Background Scripture 1 Thessalonians 3. Devotional Reading: Acts 4:32-37.
We can look two different ways at Paul’s experiences revealed in his first letter to the Thessalonians. We can concentrate on the negatives: severe opposition from some of the people of Philippi, Berea, and Thessalonica, a new and vulnerable congregation of Christians engulfed by a hostile and decadent culture, and a lack of information about what was happening to the Macedonian converts. Many of us would look no further than those depressing facts that Paul calls “these afflictions”
(3:3,4), and some might throw up their hands and cry, “What can we do?” That is one possibility.
The other response to all of the above would be not to deny the negatives, but choose to “accentuate the positive.” I have learned that many people do not realize they have a choice; that instead of seeing a glass half empty, they can choose to regard it as half full. Actually, the glass is both half empty and half full and it is up to us to focus either on its half emptiness or half fullness. In the same way there are both positive and negative factors every day. The positive is generally enabling; the negative is usually disabling. It’s your choice, not your fate.
Paul was well aware of the distressing factors facing him and his mission. Not only was there hostility toward him, but very likely the same hostility toward the groups of new Macedonian Christians. It would be hard enough for Paul to overcome these factors, but would the young and untested congregation at Thessalonica be prepared to do so?
Thus, Paul did not disbelieve or discount the “afflictions” – although they were constantly intruding into his consciousness – instead, he decided to concentrate upon the positives: the vision that brought him to Macedonia, the ready response of people in Philippi, Berea, and Thessalonica, the beginnings of Macedonian congregations, few as they were, the strength of the love bond between the apostle and his converts, the conviction that he was doing God’s work, and eventually Timothy’s encouraging report from Thessalonica. The new Christians there were asking, “What can we do?” not in desperation, but anticipation. SPI RI T
A WIN/WIN FAITH
So what could the Macedonian Christians do? The first answer was: focus on the goodness of God, not the afflictions. Concentrate on the good that with God’s help you can do, not the things you cannot do. Second, taking your cue from Paul and the Thessalonians, make and maintain loving, caring relationships with others: “For this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction
we have been comforted about you through your
I wonder how many of us belong to congregations where the people are truly brothers and sisters in the Lord, where our comfort, love, and hope rest upon the faith and welfare of those with whom we share the sacraments, worship and learn to grow? If not, isn’t it time for you to ask each other: “What can we do”?
Although all around were signs that the score was LOSE/LOSE, there was also God’s word to them through each other: WIN/WIN! The new Christians found hope and assurance in the message and actions of Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy and, correspondingly, the three missionaries were remarkably inspired by the new Christians: “In all our distress and affliction we
have been comforted about you through your faith’ for
now we live if you stand fast in the Lord”
(3:7-10). (To ponder: in your own distress and affliction, whose faith has the power to inspire and lift you?)
In The Keys of the Kingdom,
A. J. Cronin writes of a Chinese scholar who long turned aside all the efforts by Father Chisholm to convert him to Christ. At last, however, he exclaims: “The goodness of a religion is best
judged by the goodness of its adherents …My
friend…you have conquered me by example!”
What can you do? Why not try saving someone by example?