Persevering When Things Get Tough
2 Thess. 1:3-8
When Life Is Not A Straight Line
The sign outside says: “What to do when in crisis?” That’s a great question. What do you do when trouble comes? How do you respond when the bottom falls out, or when you are being squeezed from all sides?
I am sure that all of us from time to time have been in trouble and have struggled with barriers in life, opposition from individuals or circumstances, or when things that have simply gone off the rails.
In fact some of you may be facing some of these as I speak.
Funny how life turned out, isn’t it? Who would have thought that to get from there to here would have been such a journey?
No one told us that it’s not a straight line from Point A to Point B. Take a look at the image on the screen. I thought it would be a straight line from my birth to this point in life; an easy ride and the shortest distance between two points, right?
Turns out it was anything but! Twists and turns, dips and heights, sharp turns and stretches of long, empty and sometimes even lonely roads.
I have found life to be anything but a straight line nor the shortest distance between two points, but instead full of barriers, trouble, struggles and opposition.
Adding Faith into the Mix
And then the added complication of my faith mixed into the normal twists and turns of life gives this even a further edge.
It’s ironic, isn’t it? While my faith gives me great relief and strength in the twists and turns of life, it is also an added source of additional struggles.
It’s hard enough to maneouvre life with what life throws you but add into that the complexity of what your faith throws you and it creates a whole new set of obstacles to maneouvre.
What I mean is that we live as aliens in this world; this world is not our home and we live at odds with the values of our times. Our allegiance lies elsewhere, our perspective is eternal and our values are vastly different from modern society.
Peter talks about this in I Peter when he calls us foreigners and exiles in this world. He outlines the war against our soul and the accusations and pressures from those who do not serve God as you do.
In fact, the New Testament is full of stories of people in trouble for the stands they took and for their faith. In fact, much of what is said in the Scriptures on this topic has to do with how to live in that reality; how to be victorious in difficult times and balance the tension of when faith clashes with culture.
The Trouble in Thessalonica
Among the most significant letters in the NT on this topic is Paul’s letter to the Christians who lived in the city of Thessalonica.
Thessalonica was no easy place to be a Christian. Vastly outnumbered by those who did not share their beliefs and values, and egged on by the members of the local synagogue, meant believers were facing increasing tension, pressure and significant opposition.
These Christians were a small minority in a place where everyone else marched to a different beat and the result is almost predictable: a clash of values, a collision of cultures, and predictable opposition and trouble.
In the midst of all this Paul provides a perspective for his friends there that helped them endure. That also helps us put our faith based struggles as aliens in a strange land into a proper perspective.
The Interface of Faith and Determination
First of all, there is a correlation between determination to stick it out and one’s faith in God!
“We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.” 2 Thess. 1:3-4
It is astonishing that their faith was actually “growing more and more and the love you have for one another is increasing.” vs. 3
Who would have thought such a thing was possible? Would you not have thought that their faith would shrink; that they would hide away (out of sight out of mind) or that others would abandon their faith all together? None of this happened here.
If nothing else, it shows us that difficulties and trials are not the end of faith but can actually be the spark to a stronger faith.
Paul talks about their “perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.” vs. 4.
The word “perseverance” actually speaks about endurance or
‘stick-to-it-ness’ in difficult circumstances. When most would run and hide, they stuck it out and endured.
“This word indicates the Thessalonians were not surrendering to their circumstances nor were they running away to get out of the situation.” Kay Arthur
That kind of ‘stick-to-it-ness’ strengthens your resolve; makes you more determined than ever and it adds up to a stronger, more determined faith.
So how does that happen? Notice the role of faith in their ability to persevere and be determined:
“Your faith is growing more and more…therefore, among God’s churches, we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.” vss. 3,4
“The Greek word translated as faith in verse 4 means ‘to believe, to be fully persuaded’. In this context is shows that their faith and trust was in God, who enabled them to accept their circumstance and cope with these trials.” Kay Arthur
Their faith was growing more and more to the point where Paul was boasting to others saying that it’s their faith that makes them endure like this.
They became known for their faith that endured when most would pack it in.
