We mustn’t forget that Paul is human. Think about how discouraged Paul must have been thinking about Corinth. When you get a chance, re-read 2 Corinthians, esp. those who are considering a life in the ministry. Look at the heartache of a man who put his heart on the table only to have the congregation at Corinth trample all over it. The Corinthian church and the church at Thessalonica were founded around the same time. One church gave him deep discouragement while the other caused his heart to sing for joy.
Think of Paul receiving word from Silas and Timothy who stayed back to help the Thessalonians and Paul receives a glowing report of how these young believers were thriving in the faith and not backing down in the face of intense persecution.
Now you understand why Paul says in 1 Thess 2:13–
1 Thess 2
13 This is why we constantly thank God, because when you received the message about God that you heard from us, you welcomed it not as a human message, but as it truly is, the message of God, which also works effectively in you believers.
1 Thess 2
19 For who is our hope or joy or crown of boasting in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy!
1 Thess 3
4 In fact, when we were with you, we told you previously that we were going to suffer persecution, and as you know, it happened. 5 For this reason, when I could no longer stand it, I also sent him to find out about your faith, fearing that the tempter had tempted you and that our labor might be for nothing. 6 But now Timothy has come to us from you and brought us good news about your faith and love and reported that you always have good memories of us, wanting to see us, as we also want to see you. 7 Therefore, • brothers , in all our distress and persecution, we were encouraged about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you stand firm in the Lord. 9 How can we thank God for you in return for all the joy we experience before our God because of you, 10 as we pray very earnestly night and day to see you face to face and to complete what is lacking in your faith? 11 Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone, just as we also do for you. 13 May He make your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His • saints . • Amen.
There must have been some anxiety on Paul’s end because he left this church in such a difficult situation when they were still so young in the faith. But Timothy came to Paul and gave a glowing report of their faithfulness in the Lord. Their faith in Christ was not shaken by persecution. We’ll talk about this next week, but Paul talks about those who have died as being asleep until the coming of Christ at which time the dead will rise and the living will meet him in the air. I think Paul said that knowing that some of the believers had brothers, sisters, family members and friends who were part of the church at Thessalonica and they were martyred for their faith. And Paul’s encouragement to them was, don’t be sad, they are just sleeping. You will be reunited with them soon enough so hold onto Jesus. Jesus is coming back soon. Their faith was tested through intense persecution and this persecution led to some being martyred for their faith. And to the Thessalonians, these martyrs were beloved believers dying for their faith in Christ.
This was a hard message for me to prepare for because frankly, I have no idea what it’s like to be persecuted like this for my faith. I believe days of persecution in America are coming, but up until now, there hasn’t been much persecution in this country. Therefore, I think our faith is quite wimpy. We get subconscious about praying before our meals in public places because we think someone might call us a religious fanatic. Or we avoid the topic of God and religion at work because we don’t want to stick out. Heaven forbid, we go up to a stranger and preach the gospel. That’s weird. What if I am rejected?
In the absence of persecution, our faith remains untested. As I was working on this portion, Elijah came up to me and said he got hurt by the door. And when I looked at his injury, it was just a little scratch. No blood, a millimeter piece or smaller of skin was sticking up and Elijah kept complaining, this is going to bother me. And I thought, isn’t this a picture of our faith? One word of criticism and the day is shot. We’re out for the count. Our boss points out something we did wrong and our week is ruined. A church member criticizes you and you can’t stop thinking about what they said. Or your spouse says one thing and it’s like your entire schedule for the day goes out the window because you can’t concentrate. It’s like Elijah with a small millimeter scratch. We get so easily tripped up and discouraged by little things.
How will you and I face the coming persecution in the Last Days when our faith is so wimpy? Get to know Jesus. He is the object of your faith. He will make you courageous as you learn to turn your eyes away from yourself and onto Christ.
A couple more things that God has taught me through 1 Thessalonians. One, spiritual maturity has nothing to do with age or nothing to do with the length of time you have been a Christian. The Thessalonians were a few months old in the faith and some were willing to be martyred. And remarkably, those who witnessed the death of their loved ones were not shaken. These were new converts. Spiritual infants in terms of length of time being a Christian.
I think this shows what healthy conversion looks like. The gospel is preached and it comes into a person’s life, not in words, but in power, in the Holy Spirit. They are born again. These Thessalonians got it. They were truly saved. They encountered the real Jesus. Why do so many so-called Christians participate in every church programs and read so many Christian books and attend Christian seminars, but they never change? And they need accountability and hand holding year after year for decades but nothing works. It’s because they don’t get it. The gospel has come in word only, not in the power or in the Holy Spirit as it should.
Second, I am learning that the spiritual maturity of the congregation is not ultimately the responsibility of the minister. Paul spent a few weeks or at most a few months with the Thessalonians. He spent more time with the Corinthians. Yet, why did the Thessalonians thrive and the Corinthians struggle? If it depended on the minister, then it appears that the longer Paul ministers at a church, the worse off the church is. In the midst of his discouragement over Corinth, Paul must have been so encouraged and lifted up by what God was doing among the Thessalonians.
We leaders give ourselves too much of the credit when things go well and we give ourselves too much of the blame when things go wrong. Paul learned an important lesson through the church at Thessalonians. Their spiritual maturity had very little to do with him. He was with them for such a short period of time, yet they thrived because Jesus was real among them and Jesus helped them through difficult times and the Holy Spirit empowered them to pass the test of persecution and through these spiritual victories, their faith in Jesus got stronger and stronger.
No wonder Paul ends this letter with these words found in 1 Thess 5:23-24 [READ].
God is the one who has called you unto salvation through Christ. And He, the One who called you and saved you, is faithful. He will do what He promised to do and sanctify us until we reach final salvation. Now let’s do our part and get serious about our faith in Jesus. Our job as ministers is to point everyone that we meet to Jesus. May we all encounter Jesus moment by moment. May we seek His face moment by moment. May we cling to Jesus as if our lives and our eternities depended on it. Why? Because time is short. Jesus is coming back soon.