17 January 2021

1 Thessalonians 3:1-13 Responding to life’s pressures

Speaker: Andy Yip


The year 2020 was challenging, and many people found extra pressures in life. They often didn’t know what to do or how to respond to such a vast and sudden change due to the pandemic around the world. Especially the faithful believers of Jesus Christ who live in a hostile environment against Christianity. On top of the threat of COVID-19, in countries such as Laos, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia, China and North Korea, where governments or extremist groups always persecuting the believers and their families, it is dangerous if not illegal to practice Christianity. Afflictions similar to those experienced by Paul and the Thessalonians – including church burnings or closings, harassment, fines, arrest, and imprisonment – are a constant and present reality.

Historians mentioned that more Christians might have died for their faith in the twentieth and twenty-first century than in the previous nineteen centuries combined. Forced to deny Christ to live, they chose to confess Jesus and die, hence bearing witness to him as both crucified Messiah and risen Lord and to their hope of the life to come.

So what attitude should we, the children of Christ and citizens of God’s Kingdom have when facing hardships and persecutions?


1) Persecution and hardship are guaranteed in Christian life

Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the 1940s wrote, “If we refuse to take up our cross and submit to suffering and rejection at the hands of men, we forfeit our fellowship with Christ and have ceased to follow him. But if we lose our lives in his service and carry our Cross, we shall find our lives again in the fellowship with Christ… To bear the Cross proves to be the only way of triumphing over suffering. This is true for all who follow Christ, because it was true for him.”

During his life, Bonhoeffer was against Adolf Hitler and denounced Nazism during World War 2. He stood firm for his Lord Jesus Christ and later hanged by the Nazi at a concentration camp in April 1945.

Like many Christians before us who witnessed Jesus in their lives, our Christian life will not be easy. In fact, godly living is guaranteed to be difficult; it is crucial for us, as the followers to Jesus to encourage each other in the faith.

Apostle Paul wrote that “we could stand it no longer” in Chapter 3 verse 1 because he and his co-workers of the gospel have been persecuted heavily in Athens. So they sent Timothy, a fellow worker of Christ, to strengthen and encourage the young Thessalonians church’s faith. He wrote in verse 3 and 4, “so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. 4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.” (1 Thessalonians 3:3-4)

God has a plan for us; even if the road seems to be difficult to go ahead, God is still with us. God has planned hard times in our lives for our benefits. Some people think that troubles are always caused by sin or a lack of faith. That is not true. Trials may be a part of God’s plan for believers. When we experience problems and persecutions, they can build up our character (James 1:2-4), perseverance (Romans 5:3-5), and sensitivity toward others who also face trouble (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). Problems are unavoidable for God’s people.

On the other hand, trials are inevitable like our master Jesus Christ, who had suffered trials and went to the Cross. Trials are part of the package of being a Christian. Your troubles may be a sign of effective Christian living.

Jesus warned us in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I know that some people turn to God with the hope of escaping suffering on earth. But God doesn’t promise that. Instead, he gives us the power to grow through our sufferings. The Christian life involves obedience to Christ despite temptations and hardships. Strength and courage are needed for every Christians in the life of faith because the world is hostile.

These trials are anything which causes Christians to suffer because of their faith, and Paul was concerned that the trials, difficulties, and pains in life would not unsettle the believers, making them waver in their faith.

Today in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people generally ask, “Why?” when the problem hit us. While it is O.K. to ask hard questions, one of the answers is simply “because”. Because we live in a fallen world where evil and Satan reign at the present moment. Because the rain falls on the just and the unjust. Because the world system and its values are against Jesus Christ and all who follow him. Because this world is groaning until the day of its redemption. Because Christ is not Lord in totality yet until he returns.

So in the meantime, we find our strength in Christ and know that difficulties and attacks to our faith will come.

As the Scripture says in James chapter 1, “2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

All believers will share in that victory in Christ when he returns. But as long as this age lasts, we must not expect an easy life. Trials are a part of God’s purpose for us. Why? We do not know, but accepting the proposition that “we are destined for them” does put meaning into life when difficult and dark days overtake us for the positive outcome of suffering in building up our character.

Paul had warned the Thessalonian believers this warning, and we too should warn the new believers as well. To make it clear to new believers that difficulties lie ahead in life.

Paul continued in verse 5, “For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labours might have been in vain.” The “tempter” was Satan, and Paul always understood Satan as an enemy of the gospel. He described him as the tempter because Satan’s aim in regard to Christians is always to make them fail into sin and error. It is good to remember that Satan still tries to devour our faith through difficulties in life. No matter if it is COVID, financial difficulties, falling behind in school marks, psychological or physical health issues. The devil has been tempting believers to abandon their faith. The maturity of a Christian is dependent on his commitment and determination to follow after Jesus. There is never a guarantee that having once begun well, every believer will finish their Christian faith and life well. That is why we are to encourage one another, be diligent in our obedience, and be relentless in our desire for righteousness.

In my old church in Malabar, I used to know a young teenage boy who had lost his father at a young age. But I give thanks to the Lord for him. As I met him against two years ago at Katoomba’s CMS Summer School, the junior high school teenager is now a uni graduate who helps out teaching primary children in the CMS Summer School children’s program, serving the Lord. As one of the ex-Sunday School teachers in the church, I rejoice for his faith growth throughout the years. He had a tough time in high school years in a single-parent family. I still pray that the Lord will continue to help him continue growing into maturity as a faithful witness of Christ. I hope that one day, you too may rejoice of the little ones to grow strong in their faith so that one day it will be their turn to serve Christ at church. Your fellow believers in this church will continue to grow in faith and love as the Thessalonians, not depart from their faith in Christ.


