For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead,
(1 Thessalonians 1:9-10a – ESV)
(1 Thessalonians 1:9-10a – ESV)
The message of Christianity, that Jesus Christ is God and that we are a redeemed people, a changed people, mere sojourners in this life, serving our Lord and looking toward and waiting for our heavenly destiny, these things seem to be out of fashion in the church today. It would seem as if it is all about right now, a better life, a better situation, and the kingdom of heaven come to earth, but without any suffering, without any changed life, without any real credible witness. The message of hope in heaven, which brings faith and love for today, falls on deaf ears today. It isn’t enough, we are told. But it always was back in Paul’s day, and in some places on earth, it still is enough.
The Christian life is about the power of endurance that stems from hope in Christ, and finding joy unspeakable and full of glory despite the troubles of this world, it is not about the joy of excitement or entertainment. We as Christians are to be living for today with an eye for tomorrow. It is about being convinced and living convincing lives. You may have received Jesus Christ as savior, but the mission of your life continues.
We are seeing a lack of fruit in Christians today, and a lack of fruitful ministry, evangelism, discipleship, hunger for biblical understanding and the knowledge of God, biblical holiness, and a lack of preachers who exposit the word of God. We settle for mere stories and are swept away by any and every fad that comes down the pike. We are trying any and every new method to bring forth fruit, but a strict focus on people and the “right now” to the exclusion of Christ and the hope for tomorrow isn’t what gets it done.
Of course there is a reason for this. If the bombs were dropping and people were dying and disease was spreading and pestilence, pollution and pilfering were proliferating and food and water were scarce and it was a crime to be a Christian, then hearing the message of “hold on I’m coming back to get you and you will see it was all worth it”, this message would be well received! It would be fresh and a comfort to hear it every week, every day, every moment it would be the one thing we would be able to cling to. Hebrews 13:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 and verses like it would be our call to each other as we would have no other choice but to hold fast.
As it is we can see that it is not that things are so bad that the message doesn’t resonate, it is that things are so relatively good that we become complacent to this news. We grow bored with hearing this same thing every week, we don’t want to wait, and we want something more, now. We are so spoiled, so used to getting or being able to get what we want, and not used to having things take us completely out of any comfort zone that we have gotten used to. We have settled in, and settled for a less than robust Christianity. Any honest look at the contemporary church, especially here in America, reveals that we haven’t handled out supposed success very well.
The truth is that we value something more when we need it to sustain us. That is why Job says God’s word is more valuable than bread and so does Jesus. Food will keep you alive on earth, but God will keep you alive for eternity. His eternal life needs to be our sustenance right now. Even if things are relatively well, when we continue to realize the horrors of sin and the beauty of Christ we will continue to cling to Him and to be purified and we can continue to be stoked into lives of living flame for our Lord. If not, God must send suffering and persecution our way to help the light of Christ to shine through. That is the case with the church today.
Prosperity and popularity are not what produce fruit in the church; they produce make believers who aren’t born again. Persecution does not stunt growth it stokes it. The fires of persecution cause the fire of the Spirit to fan into flame, it causes us to rely on Him more, and look to Christ, and it stirs us up to stand strong in the Lord and the power of His might. No we aren’t supposed to pray for persecution but pray for those who are being persecuted, and pray to stay humble that we might remain useful in the stewardship of all the good graces God has bestowed upon us.