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“…so that you were examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.” 1 Thessalonians 1:7
What do I become when I become a follower of Christ? One thing I become is an example. Actually, everybody is an example of something. So today, I’ll need to ask myself, “Who am I an example of?” Some people live as though they are an example of their circumstances. Some people live like examples of their parents or friends or favorite celebrity or teacher. Some people are examples of the substances they are abusing. But I am to be an example of those who believe and especially of the One I believe- Jesus.
But there is this truth that again is resounding in Paul’s words to the Thessalonians. I am to be an example to other believers and those outside the faith of what faithful believing looks like no matter the circumstances. I’m to be a faithful example of walking in trust despite persecution and hardship. Yep, I had to read all 5 chapters to make sure. Because there is this word in verse 6, actually two words, much affliction, and I had to check out if the Thessalonians were only dealing with the affliction of the Holy Spirit convicting them of sin, or if there was other affliction going on here. And I found, that part of their example was how they handled themselves in persecution.
I’m coming to learn that being a believer, that trusting in You and living a life filled with You and walking according to Your ways and Your leading isn’t easy. It’s not a “pie in the sky” life. But I wouldn’t want to live any other life. Neither would Paul. Despite stonings and shipwrecks and beatings and life and death possibilities, he counted it all more than worth it to be with You. And if I I’m thinking on verse 6 right, Paul is saying that when the Thessalonians came to trust in You, Lord, that they received You in the midst of “much affliction.” Now the word for afffliction here is “thlipsis.” And Lord, You are telling me here that receiving You and living in and for You is no light thing.
Let me understand the magnitude of “thlipsis” here and where it is used elsewhere in Scripture. Not so sure that tribulation is a part of a believer’s life? Would you believe it if Jesus said so? Here are Your own words about thlipsis in our lives, Lord. “These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation [thlipsis]: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Well, Jesus, if You tell me that as a believer I’m going to be under “thlipsis” then I believe You. And it’s not just about some believers having to deal with “thlipsis.” You said, “You,” and that was speaking to every believer, not just Your apostles. This is the glorious example I have to look forward to. No joke.
Now, I need to look into that word meaning a little deeper. Because it’s important that I count the cost and know Your expectations for me as a child of God. This Greek word, thlipsis, means “crushing, back breaking, heart stopping affliction.” Yes, I’m going to share more of what Skip Moen has to say about it. “It’s trouble with a capital T. It’s the squeeze when you are caught in the vise grip of circumstances that don’t go your way. Thlipsis is a scary word. It brings on images of pressure, evils, distress and calamity. It’s the boxed in, no exit loss that Job knew only too well. Jesus says that you (plural – meaning all of his followers) are going to have the privilege of experiencing Job’s encounter with the devil. As a follower of the Way, you are in for the ride of your life – and it’s not going to be fun and games. Remember what Jesus said to Peter. ‘Satan has asked permission to sift you like wheat.’ That is not good news.”
Well, wait a minute. I thought Jesus was all about the Good News? Yes, He is all about the Good News and He Is The Good News. But what would ever make me think that I wouldn’t have to prove myself for Him after He went the length of proving Himself on the cross for me? Did I really think that I wouldn’t have to show myself faithful? Really? Is grace really free? Or is it that grace was freely, generously extended to all. How can something that cost Christ so much not cost me anything? So the question this causes me to ask myself is, if Christ counted me worth that much to suffer for, how valuable do I count Christ? Would I suffer everything for Him? What is the measure of His value to me?
What if “thlipsis” is the “inevitable consequence of discipleship”? (Skip Moen) What if thlipsis isn’t an option? What if “thlipsis” is expected? Isn’t the world at war with God? Well, if I’m God’s follower in Christ, won’t the world be at war with me? How would I expect my enemy to treat me? Is the world really going to be a welcome place to me if it knows I am God’s? So if the world is at peace with me and I am at peace with the world, maybe something’s not right about my example. Am I really only expecting spiritual persecution? If Satan could use physical tragedy in Job’s life, will he use any less in mine? And why?
Why, God, would you allow the enemy to try to wreak havoc in and with my life? Have You forgotten me? Have You forgotten Your promises? Absolutely not! The world and Satan want to “break my hold on Your way of life.” They want to prove to me that You are not my first love, that You are not my greatest love, that You are not my God. And if I give in to them, it would prove that by my example. But, what if I defy them and everything they are saying about me? What if despite every circumstance and every doubt that they assail me with and every pain they inflict in my life no matter how intense, I cling more tightly to You as my only joy and hope? What if I refuse to listen to them? What if I refuse to believe what they are telling me? What if I believe You and continue in You and find my peace and joy in You despite everything? What if the fact that You have already overcome the world means everything to me? What if I realize that You have overcome all these things and are going to turn me into an overcomer in You as You walk me through Your example? How would that change my life? What example would I be then?
See, the Thessalonians had received You with much thlipsis and with much joy of the Holy Ghost. Maybe along with the greater thlipsis is the experience of even greater joy in You. Then I have more to glory in You about. “This is my God! I waited for Him to deliver me and He did! Let me tell You how He brought me through this trial and how He showed Himself to me and walked with me in the midst of it!” So Your glory spreads as Your fame spreads.
Jeremiah tells me that my heart is a deceitful thing. In 1 Thessalonians 2:4 Paul tells us that God tests our hearts. You shape us and give us opportunity to prove what faith we are made of. Every thlipsis is an opportunity to shine in You, to stand for You and in You. The walk of a believer, the life of a believer should be characterized by labor and travail. It wears us down and is painful. These are Paul’s own words. I have a beginning of that understanding. I mean, I’ve not labored or travailed to the extent of Pastor Saeed, or other belivers I have met like Nazu, or Jec, or Bong, but I have cried out to You, Lord, “This is so hard and I am so tired, how can I do this?” But I can’t give up because I can’t let go of You. That would be too great a price for me to walk away from. I will not give up You. So, I hold fast even when it’s hard and things seem to all go against me because I know that You will have Your way in Your time, and in the meantime, I’ll just keep being Yours and being in You if that’s all I have the strength to do. Because I’ve also learned that when I am weak, You are strong, and Your holding power keeps me together in You.
Why do You let good people suffer? I suppose because none of us are good. You are in the process of making us good and we can’t become good without Your goodness being manifested in us. I suppose my goodness is demonstrated by my response in You in the midst of everything that is not good. Lord, You are working and using every thlipsis in my life to make me complete and teach me how to respond in Your way to the labors You give. Because it’s not about responding my way; it’s about responding according to Your will and allowing You to bring into existence in me a character that is wellpleasing in Your sight. How else can I be the example of Christ? Christ handled thlipsis rightly, for a purpose, and for You, and for me. I am called to handle thlipsis like Him, in You, by Your power.
The truth of the matter is that I can do it. I can’t do it on my own, but You have given me every spiritual blessing that I need to physically and mentally carry me through. Because You have overcome, and I am in You, You give me the power to overcome. By Your grace, by Your power working in me, I will be faithful no matter the cost. I am counting the cost and You are worth everything. Not only that, but You are worth losing everything no matter what. You are worth that much. So, Lord, let me truly be that kind of example, the one who really lives as though You are worth everything. Whatever the price, I want to joyfully pay it to ever remain in You. Make me as faithful as You are to me.