Encouraged because of your faith

Paul was afraid that they had fallen away. He had labored intensely to preach the Gospel there in Thessalonica, but the opposition was strong. The Jews in the synagogue had opposed Paul, and done so to the extent that they needed to escape. Paul left for Berea where, even there, the Jews from Thessalonica came to find him and stir up the crowds against him there.

So, it was one thing that Paul had left, but there was more to the story. Those that he left in his wake would have to continue on in the midst of persecution. They weren’t able to easily leave. Their lives, their homes, their families, their work, was all there in Thessalonica. And now it was all at risk because of the message that Paul had given them.

For the Thessalonians, like each of the believers and churches that Paul left in his wake, to believe and truly follow Christ meant that they were not only believing in Christ as the Messiah, but it meant that they were breaking with their local cultural beliefs. If you were a Jew, it meant that you believed differently than the other Jews which left you open to the possibility of being shunned, and you likely were. On the other hand, if you were a Gentile, and your local culture was to worship the Greek gods, and that likely was the culture, then you left yourself open to the possibility of being placed outside of the rest of the mainstream of society. No longer did you worship this Greek “god” at the temple. No longer did you offer sacrifices to that god or to its idol. No longer would you go to the temple prostitute.

The persecution, therefore, was not simply just a question of a difference of beliefs. It was a difference in society. It was a question of how you would carry on business. It was a question of how you were going to eat and live.

So it was little wonder that Paul was concerned about the persecution that was about to come upon the Thessalonians. But Paul was thrilled that they were standing strong and continuing in their faith:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 3:7-8

It is interesting that Paul says here that, despite the persecution, and despite all of the troubles that they are now having, that it is now that they really live. That is true, of course, in various senses of this statement. Being spiritually dead and having come to Christ, they do now really live. What is more, they give their lives to Christ and understand this larger purpose for their lives, to glorify him instead of living for themselves. They do begin to really live at this point, but to many, it may not feel this way, and this is why Paul wanted to confirm that they were standing firm in their faith. Thankfully, that is the report that Timothy gave back to Paul after visiting the Thessalonians and for this, Paul is encouraged because of their faith.

I want to make one additional note here as well that I see a direct connection between this situation here with the Thessalonians and the parable of the four soils that Jesus told in Matthew 13. On the one hand, we see that Jesus spoke of the second type of soil being the rocky soil where the roots do not go deep and when the sun comes out – read: when persecution comes – then the plant withers and dies.

Thankfully, that isn’t what happened in this case. Instead, even in the short time that Paul was with them in Thessalonica – only 3 weeks! – the Thessalonians had taken root well enough to stand up to the persecution that was now coming their way. As the “sun”, as Jesus said, came out in the form of persecution, the Thessalonian church was rooted well enough to stand in the face of the persecution so that they could continue on in their faith.

And even more than just continue in their faith. As we saw in chapter 1, Paul said that their faith had become known everywhere. The church had become renowned for their faith and it was ringing out and they had become an example. This is similar to the fourth soil of which Jesus spoke in the parable. He said that the seed on the good soil produced a crop. Not just one plant from one seed, but many, and that is what is happening in this case in Thessalonica. Paul had planted the seed, but it wasn’t just the one seed that was producing one plant. Instead, the seed that he had sown had fallen on good soil and was producing a crop throughout the entire area.

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