“Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this” (1 Thessalonians 3:1-3).
Job said, “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1). Troubles are the common lot of everyone who has inhabited this earth. We all face our share of afflictions. How do we handle these challenges? Do they have a negative or positive impact upon our faith in God?
As the opening passage above indicates, when the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at the church in Thessalonica, he had concerns that the afflictions faced by the Christians there would negatively impact their faith. Why did Paul have these concerns? He understood the power afflictions can have upon turning people away from God. Remember, it was Jesus, Who, when He taught the Parable of the Sower, described the seed which fell among thorns by saying, “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles” (Matthew 13:20-21).
From its beginning the church at Thessalonica had faced persecution. Shortly after the church was established there, a mob had set the city in an uproar and accused Paul and other Christians saying, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17:6). Paul and Silas had to flee for their lives by night and leave the city (Acts 17:10). Before he left Paul had warned the Christians at Thessalonica that they too would suffer tribulation (1 Thessalonians 3:4).
Paul now desperately wants to know how they are holding up under this affliction. Do they have root in themselves or, are they like the stony soil of which Jesus spoke, whose faith withers away under persecution because of the Word (cf. Matthew 13:20-21)? When he can no longer endure waiting for this answer, Paul sends Timothy to see how they are doing (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2, 5).
What does Paul find out from Timothy’s report? Timothy reports to Paul that these Christians are holding up well in their afflictions. Paul writes, “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you” (1 Thessalonians 3:6). In fact, this report greatly encourages Paul in his faith: “Therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now, we live, if you stand fast in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 3:7-8).
All of us will face our share of adversity. The question is, “How will I let these afflictions affect me?” Will I let them cause my faith in God to wither as did the seed which fell among the stony soil or will I persevere through these afflictions and not only allow them to cause me to cling more tightly to my faith in God, but also result in my being an encouragement to the faith of others as well? These Christians at Thessalonica were not shaken by these afflictions and even encouraged Paul in his efforts to keep up the faith as well as he endured his own share of persecutions. Today, like the Christians in Thessalonica I will strive to not be shaken by these afflictions!
“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).