1 Thessalonians 3-4, Psalm 16
The Christian Church in China is under intense persecution. There are essentially 2 types of churches in China, government sanctioned churches and smaller house/underground churches. The larger government churches have recently come under persecution due to the move on the part of the government to forcibly remove all crosses from the public eye. When the pastors complain or protest, they along with those attending are beaten, tortured, sent to prison and mental institutions. Pastor Joseph Gu, who pastors a church with over 10,000 people is a recent example. These government sanctioned churches often have compromised messages alligning theology with communist ideology. But recent cross removals have forced them to rebel. The house church is smaller and has been growing in China for decades. When caught, the church leaders are accused of being in a cult and sent to labor camps or mental hospitals or prison, and their churches are demolished. So what is the result of this intense persecution? The Christian church is growing at an unprecedented rate. In fact, at the current rate of growth, China is on the way to become the largest Christian nation by 2030.
Paul felt it necessary to send Timothy and encourage the church, writing about his concern in 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4, "that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. For in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know." Persecution was a way of life for the early church, but like the Chinese Church, it caused the church to flourish not run. Unless our minds come to expect this and we are continually prepared, our response may be to doubt or fall away. Jesus discussed these things in Revelation 2:9-10 concerning the church in Smyrna, "I know your works, tribulation, and poverty(but you are rich);...Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." Jesus said in Matthew 5:11-12, "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Throughout Scripture we are warned that persecution will come, yet how often we act as though we are unaware or shocked. Knowing this, Paul encourages them in 1 Thessalonians 3:13-4:1, "so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints. Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and please God;". Walking with Him at all times, we are urged to live lives of anticipation for opportunities to share the gospel, for persecution and for His return.
We must all examine our lives and our walk. Do we cling to the status quo or do we stay prepared in anticipation of what the Holy Spirit might be leading us to do. We can read about persecution and pray for those undergoing it, but when we are confronted do we collapse in defeat, respond in shock and unpreparedness, or do we rise and shine for Christ in anticipation. Throughout Scripture, God's design was that His people would be continually prepared for persecution and His return. This mindset will give us a sense of urgency in getting the gospel message out to as many as possible. It will cause us to shift our priorities from earthly things to the things of the Spirit. It will cause us to walk in holiness, setting us apart for God. Knowing this we should constantly ask ourselves whether God would be pleased with what we are doing at this very moment, knowing that things can occur as in the days of Noah, or like a thief in the night as Jesus discussed in Matthew 24:36-44. Not knowing when these things might occur, may we be able to say as Jesus did in John 8:29, "And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him."
Messages from Pastor Lloyd Pulley: