in spite of persecution

Continuing on the theme of joy in the midst of – in spite of – hardship and persecution, I’ve come to 1 Thessalonians 1, where in verses 5-7, we see a very interesting thing: the disciples in Thessalonica believed even as they saw Paul and co. suffering severe persecution. And they did so with joy because they saw all that Paul and his associates did for them. That is, they witnessed, first hand, the sacrifice that these missionaries were willing to pay, and they knew just how real and valuable Jesus’ gospel was.

You know, that’s a good point. When you see that someone else counts a cause important enough to sacrifice so that you can have it, you tend to not take it for granted anymore. For instance, the soldier whose buddy jumped in front of the bullet and took the hit no longer takes life for granted. And he’s more than willing to do whatever – and gladly – so that someone else can experience the same.

Perhaps the same is true with the gospel. If we saw someone sacrificing so that we can hear and believe the gospel, I wonder if we would take it for granted. And I wonder how much more we would be willing to do – with joy – so that someone else could experience it, too?

Something tells me that this is probably the case, but unfortunately, not many of us in twenty-first century America have seen someone who truly sacrificed so that we could receive the gospel. Perhaps there is something to my friend’s recommendation that I add to my reading list the biographies of great saints through history.

Well, that’s simple enough. But as I continue in 1 Thessalonians 1, I am struck by the very next verse: “As a result [of your embracing the gospel with joy], you became an example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia.”

Wait a second here. Because they received the gospel with joy, they were considered worthy examples? What if they hadn’t been joyful?

I dare say Paul would not have deemed them examples.

This is alarming for me. How many times have I tried to be an example without joy? Could it be that joy should be a prerequisite of ministry? Could it be that joy should be an ongoing point of evaluation for leaders? Could it be that joy is not just a nice option, like faith’s luggage rack, but an integral part of the whole thing?

Isn’t that exactly what Paul is saying as he continues to describe the Thessalonians in verse eight? “For the Lord’s message rang out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place that your faith in God has gone out.” I can’t say that I would call a joy-less message ringing.

Yes, joy is an integral part of the faith. Without it, it’s tough to endure the trials of life and even tougher to let the gospel ring.


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