As we saw yesterday, Jervis (At the Heart of the Gospel) makes three interwoven claims from 1 Thessalonians. First, she connects Christologically the suffering of Christ to the suffering of believers through Paul’s exhortation to “imitate” Christ in 1:6. In some mysterious way, she urges, God actually uses the suffering of believers toward his redemptive ends (I have some concerns here, see my comments from yesterday).
She follows with two further claims:
(2) A Spiritual-Pneumatological Claim:
Paul understands the threads of holiness, which are faith, hope, and love, to be threaded through the needle of affliction. Living in faith, hope, and love does not mean one is protected from pains…By accepting the word of the gospel (1:6) and determining to lead lives worthy of God (2:12), the Thessalonians became both people who exhibited faith, hope, and love and people who suffered. Their faith, hope, and love are expressed as they suffer (p. 20).
To participate in God’s work of deliverance is to direct our energies to those Christ-like characteristics of faith, hope, and love (1:3). More than mere attitudes, these are Spirit-realities in the lives of those who receive the gospel and it’s attending afflictions, “potent forces that believers work with and for.”
[T]hose who are being saved draw to themselves arrows of pain. This is not because believers in Jesus are provocateurs. Rather, it is part of the odd tempo of this time of waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus that those who live according to the beat of faith, hope, and love may come into conflict with those who do not (p. 23).
Based on the eschatological ring of the letter and the “birthing” language in 1:6, Jervis argues that Paul may have understood the afflictions of Christ as the pains of childbirth that are necessary to bring in a new age. For believers who imitate Christ in their reception of the Gospel (1:6), the attendant suffering in some way participates in these birth pains of the new age emerging. In other words, though we may not understand it, “believers’ suffering is an aspect of our participation in God’s work of bringing forth the new age” (see my concerns about this in yesterday’s post).
Because faith, hope, and love are the modes of life for those living in the new age, they simply don’t fit in the present day. It is a cadence out of step, a melody out of tune. In other words, to live according to faith, hope, and love is to live by the ways of God’s coming kingdom which has not yet fully arrived.
Summary (in my words):
Faith, hope, and love are Spirit-induced modes of life in response to suffering and because they participate in the birth of a new age, they draw afflictions to those who practice them.
As we walk with those who suffer because of the Gospel or suffer ourselves, what does this offer us?