Western man is unprepared for genuine suffering. Our expectations run high. Everywhere you look, you’re encouraged to long for and expect a better car, a better waistline, or a better-looking spouse. And what’s more, you’re told that you have a right to such excesses. Can anyone in the West doubt those words? Increasing wealth, ease, and comfort are the “rights” of all men. Our governments and every media outlet reinforce that message daily. But it’s a lie. The flow of human history shows that suffering, adversity, and loss are every much a part of our story as are progress, wealth, and success. It is no good to pretend otherwise.
Many of you who read this are properly concerned to prepare yourselves and your families for coming disorder or even disaster by storing away seeds or food or by pursuing alternative sources of power and water for your homes. Well and good! Yet, I believe there is a far more important preparation, one that might be left off most people’s list. I mean the preparation of faith. If the power grid goes down or the grocery shelves are suddenly empty, there will be genuine suffering. If, however, a man or woman’s faith fails under affliction, the consequences will be far more dire because those consequences will be eternal and of far greater magnitude. In the words of Christ, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world (or survives the coming disorder) and loses his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).
We read in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-8 that the Apostle Paul was concerned that the faith of the believers in Thessalonica might fail. Earlier in that Epistle, he had reminded them that his initial church-planting mission among them had been far too short. Paul and Silas had been forced to depart after only three weeks of ministry. In the meanwhile, the same conditions of persecution and affliction would certainly have continued unabated, harassing the new believers there who remained. Paul was concerned. In his anxiety, he decides to send his right-hand man, Timothy, to see first-hand how the saints were holding up under affliction and to strengthen the saints so that their faith would not fail. This passage has lessons a plenty for modern Christians, especially as we prepare for coming hardship.
The Need of Sturdy Faith
Paul insists that the church is “destined” for affliction in this life. Is that a popular theme in today’s pulpits? I think not! It’s awfully hard to be popular preaching like that. No one gives the bad news first when he’s trying to win someone to Christ, does he? Well, apparently Paul did just that. He reminds these believers that when he was with them he had warned them repeatedly that suffering was coming.
So too, I am convinced from God’s Word that in the times to come Western Christians will be tested. For some of us, it may be a tragic accident or a fearful diagnosis of some grave disease. It may be the death of a beloved spouse or, God forbid, even a child. Or maybe the grid will fail and the stores will run out of food. You may lose your job and your house (assuming you haven’t already)!
Disaster Brings a Temptation
So here is the tremendously important question I ask you: With all your preparations of food, water, ammunition, and the like, will your faith survive? Will your trust in the goodness of our God endure? This is no trivial concern. Your eternal soul hangs in the balance. Persevere in faith and live; allow yourself to be shaken by doubt so that you abandon Christ and shipwreck your faith, and you will sink into a miserable existence for all eternity.
Don’t you know that all suffering, affliction, and persecution comes wrapped in the same temptation? With each painful event, the devil will seek to persuade you that God is not good after all and that His divine purposes threaten you with doom and deprivation. But that’s a lie! God is our great provider. He loves His people so much that He gave His only Son to suffer, to die, to be buried, and to rise again for our deliverance. If that truth can’t sustain your faith, what can?
Whatever the grief that the coming days might bring, faith must stand. If faith is true it will stand. But faith only grows strong when it is fed and watered by the God-appointed means of grace.
The Purpose of the Church’s Ministry – Establish and Exhort
Given the certainty of affliction and of the temptation that comes with it, it is not hard to understand Paul’s great concern for the believers in Thessalonica. So ardent was his concern that Paul was willing to be left alone in Athens and sent Timothy. Many scholars believe that by this time Paul was suffering from near or even total blindness, likely the effect of being stoned in Lystra not long before (Acts 14:19-20). I’m inclined to agree that this was Paul’s thorn in his flesh. In any case, Timothy would have been a dear and necessary assistant. Notwithstanding, Paul was willing to be left alone.
As he retells of Timothy’s now completed mission, we get a glimpse into what Paul thought is the primary ministry of the Church and of Christian leaders. Timothy was sent to establish and encourage the faith of the believers there. He went to fend off what Paul saw as a very real danger. He went in order that the faith of these new believers might not be shaken. Not least among the duties of pastors is the call to build believers’ faith up by the ministry of the Word and by daily, regular prayer that their faith might not fail.
The Comfort of Faith in the Face of Affliction
In verse six, Paul records how he responded at the return of Timothy and to the happy report Timothy gave of the love and endurance of the church in Thessalonica. In spite of the fierce opposition the saints were experiencing, they continued to stand firm in their love for Paul and in their faith in Christ. Is it very surprising that their love for Paul and their faith in Christ go together? Can men love Christ and despise the messenger through whom they had first learned the Gospel? Hardly. Love for Christ and honor for his faithful ministers must always coincide. Similarly, you cannot say you love the Lord Jesus Christ and despise His church (1 John 4:20).
Here then is our first key to preparing your faith for survival. Remain faithful to the ministry of God’s Word. Not every church preaches that faithful word, I know. But find one and plant yourself there. Your faith cannot survive in isolation. “Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).
Paul tells us further that his own affliction, suffered in Athens, was greatly relieved by Timothy’s report. The faith of one believer soothes the suffering of every other. Herein lies another key preparation against losing your faith, and it’s related to the first: community endurance. None of us suffer alone. Your faith will not survive alone. Each of us needs the comfort of one another. And there’s no greater comfort that can be given to a struggling believer than the assurance that you too have struggled and endured. Your persevering faith will be a lifeline thrown to others. It was just so for Paul. Even the great Apostle needed the faithfulness of the believers in Thessalonica to make it through in his suffering. Do you have any doubts? Look at verse eight. Paul ties his own life and that of Timothy to the faithfulness of the church. As they endured their trials, Paul was sustained in his. Paul lived because they stood firm in Christ.
The Need of the Hour
I don’t believe it is overstating the facts in the least to say that the greatest need of our day is for Christians to establish and encourage each other’s’ faith, so that when we face tribulation, as we most certainly will, each believers’ faith will weather the storm and endure the fiery trial. No other kind of preparation will be any help if you lose your soul. Planting an established and sturdy faith must therefore be your greatest concern as you prepare for the future. Come together in Christian love and mutual concern for each other’s endurance, as the Thessalonians were doing, and you will not only survive, you will thrive unto eternal life.
©2012 Off the Grid News