3 We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, 4 so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, 5 which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; 6 since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, 7 and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels (2 Thessalonians 1:3–7, NKJV)
What a magnificent summary of the Thessalonian saints’ faithfulness in the face of persecution, of their tremendous example of suffering for the kingdom and its powerful influence on brethren, and of God’s justice that trouble the troublers and rewards the faithful with rest. God is righteous; therefore, so is His judgment. In the glory of Christ returns, God will right every wrong leveled against His people (2 Thess. 1:8-10). Until then, keep patiently enduring in faith and love. God sees, He repays, and He and rewards.
22 And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. 24 But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:22–24, NKJV)
What drives you to withstand trials, adversities, and obstacles of resistance to achieve your goal? Too often, we are driven from our spiritual goal to seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness by fear, by doubt, by uncertainty, and many other hindrances. Paul’s example helps us stay the course (cf. Heb. 12:1-2). 1) He was “bound in the spirit” (to go to Jerusalem, v. 22). His mind was set on things above (Col. 3:1-3). His obligation to Christ was fixed deep within his soul. 2) He was undeterred by personal hardship (v. 23-24). Fear of persecution did not pull him off course. He cared more about serving the will of God than his own life. 3) His goal was to finish his race with joy (v. 24). Paul would not just finish his race; he would do so with joy (2 Tim. 4:6-8). 4) The ministry the Lord gave him was more important than his life (v. 24). Paul’s priority to faithfully preach the gospel is evident from a review of what he endured for Jesus (2 Cor. 11:23-33; 4:7-11). Our faith will be tested. Will we be moved when our adversary puts the allurements of sin before us? Will we be moved when enemies of the truth put trials and persecutions in our path? Will fear of death move us away from finishing our race with joy (Matt. 10:28)? Or will we say with Paul, “None of these things move me?”
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 1 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (2 Corinthians 4:16–5:1, NKJV)
The inspired apostle uses a series of contrasts to buoy the faith of Christians during uncertain, turbulent, and trying times. Let us meditate on these points of truth and “not lose heart” (be discouraged), but be refreshed daily by the sure hope we have in Jesus Christ.
1) Outward person perishing v. Inward person renewed daily.
2) Momentary light affliction v. Far more abundant, eternal glory.
3) Visible things are temporary v. Unseen things are eternal.
4) Our earthly house (the tent of our mortal body) destroyed by death v. An eternal, heavenly building from God inhabited by our immortal bodies).
The Christian’s hope is not on earth, and never will be. Our hope is laid up for us in heaven (Col. 1:5; 1 Pet. 1:3-4). Therefore, live for heaven with joy in Christ (Matt. 6:19-21).
18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. 19 For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. 21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22 “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth;” (1 Peter 2:18–22, NKJV)
What empowers Christians to endure injustices without reacting in sinful and destructive ways? Peter’s instruction to mistreated servants shows us how (v. 18). 1) We accept the pain of injustice because it is the commendable thing to do (v. 19). “Commendable” translates charis (grace). It is favorable, gracious, or acceptable before God when we patiently endure the grief of wrongful suffering. He will bestow honor (credit) on us for doing so (v. 20). 2) We endure the misery of injustice because of our conscience toward God (v. 19). We must train our consciences to regard persecution for the sake of righteousness as a blessing (Matt. 5:10-12). To do so requires faith in the Lord instead of self-reliance. 3) We accept suffering for doing good because the gospel of Christ calls us to this noble response (v. 21). Our calling is to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21). 4) We can endure by following the example of Jesus (v. 22). He has already walked this road. Look for His footprints.
If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear? (1 Peter 4:18, NKJV)
Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jno. 16:33). As they preached the gospel, Paul and Barnabas were “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God’” (Acts 14:22). Peter said, “do not think it strange” when fiery trials happen to you because of your faith (1 Pet. 4:12). These statements do not suggest we earn our way to heaven. They explain being a faithful Christian brings you face to face with challenges and turmoil that require the effort and conviction of a faith to endure and prevail when they come. “Scarcely” is from a Greek word that means “with difficulty.” Luke used it in Acts 27:16 of securing the skiff with difficulty during a storm. He also used it in Acts 14:18 of the difficulty of restraining the mob from sacrificing to Paul and Barnabas. The righteous are saved, but not without difficulties that test our faith. Trials purge the dross from their faith and identify them as being unashamed to live for Christ (1 Pet. 1:6-7; 4:16-17). On the other hand, the “ungodly and the sinner” will not appear in glory due to their lack of faith. They are unwilling to endure tribulations to enter the kingdom of God, preferring not to obey the gospel of God (1 Pet. 4:17).
