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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Called to Suffer...Even More, A Reflection on 1 Thessalonians 3

No one likes suffering. I certainly don't. Yet everyone suffers to some degree. We are all part of what we Christians call fallen humanity and a fallen world. Much of the suffering we experience is a result of the consequences brought about from sin, a broken, imperfect world. Suffering isn't normal. It is the result of our separation from God. Yet, in this broken world, we all experience it to some degree. For those not of faith in Christ, the response to suffering comes in various forms (e.g., curses, bitterness, hopelessness, depression) but it is never understood nor hope found. It is something incomprehensible and non-sensical. For the Christian, it is also very puzzling. Christians throughout the ages have tried to make sense of it and explain it in relation to a good God. We don't have all the answers. Yet, Christianity offers the best hope in light of eternity (yes, I am aware this is left without support, but the intent is not to offer answers to the problem of suffering).

Becoming a Christian does not make us exempt from suffering. In fact, it is something to be expected and at times it can be more intense than what an average person would experience. In 1 Thessalonians chapter 3, the Apostle Paul tells the believers of Thessalonica that they were destined (v. 4) to trials and tribulation for their faith. They were suffering distress and persecution for their belief in Christ (v. 7) and Paul encourages them by reminding them that this was expected. The Apostle himself sets himself as an example (he says "we") as one who suffered for Christ (it is interesting that when Paul was saved, Christ had told Ananias that Paul would be taught to suffer for His name - Acts 9:16). Amidst suffering, the Thessalonians remained faithful to Christ.

All Christians are called to suffer just as Christ suffered (see 1 Peter 1:6-9; 2:19-21; Acts 14:22). We will suffer because we are part of this world. We will suffer because of our faith. But our faith is rooted in the eternal God who one day will restore everything to Himself. We should not be surprised when suffering finds us. Paul's prayer is for us as well: "May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones." (v.13)
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