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What is God’s Purpose in Affliction?

“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8)

Believers are not exempt from the troubles of life. In fact, being a believer often brings about suffering. This is because as believers continue to live in a sinful and fallen world, we come to see how this world and its values outrightly violate God’s holy character and reject God’s perfect commandments. This is exactly why Jesus tells us that in this world, we will have tribulation.

But our suffering is never what defines our identity as believers. Despite how common suffering is and despite how heavy our suffering may be, it is nothing but subject to the sovereign hand of God. As difficult as it may sometimes be to see and accept, our sufferings are God-ordained circumstances designed to deepen and display our faith in God.

A great example of this truth was the Thessalonians. Paul, Silas, and Timothy journeyed to the city of Thessalonica in order to share the gospel to the people there. After weeks of ministry, they saw several people come to faith in Jesus Christ. But their stay in Thessalonica was brought to an end when a group of Jews forced their eviction. Because of this, the three of them left Thessalonica and made their way to Athens and Berea. But after some time, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica out of concern for the Thessalonians. Paul was glad to hear from the report of Timothy how the Thessalonians remained grounded in the faith and wrote to them the letter of 1 Thessalonians.

In Paul’s remembrance of them, he thanked the Lord for how the gospel produced in them a genuine and steadfast faith. Despite receiving the word in much affliction, the Thessalonians continued to trust in the Lord and found unshakable joy in the Holy Spirit. And because of their gospel-centered response to their affliction, they had become an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. What more is that the word of God was not only greatly proclaimed by them in Macedonia and Achaia, but their faith was made known everywhere.

What an example the Thessalonians are even to us believers today. Though the Thessalonians were afflicted, their affliction was not a hindrance to their faith in God. In fact, their affliction became an instrument for them to declare the Word of God and display their faith in the God of the Word. The gospel was made manifest in what they said and how they lived despite being in a period of suffering, so much so that their testimony of faith had been made known to those around them and so much so that they became an example for believers in their area.

Dear believer, our suffering is an opportunity to deepen and display our faith in God. As unthinkable as it may sometimes be, God ordains our suffering to produce evidences of genuine faith. And isn’t that true - that after a season of trial where the Lord deepens our focus on Him and causes us to see more clearly the work that He is doing in our lives, we become living proofs of faith and are given assurance that our faith is genuine? And doesn’t that all the more usher us to praise and glorify God? As Peter exhorted, we can rejoice even in grievous trials, knowing that the tested genuineness of our faith will result to the praise and glory of our Lord (1 Peter 1:6-7).

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