And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!
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.
– 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20 [ESV]
I recently encountered a photo of a gathering at which I was present, and I looked for myself in the photo. Too many people. Too small faces. Me, not found. But whenever I look at the Bible, I do find myself. Sometimes in encouraging ways. Often in sobering ways. Ultimately in thankful ways because of Jesus’ presence with me in those passages.
True, Jesus sometimes has some very harsh things to say to religious people. In fact it was the religious leaders with whom Jesus was particularly challenging. Whether calling them whitewashed tombs, or children of the devil, he was not afraid to call them to account for their actions. But to anyone who was willing to humble himself before God Jesus was remarkably kind and merciful. The woman at the well: The woman caught in adultery: The sinful woman who anointed him with expensive perfume: all received words of kindness, grace, and mercy. I’m happy to be numbered with them.
Paul echoes Jesus’ values and interactions in dealing with the Thessalonians. They had suffered. They had remained faithful. And Paul expresses solidarity with them. He has words of encouragement for them. He is willing to call them brothers.
The Thessalonians are the focus of attention and love on the part of Paul. Perhaps you can identify with that: a dedicated servant of God has expressed love and encouragement to you. You have been in the prayers of a prayer warrior. Someone who is a follower of Jesus has visited you, offering God’s word of grace and truth. That’s where you can be in this picture of Christian love and concern.
May it never be that we are in the group who seeks to thwart others from gaining access to Jesus. We must not be the source of discouragement to faithful followers of our Lord. We must never get in the way of one who is spreading the word of Christ. Ridicule, criticism, grumbling, and fault-finding all do exactly those things. Let that never be our place in the picture!