And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!
17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.
– 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20 [ESV]
I’m not surprised when people outside the church ridicule or oppose the Christian faith. I wish everyone loved God, delighted in his word, and believed in Jesus. But I know not everyone does. I realize there are those who are vehemently opposed to any spread of the Christian faith. I am not unaware that some are dedicated to persecuting Christians.
But when people who identify as the true defenders of the faith start attacking fellow believers it so discourages me. Paul speaks of that here, recounting the battles he had with the Judaizers in the early days of the Christian church. The believers in Thessalonica had endured persecution from their own countrymen. But they endured that persecution because they were convinced that God had spoken to them through Paul. They received the message of Paul as a message of God. And they were willing to stand fast on the basis of that word.
This brings Paul joy. He is delighted that they remained faithful. He even calls these believers his glory and his joy. Edward’s (not his real name) wife and two daughters first began to attend the church where I was serving as pastor while he remained at home. He was skeptical of the faith and the claims of Jesus to say the least. Sometime later, however, he yielded to my invitation and we studied the basic teachings of Jesus. He ultimately confessed his faith and was confirmed as a member of the church. He later became an elder, and even started leading a Bible study with Russian-speaking people. Now he is an dedicated and faithful Lutheran pastor. I know of three other men who followed similar paths and now serve as pastors. If anything is my glory and joy, it would be these four men. And I just thought of a fifth one as well!
Sadly, however, the pathway to such service is not always easy or without opposition. Even more sadly, sometimes the opposition comes from within the church. I recall the first encounter I had after stepping foot on the seminary campus for the first time. I experienced nearly an inquisition regarding my theological orthodoxy. Fellow classmates sometimes were extreme in their criticism of my understanding. Fellow classmates! On one occasion a stranger provided me with an extremely vulgar physical gesture upon seeing me wearing a clerical collar. That was painful enough. But the attacks and challenges from within the church have been the most painful.
The word of God, and the conviction that I stand on God’s word, clearly expressed and conveyed gives me the strength and will to continue. I wouldn’t suffer much resistance for any other reason. I pray that you, Dear Reader, attach to, align with, and commit to God’s word alone. No political affiliation, no human association, no club oath, no ethnic identity deserves such complete and total allegiance.