“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17, NKJV)
The apostle Peter speaks of judgment commencing at God’s house. Since it has been almost two thousand years since he wrote this, we can safely conclude what started then continues to be true now. God’s house is the church (Heb. 3:4-6; 1 Tim. 3:15). So, we readily admit the church of Christ has and will undergo judgments. Judgment in this verse means “the process of judgment (separation) leading to a decision” (Vine, I:222). Peter has been discussing intense persecutions already happening to Christians. He said God’s people should not think it a strange (foreign, novel) thing when trials come upon us (1 Pet. 4:12). Instead, he exhorts us to “rejoice” since such trials are our fellowship with the sufferings of Christ (1 Pet. 4:13; Phil. 3:10). God blesses and comforts Christians who suffer for His name’s sake. Accepting reproach for our faith without shame, we are to glorify God in the name “Christian” (1 Pet. 4:14-16). To be ashamed of being a Christian judges us unworthy of Christ (Mk. 8:38). Suffering for one’s faith in Christ separates the faithful from those who abandon their faith to escape reproach. Thus, persecution has the effect of judging Christians. It separates the unfaithful from the righteous. Since Christians are saved through such difficulties, it becomes obvious that those who “do not obey the gospel of God” will not be saved (1 Pet. 4:17, 18).
21 “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:21–22, NKJV)
Jesus spoke these words to His twelve apostles before sending them out to preach “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:6-7). After His resurrection, He would send them into all the world to preach His gospel (Mk. 16:15). Jesus was preparing them for the resistance they would face because of their faith in Him and their work for Him. The gospel produced harsh reactions from faithless family and friends as well as strangers in the first century. (It still does.) Their lives would be endangered and embroiled in controversy. Jesus exhorted them to endure the hatred and persecutions “to the end” to be saved. This helps us understand what Jesus went on to say, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt. 10:34, 35-36). Many react to the truth of the gospel with hostility, including family members. Just as He called the apostles to endure, He calls us to love Him more, follow His truth first, deny ourselves, and always fear God rather than people (Matt. 10:37-39, 28). When we choose family (or ourselves) over the truth of the gospel we are no longer worthy of Christ. We will lose our life, not save it (Matt. 10:37-39).
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10–12, NKJV)
Early Christians faced threats, deprivation, imprisonment, violence and death for their faith (Hebrews 10:32-34). It may be hard for us to envision the blessedness of being persecuted. Yet, our perspective changes when the blessing of persecution is understood in the context of being citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Enduring persecution for the sake of righteousness produces patience and perfects faith (James 1:2-4). Devotion to things above will bring persecution, but it also helps the persecution seem as “light affliction” in comparison to the “eternal weight of glory” to come (2 Corinthians 4:17). Because we trust His word, the Lord’s promise of eternal reward replaces the fear of persecution with confident hope (1 Peter 3:14). Jesus showed us the blessedness of suffering for what is right, and because of His suffering we obtain an eternal blessing (1 Peter 3:18; 2:19-24). Persecution is not seen as a blessing when viewed from a “this world” perspective. But, eyes of faith see the blessing it brings. Citizens of the kingdom of heaven will suffer for righteousness’ sake, and are blessed for it.
2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. 4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. (Acts 8:2–4, NKJV)
This striking contrast between martyred Stephen and persecutor Saul paints a picture of the faithfulness of the early church and the forces of opposition faced by the disciples (Acts 7:54-8:1). Saul would eventually be converted and learn about suffering for the Lord (Acts 9:16; 2 Corinthians 4:8-12). When we start to focus on the advances of evil around us and the pressures of its influences and actions upon our lives and those we love, remember these faithful brethren (as well as those presently suffering for their faith). When they were pressed, they pressed onward and upward. When threatened in an effort to silence them, they remained vocal, going “everywhere preaching the word.” When pursued by enemies of the faith, they pursued peace and holiness (Hebrews 12:14). Let us take to heart the apostle’s exhortation, “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern” (Philippians 3:17). May we follow their worthy examples and remain true to the Lord Jesus Christ.