July 3, 2010

Building Strong Friendships in Christ

Imitators of Suffering Today

“For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews,”

1 Thessalonians 2:14 

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        Imitating suffering seems like a really dumb thing to do.  Yet, Paul described the Thessalonians as a church that imitated the suffering of the churches in Judea (Israel).  You may recall that the people of Israel crucified their Messiah, Jesus Christ.  He was a Jew, perfect under the law in every respect.  Even Pilate found no guilt in Jesus under Roman law (John 19:6).  Paul reminded the Thessalonians that they were imitators of Christ and the ministry team, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:6). 

      Often people like to trace their ethnic background.  In fact, one friend of mine has commissioned a DNA study so she can learn about her genetic ancestors.  My wife, who holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology, studied genetics.  She let me know that tracing back your DNA often results in big pools of genes, indicating that you have a large group of ancestors, rather than being able to identify particular individuals.  You can see your genetic relationships by group and geographical area, but you probably will not find your exact ancestor going back thousands of years.  Even so, people will pay large sums of money to learn about their ethnic identity, and their ancestors in general.

       In 1 Thessalonians 2:14, Paul relates the fact that faith in Jesus Christ breaks through ethnic, religious, social and familial boundaries.  Jesus Himself let a “sinful” woman anoint Him with perfume (Luke 7:46), talked with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7ff.), pointed out the faith of the unclean woman who touched his cloak (Luke 8:43-48), and proclaimed that He came to bring a sword, not peace, to the earth (Matthew 10:34).  Jesus also declared that He “came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household” (Matthew 10:35-36). 

       As Christians, we must keep in mind that “religious” people, like the Jewish authorities of His day, will be violently opposed to us, just as they hated Christ (John 15:18-27).  Furthermore, not only will they hate us, they will afflict us and try to stop us from speaking for Christ.  In the sense that the Jews tried to stop Jesus from spreading His Gospel, so also Jews at Thessalonica afflicted the Christians.  Yet, Christ calls a remnant of Jews even today to faith in Christ, because we know that Paul himself was a Jew (Philippians 3:4-6).  One day, the promises to Abraham, the patriarch of the Jews, will be fulfilled with Christ reigning from Jerusalem and Israel inhabiting their promised land (Micah 4:7).  Paul reminded the Thessalonians that the suffering they experienced from their own countrymen at Thessalonica was not new or unusual.  In fact, this same pattern of persecution by friends, family, religious groups, etc. has been around since God sent the prophets to speak for Him in the Old Testament (Matthew 5:12).  The Thessalonians had become imitators of the believers who had suffered before them, and friends remind friends of how others have shared in similar suffering.  You never suffer without Christ, or without His care and concern.

             So, we learn some more about building strong friendships in Christ.

       ●  Strong bonds of friendship form when we know that we are imitating the suffering of others who have come before us in Christ.

     ●  Strong bonds of friendship grow when we share with each other that we do not suffer alone, and our suffering for Christ is not unusual or unspiritual.

      ●  We harm our bonds of friendship when we ignore the suffering of our friends, and fail to remind them that suffering also unites us in Christ Jesus and that we imitate those who have suffered before us.  

Application for Today

        Today, I will remind my suffering friends that our suffering makes us imitators of Christ and of His church.  We never suffer alone, and can always count upon opposition to Christ and His message of love.  Today, will you remind your suffering friends that they are imitating the suffering of the churches and Christ Himself? 

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