Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Hope for the Afflicted

Part 12 of A New Hope

Text: 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12




This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering (v. 5). 


Affliction

Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. Each month, 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 churches and Christians properties are destroyed, and 772 forms of violence are committed against Christians (such as beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests, and forced marriages). [1] In 2015, more than 7,100 Christians were killed for “faith-related reasons,” up 3,000 from the previous year. [2] More Christians have been martyred in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries than during the previous nineteen combined. [3]

The Christians in Thessalonica were being afflicted. The apostle Paul writes, “We ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring” (v. 4). In Canada, we don’t face the same level of persecution that other Christians do (e.g., Christians living in North Korea). But sometimes we do experience persecution (e.g., ridicule). How can we remain steadfast and faithful when we are afflicted for being a Christian? [4]


Give Up? 

When difficulty comes into our lives (especially when difficulty comes because we’re Christians), there is the temptation to give up. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus said that some people are like seeds that are cast on rocky ground. They “receive [the gospel] with joy” (Mark 4:16). But “then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away” (v. 17). In order to remain steadfast and faithful when we are afflicted for being a Christian, we must remember three truths.

1. Affliction can reveal the genuineness of our faith. 

In verse 5, Paul says something unexpected: “This [the affliction that the Thessalonians are enduring, v. 4] is evidence of the righteous judgment of God.” Huh? Usually we think of “judgment” in a negative way. But a judgment can be a good thing (e.g., a judge can pass a judgment that benefits us). Affliction can be beneficial if it shows us to be “worthy of the kingdom” (v. 5; cf. v. 11). Worthy? Aren’t none of us worthy? Isn’t that why we need grace? Paul isn’t saying that we’re saved by faith plus good works. He’s saying that not giving up when facing affliction is evidence that our faith is real. [5]

2. Affliction will not go unpunished. 

“God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (v. 6). The afflicters will be afflicted. This will happen “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (vv. 7-8; see also v. 9). We must not forget that Jesus endured affliction: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). We are to imitate Jesus: “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom. 12:19). God is the Christian’s avenger. [6]

3. Affliction will not last forever. 

Paul writes that God will “grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us” (v. 7). The affliction that Christians are enduring now is temporary. There is hope for every afflicted Christian. There is a better day coming (“when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed,” v. 10).


Glorifying Christ

There is hope for the afflicted Christian. We have this hope because Christ was afflicted on the cross. He suffered in our place. We don’t give up because he didn’t give up. And not only do we look back at what Christ has done for us. We also look forward to what Christ will do for us. Paul’s desire for the Thessalonians is that Christ would “be glorified in [them]” (v. 12). We have reason to glorify Christ in every situation—even in the midst of affliction.

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[1] https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/
[2] http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/17/world/christian-persecution-2015/
[3] http://www.christiantoday.com/article/one.christian.is.martyred.every.five.minutes.persecution.watchdog.reports/65368.htm
[4] Much of what Paul writes in 1:5-12 can be applied to any type of affliction.
[5] Gregory Beale gives this analogy in 1-2 Thessalonians (pp. 184-185):
You must pay money to obtain entry to a professional football game. In order to enter the stadium, however, you must present a ticket at the gate. Is it the money that provides access to the game or the ticket? Both! But are the money and the ticket equal “causes” that get you in? Ultimately, the money paid is what really gets you in, but you must have the ticket as evidence that you really paid the price for the game. Likewise, true Christians are those on behalf of whom Christ has paid the penalty of sin, but they must have the badge of good works as evidence that Christ paid their purchase price in order to be considered worthy of passing through final judgment and entering the kingdom. Therefore, both faith in Christ’s work and human good works are absolutely necessary for being considered worthy of salvation, but the former is the ultimate cause of the latter. At the last judgment people will not be able to say that they have benefited from Christ’s redemptive work only because they have believed; they will have to show evidence of their belief through their good works (Mt 7:21). 
[6] We must keep in mind that God doesn’t enjoy punishing the unsaved. The cross proves to us that God delights in saving people (illustrated in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32).