TODAY’S READING: 1 & 2 Thessalonians
Silas and Timothy joined Paul on his second missionary journey to visit the Greek city of Thessalonica, the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia, an important urban center on the road that connected Rome to Byzantium. Paul was unable to stay long as angry men abused both he and his friends and chased them out of the city, heading on to Corinth (via Athens). Worried about the trouble his visit caused and the persecution it engendered, Paul sent Timothy back to check on the nascent church. Finding the disciples weathering the storm, Paul wrote with joy to encourage them on.
In missionary living, eternal hope must overcome our dread of earthly consequences. The missionary message must cause great harm on earth in order to bring great joy in heaven. Missionaries must steel themselves to bear the weight of knowing that suffering must precede glory for all who listen to their message. The men and women in Thessalonica would have to endure great temporal persecution as a consequence of Paul’s obedient, bold preaching of the gospel. Paul got to leave town, but everyone else had to stay and suffer. The missionary by definition is a sent one who is not local (an external catalyst). Indigenous believers must endure the temporal ramifications of their decision long after the missionary has gone. The missionary must love the lost so fiercely that he or she is willing to see them suffer because the hope of heaven is so bright. The missionary must never be cavalier, for the consequences of faith are always less severe on the visitor and most severe on the local believer.
Given this essential context of Thessalonians (the missionary message brings earthly pain before it brings heavenly rapture), we better understand Paul’s thoughts to the Thessalonians: The joys of heaven are worth the wounds of earth, so let us fix our eyes on the return of the Lord; it is our hope. The Word must be preached boldly even in much affliction as affliction actually helps the gospel to spread. We must be bold to preach the gospel even in much conflict. Wrath will come upon those who resist missions. Our hope, joy, and crown of rejoicing is the coming of Jesus and disciples from difficult places that are in Him when He comes, blameless and holy. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the trumpet sound, and the dead in Christ will rise and we shall ever be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another with these words. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks. This is the will of God for churches planted among the unreached who suffer because they embrace the missionary message.
Because Paul could see what would be, he was willing to do something that hurt the ones he loved. Which is why he asked for prayer, that the Word of the Lord would keep running swiftly and be glorified. More short-term pain for unending pleasure. Jesus, help us be wise and strong enough to give out and receive the former that we all rejoice in the latter.