It wasn’t just faith for faith’s sake that made them that strong. It isn’t just that people of faith are stronger people as though faith strengthens you.
Instead it’s that faith in God makes God respond by giving those who have faith in Him his strength!
“God gives the believer inner strength to enable them to be steadfast, to patiently wait in the midst of difficult circumstances.” Kay Arthur
This is so important to realize. If you remain determined to serve God even when it’s not convenient nor easy, God will give you an inner strength that will make you be even more resolute to serve Him.
The Circle of Life
So not only does faith in God give you His strength to be more determined than ever, but that faith in God is actually part of a wider circle of life.
What I mean by that is that they were not the only ones; they were not the first ones, nor would they be the last ones.
Notice what Paul says to them in his first letter:
“6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.
14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews.”
I Thess. 1:6-7, 2:1-2,14
Did you notice the circle of life? It is a circle, and they were one dot on the circle. Others were there before them and others will be there after them.
Yes, it’s true that they “welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering”, (vs. 6) and how easy it is to think that they are somehow the only ones in the whole earth to face such suffering.
But they were not the first ones nor were they the last ones to suffer so. Others were going through the same thing.
Notice what Paul says to them:
“We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.” 2 Thess. 2:2
Paul and his companions faced similar trials while previously in Philippi as well as in Thessalonica when he brought the gospel to them. They were not the first ones.
Then Paul reminds them of the suffering among God’s churches in Judea:
“For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews.” 2 Thess. 2:14
Friend, you are not the only one to face such challenges! It is easy to think I am the only one and that no one knows the trouble I see.
But it ain’t so! Look around you; others in our church are facing similar challenges as you; are also trying to live out their faith in a hostile world.
Not only that but think of all those who came before you and what they had to endure. Did they give up on their faith? No. Did they adopt the values of their day? No. Did they finish well? Yes.
If they did, and if others are, then so can you! Not only will their example inspire you to endure but God will also strengthen you to endure.
That is part of the circle of life where others have come before you. But that’s only half the circle; only one side of the circle.
As much as there are those who have come before you or are beside you right now, and who inspire you with their ability to endure pressure and make you want to endure as well; so also there are those will come after you or are beside you on the other side looking to you to be their inspiration.
On the one hand we follow the examples of others and persevere because they have shown us how to do that: “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” 1 Thess. 1:6
On the other hand, there are those whom we need to inspire with our endurance and who look to us to be their example: “And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” 1 Thess. 1:7
When both happen you have the circle of life; a full circle where
‘what goes around comes around’.
Speaking of what goes around comes around; there is one other way of seeing what goes around comes around.
What Goes Around Comes Around!
Speaking of what goes around comes around; there is one other way of understanding this idea of what goes around comes around.
It has to do with this: Trouble comes on those who trouble you! No one gets away with troubling you. Those who squeeze you, oppose you, persecute you and trouble you because of your faith will one day be troubled by God himself!
Even more so: When their trouble starts, your troubles will be over!
Take a look at this amazing Scripture:
“God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled.” 2 Thess. 1:6
I love that! God will turn the tables. Not only will he trouble those who trouble you but he will remove your trouble from you once and for all!
Relief will come your way; relief, how sweet it is! In case you are wondering when that will happen, notice what Paul says to them next:
“This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.” 2 Thess. 1:6, 7
That great event of his returning, when tables will be turned and troublers will be troubled and the troubled of this life will find relief, is the fuel we have to carry on.
We are living with an eternal perspective in mind!
Do Not Lose Heart!
So, dear friend, do not lose heart! You may be wasting away outwardly but even that won’t last forever; and in the meantime inwardly, because your faith in God is strong, you are being renewed day by day!
That’s what it says:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” 1 Cor. 4:16
In light of eternity and how that will be the great turning of tables, live your day with an eternal perspective in mind. Fix your eyes not on the here and now, but on the then and there.
That’s what it says:
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” I Cor. 4:17-18
We do not lose heart! Our commitment to serve Jesus remains rock solid.
Our light and momentary troubles are nothing to us in light of the joys and rewards of what awaits us!
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