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We saw previously that Paul was thankful that the Thessalonians had received the gospel that he and his colleagues had preached “not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God.” Since they had received the gospel as the word of God, it was “at work” in them “as believers.” In the section before us this morning (2:17–3:8), Paul unpacks what it meant that the gospel was “at work” in these believers. Essentially, it meant that these believers experienced “affliction(s)” (3:3–4, 7). These afflictions were the result of these believers maintaining their allegiance to Christ.

Now that they had been transformed by the gospel, the believers in Thessalonica found themselves with a new set of values. They no longer valued the sinful pleasures that the unbelieving world valued but instead valued the things of Christ. And their new set of values invited opposition. As Michael W. Holmes observes, the afflictions that these believers were experiencing “were a consequence of maintaining their allegiance to Christ and to the values he represented in the midst of a pagan culture that held to a different set of values.”

There is a great deal of discussion in Christian circles today about whether Christians in western-influenced societies can legitimately consider themselves “persecuted.” In much of the non-western world, persecution is open and violent and the opposition that western Christians face often pales in comparison. Part of the reason for this is because opposition rises to the degree that our lives run counter to the values of our surrounding culture. In cultures that are heavily influenced by the gospel, cultural values don’t always clash as openly with Christian values, which means that opposition is not always as accented. Nevertheless, even in our settings, there are times when we must make the choice between gospel values and worldly values, and when we prioritise gospel values over worldly values, it should not surprise us that we face opposition.

To be sure, there are times when Christians shout persecution for things that are little more than the everyday give and take of democracy. There are other times when our suffering is self-inflicted through our own shortsightedness or lack of wisdom. Nevertheless, we cannot undermine the truth that everyone who chooses Christlikeness in a godless society will, to one degree or another, suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). The question before us is often whether we will face opposition for resisting godless values or become seduced by those godless values.

How do you respond when you are faced with a choice to honour Christ or bow to godless pressure? Perhaps you stumble upon corruption or fraud in your company and are strongly urged to overlook it, perhaps with some incentive attached to that encouragement. Perhaps you face the possibility of losing out on a promotion if you disclose the misconduct of a manager. Perhaps you are a high schooler in an environment where social status is heavily dependent on your willingness to engage in alcohol or drug abuse or liberal sexual activity. Perhaps you face the option of pursuing a course of action that is just and righteous but financially unprofitable.

These may not be instances in which you face open, violent hostility simply because you are a Christian, but they do constitute a form of opposition “for righteousness’ sake” (see Matthew 5:10). And while Christians do not seek out suffering, we do nonetheless consider affliction to be worth enduring for the sake of the gospel.

If we currently do not face opposition for the sake of the gospel, it may be for a few reasons. On the one hand, we may simply be the beneficiary of God’s extraordinarily kind providence or unusually fortunate circumstances. On the other hand, we may have so isolated ourselves in a Christian subculture that we do not come into contact with unbelievers frequently enough to experience opposition at their hands. But a third possibility is one to consider: Are we simply not serious enough about our commitment to the gospel and its values that our values conflict with worldly values? Have we chosen to be seduced by worldly values in order to avoid being persecuted for godly values?

As you meditate on 1 Thessalonians 2:17–3:8 this morning, ask God to reveal to you whether you have chosen worldliness over godliness. If so, repent. If not, ask for the grace you require to persevere in the face of the opposition you will surely face.