Our title comes from a very old map of the world I had the chance to see some time ago. It was from the 1500s when much of the world was still unknown, and, the existence of sea monsters was widely accepted.
In our world today we have satellite imagery covering every inch of the globe but there are still territories where beyond their borders there is great danger.
Recently, where I attend church, we had a guest speaker from Frontline Missions International. I must say this was the most eye opening and convicting view of global missions I have ever been a part of. This organization targets those areas deemed “closed” to ministry.
There were many things that captured my interest but one specific statement defied normal logic: One missionary asked for prayer not to be removed from persecution. To them persecution was the catalyst for change, not a hindrance. There was a clear cut choice, serve God and suffer now or follow the world and suffer eternally. In our society many try to have it both ways: salvation for fire insurance and still mix with the world. I for one do not believe a person can accept Christ with such a notion as “fire insurance”. The very act of salvation requires a complete surrender to Christ and a disdain for our sin condition. The notion of “how much can I get away with” is a slap in the face to our Lord and Savior who was tortured to death to pay our sin debt.
Statistical data has always been the best way for me to put my arms around a particular subject. One of the statistics given by our guest speaker was the fact that there were more martyrs in the 20th century than the 1st through the 19th centuries combined. That floored me!
In our lesson text the Thessalonians were suffering persecution but their stand in the midst of suffering was furthering the gospel of Jesus Christ. As a result the Apostle Paul commended them for their faith and willingness to suffer that the name of Christ would be exalted.
Some weeks ago I posted a lesson entitled “That’s Not Fair”. It was the bible account of David, who honored the king and was obedient to God; still he was going through persecution. We don’t like it when we suffer for doing the right thing. I am going to repeat that… “We don’t like it when we suffer for doing the right thing.” Around the world in “closed” countries our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering for doing the right thing. On any given Sunday morning in churches across this nation there will be several people in the sanctuary who will complain, silently or out loud, about the temperature in the church, the lighting or the sound system. One of the pictures our guest speaker showed us was a church assembly in Romania; there was no building, they met in the woods with what looked like about a foot of snow on the ground. They had to hide to worship God.
There have been times in my life that I thought were hard but in the context of our brother’s presentation, and the lesson today; I must conclude I have never really suffered persecution.
After Paul’s time in Thessalonica he left heading for Athens and afterwards he went to Corinth. Before leaving Athens Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how they were doing. When Timothy returned and gave Paul his report he penned this first epistle to them. As far as the date, it is generally accepted that the epistle was written about 50AD.
For the most part this epistle is a letter of commendation for their faith in the midst of persecution. In chapter 3 Paul does mention the need to address things they were lacking: this was a matter of training needed rather than addressing rebellion against God’s word.
Imagine for a moment the change these people went through when they were saved; all idol worship was stopped. All the neighboring territories were idol worshippers; their own history was idol worship. This body of believers was surrounded in their own country with idol worship.
The battle for the souls of the Thessalonian people was not the only thing spawning persecution. In Ephesus, Paul had run-ins with the local craftsmen who made idols for the people. There was also the great uprising by the people shouting praise to the false goddess Diana. (An uprising spurned on by the very tradesmen who were being affected monetarily.) It is logical to assume that tradesmen in Thessalonica would be affected by the conversions to Christianity. The gospel of Jesus Christ was hitting people in their pocketbook. The worship of idols was turned into an industry for the manufacture of idols. Persecution isn’t always about spiritual beliefs.
1:1 You are the real deal. These people had heard the gospel and committed their all to God.
1:3 Work of Faith (What do we do today faith believing?), Labor of love (the phrase implies work without recognition. What are we willing to do behind the scenes? Who changes the light bulbs, cleans the bathrooms and church, turns the lights on and off, locks/unlocks doors, pays the bills, does building maintenance, the outside mowing / gardening, records the services and makes copies, updates the website with the latest sermons and calendar of events or how many planning sessions are there yearly? There are a lot of jobs done behind the scenes to allow 90x% of our church to just come in and sit down.) Patience of Hope: this one is hard to define unless you are truly under persecution. I have already admitted that I am not persecuted. It means they kept doing the right thing even though they paid dearly for their faith. Even at such a high cost they continued to trust in Jesus. How is your church measuring up to the Thessalonian Church?
The St. Thomas Mission
In 1731 a young man named Johann Dober listened to a missions challenge given by Nikolaus Zinzendorf. Dober listened to the speaker as he talked about a chance meeting with a slave living on St. Thomas Island. The slave’s name was Anthony Ulrich who said the slave populations are hungry for the word. Dober felt called of God to go but did not have the means. He considered selling himself into slavery to the plantation owner just to have the chance to preach the gospel. Because he was white that wasn’t possible but through much persistence he finally made it there in December of 1732. Over the next 50 years a number of men gave their all; as a result churches were established in St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. Johns, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbados.
The organization that sponsored this effort was the Moravian Brethren, part of the Moravian Church. This is the same organization where John Wesley, after attending one of their revivals, was converted.
What are we doing to further the gospel of Jesus Christ? At the church where I attend less than 1% of our Sunday Morning crowd will come out to go on Saturday visitation which is only once a month. We might get 2-3% out for Wednesday visitation. We send out quite a bit of money to the mission fields which is good, but, for the most part, we won’t send ourselves. What does that say about us?
The Bottom Line
Please take your bible and read 2 Tim 3:1-12
Do I think we are in the last days? Yes! This wasn’t addressed to idol worshipping barbarians; it was written to the liberal church of the day. Also note carefully verse 12 “…all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution”. If we are not being persecuted then we are not living godly. A bold statement to be sure but how else can we interpret this verse?
One could say “I guess that depends on your definition of what it means to be persecuted”. (to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict; specifically : to cause to suffer)
Is today different than in the 1700s when Johann Dober left to preach to the slaves? Can we hide behind the thought “No one else is doing this”? That logic didn’t save the generation that lived in Noah’s day.
Let me rewind to my opening: our guest speaker from Frontline Missions International showed us video of several missionaries in the “closed” countries. You probably noticed I didn’t even give his name; it was intentional. We were warned not to copy or distribute the video we were privileged to see. Why? If the missionaries were discovered it would likely mean their death.
Heavenly Father, in light of the faithful witnesses in Thessalonica, and the 21st century missionaries in “closed” countries today, I stand ashamed for every time I did not speak up giving honor and glory due your name. Especially knowing the worst that could have happened to me was being made fun of or perhaps a few cross words or insults hurled my way. After all Jesus endured on the cross I am without excuse for my silence. I pray for forgiveness and courage to take a stand for the cause of Christ no matter the cost.