Today's passage is 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20. Let's go!
1 Thessalonians 2:13-14 (NIV)
13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.
14 For you, brothers, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews,
On verses 13-16: In these verses Paul praises his church in Thessalonica for two things: (1) the way they received the Word of God from Paul's preaching; and (2) the way they persevered in their faith despite great trials and opposition. From these verses we can learn the following:
1. God delivers His Word through His servants. When the believers in Thessalonica heard the preaching of Paul and his companions, they did not consider this merely to be men speaking to them, but God speaking to them through Paul and his team. As Paul says in verse 13, "when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe."
Let's have the same attitude of faith when we hear the Word of God being preached or taught in church. When the word of God is being preached or taught, don't just think: "Oh, this is just one person's thoughts and ideas. Just a broken, imperfect person speaking their opinions." Instead, believe that somehow God can and does speak His perfect, unbreakable word through His imperfect and broken servants. When you approach the preaching of God's Word with this kind of humility and faith, when you believe that God places the treasure of His powerful Word in fragile jars of clay like preachers and teachers, you give God's Word room to work in your life. As Paul says, "the word of God...is at work in you who believe" (v13).
2. How much you believe God's Word is shown by how much you're willing to suffer for believing in it. When Paul's hearers in Thessalonica responded with faith to the gospel, almost immediately other people in the city began to persecute these new believers. Paul praises the church in Thessalonica for their willingness to suffer for their faith. He compares it to how Jewish Christians were persecuted in Judea (v14).
3. God sees the persecution that Christians go through for their faith and will hold their persecutors accountable. Paul affirms that God's wrath is against those who rejected and killed Jesus and the prophets and who oppose the preaching of the saving message of the gospel (v15-16). One day God will call to account all those who persecute Christians and who reject Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 2:17 (NIV)
17 But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you.
On verses 17-18: Soon after Paul's hearers in Thessalonica responded with faith to Paul's message, Paul was suddenly driven out of Thessalonica by persecution (see Acts 17:1-10). It was excruciating and distressing for Paul to be separated from the young believers in Thessalonica, much like if a parent is suddenly separated from their new born child. So Paul and his team had "an intense longing" and "made every effort" to see them, but Satan stopped them.
How exactly did Satan stop them? Was it an illness, continued persecution or some other problem? We don't know the details, but it is clear that Paul, despite wanting so much to be with the Thessalonian Christians, could not be with them temporarily.
What can we learn from this? Spiritual warfare is real. We have an enemy who is out to steal, kill and destroy the work of God in our lives.
So don't be surprised if you meet opposition while trying to do the will of God. Don't let the opposition discourage you. Stand firm in prayer. Exercise the authority you have in Christ as a child of God. If you find that the opposition against you is strong, you can say, "In Jesus' name, Satan I bind you from trying to harm me and my family." Or, as a sister at church likes to say, "Not today, Satan!" As children of God, we have been given authority to resist Satan. That's why James 4:7 says, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). For greater is the one who lives in us is greater than our enemy (1 John 4:4).
1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 (NIV)
19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?
20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.
On verses 19-20: In case the church in Thessalonica missed Paul or even felt abandoned by Paul due to his abrupt departure, Paul expresses in no uncertain terms how he feels for and longs for his church in Thessalonica. He calls them "our hope, our joy, our crown, our glory" , suggesting that when he meets the Lord Jesus face to face, it is this church that he will boast about.
What can we learn from this? The greatest investment you can ever make with your time and your talents is in people. That might seem hard to believe sometimes, especially when people can at times be volatile, ungrateful, selfish, and slow to change. But to God, there's nothing more precious and nothing more important to Him than people.
Products will be replaced. Possessions won't last. Popularity will fade. Projects will come and go. But people will last forever. When you invest in people, especially for a Christ-honouring and eternal purpose, a crown will be waiting for you. That's because you are partnering with God in doing work that will last forever, and you will be credited for it in heaven.
Have you been trying to invest in people for a Christ-honouring purpose and been disappointed by the results? Remember: your labor is not in vain. God sees all your hard and will reward you. In God's eyes, whatever you did for the least of these you did for Him (Matthew 25:40). You are storing up treasure for yourself in heaven when you invest in people for Christ's sake.
Thank You, Holy Spirit, for reminding us that the greatest investment we can make is in people. May we not be easily discouraged when we face challenges or opposition while trying to lead people to Jesus. For our investment is reaping for us an eternal reward that no one can take away. In Jesus' name, AMEN!