2) Pray and sympathise with those in difficulty, and stand with them in love.

Paul sent Timothy to visit Thessalonica, and the report was positive. He continues in verse 6, “But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories for us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. 7 Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8 For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?”

Timothy has reported two characteristics of the good news after visiting Thessalonica: that is faith and love. These are vital attributes of Christ-following Christians.

Faith refers to the Thessalonians’ attitude toward God and their relationship with him. Love is the demonstration of faith as expressed toward other people. When the Thessalonians are standing firm in the gospel, it encouraged Paul and his friends to keep on living in a time of distress and persecution. He found his greatest joy in people who lived out their faith and love. And because of these godly believers who are filled with faith and love of Christ, Paul is able to offer joyful thanksgiving to God. It is a great joy as a Christian community, to see spiritual progress and strength in the lives of the people we loved.

Like Paul, when we respond to those who are suffering, persecuted or in difficulty in the gospel, not only we need to sympathise with and pray for them, we also need to tell them that we stand with them in love. We are all the body of Christ, and we are united under Christ, and in Christ as one church. Trials in life produce long-lasting, persistent faith and maturity. While we should not go searching or pray for pain, or like the medieval monks who inflict self-pain by whipping their backs, neither should we feel that pain is outside our Lord’s sovereign plan for us any more than it was outside the Father’s will for the Son Jesus.

Paul prayed day and night for the Thessalonians, longing to supply what is lacking in their faith. They are not fully developed in knowledge and understanding. They also lacked teaching, warning, and instruction from Paul. It is good that we make spiritual progress in our Christian walk in Christ, but it is never completed until Jesus’ return. There is always room for us to grow in Christ until the day we die in Him.

Just like how Paul prayed for the Thessalonians, we thank God for those who had come to know Jesus, and for their strong faith and continual growth in the faith. Have you benefited from the ministry of others? Or has someone’s guidance and faithfulness stimulated you to grow in Christ? Let them know that you have followed their examples by being faithful to Christ, and pray for other Christians and new believers to continue to grow as Paul did in this letter.


3) Pray for one another’s behalf 

Paul’s concern and love for his brothers in Christ in Thessalonica have turned into prayer from verse 11 to 13. He wrote, “Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”

Paul loves his fellow believers in Thessalonica so much that he asked God to clear the way for him to visit them. Similarly, for fellowship and love and encouragement, do not cease meeting one another in church. Leave no one behind and continue our fellowship with them. Because we love them as Christ loves us, to keep a relationship takes efforts. If we love our fellow believers in Christ, we should always seek the opportunity to meet them and pray for one another. As we build up our relationship with one another, God makes our love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, so that the love of Christ is in display with joy and love through our Christian community, supporting one another. We must actively and persistently show love to each other so that our love in Jesus will grow continually toward one another. If you find your capacity to love has remained unchanged for some time, ask God to full you again with his never-ending supply. Then look for opportunities to let God’s love spill over in refreshment to others. There will be a time when Jesus comes and again with all his holy people, Christ returns to establish His eternal Kingdom. At that time, he will gather all believers, those who have died, and those alive, into one united family of love under his rule. We will see Paul and the Thessalonian believers. All the generations of Christians before us and after us, together, we will be with Christ in his Kingdom.

As written in 1 John 4:7-8, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Because God is love, the great proof of Christ’s life is in us, is that love must always be on the increase. Our love for people has to spill over to other believers in our church and to everyone else. The love of God through us extends to all, even our enemies. Even people we don’t like naturally, we love them in the name of Christ. Love, and every other virtue, springs from the heart. It is not a matter of following rules, but their inner life that makes Christianity vibrant. Paul’s prayer was that the believers’ hearts would be strengthened. He realised that unless the heart is firmly established, there will be no growth and development. Changing methods or habits sometimes lasts for a short time, but lasting change begins with the heart. This change can come only from the Lord. So let God changes our hearts, and start to love people in church and others around us, and then extend our love to people we don’t know or our enemies. In that way, we will be true ambassadors of Jesus Christ, our Lord, giving glory to the Father.

Our hearts need to be strengthened so that we will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father. As we are in Christ Jesus, in the judgement, he gives us the gift of Christ’s righteousness and salvation through Jesus Christ. God sees us through the new creation of his Son, forgiven by the death of Christ, and covered by the righteousness that belongs to him. So that we now draw on the strength of Christ to live a life worthy of the calling that we have received. This means we seek to make righteous decisions and to choose righteous, holy motives and actions. Blamelessness is possible if we deal with sin whenever it enters our heart. When we sin, we should deal with it immediately through confession. With this additional grace, we stand blameless before our Lord, now and when Jesus comes with all his holy ones.


So, in summary, what we have learnt today from this passage:

  1. Pain and temptations are regular components in our Christian life.
  2. Faith is a growing, daily commitment to believe God, no matter what happens to us
  3. Only God can help us grow in his kind of holiness and love.


And we respond to God’s love by:

  1. Letting others know that we care about their faith and growth.
  2. Pray for one another’s character should come before concerns for the physical aspects of life.
  3. Our Christian relationships will be characterised by love and care for the good of others.
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