby Jesus in a manager, because everyone loves a baby. But the majority of the world hates Jesus Christ, because they have heard that He is the only way to abundant and eternal life. Jesus Himself said in John 15:19: “Because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, the world hates you.” He went on to say in John 15:20, “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you.”
Second Question – “How are we to respond to persecution from others?” First, we must be willing to forgive those who persecute us. Following the example of Jesus on the cross (Luke 23:34), we have to forgive others if we want to be forgiven by the Lord (Mark 11:25-26). Second, we need to pray for others. Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-48 we are to pray for our enemies. Third, we’re to actually strive to bless our enemies. In Luke 6:27-28 Jesus said: “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who spitefully use you.” Fourth, we are to rejoice when others persecute us. He said in Luke 6:22-23: “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you and cast out your name as evil for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven.” Acts 5:40-41 records that the disciples who were beaten rejoiced because “they were counted worthy to suffer for Jesus’ name.” How can we forgive, pray for, and do good to those who persecute us – and then rejoice because of the persecution we have experienced? We can only do these things through God’s strength and power.
The fifth response we should make to persecution is that we should endure and remain faithful (2 Thessalonians 1:4). As with the other mentioned responses to persecution, we cannot endure and remain faithful in the face of persecution in our strength and ability – but we can in God’s power.
As you pray today: 1) Thank the Lord for any persecution you may have experienced, counting it an honor to suffer for Him; 2) Forgive and pray for those who have persecuted you, and reflect on how you can “do good” to them; and 3) Pray that the Lord would enable you to endure and remain faithful.