1 Thessalonians 1:6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
The Japanese and the NIV reverse the order of the elements of this sentence, which gives a change in perceived emphasis. I need to check the order in the Greek! In any case, the believers in Thessalonica were in a very difficult situation, but the Holy Spirit gave them joy as they received the Gospel. Their response was to imitate Paul, and by extension Jesus, who endured suffering without complaining. Our response to suffering is a pretty clear indicator of our faith. If we have full assurance that God will eventually turn our suffering around for good, (Romans 8:28) then we can endure almost anything. That’s in stark contrast to the natural, physical response of focusing on the suffering. Actually, such a focus makes the suffering be all the more intense, and we are totally miserable. It is when we can look past the suffering to the God who is capable of giving meaning to that suffering that we are able to have the joy of the Holy Spirit. The current generation, and young people in particular, have experienced so little genuine suffering that they fall apart at the smallest things, earning them the appropriate nickname of “snowflakes.” The Thessalonians were certainly not snowflakes! In the past, Christians often studied the lives of believers of previous generations. I remember we had a thick volume titled Fox’s Book of Martyrs, if I recall correctly, but I seldom hear of that today. Actually, there are more martyrs by number today than in any past generation, but the average Westerner is completely unaware of them. However, websites like persecution.org are depressingly informational. We would do well to learn from the Thessalonians and other believers, past and present, and view all suffering in the perspective of Christ’s sacrifice and the eternity it purchased for us, and rejoice!
This of course applies to me as much as it does to anyone else. I don’t feel I have had to endure much suffering, though I have had some rough patches in life, but my wife is in a daily dance with pain of all sorts. She deals with it remarkably well, though she would probably not grade herself that way. However, neither of us have been made to suffer specifically for our faith. That’s not to say that some people haven’t treated us badly because we insisted on following God, but such incidents haven’t been plentiful. We have no idea what suffering might await us down the line, but we do know that God is more than able to deal with whatever comes our way. With Paul, we have assurance that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)
Father, thank You for the grace of suffering. Help me not take anyone’s suffering lightly, but at the same time view it all in the perspective of eternity, so that I and they may be enabled to rest, relax, and rejoice in You, just as You have told me, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!