1 Thessalonians 3:1-9
Finally, when we could stand it no longer, we decided to stay alone in Athens, 2 and we sent Timothy to visit you. He is our brother and God’s co-worker in proclaiming the Good News of Christ. We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith, 3 and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through. But you know that we are destined for such troubles. 4 Even while we were with you, we warned you that troubles would soon come—and they did, as you well know. 5 That is why, when I could bear it no longer, I sent Timothy to find out whether your faith was still strong. I was afraid that the tempter had gotten the best of you and that our work had been useless. 6 But now Timothy has just returned, bringing us good news about your faith and love. He reports that you always remember our visit with joy and that you want to see us as much as we want to see you. 7 So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. 8 It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord. 9 How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy as we enter God’s presence.
Last time we saw that while trials can shake us we don’t have to fly solo. Now Paul reminds us of a tough truth when it comes to trials they are:
I think we would all agree that the gospel is good news. It’s good news that I am forgiven of my sin, that I have been born into God’s family, and that I am destined for a home in heaven and not hell. All of that is very good news, and all of that is only possible because of what Jesus has done for me. When we consider God’s plan for us and where it ultimately takes us it is absolutely, unquestionably good news. But there are some aspects of that good news that we may not want to hear. Paul says that believers are appointed to experience, distress, hardship, suffering, trials, affliction, and trouble. This is not what many of us were hoping to find concerning God’s plan for our life. Now personally I find it very easy to embrace passages like Phil 4:19 “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” That verse is easy to believe and embrace but what about 1 Thessalonians 3:3 “But you know that we are destined for such troubles” What are we going to do with 1Thessalonians 3:3? Well, there are several things that we try to do with it. Sometimes we try to skip over it and search for something more positive to think about. Have you ever thrown a rock across a pond in such a way that it just skipped across the surface? Instead of sinking into the water it skimmed over the surface. That’s the way many people read the Bible. They hit a verse that suits them and kind of bounce over others until they get to another verse to land on. Like the rock, they skim across the surface, skipping over whatever they don’t like in God’s Word, caring more about their comfort than conviction. But the Word of God is not a quick fix, where we can skim our way to success while we bypass the difficult passages. Let me challenge you to stop skipping over scripture, using it like stepping stones so that you don’t have to get your feet uncomfortably wet. A second way that some try to deal with this verse is to just apply it to Bible times. It’s like saying: “Trouble was something God walked those first century Christians through, bless their hearts, but we are in America surely God doesn’t really intend this verse to be applied to my life today. I mean after all doesn’t God want me to be happy?” The problem with this approach is that if we do that then perhaps Phil 4:19 is just for Bible days and all those other great scriptures that I want to like are not for me either. This approach substitutes skipping for picking and choose, which ends up leading to the same problem where we end up eliminating large sections of Scripture. Unfortunately, many believers try to explain away or avoid certain subjects in the Bible. But what if instead, we let the whole council of God speak truth into our lives, even the difficult passages. We would find that it is actually profitable for us. Persecution doesn’t happen without a purpose. What this verse teaches us is that trials are actually appointments, not accidents. Look if the trial we are going through today has already passed through the loving hands of my heavenly Father then it has received His stamp of approval and I can accept it with open hands. The fourth truth about trials is:
- Don’t be Surprised
The Bible tells us that we should expect difficulty, and while some of us view this as a negative, I see it as a positive. It’s better to expect to be stretched than to think that life will always be a bed of roses. Many of us want to live life like the guy who said that he doesn’t mind obstacles as long as they don’t get in his way. Trials are the common lot of every Christian. No one is exempt, no one gets a trouble-free ride to heaven. Paul would have made a poor prosperity preacher because unlike many preachers today who try to keep everything positive in their messages Paul didn’t shy away from the truth even when it was tough. Paul was not alone in preaching the tough truth, in 1 Peter 4:12 Peter proclaimed: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you”. There is a tendency for us to think something really strange has happened when a fiery trial comes into our lives. There is a tendency to think it is somehow contrary to what God has said would happen. There may even be the temptation to think God has somehow let us down. But both Paul and Peter are saying that troubles and difficulties are not inconsistent with living for God. In other words, Jesus did not come into your life simply to make it easier and more enjoyable. He came to redeem you from eternal destruction and prepare you for eternal glory! God cares more about your character than your comfort. He is far more interested in your holiness than your happiness. What about you, are you focused on your character or your circumstances. God wants to change our character to change our conduct. While we don’t like tough times we need to recognize that God can use trials to mold and mature us to become more like His Son Jesus Christ. So are you willing to trust God not just in the trials but with the trials?