A few days ago, I read 1 Thessalonians 3:4 where Paul writes, “For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.”
Why would Paul anticipate suffering? I believe the answer lies in his understanding that Christianity is a radical departure in world view from the pagan culture of the Roman Empire of his day. To follow Christ, who claimed to be the only way to God, requires a commitment to believing and proclaiming the exclusive claims of Jesus.
Growing up in a pluralistic society (that owes it’s philosophy of tolerance to a Judeo/Christian heritage), I struggle to connect with the level of animosity and conflict that a challenge to world view can bring. Yet, when I watch the news reports of the chaos that radical Islam is spreading around the globe, I see that a difference in world view will often result in violence, oppression and suffering.
I am reminded of Jesus’ command to embrace the Cross as the means of following Christ. Inherent in the Cross is an understanding of conflict and death. To embrace the Cross, implies that we are willing to experience physical death as a consequence of belief. The culture around us, be it neo-pagan, Islamic, pantheistic or materialist, will not tolerate being told that Jesus is the only way. Jesus is truly counter cultural.
Much of the “church” in America has lost the sense of being counter cultural. We capitulate to the surrounding culture on a wide variety of issues in order to be at peace. But the peace that this brings is the peace of the ostrich who does not know that the hunter is about to strike him down. This is the peace of those who capitulated to Hitler in the 1930’s. It is a false peace.
I am not suggesting that we go looking for trouble. Paul encourages us to live in peace with everyone if possible (Rom. 12:18). I am suggesting that if we are doing the work of making disciples, if we are accurately teaching Scripture, if we are proclaiming Christ, there is a high probability that trouble will find us. We should enjoy the freedom that we currently have and use it to make disciples before that freedom is taken away.
We can be disappointed when freedom is abolished, but we should not be surprised. We have been warned.
P. S. This post is first and foremost a reminder to myself. My affinity for comfort and people pleasing makes me predisposed to compromise.