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8. Present Pain, Future Glory: 1&2 Thessalonians

What you hope for shapes what you live for.

And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.

-1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

What we hope for shapes what we live for. For example, if you’re hoping for a successful career, you work hard in school or at your job. If you’re hoping for deeper friendships, you spend time meeting people and building relationships.

The theme of hope and its present implications is central in the letters of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Paul previously led a group of people to faith in the city of Thessalonica, but shortly thereafter, the Christ-followers found themselves facing persecution. Paul himself had to flee the city to escape violence, so he wrote to the Thessalonians to re-establish contact and impart strength. He firsts praises the Christians for continuing to flourish in their trials, and then he challenges them to keep going.

I know things are hard right now, but there is a reason you can press on faithfully:

Christ will return.

He will bring justice upon evil and oppression.

And he will live with his people for eternity as he reigns in justice and peace.

According to Paul, fixing one’s hope on Jesus’s return is the key to godly faithfulness, especially in hard circumstances. Grounding oneself in the certainty of Christ’s return and glorious reign invigorates followers of Christ to press on! This won’t last forever, and you will be delivered, Paul assures his reader.

Hope compels Christians to live their lives in ways that honor God and anticipate his return! What might living-by-hope look like in practice? In his letter, Paul lays it out:

Living-by-hope Iooks like committing oneself to holiness and sexual purity; like responding to hostility with love and generosity; like possessing peace among the members of one’s community and building one another up; like living responsibly and working hard; and like living in joyful connection to Christ.

Followers of Christ can turn from competing desires and live obediently to God because they see things from the proper perspective! Any present discomfort or sacrifice is nothing in comparison to the glory that is to come at Christ’s return!

While the implications of following Christ are great, the life of a Christian is not a burdened one. Believers are called to live a life holy and pleasing to God, but they are to do so resting upon the faithfulness of God to work this out through them. They are to rely on his power. “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely,” Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

Christians have the power of Christ within them, who himself suffered to the greatest extent imaginable: enduring rejection, hostility and even death to secure salvation and establish his kingdom.

Are there ways in which your faith has led you to suffer? To face social exclusion or mistreatment? To forgo opportunities that would not glorify God? To expend costly energy in sacrificial love for another? 1&2 Thessalonians unite us with Christians across the ages who have suffered for Christ, and they remind us that we follow in the footsteps of our Savior. They lift our eyes from our circumstances and set our gaze on what is to come:

Christ will return.

He will bring justice upon evil and oppression.

And he will live with his people for eternity as he reigns in justice and peace.

Take hope.

RESPOND: Ask God to anchor you in the hope of Christ’s return. Then, spend a few moments processing with God how this hope might shape your current living.

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