TESTING TIMES (1 THESSALONIANS 2:1-9)
What do these countries have in common - North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran, Yemen and Eritrea? The answer is, Christians suffer the worst persecution here. You might also be surprised to know that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. Of the top 10 countries on the list, eight are majority Muslim states. About 100 million Christians are persecuted around the world, with conditions worsening most rapidly in Syria and Ethiopia, according to an annual report by Open Doors, a group supporting oppressed Christians worldwide. On the top 50 persecuted list, all but Colombia are in Africa, Asia or the Middle East.
“About 100 million Christians Persecuted Around the World: Report”
Thessalonica in Greece was the second stop in the detour to Macedonia on Paul’s second missionary journey. Three weeks into Thessalonica with Silas and Timothy, Paul faced a severe threat and test. The unbelieving Jews reacted with envy, gathered a mob and caused an uproar. New believer Jason and some brotehrs were dragged before the city authorities, so Paul and Silas left for Berea to leave the converts alone (Acts 17:6-10). Many scholars believe that was not the end of Paul in Thessalonica since Berea was just 45-50 miles south.
In many cities around the world where Christianity is in the minority, Christians suffer discrimination, detention, duress, danger and even death. Physical beatings, psychological terror and sexual assault are constant tools of harassment. How do you respond when you are threatened and terrorized? Do you fight or flee? Do you persevere or pack? What if the government says you cannot preach to minorities, children or LGTB? What does the Bible say?
Be Outspoken Despite Opposition
1 You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. 2 We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. (1 Thess 2:1-3)
After Lord Wellington had become famous because of his victory at the Battle of Waterloo, he was made governor general of India. At the close of his tenure of office he returned to England, where a great ovation was given him. Modern missions were in their infancy. Carey was working in India, and England was sharply divided as to whether missionary effort was of God and whether it paid.
One of England's notables who was against foreign missions was presented to the Duke, and almost immediately he asked, "You have been in India, where a few fanatics are doing what they call missionary work and trying to save the Hindus. Tell me please, what is your opinion--do missions pay?" The Iron Duke's eyes flashed as he replied: "Sir, I have for years been commander. It is my place to make the plans for the battle. And when I tell a general what to do, I expect him to do it, and not ask me if it will pay. Christ told us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. It is our business to obey, not to question whether or not it pays."
1 Thessalonians is an affirming and assuring letter. Paul made reference to his time in Philippi by using the phrase “You know” as many as four times in the chapter (vv 1, 2, 5, 11), more times than any chapter in his 13 epistles. It was written in an appealing and acknowledging manner. Verse one is even more emphatic and engaging in Greek because the chapter adds another personal pronoun “you” to the verb “you know,” so that the translation should be “You, for you know.” Paul’s struggles traveled far and wide, were distant and upclose, widespread and scary.
What happened at Philippi (v 2)? In Philippi the Roman masters (plural) of a demon-possessed slave girl (Acts 16:16) incited the crowd to arrest Paul and Silas. The local magistrates tore off the clothes of their back, commanded them to be beaten. They were whipped many times, thrown into the inner prison, and their feet were bound fast in the stocks. (Acts 16:22-24) The magistrates later released them upon learning Paul and company were Roman citizens (Acts 16:36-38)
Paul was a go-getter despite hardships. His ministry in Thessalonica on his next stop was smooth but for three weeks. For three Sabbath days or three weeks he reasoned the Scriptures with the Jews in their synagogue. Some Jews believed but, more amazingly, a great multitude of devout Greeks and not a few of the chief women believed too. (Acts 17:1-4) “Chief women” impressively makes its debut in the city of Thessalonica, breaking another barrier for the gospel and the ladies.