How many times have you gone to help someone in need only to be blessed yourself beyond measure? I feel like this is a bit of what Timothy experienced when he visited Thessalonica as is referenced in our reading. Timothy went with the expectation he’d find trouble. “We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith, and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through. But you know that we are destined for such troubles.”
Instead, Timothy arrived to find their friends doing quite well. Such a report was a blessing indeed! “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.” So in Paul’s own time of adversity, he was blessed by those he was seeking to serve.
Growing up in the United States, particularly in the Midwest, I didn’t see any persecution for being a believer. It wasn’t until adulthood that I even understood any territorial history other than what was presented in the Bible. We didn’t study that kind of thing in Social Studies back in my day.
It’s been quite eye opening for me to witness some of that persecution. Recently David showed me a report of the areas of the world that were under the most attack. I wasn’t surprised that many of the nations surrounding Israel (but surprisingly NOT Israel) were at the top of that list. What did surprise me was that our own country of residence, Mexico, was on that list.
Have you ever had a fear of something because of a memory of a past event? We can all answer yes to this because of the brain we’ve inherited. Our brains are meant to protect us from harm. They are doing their job when we feel anxious or concerned. Paul is sharing something we can all identify with.
I love that Paul uses this example as a teachable moment. He asks his readers to recall when they first met. Paul calls to mind their memory of the trouble he and his friends had had in Philippi immediately before coming to Thessalonica. Rather than be “gun-shy” and avoid doing the work God had called them to do out of fear, they boldly preached. To explain how it played out, Paul said, “Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition.”
Did you know that Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is the earliest New Testament manuscript written? I didn’t either. If the New Testament books were ordered by when they were written, this would come first, before the gospels! Why is that important? Because it speaks of the earliest proof we have that the message of Jesus our Messiah was being preached to the world.
These new believers were Gentiles who now believed in the God of the Jews and particularly in Jesus. We can make that assumption from Paul’s words in verse 9, “how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God.” Paul wouldn’t have used those words with other Jews. We’re not Paul’s original audience, but we can be confident that the message still speaks loud and clear to us as well.