Today’s Reading: 2 Kings 1, Daniel 5, Psalm 110-111, 2 Thessalonians 1.
“3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.” 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4
When I think about what I want most for my children I think, “Love for the Lord and love for people.”
When I think about what I want most for my wife I think, “Love for the Lord and love for people.”
When I think about what I want most for the people God has entrusted to me to pastor I think, “Love for the Lord, and love for people.”
At the end of the day, what I want to see happen in the lives of those I know and love most deeply is what Jesus said was ultimately important: Love for God and love for people. In fact, I don’t know of many Christians who don’t want that.
The question is, “How?”
If I want my kids to have this, “How?”
If I want church members to have this, “How?”
If I want this for my own life, “How?”
There are a lot of different answers to this question for sure.
But isn’t it interesting what Paul points out to his Thessalonian readers? In verse 3 he says he thanks God for them for their love for God and love for people: “your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.” In verse 4 he tells us how it’s happening: “your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions you are enduring.”
When I read that their faith is growing and their love is increasing I would expect Paul to say, “Because y’all have been having some great Bible studies!” Or, “Because your Sunday School discussions have been off the chart!” Or, “You all are having neat and orderly family devotions at night before bedtime.”
These things may have been happening. There’s nothing wrong with ’em.
But that’s not what Paul points out.
Their faith in God grew abundantly and their love for each other increased because they were being persecuted and afflicted for their faith. They grew as Christians because they were being challenged and stretched “in the real world.” They were loving God more and loving people more precisely because they were constantly being challenged and pushed and put on the spot that was counter-cultural.
I wonder if we have it reversed?
I wonder if we organize our Bible studies and Sunday School classes and small groups and family devotions in order to stay away from society? I wonder if the Thessalonians had Bible studies and small groups and family devotions precisely because they were in society?
I wonder if we (me!?!?!) are expecting our children to grow in love for God and love for people by keeping them in a nice little “holy huddle”? I wonder if the Thessalonians grew in love for God and love for people because they were forced out of their comfort zone, having to immediately put their faith in God to the test?
I wonder if we made it a requirement for our children (all of us!?!?!?!) to intentionally and diligently and lovingly share our faith in the world if we wouldn’t see their/our love for God increase and their/our love for each other abound?
To become a Christian in Thessalonica meant being marked by the world. To be a follower of Jesus meant being afflicted. They were forced to know what and Who they believed. They were forced to see if this Jesus would come through for them.
The result? Love for God and love for people.
Maybe we have it backwards. The greenhouse for discipleship in Thessalonica was persecution and affliction. The greenhouse we have made for our children and new believers is nachos and flannel boards. Thessalonica saw lovers of God and people. We are seeing people leave the church in droves.
I wonder what would happen if every follower of Christ was expected and required to intentionally share the Gospel on an ongoing, regular basis?
God, help us.