THE PROCESS OF GROWING (2 THESSALONIANS 1:1-10)
Robert Heilbroner suggests comparing one’s life with the daily experience of over a billion people worldwide to help us count our blessings:
1. Take out all the furniture in your home except for one table and a couple of chairs. Use blanket and pads for beds.
2. Take away all of your clothing except for your oldest dress or suit, shirt or blouse. Leave only one pair of shoes.
3. Empty the pantry and the refrigerator except for a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, a few potatoes, some onions, and a dish of dried beans.
4. Dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, and remove all the electrical wiring in your house.
5. Take away the house itself and move the family into the tool shed.
6. Place your “house” in a shantytown.
7. Cancel all subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and book clubs. This is no great loss because now none of you can read anyway.
8. Leave only one radio for the whole shantytown.
9. Move the nearest hospital or clinic ten miles away and put a midwife in charge instead of a doctor.
10. Throw away your bankbooks, stock certificates, pension plans, and insurance policies. Leave the family a cash hoard of ten dollars.
11. Give the head of the family a few acres to cultivate, on which he can raise a few hundred dollars of cash crops, of which one third will go to the landlord and one tenth to moneylenders.
12. Lop off twenty-five or more years in life expectancy.
People usually thank God for what they have, seldom for what they lack. They thank God for the success, abilities and opportunities they have, but seldom for the opposition, obstacles and odds they face. Paul usually does that for the churches in Rome, Corinth, Philippi, Colosse and to Philemon. Paul’s introduction in his epistle to such churches or coworkers like Philemon is straightforward, almost stereotypical, usually with a commendation of their faith in Christ (Rom 1:8, Col 1:3-4, Philem 4-5), their myriad of gifts (1 Cor 1:4-5) and partnership in the gospel (Phil 1:3-5). His second letter to the Thessalonians, however, was slightly different. He gives thanks to God for their growth in the midst of encountering adverse circumstances and opposing forces.
Why is opposition an impetus for growth? How do we give thanks amidst affliction and antagonism? What can we learn from suffering and setbacks?
Give Thanks for What You Have Endured
3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. 4 Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. (2 Thess 1:3-4)
I learned patience the hard way. More than ten years ago, my knees swelled up and lost all strength while playing sports too rigorously. No doctor could explain why my knees locked, why my toes hardened and my muscles stiffened and shriveled. I had never blamed God even though I doubted He would heal me.
The only rehab that worked so far was water exercises, which I discovered in the summer of 2003. Pool exercises helped my frozen muscles regained part of its function, so that I could do more strenuous weight exercises in the gym, but still I had to be patient, consistent and hardworking.
Five or six days a week, I exercise one hour in the evening. First, I do 20 times three sets of three different weight exercises on the leg, progressing from the previous 30 lbs before to the present 150 lbs. Then I proceed to the swimming pool and do three sets of 100 times each – jogging exercise, skiing movement, and vertical jumps. To top it off, I have proceeded from swimming two laps in the past to the current 10 laps. All of that from someone who hates water and gets a chill easily. On alternate days, I would run two miles on the treadmill instead of swimming 10 laps. Praise God, patience and endurance have paid off and I have regained partial mobility and strength.
Paul gave thanks because the Thessalonians’ faith grew more and more (v 3) instead of diminishing more and more and becoming less and less, and their love for one another had increased when opposition arose instead of decreasing and weakening. In the midst of persecution and trials the church demonstrated fortitude, resolve and strength. Faith was more alive, people were more real and love was more shown and shared in the worst of circumstances instead of the coziest of circumstances. The church has always thrived in adversity because persecution is the mother of perseverance and distress is the mother of determination. The church did not fold up but forged ahead when troubles came.