Which is worse: being shut up in your home for several weeks, or suffering persecution for your faith? The answer is obvious.
The apostle Paul was ushered out of Thessalonica because of persecution. The brothers carried him away from danger to the city of Berea. Some time later, he wrote to the new congregation with love and concern. He closed his letter with rapid-fire imperatives, concerns of his for their spiritual well-being under pressure, 1 Thessalonians 5.12-24.
His words have something to say to us as well.
1. Take care of one another
First, he says, take care of your guides, teachers, and evangelists. Social pressure can hurt finances. Don’t forget to listen to and be supportive of those who work in the gospel:
Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work, vv. 12-13.
Then, see to the specific needs of others and deal with them according to their situation: the undisciplined, the discouraged, the weak. Patience is key.
Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all. See that no one pays back evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.
And don’t forget those outside of Christ. Whatever is going on around you, they still need the gospel.
2. Take care of your own heart
Always rejoice, constantly pray, in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus, vv. 16-18.
Fear, bitterness, worry, resentment, and other negative emotions often move in when events press upon us. Paul wants his readers to be sure of God’s will to rejoice, pray, and give thanks.
In times of stress and in circumstances that limit your options and movements, work on what is possible for you and what is most precious — your inner being.
3. Take care not to react in extremes
Do not extinguish the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt. But examine all things; hold fast to what is good, 19-21.
Outside pressure sometimes causes people to close themselves off. So don’t miss God’s blessings from his teachers just because you’re too worried or tired to see if they are indeed legitimate men of God.
We don’t have inspired prophecies today as in the first century, but we can take a lesson here: Dig deeper in the Word of God, and listen to many of his guides and teachers. The Holy Spirit works through them all to fire us up, insofar as we are inserted into Scripture. In the Bible is our power.
Terezinha de Jesus, a deceased Brazilian sister in Christ, wrote a song about the power of God. Here’s my translation of her refrain:
Then let us shine with Him, the brightest,
Following all the ways he trod;
His light the most secure and highest,
Trusting in the power of God./1
4. Take care of your holiness
Stay away from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this, vv. 22-24.
When situations get tough, saints may be tempted to find solace in sinful behaviors. Whether it be persecution or government lockdown, loss of job or health, temptations may grow when God seems distant. Paul ends with a general call to holiness and an assurance that God is near and active in their lives.
If we hang on to our faith when the walls are closing in, we soon discover the trustworthiness of God.
1/Terezinha de Jesus, “O poder de Deus,” in Salmos, hinos e cânticos espirituais (Belo Horizonte MG Brazil: Escola da Bíblia, 1976), no. 144.
The editor is taking Paul’s concerns to heart. He co-edited the book, The Right Kind of Christianity.