In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. 1 Thessalonians 3:4(NIV).
This is a theme we’ve talked about here many times before: when you believe in Jesus, you will be persecuted. You’ll lose friends. You’ll become alienated from family. You may lose your job, your home. If you become a believer in Jesus and you expect your life to be peaches and cream, brother (or sister), you need to be prepared. Jesus Himself told His disciples – and us – that those who hate you hated Him first. That those who follow Him will be persecuted but also blessed. Paul spoke squarely with his friends. He didn’t varnish this truth for them, he didn’t downplay it. When you care about someone, you speak the truth to them, and Paul spoke Jesus’ truth.
Put yourself in first century Asia Minor and consider how they might have viewed things. You have befriended a renegade in this man Paul. You know his past, that he was once a Jewish Pharisee who, himself, violently persecuted followers of this Jesus. In listening to him you know him to be a learned man, a man well-versed in the words of the Pentateuch, and the hymns of David, and the accounts of the prophets. You have been told how he oversaw the murder of Stephen, one of Jesus’ early followers. You have heard his account of how Jesus met him on a road to Damascus and transformed his life. You know how he is in conflict with the leaders of the local synagogue (all synagogues in fact) as well as the local government authorities, representatives from Rome and Athens both, and that he is an argumentative though persuasive firebrand. And you have seen the look in his eyes, the look that combines determination, regret, peace, and something else that you can’t quite nail down. Whatever it is that gives Paul that look, you want it for your own life.
To get that look means you have some serious choices to make. The people around you insult this new sect, deriding it as lunatic fantasy. A man walking around after he was dead? The Messiah murdered by the people He came to save? Love your enemies when your enemies want you dead? Yet there’s something about Paul’s words, something about the peace of this Jesus, that is calling to you, speaking to you in a place deep inside all you know to be true. In a world where we seem destined for pain and trouble, the words of Jesus, told by this eccentric tentmaker, talk to the very core of your being. To accept them means turning your back on everything you’ve ever known and that carries great risk.
My friend, in 2000 years, what has changed?
For further reading: John 15:18, Luke 6:22, 2 Timothy 3:12, 1 Thessalonians 3:5.
My Lord, I will follow You no matter the cost.