1 Thessalonians 2:1-16
We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to love your lives is a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory. – 1 Thessalonians 2:12 NLT
Prior to visiting Thessalonica, Paul and Silas had been imprisoned in Philippi for preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. They had had an encounter with a demon-possessed girl who had been used as a fortune teller by her "handlers." Paul had cast out the demon, and as a result, she lost her ability to tell fortunes and her bosses lost their source of revenue. Paul and Silas were dragged before the authorities and accused of "teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice" (Acts 16:21 NLT). The city officials had them severely beaten with rods and thrown into prison. Yet we read in the book of Acts that "around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening" (Acts 16:25 NLT). Suddenly massive earthquake struck the region and the doors of all the prison cells flew open. But rather than escape, Paul and Silas shared the gospel message with the jailer, who came to faith in Christ that night. Upon their release the next day, Paul and Silas left Philippi and headed to Thessalonica, where they shared the gospel for the first time with the readers of this letter.
Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers of the circumstances surrounding his first visit to their city. He and Silas had still been suffering the effects of their beating and imprisonment in Philippa, but yet they faithfully shared the Good News with them, even in the face of opposition. They didn't do it out of greed, false flattery, personal gain or any other impure or improper motive. They did it because God had entrusted the Good News to them. Paul reminded them, "We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God's Good News but our own lives, too" (1 Thessalonians 2:8 NLT). They diligently and faithfully shared the gospel among the Thessalonians, pleading, encouraging and urging them to believe. And the recipients of Paul's letter had received their message as the very word of God. As a result, they too suffered persecution at the hands of their fellow countrymen.
Paul understood. He knew the cost of commitment to Christ. He had first-hand experience of just how high the price was for following Christ. But he encouraged these new believers to live their lives in such a way that they honored God. After all, He had allowed them to share in His Kingdom. Remaining faithful to Him even in the midst of persecution and difficulty was the least they could do in return. Persecution was not unique to the Thessalonians. Even back in Judea, Jews who had come to faith in Christ, had undergone intense persecution from their own people. This was a common place occurrence in those days. It was to be expected. It came with the territory. But Paul's life illustrated the faithful endurance to which he was calling the Thessalonian believers. He was committed to the cause. He was motivated out of love for Christ. He worked hard, setting aside his own personal agenda and needs for the sake of the gospel. Their conversion was a direct result of Paul's commitment. He didn't let persecution or difficulty dissuade or distract him. He didn't whine and complain. He simply shared, faithfully, passionately, honestly, obediently and lovingly.
Father, what an example Paul was and still is. He didn't just mouth the words, he lived them. He didn't just preach about commitment, he modeled it. How easy it is for us to find excuses and rationalize away our faithlessness. We use the slightest difficulty as a justification for spiritual laziness. When things heat up even slightly, we drop out. But Paul reminds us of the kind of commitment to the cause we should have. Help us to live like he did, to face opposition with the boldness he did, to endure difficulties with the kind of faith he did, and to remain committed to the cause of Christ as he did. Amen