I THESSALONIANS 1:6-7: “So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord. As a result, you have become an example to all the believers in Greece—throughout both Macedonia and Achaia.” NLT
OBSERVATION: I have been walking with Jesus as my Lord and Savior for almost 50 years. I committed my life to Christ in the Jesus Movement of the 60s-70s. I have witnessed the Charismatic Renewal in the 70s-80s, and the time when it was popular to be a Christian. Movie stars, singers, pro athletes, all claimed to be Born Again.
It was hip to be a Jesus follower!
Fast forward to 2021. It is no longer hip to follow Jesus. There is a cost to being a true Christ-follower. Over the past two decades, I have lost friends, been estranged from family, and been accused of lacking love for others. Why has all this happened? It is simply because I was bold enough to speak the truth in love. To be a true Christ-follower will always have a cost.
There was a deep cost to the Thessalonian believers. They embraced Jesus as their Savior in the midst of persecution. This is why Paul writes,
- “So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you.”
When I read this I think of the Christians in Afghanistan. Now that this country is under Taliban rule, one could be killed for professing Jesus Christ as their Savior. This is also true in many other countries. These sincere believers live under the threat of death or imprisonment. And, yet – the church continues to grow and thrive. Why is this?
When the cost is high, so is the commitment. There are no nominal believers in a persecuted church. Persecution shakes out those who are really tares and not wheat. There is a purity of faith among those who live under persecution. Their only hope is God’s Word and the promise of eternal life.
This was true of the Church in Smyrna. John writes Jesus’ words directed to them in their suffering.
- “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the one who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive: “I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.” Revelation 2:8-10 NLT
Today, in America, the worst that can happen to a believer is to be ostracized, accused of being a bigot or hate monger. People may de-friend you on Facebook. Family members may push you away. Yet, the time may be coming when those who stand up for the truth of God’s Word will be identified as enemies of the state. It is not that far-fetched to imagine true persecution taking place in the United States.
Jesus’ words exhort us and comfort us. He says,
- “Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.”
What is the worse that could happen to us? We could lose our life for our faith. Many in third-world countries have died for theirs. Yet, to the true follower of Christ, this is not the end. It is the entrance into the reward that is laid up for them in heaven. It is the joy of receiving the crown of life!
My prayer is that we will never see this kind of persecution in America and that God’s people in every country will be protected from harm. Yet, at the same time, I realize that I must be ready to pay whatever price is required of me for my faith in Jesus Christ. We don’t follow Jesus Christ because of what He can do for us. We follow Jesus Christ because He alone is the source of life. He alone is the King of kings and the Lord of lords – the Sovereign God!
We follow Jesus Christ no matter what the cost!
Lord, help me to count the cost this morning and grant me the grace to live for You and proclaim Your truth to this dying world. Grant me the grace to be faithful – even unto death. And, when my time on this earth is completed let me rejoice in that day when You present me with the crown of life.
In Jesus Name!