Summary: Persecution is promised to believers; therefore we should not be surprised when we encounter trials of various kinds. In the midst of difficulties, we must continue to increase in love for people as we anticipate the return of Christ.
Standing Firm in Trials
Here are a few breaking prayer needs that have been compiled by a ministry called “Open Doors.” (Taken from the Pastor’s Guide for the “International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church,” www.opendoorsusa.org).
Vietnamese authorities recently arrested a pastor and held him in a cell for 24 hours. The pastor, who leads a church that has grown to 800 members, sang hymns and prayed—despite being chained, deprived of water, and forbidden to use the bathroom.
Fleeing the famine in their country, hundreds of thousands of refugees from North Korea have escaped into China. Many have become Christians through the witness of the Chinese church. Now these new believers live in constant fear of deportation back to North Korea as China struggles to stem the tide of refugees. These Christians would face severe punishment in their homeland.
Extremists recently detonated bombs in a predominantly Christian area of Indonesia. Many Christians who have fled from the violence are still struggling to survive in refugee camps or are hiding in the jungle. In another attack, Islamic militants raided three villages, burned churches and homes to the ground, and shot and wounded men and women. More than 2,000 people were forced to flee for their lives.
Some 500 people died in an outbreak of violence between Muslims and Christians in northern Nigeria. Prominent Christian leaders were among those killed in the tragedy, and more than 10 Christian communities were ravaged and destroyed in the conflict. Nearly 10,000 people were displaced and now live as refugees.
Ten days ago, CNN reported that two gunmen invaded the office of a Christian charity in Karachi, Pakistan, tied up workers and shot seven of them to death, each with a bullet to the head. And, just last Sunday, a bomb exploded outside a church in Pakistan’s largest city, hours after thousands took to the streets asking the government to protect the minority Christian community.
And, not quite 2,000 years ago, a community of Christ followers located in what is now the country of Greece, experienced persecution by religious authorities and ostracism from their own family members. No sooner had they trusted Christ than the bottom seemed to fall out of their lives. Some sought solace in their suffering by turning to the Savior. But because they were so young in their faith, these trials were causing others to doubt and become discouraged. This Christian community needed some encouragement and a lot of intercession.
What do you do when your world caves in? How does a Christian respond when hard times come? All of us will face those questions sooner or later. It may not be from behind prison bars, but we will all go through deep trials eventually. When that happens, everything we believe will be put on the line.
In the first 9 verses of 1 Thessalonians 3, Paul wrote to some new believers who suddenly and unexpectedly found themselves in great difficulty. They were being persecuted for their faith in Jesus. Our text shows how Paul reassured them and encouraged them to stand firm in trials. I see 6 truths about trials that can help us hang in there when difficulties come.
(Note: I’m thankful for the permission I received from my ministry mentor, Ray Pritchard, to borrow some ideas from his sermon called, “Living in Hard Times,” Calvary Memorial Church, 9/22/96).
Truths About Trials
1. Our trials are unsettling (1-3a). “So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials.” As we learned last week, Paul desperately wanted to go back and visit this young church but Satan had blocked him. Even here, he says that it was “best to be left by ourselves,” which is a very strong phrase. It literally means, “to be forsaken,” or “to be left behind.” Paul felt orphaned from his fellow believers and so he did the next best thing. He sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage them in their trials.
The Greek word for “unsettled” actually means to “wag the tail.” It has the idea of being so shaken by circumstances that you flop back and forth. The word “trial” means to be “under the thumb” of pressure. Many of you know from experience what that feels like. Some of you are going through some unrelenting pressure right now that keeps you awake at night and makes you feel wiped out during the day.
Remember this: Your particular trial doesn’t matter as much as how you respond to it. Often we focus intently on the details of our difficulties as if our problem was the most important thing in the world. It may seem so at the time, but it’s not really. God is much more concerned with how we respond than with the trial itself. Someone has said, “God will take care of what you go through; you take care of how you go through it.”