The type of people we are under hardship determines who we really are. I often mind myself excusing my behavior based on circumstances, but when I look at Paul’s example, I realize that this is misguided. Paul the apostle, in grave circumstances, continued to boldly preach the gospel.
Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1–16. Reflect on 1 Thessalonians 2:1–8:
“For you yourselves know, brothers, our reception with you, that it was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, just as you know, we had the courage in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. For our exhortation is not from error or from impurity or with deceit, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, thus we speak, not as pleasing people but God, who examines our hearts. For never did we come with a word of flattery, just as you know, nor with a pretext of greediness (God is witness), nor seeking glory from people, neither from you nor from others. Although we could have insisted on our own importance as apostles of Christ, yet we became infants in your midst, like a nursing mother cherishes her own children. Longing for you in this way, we determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own souls, because you had become dear to us" (LEB).
In Philippi, Paul and Silas (also called Silvanus) were beaten and imprisoned (see Acts 16:19–39). From this experience, Paul could have stopped sharing the gospel—or at least tempered his speech to make it inoffensive—but instead he continues to boldly preach (compare Romans 1:16–17). He goes onto Thessalonica and begins to minister there. It was under these circumstances that the Thessalonians met Paul and his colleagues.
Paul, Timothy, and Silas saw many people come to Christ through their ministry at Thessalonica (Acts 17:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:9). Ultimately, the preaching of the gospel led to riots in Thessalonica, forcing Paul and his colleagues to flee (Acts 17:5–10). Behind Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 2:1–8 is this backstory.
While in Thessalonica, the message of Paul and his colleagues was powerful in word and deed. They did not flatter people, as so many of us are prone to do. Nor was the goal even to fund their efforts and livelihoods (compare 1 Thessalonians 2:9). There was no personal gain sought. Nor did they seek fame.
For many, much of life ultimately becomes vain ambition (compare Ecclesiastes). Paul provides us with an alternative.
Paul does not look to alleviate his difficulties through popularity, wealth, or fame. Instead, he insists that the only reputation worth having—the only notoriety worth seeking—is one based on self-sacrifice for the kingdom of God (see 1 Thessalonians 1:8–10). It is one where Jesus is glorified, as he works through us and in us. It is one where our difficulties are turned into victories for Christ. Former excuses are substituted for boldness for Jesus.
How can you take present hardship, pray through it, and be bold instead? What are you seeking today that does not align with a message of self-sacrifice for Jesus?
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