Difficult Love

1 Thessalonians 2:17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.

3:1 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker [1] in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 3 that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 4 For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. 5 For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

As I read Sunday’s passage, I was struck by Paul’s intense love for the Thessalonians. The verbiage reminds me of a mother that is estranged from her children. She loves them so much, she’ll do whatever it takes to see them/hear from them. There is a longing, a yearning that can only be satisfied with a first-hand report. Paul’s love for this little church is compelling. He had only known them for a month, yet it seems like he was ready to burst with want of news of their welfare. Do I love people like that?

The other thing that struck me was his immediate discussion of persecution. He didn’t shy away from talking about hard things. Persecution is a very real part of the Christian life. Paul wanted to make sure that his friends were biblically informed. He wanted them to have the correct view of the hardships they were facing. He wanted them to know that it was part of God’s plan. What? God wants us to experience persecution. Yes! The intensity may be different, the circumstances change, but God has designed for His children to face affliction at the hands of sinners. Why, you may ask? That’s a good question. I do not fully grasp the reason why, but I’ll take a stab at it. We’re called to imitate Christ, to be like Him. To be like Him in everything, not just the easy things. Persecution refines our sinful hearts unlike any other trial. Persecution shapes convictions, love, and a steadfast spirit. If walked out correctly, persecution draws us even closer to the Lover of our soul. It make us dependent on Him for strength and wisdom. Because Christ suffered for us, we have the privilege to suffer (so small in comparison) because we love Him.

That may seem harsh. But, it isn’t. Our puny brains cannot even begin to grasp the goodness and wisdom of God’s plans. God promises to never leave us or forsake us. He promises to never give us a trial or temptation that we cannot handle. He promises to be near and to give us the grace and power to handle whatever He puts in our paths. So, no matter if the trial is persecution, sickness, fighting with sin, contentment, bereavement…He is always there. He never leaves, never forsakes, and always provides the power (Rom. 1:16) to stand up under the trial. He is good and faithful.

He has saved me from my sins. He has snatched me from my head-long leap into hell. He is the Lover of my soul. The Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep. What is a little persecution (what we as Americans deal with is so puny, compared to many places in the world) compared to what He has done for me? It should be my joy to sacrificially love my Savior in any way that He chooses.

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