1 Thessalonians 3 – Persecuted Growth

Read 1 Thessalonians 3

There is a really interesting paradox that, throughout the history of the church, whenever real persecution happens, the church grows dramatically.  The paradox of this is that the persecution that takes place against the church, whatever form it takes, is meant to stifle and/or destroy the church and inhibit the spread of the Gospel message in any form.  Yet it is in these times that the Gospel message spreads at an increased pace and the church grows both in maturity and numerically.

Paul, as he is writing to the church in Thessalonica, addresses this very thing and also points toward at least one reason for this: persecution can often be the fire that refines the church into a much purer version of itself.  When the impurities and waste are burned away, metal becomes much more valuable and usable; this often happens when the true depth of faith and commitment to Christ is shown in the face of trial and tribulation.

Interestingly, this is exactly what Jesus promises His disciples when He comforts them about future trials.  He tells them they need not be worried about what they will say when they are dragged before leaders and judges because the Holy Spirit will speak for them (Matthew 10; Mark 13; Luke 12).

Another reason for the growth that takes place during times of persecution is the fact that it brings out a visible type of faith.  It is easy to belong and believe when times are good and peaceful, and it is not bad to have those times.  However, an entirely new witness emerges when believers hold fast to their identity and beliefs when everything around them would seek to pull them away.  In these times, people around us see our commitment, our hope, and our strength coming from a place beyond ourselves when it is not advantageous to us, and may begin to wonder what that is all about.



Acts 14 – Credit Where Credit is Due

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When Paul and Barnabas get to Lystra they preach and perform a number of signs and wonders in the name of Jesus.  The healing of a crippled man gets the attention of the crowds, but their reaction is not what they wanted.  Rather than giving glory to God, they give glory to the Greek gods who they thought had manifested themselves as humans.  This wasn’t abnormal in this day but was nonetheless disheartening for Paul and Barnabas.

Having been present for the things that had happened when others took credit for God’s work (Herod a couple chapters ago), Paul and Barnabas knew what it meant for the people to give credit to the wrong places, and what it meant for them if they accepted it.  Instead they use this as a teachable moment… even if it didn’t entirely stop the people from doing what they were doing.

God knows the hearts of His people though and it is pretty clear where Paul and Barnabas landed when it came to the desire of their heart to see the Gospel spread.  Their experience in Lystra is contrasted at the end of this chapter with their return to Antioch where they testify to all that God did on their journey.

I wonder if we don’t give God enough credit in our lives.  When we think back over a vacation or even a difficult time in life, do we look to see where God has worked and testify to that before others?  Or do we look to see that everything “just worked out” and move on with our lives.  God is active in every step that we take, not a hair can fall from our head without His will.  Perhaps it is time that we start giving credit where credit is due.



Acts 7 – Stephen

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We first met Stephen in chapter 6 when he was chosen as one of the 7 original deacons.  Stephen is described as “full of the Holy Spirit” and able to do “great wonders and signs.”  His witness to Jesus Christ gets him hauled in front of the Sanhedrin, the whole counsel of religious leaders in Jerusalem.  Think of it as a joint session of the U.S. congress.

While before them, he is questioned vigorously by the authorities and they even bring in false witnesses to testify against him.  They twist his words and think that they have him backed into a corner.  Some things, it seems, never change.

However, Stephen’s testimony is nothing less than spectacular.  Driven by the Holy Spirit, a promise Jesus gave His disciples back in Matthew 10 and Luke 12, Stephen recounts the history of the people of God, drawing it all forward to the one person that all of Scripture points: Jesus Christ.

From Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, through Egypt with Moses, Stephen shows how God has been working and continues to work to bring salvation to His people.

All this time, the religious leaders are worried that they are going to get blamed for Jesus’ death.  When Stephen accuses them of also being related to those who “killed the prophets,” they loose it.

Ultimately Stephen looses his life for the testimony that he gave here.  He becomes the first recorded martyr for Christianity.  We see something here that far too often we forget: even here, God is with Stephen.

We worry so much about what other people are going to call us or think about us when we testify to our faith.  Sticks and stones may break our bones, but by the word of our testimony will they know who we are and whose we are.



John 9 – Blindness

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John continues with the theme of testimony which he started in chapter 8 and weaves it into to ongoing theme of darkness and light that is present throughout his Gospel.  Here it takes on a deeper meaning as he relates light to the ability to see.  But as we read, we are presented with the question of what exactly “true sight” is.

At face value, we see Jesus healing a blind man.  This is, by itself, miraculous.  The teaching that comes with it, that his blindness is not a result of the sin of him or his parents is important for that culture because the prevailing notion was that debilitating conditions like this were the result of sin.  Sometimes we still think along these lines: “what did they do to deserve that?”  Jesus corrects this cultural assumption and directs their focus away from the idea that God caused this and toward the beauty of how God is working in the midst of it.

In doing so, Jesus helps His disciples to make the transition from thinking about physical sight to having a greater vision of what God is doing.  He also talks about being the light of the world while illuminating their vision of God’s work and the expansion of the Kingdom.

This reaches its climax when the discussion turns to the Pharisees, the religious leaders who claim to have “sight.”  By the end of the chapter it is clear that this man has received so much more than physical sight while the religious leaders themselves don’t even recognize their own blindness, so worried about the Law that they cannot see God at work.  It is interesting that this lack of ability to recognize their blindness, their claim that they have “true sight,” it what ultimately causes their guilt.



John 8 – Testify

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When Jesus declares Himself to be the Light of the Word, effectively saying that God is the light and that He is God (see John 6 for more on “I AM” statements), the religious leaders once again try to challenge Him.

The basis for this challenge comes from Hebrew law that talks about the valid testimony of people for conviction.  Deuteronomy 19:15 says, “A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”  Jesus’ declaration of Himself as God, to be valid in the eyes of the Pharisees, must be established by the testimony of two or three people.  They knew no one else would validate Jesus’ claim and probably thought that they had the basis to both challenge and nullify Jesus’ teachings.

Jesus would not be undone by such an argument.  The one who testifies on His behalf is much greater than any human testimony.  “I stand with the Father, who sent me,”  Jesus says.  He then proceeds to point out that, if they truly knew the law they were trying to use against Him, they would know God the Father and would not be challenging Him to begin with.

Sometimes in our lives as Christ followers, we feel like we are standing alone.  People challenge the teachings of Scripture as well as the message of the Gospel often.  They will point to a “lack of evidence” or a “contradictory” passage as sufficient evidence to discount our testimony.  Yet we, like Jesus, do not stand along.  Paul writes in Romans 8 that “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us so that we would never stand alone in this world but would always have a witness to the Truth of the Gospel in us.