There are absolutely many wonderful blessings that come from being in Christ. No doubt about it! And these are easy to talk about to new Christians. But in the age of the “soft sell,” do we acknowledge that the way of Christ is one of sacrifice and suffering as well?
Suffering was inevitable in a mid-first century AD Greco-Roman community steeped in paganism, where there was great loyalty to the Caesar, and where Judaism was a state-protected religion that just happened to want to stamp out this new sect that had risen up around this Jesus the Jews back in Jerusalem had crucified. But do we mention this to new converts? Paul didn’t shy away from it at all:
We sent Timothy so that he could strengthen you and bring comfort to your faith, so that you wouldn’t be pulled off course by these sufferings. You yourselves know, don’t you, that this is what we are bound to face. For when we were with you, we told you ahead of time that we would undergo suffering; that’s how it has turned out, and you know about it. (3:2-4)
The reality of suffering couldn’t be avoided in Thessalonica. Shortly after Christianity came to town, the persecution started (Acts 17:1-10). The leaders of this church could remember the mob, the roughness with which they were dealt, and the days they spent in court sorting through false accusations. It would make no sense to deny reality. This was a very real Christianity, right from the beginning.
Do we offer the world a Christianity without suffering and sacrifice? If so, we are promising something that we cannot deliver. We are, in fact, denying the truth of an integral part of the way of Christ. For Jesus, the path to the New Creation came through crucifixion. Do we think it will be different for us? Don’t we owe it to people to tell it straight?