1 Thessalonians 3:3-5
That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.…
To what extent did the early Christians suffer persecution? Much has been said of the tolerant spirit of the Roman government, inclined to let all religions sleep peacefully under the shadow of its wings. But it is one thing to tolerate existing religions, another to sanction a new one, and that, too, not seeking to insinuate itself privately, but openly professing as its object the conversion of the world. Probably there has never been a civilized country in which such an attempt at proselytism would not have been at first met by persecution. Every page of the Acts is a picture of similar persecutions; and more remarkable than any part of it is the narrative which St. Paul gives of his own sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23-33), and which, amid many other reflections, suggests the thought, how small a part of his life has been preserved. From the state of Christianity in the time of Pliny or Taeitus, we can scarcely form an idea of its first difficulties. Everywhere it had to encounter the fierce spirit of fanaticism, wrought up in the Jew to its highest pitch, in the pagan just needing to be awakened. The Jews, the false brethren, the heretics, the heathen, were in league more or less openly at one time or other for its destruction. All ages which have witnessed a revival of religious feeling, have witnessed also the outbreak of religious passions; the pure light of the one becomes the spark by which the other is kindled. Reasons of state sometimes create a faint and distant suspicion of the new faith; the feelings of the mass rise to overwhelm it. The Roman government may be said to have observed in general the same line respecting the first preachers of the gospel, as would be observed in modern times: that is to say, of matters of faith and opinion, as such, they hardly took account, except in so far as they endangered the safety of the government, or led to breaches of the public peace. It seemed idle to them to dispute about questions of the Jewish law in Roman courts of justice; but they were not the less prepared to call to account those by whose supposed agency a whole city was in an uproar. Hence, when the really peaceful character of the gospel was seen, the persecutions gradually ceased and revived only at a later period, when Christianity became a political power. Allowing for the difference of times and seasons, the feelings of the Roman governors were not altogether unlike those with which the followers of John Wesley, in the last century, might have been regarded by the magistrates of an English town. And, making still greater allowance for the malignity and depth of the passions by which men were agitated as the old religions were breaking up, a parallel not less just might be drawn also between the feelings of the multitude. There was in both cases a kind of sympathy by which the lower class were attracted towards the new teachers. Natural feeling suggested that these men had come for their good: they were grateful for the love shown of them, and for the ministration to their temporal wants. There was a time (Acts 2:47; Acts 4:21) when the first believers were in favour with all the people; but at the preaching of Stephen the scene changes and the deep irreconcilable hostility of the two principles is beginning to be felt; "it is not peace, but a sword"; not "I am come to fulfil the law," but "not one stone shall be left upon another." The moment this was clearly perceived, not only would the farsighted jealousy of the chief priests and rulers be alarmed at the preaching of the apostles, but the very instincts of the multitude itself would rise at them. More than anything that we have witnessed in modern times of religious intolerance, would be the feeling against those who sought to relax the bond of circumcision as enemies to their country, religion and God. But another aspect of the new religion served to bring home these feelings even yet more nearly — the description of the family, as our Lord foretold, the father was against the son, etc. A new power had arisen in the world, which seemed to cut across and dissever natural affections. Consider what is implied in the words "of believing women not a few"; what animosities of parents and brethren, etc. An unknown tie, closer than that of kindred, drew away the individuals of a family, and joined them to an external society. It was not only that they were members of another church, or attendants on a separate worship. The difference went beyond. In the daily intercourse of life, at every meal, the unbelieving brother or sister was conscious of the presence of the unclean. It was an injury not readily to be forgotten, or forgiven in its authors, than which in this world none could be greater. The fanatic priest, led on by every personal and religious motive; the man of the world, caring for none of those things, but not the less resenting the intrusion on the peace of his home; the craftsman, fearing for his gains; the accursed multitude, knowing not the law, but irritated at the very notion of this mysterious society of such real though hidden strength — would all work together towards the overthrow of those who seemed to them to be turning upside down the political, religious and social order of the world.
Parallel VersesKJV: That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.