Today’s Chocolate: Madécasse 92% Cocoa Pure Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: 1 Thessalonians 3
This is a pretty straightforward chapter. In a sentence: Paul is glad to hear from Timothy that the Thessalonians have stood by their faith even under trial and tribulation. Once again, he thanks God for the joy he receives from hearing the good report about the Thessalonian church, and he looks forward to seeing them in person today. But I wanted to zero in on one particular verse, and one particular verb, because once again Paul is reminding us: you’re gonna have to suffer.
As he points out, you don’t need the gift of prophecy to see the suffering coming. He writes: “You yourselves know that we have been destined for this” (3), adding, “For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know” (4). Before his conversion, Paul had been on the delivering end of Christian persecution; in the book of Acts, Luke describes him as “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). Moreover, the Judean religious authorities were quick to kick out the original Jewish disciples of Jesus after they started preaching his resurrection, and the Roman Empire often opposed the early Christians’ message of one divine King greater than any earthly authority. Even though the gospel was spreading explosively and finding new converts left and right, the first-century environment presented particular challenges–such as, you know, persecution even to the point of death.
Interestingly, Paul says that he and his fellow believers have been “destined” for their suffering. The Greek verb here is κεῖμαι, keimai, whose root meaning is “to be laid out.” You can use it to talk about things physically laid down, like babies, pots, thrones, dead bodies, and buildings or cities. By extension, it’s also used to describe laws or decrees being laid down, and it’s in that sense that Paul uses it. Imagine God spreading out the blueprints in heaven, laying down a plan for the gospel to spread in the first-century world. Imagine him building its propagation on a foundation of suffering, as Christians’ fidelity to their resurrected God even in the face of death draws others’ attention and inspires others to join the movement. God planned it that way.
If you’re a Christian in present-day America, you probably haven’t had to suffer physically for your faith–and at root, that’s because other Christians and even Jesus Christ himself were willing to suffer for the gospel. If we are a city on a hill, God built that city neither on rock nor roll, but on suffering and persecution. I don’t know if God will someday call me to suffer in a similar fashion, or if he’s calling me right now, but I do know this: he’s calling me to be grateful.