1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
In 2014, I commented on these verses. This is what I wrote then:
“I recently read a letter written by a Christian pastor in Syria, published in the Middle East Reformed Fellowship News. The country of Syria is constantly in the news at present because of the atrocities and devastation occurring there. What this pastor wrote was inspiring, humbling and challenging. When I read these words from the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Thessalonica I thought immediately of this pastor and his people: ‘… in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message WITH THE JOY GIVEN BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.’
“From my place of comfort and relative ease I struggle to comprehend how the faith of Syrian believers is even surviving, but then I AM convicted by the pastor’s testimony: ’Living is not easy at all with bombs and rockets falling on top of buildings and several months of siege situation, with no water or electricity and little food. Then we realise that the Lord is using our situation to provide us with ministry opportunities to bear witness to his tender mercies. Desperate and helpless people are receiving the Lord’s message of love, hope and grace. We are enabled to provide spiritual nourishment to many. More praying is taking place. …’
“Like the Thessalonians, he and his people are experiencing ‘the joy given by the Holy Spirit’. Could it be that we are missing out on the depth of this experience of JOY because of our ease and comfort? Could it be that I struggle with how such joy could possibly be experienced under such circumstances because I’ve never been in a position to need it as they do? They are a ‘model’ to us of what true faith, contentment and gratitude look like in adverse circumstances.”
As I reread this eight years later, I am even more convicted. I find it awe-inspiring to think about the COST it is to many people today, not only to keep on serving the Lord with JOY in war-torn countries where they lose everything, but even to make a DECISION at all to LEAVE the national cultural religion in which they were brought up, at the risk of intense persecution including the threat of imprisonment and death, and to “serve the living and true God” (9b). Paul had reassured them at the beginning of his letter, “We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2-3).
Are we FAITHFUL and CONSTANT in prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world?