After that hate-filled man killed those nine Christians in South Carolina, the families responded with profound grace and forgiveness. Of course, they did not try to dismiss the justice he owed the state, but to free themselves of bitterness that can rob us of inner peace when we are mistreated. That’s what African Christians did in the first few centuries of the church, when Romans threw them to the lions and burned them alive. They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake. After the Apostle Paul established the church at Thessalonica in Greece, immediately Christians began to feel the pain of persecution. Paul wrote to them, giving them counsel on how to respond. He wrote in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, “See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people. Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” Paul realized that many times God changes our plans by changing our circumstances—without consulting us. He may permit rain to fall on our parade. We often experience trouble, sickness, or even persecution. The apostle discourages us from grumbling, knowing that God is refining our character for His highest purposes.
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