Paul, Silas and Timothy were seriously proud of the church in Thessalonica. As we saw in 1 Thessalonians, this was a church which suffered many trials and persecutions from their countrymen because of their trust in our Lord Jesus. But despite all that they suffered, this was a church that refused to give up on the gospel. Instead, they had a reputation for being Christians: showing love, waiting with hope for the return of our Lord. As Paul writes to them here, he can’t help but share how thankful he, Silas and Timothy are to God for them. Their faith, rather than being diminished by troubles, was flourishing. And their love for one another was growing – rather than persecution driving them apart, they were being brought ever closer. I can’t help but feel the connection between these two aspects: the more their trust in God grew, the more they would show love.
This church endured many hardships and persecutions. Those of us in the western world today don’t really know very much about persecution – certainly I have never had to decide between staying true to Jesus or losing my job or my life. But there are subtle ways in which the church and Christians in general are persecuted today. We might be teased for not swearing with the crowd, or for not getting drunk at a party like everyone else. We might, as a church, have our views sidelined. I think us Christians have handled the gay-marriage debate very poorly – but it does seem that to hold to a Christian view of marriage is unacceptable in many circles these days – see how Brendan Eichs was all-but forced to resign as CEO of Mozilla (Firefox) because of his holding to a traditional view of marriage.
No matter what form persecution takes (and I still think we have had very little of it here in Australia), God is sovereign. God can use even opposition towards his kingdom to work Christ. Paul writes that God uses persecution to make us worthy of his kingdom. When we suffer for the sake of Christ, we are emulating our Lord. And God can use difficult circumstances as a forge. Just as a blacksmith heats metal so that it is malleable and easily shaped, so as we are forced to continually re-count the cost of following Jesus is our trust in him refined and shaped.
There will, of course, come a day when Christ shall return, when God shall ensure that justice will be done. That day will be a day of judgement for all who don’t know God or who refuse to obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. The judgement: death – eternal destruction. That is, the enemies of Christ shall forever be separated from the Lord and his glorious power. Nothing of God’s common mercy or grace shall reach those who on that day have rejected God. This is hell: to be apart from Christ. Which, ironically, is exactly what these people will have chosen. But to their horror, they have not taken into account that every good thing comes from God – to be apart from him is to be apart from any good thing. To be apart from the giver of life is to face death – to eternally be destroyed.
But on that same day, Christ shall be praised and glorified by all those who have trusted in him – his holy people. We shall be celebrating our Lord and King together with the Thessalonians, together with Paul, together with Peter! All the troubles and persecutions of this world will be done away with – and we shall celebrate with our Saviour Jesus the Christ, and the Father and his Spirit!
Knowing that Jesus is returning, how then shall I live my life now? Surely I should seek to live it in a way that brings glory and praise to Jesus now – even as I shall glorify and praise him when he returns. Paul, Silas and Timothy prayed that GOd would enable the Thessalonians to live a life worthy of God’s call on their lives. May God enable us to do likewise. May he give us – me – the power to following the promptings of our faith. May we have the capacity from GOd himself to do those things that the Spirit prompts us to do. Because a life like that will honour God: a life where I emulate Christ – in thought and word and deed. And if we live like that, then we shall be honoured along with our Lord Jesus. What shall that honour be? The recognition: well done good and faithful servant.
I want others to look at me and see a life that is lived in imitation of Christ. Be that through hardship or not, persecution or not.A life that reflects something of who God is – as shown in the person of Christ. A life that is worthy of God’s call. I want people to look at how I live – and realise that I serve a wonderful, amazing, gracious God. Of course, this isn’t something I can do on my own… but then again, I’m not on my own. God’s grace has reached me – and he is making me new.
Oh Lord – don’t stop re-creating me in your image, I pray. Thank you that you are returning… please help me to live like that will be the very next instant from now. Amen.