With joy the apostle Paul thought of the Christians in Thessalonica. These converts had such good hearts that Paul looked forward to Christ’s return, knowing that they would enter on to their reward together: “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thess. 2:19-20). Paul is like an Olympic medalist whose king is not present at the event where he wins the gold for his country, so he returns to his home country and gladly presents his trophy to his king. Thus, Paul eagerly awaited the coming of Christ and calls those in Thessalonica his glory and joy. The account of his mission work in this important seaport city in northern Greece is found in Acts 17:1-9. Because of persecution, Paul and his company were sent out of the city, but continued to correspond by letter to the church there; we have the inspired books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians in the Bible as a result. What was it about the hearts of these Christians that caused Paul to have such joy at the thought of them?
Backing up to 1 Thessalonians 2:13 reveals that Paul was thankful for how they received the message he preached, as he wrote, “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.” Paul’s preaching was not according to man (Gal. 1:11). He preached the commandments of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37). Many dismiss the words of gospel preachers today as mere opinions. While many in pulpits may give the fashionable opinions of men, faithful gospel preachers proclaim God’s words, words with all authority behind them (Titus 2:15). Scripture is inspired—breathed out from the mouth of God (2 Tim. 3:16). These good-hearted Christians in Thessalonica heard God’s word and it effectively worked in them because they believed. Scripture should not be downplayed as irrelevant to the specific situations we find ourselves in today. The Thessalonians received the word the way they should have and let it transform their hearts and lives. Do we?
Their willingness to endure suffering for the way of truth was also a commendable characteristic for which Paul was thankful, as he wrote:
“For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.” (1 Thess. 2:14-16).
In this way, the Thessalonians identified with the Lord Jesus, the prophets of old, fellow Christians in Judea, and even Paul himself. We must not allow pressure from others to cause us to give in, but instead let us stand firm on God’s truth and endure suffering for it (2 Tim. 3:12-14).
What about you? Do you have these characteristics that would make your spiritual leaders think of you with joy instead of grief (Heb. 13:17)?