Paul begins his comments to the Thessalonians in his 2nd letter by giving thanks to God for their growing faith and their love for one another. One commentator says, “That Paul thanks God and not the readers for their faith, love, and endurance shows that they contributed nothing to achieving salvation but were the object of God’s unconditional, gracious action.”[1] God should be credited with their salvation, of course, but Paul goes on to explain how proud he is of them to other churches. He adds how their example has been an encouragement to the other churches that he has informed of their steadfast faith in the face of persecution. 2 Thessalonians 1:4 says, “Therefore, we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.” But the commentator goes on to add, “Consequently, boasting in the readers’ faithfulness is not meant to give them self-confidence apart from God but is merely Paul’s way of thanking God before other congregations. The way Paul uses ‘boasting’ in his other letters (thirty-five times) confirms that the true people of God can boast only in God about their Christian character and never in themselves (see, e.g., 1 Cor 1:29–31).”

The Greek verb for “enduring” is in the present tense and tells us that the hardships are going on at the time of Paul’s writings. It’s difficult to say what exactly those hardships were, but we can surmise that the adversaries that persecuted Paul when he was in Thessalonica haven’t slowed down. They have transferred their hatred from Paul, who got away, being let down in a basket from an upper window, to his followers, who became Christians at his preaching. Paul uses two different terms to identify their hardships. He calls them “Persecutions” and “Trials.” Persecutions  “indicate specifically the sufferings inflicted by others because of their opposition to one’s beliefs. ‘Trials’ can refer more broadly to any kind of suffering but is frequently used in the New Testament to refer specifically to persecution that comes because of one’s faith. The combination probably emphasizes the severity of the readers’ sufferings.”[2]

 Tertullian, about a hundred years after Paul, had the advantage of hindsight on all the persecutions of Christians in the first hundred years or so. The Jews persecuted the Christians because they made Jesus God. The Romans persecuted Christians because they wouldn’t offer sacrifices to the pagan gods. The persecution created many martyrs in the early history of the Church. Acts chapter 7 tells us about the first martyr, Stephen. The history to follow was full of others. Tertullian knew full well that the desired effect the Romans wanted to see from the Christian persecution was that making an example of Christians by executing them would dissuade others from becoming Christian. But it was the exact opposite. Tertullian informed the world that “The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church.” Instead of stamping out Christianity, their number increased. Seeing others stand firm in the face of trials and persecution gives heart and inspires others. One writer said, “So we can truly say that the blood of those that died for Christ gave birth to even more Christians. For every person, the Romans killed, at least two would be converted. This is why Christianity was able to rise so steadily during the first four centuries A.D.”[3]

 [1] Beale, G. K. 2003. 1–2 Thessalonians. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[2] Weatherly, Jon A. 1996. 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The College Press NIV Commentary. Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.