All this trouble is a clear sign that God has decided to make you fit for the kingdom. (2 Thessalonians 1:5 MSG)
This isn’t trouble that the Thessalonians have brought on themselves through sin and rebellion. Paul goes on to describe a people who are growing in their faith and living it out by loving one another. The trouble isn’t inside the community of believers but is coming from the unbelieving community around them.
I don’t know where the switch flipped in the American church, but we seem to regard any type of trouble, either internal or external, as a sign that we are not doing what God desires. It seems that Paul would have regarded peace and prosperity as a sign that a church body was not faithfully pursuing what God desired. This seems to be the exact opposite of the message being proclaimed from many pulpits each Sunday.
In studying Matthew with a friend this week, we ran across this passage:
“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. 34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:32-34 NIV)
Jesus is providing instructions to his disciples as they prepare to go out on mission for Him. He makes it clear that they should anticipate opposition. They aren’t to be rude or offensive. In that case they would have earned whatever persecution they received. The name of Jesus is offensive enough to some people, even when spoken in love and delivered with an act of kindness. The important thing Jesus is trying to communicate is that even though opposition can be expected, this shouldn’t prevent the disciples from declaring their allegiance to Jesus.
This brings me back around to trusting versus pleasing. It seems clear that Paul is encouraging the Thessalonians to continue putting their trust in God. God is working through their suffering to make them more like Jesus. When I put my focus on pleasing people, even those who follow Jesus, I am trying to become more like them than like Jesus. I live in fear because I’m not trusting the one person who is always looking out for my best interest. After all these years it is amazing how much I need to learn to trust each day.
For my grandchildren:
When you face opposition for doing good God is at work in you.