“The Promise of Affliction”Categories: Bulletin Articles, M. W. Bassford
If there is anything that Americans like, it is the easy way. A decade or two ago, the office-supply chain Staples ran a series of ads featuring the Easy Button, a big red button that you could push to accomplish whatever it was that you wanted done. As funny as the commercials were, most people in our country would love to Easy-Button their way through life, reaping the rewards of virtue without putting in the work.
Not surprisingly, this attitude has permeated American religion too. The most popular preachers of our time promise every earthly blessing and demand very little in return. If you want the rewards of prosperity and happiness in this life, Jesus will be happy to provide those things to you. You don’t have to live a life of humility, service, and self-sacrifice. All you have to do is write a check to the guy with the perfect coiffure, the fancy suit, and the million-dollar smile.
What the Bible actually teaches, though, is very different. Yes, the promises that the gospel makes are extravagant. They start with eternal life and go on from there. However, rarely do they concern this-life prosperity, and they come with a catch. If you want to live with Jesus forever, you’d better seek Jesus now.
This process is not easy and painless. Indeed, the opposite is true. In 1 Thessalonians 3:4, Paul reminds the Thessalonians that during the three weeks he spent in Thessalonica, he warned them that they would face affliction for the sake of Christ. Paul didn’t have time to teach them much of anything, but the warning of future adversity was so important that he made time for that.
His prediction was fulfilled very quickly. The same angry mob that chased Paul out of town also laid hands on several of the new Christians. A few decades down the road, the Roman Empire itself would engage in persecution of the early church.
The problem is simple. Jesus is a polarizing figure. Either you love Him, or you want nothing to do with Him. People who love Jesus are called “Christians”, and we find them in His church. People who don’t want anything to do with Him are those outside, and if they don’t like Jesus, they aren’t going to like the people who are trying to be like Jesus either.
If we are loud and proud about our allegiance to the Lord, if we are eager to lead others to Him, and if we stand with Him against every form of evil, all of those things are going to generate pushback from the world. This is always going to happen, whether the ones offended are secular or “religious” like the Pharisees who opposed Jesus. We’ve confronted them with something they don’t like, so they’re going to repay us in kind. The only way to avoid this kind of affliction is to conceal our faith, but if we do that, we are imitating neither the Thessalonian disciples nor the Lord Himself.