Having Faith in Difficult Times
The vision of life in Christ that Paul sets out in 1 Thessalonians is that Jesus is victorious (both in saving us and in sanctifying us) despite the circumstances that might be happening around us. We learn that both Paul and the assembly/church in Thessaloniki have experienced hardships. Life has not gone the way that they had hope or desired, despite their faith. There were setbacks and persecution, often by their own neighbors and fellow countryman. Despite their circumstances “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia— your faith in God has become known everywhere” (1 Thess. 1:8) Their faith (thus the work of Christ) could not be contained or stopped. The is a message that is relevant for the church in any age. Too often we allow our opinion of God to be set by how well our lives are going.
There is so much that we can learn from Paul’s relationship with this church, especially his emphasis on loving sacrificially, encouraging, helping, caring, and even holding others accountable. Paul clearly urges them to lead a life worthy of the calling. Luther would interpret this as the difference between justification and sanctification. Jesus makes us worthy, he saves us, but we still have a life to live. This life is tied to the mission of God. The more we lead this life, the more our faith grows, the more the Gospel is spread. His motivations for leading a life worthy of the calling are to give thanks for what Jesus did (saving us), growing your faith, and spreading the gospel. This belief may be grounded in Paul’s Judaism, but it is shaped by the Good News.
One of the biggest counter cultural patterns that Paul give us that can impact the church in our cultural context is a great life motto “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (5:16) Not that you suffer, but that the good news will spread despite the awful things happening in this world. Indeed, it seems to me that if we were to follow this pattern it would go a long way in helping us to overcome our cultural indulgence with self fulfilment via the obtaining or experiencing of pleasure. It would help by getting our eyes off ourselves and our achievement and instead focusing on rejoicing; for the events of his world cannot destroy the work that God accomplished in Christ. The main point he makes about the Jesus’ eventual return is simple. Don’t worry, you won’t miss it. In the meantime, focus on living the life God has called you to and doing your part in the ministry of reconciling people through Jesus Christ to God. This is especially relevant today as we struggle with what life will look like as we move past this pandemic. Paul’s message rings out clear. Don’t sweat it, just lead a life worthy of the calling.
Maybe our focus should be “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (5.11). Stay on mission, do not get caught up with things you cannot control or predict. I guess the most powerful message form this letter can be summed up like this; Our circumstances in life should not determine or faith in Christ. But our Faith in Christ should determine how we respond to the circumstances of life.