How to Survive Life's Lemons: I Thessalonians 3
Introduction: Life is a Battlefield
Recently I read this description of life by an unknown author:
"Life is a long campaign, and day by day we fight its battles. The Bible has many metaphors to describe life. Now in its brevity, it is a mist that appears for a while, like the mist which hangs over a river in autumn and then, when the sun has risen, is gone. Now it is a swift ship rapidly disappearing on the horizon. Now it is a caravan winding its way across the desert. Now it is the weaver's shuttle threshing to and fro. But the most easily understood of all the metaphors of the Bible for life is when the Bible calls life a warfare and a battle."
The prosperity preachers have done the Christian message a great disservice by saying that if you have enough faith you can have anything that you want, whether it be a mansion, a new car or lots of money in the bank. But our God is not a vending machine and He hasn't promised that a life following Christ would be a bed of roses. Indeed, the crucified Christ and 11 of the 12 Apostles were martyred for their faith. And John spent the remainder of his life on a penal colony called the Isle of Patmos. Traditionally, this was after he had been placed in a vat of boiling oil and, by the grace of God survived.
God may choose to give some people the world's definition of prosperity, but it certainly isn't the norm and it isn't promised to us on this earth. Our real rewards will be in Heaven and they are are all received by God's amazing grace, through faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The interesting thing is that we don't seem to remember that this sin-cursed world is not the Garden of Eden for the non-Christian either. While the Christian does have the added problem of Satanic and anti-Christian opposition, even the unbeliever goes through a lot of trouble in this life. And, sadly, they don't have the promise of Heaven to help them cope with the pain and suffering that all of us must endure as the offspring of Adam and Eve.
The Thessalonian church is a good example of what it means to live on a battlefield. As we noted in earlier studies, this body of believers was founded by the Apostle Paul, Silas and Timothy and this writing to them was one of Paul's earliest epistles. Sadly, shortly after founding this church, Paul and his companions were run out of town. The Thessalonians then continued to be persecuted and Paul worried that they had given in to their persecutors and had abandoned their faith.
So Paul sent Timothy back to them to check on the church and to encourage them in their faith. Happily, Timothy found the church thriving and continuing on despite the major opposition that they were undergoing. So he wrote this letter which has become known as I Thessalonians to tell them how thrilled he was that they were remaining strong and to encourage them to continue on the same course.
One of the major things that we can learn in the 21st century from this church is that we too will face problems in this life and that we, like this faithful church, have the ability, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to not only survive but thrive in the worst of environments. And we can also make a difference for Jesus Christ in the world despite any and all opposition.
There is an old saying that states: "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Someone has explained this as:
"a proverbial phrase used to encourage optimism and a positive can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune. Lemons suggest sourness or difficulty in life; making lemonade is turning them into something positive or desirable."
If we follow the example of both Paul and the Thessalonians in chapter 3 of this small epistle, then we too can take the lemons of life and make lemonade. Let us look at the reasons that they were able to do this.
The first thing we need to know, that Paul taught his loved ones in Thessalonica undergoing persecution, is the fact that the believer must realize that what is happening to them is inevitable.
I. Realize that Problems are Inevitible (1-5)
Unfortunately, we are living in a sin-cursed world. We aren't home in heaven yet and because of that, we must expect problems and opposition. Paul tells us this in the first 5 verses of chapter 3. He says:
"Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you, yourselves know that we are appointed to this. For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know. For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain." (3:1-5 NkJV).
If you remember in chapter 2 that Paul talks about how Satan hindered him from coming to the Thessalonians up until now (17-19). Now he's telling the Thessalonians of the 'tempter' who might tempt them. Once again he is referring to Satan who hates God and all those who follow Him and will do anything to see that God's plan for you will not happen. If you look in Ephesians 6:12, Paul tells these believers that our struggles are not ultimately against men but against Satan and his emissaries. Here is what he says:
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (NKJV).
So we can't listen to those who tell us that if we trust in Christ He will solve all of our problems and we will live a prosperous life. This life, whether we are Christian or non-Christian, will be full of troubles. And if we are a Christian those troubles are sometimes caused by Satan and his followers. If we learn to expect them, then we will be more prepared for problems and be ready to trust God for their outcome.
II. Give and Accept Comfort and Help (6-9)
However, not only do we expect troubles, we must realize that we aren't alone, even during the worst times of our lives. We have God. And we have all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. All believers, either have experienced, are experiencing, or will experience trials and tribulations at some point in their lives. We need to always be prepared to give comfort and help wherever possible to those of our fellow Christians who may happen to need it at the time. And we must not try to be lone rangers when we ourselves are experiencing problems. It isn't weak to reach out to the Body of Christ for help. It is what God expects of us.
We see in verse 5 that Paul couldn't stand not knowing what was going on with his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica. We read that he sent Timothy to check on them, encourage them and let them know that they weren't alone. And finally, by verse 6 we find out that Timothy had come back and the great Apostle is excited by their abiding faith in Christ.
Even though Paul himself continued to undergo affliction, he remembered his children in the faith and cared about their well being. And he was now comforted when he found them to be doing extremely well.
Just like Paul, sometimes we can't do anything but write a note or letter letting people know that they are not alone. We can remind them that we care and that God is there, and is in control. And we should let the person in trouble know that we would be there if possible. Further, whenever we are able, we need to make plans to come and comfort them in person, give them a hug, and help in any way possible.
Some might say: "But they are only words." I can't help like that!" But as Scripture tells us:
"Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit." (Proverbs 18:21).
Never underestimate the power you have to comfort someone or to give them the courage to face just one more day by the words that you speak. Paul didn't. And that is how we got I Thessalonians.
The Apostle says in verse 8-9:
"for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account..."
The word for 'stand firm' here is the picture of an army who refuses to retreat even though it is being assaulted by the enemy. Paul tells them that his children standing firm causes him to really be alive. It is his highest sense of joy in the ministry to know their faithfulness to the Lord and His work despite what was happening to them by Satan and those who hated Christ and His work.
So Paul himself was comforted by the Thessalonians just by the fact that they didn't give in to all those trying to destroy them. But something else was going on here which aided in the comfort. Paul was praying for his spiritual children as well.
III. Pray Consistently for Those in Trouble (10-12)
It is so easy to say to people: "I'm praying for you!" But it is harder to remember to actually do it. However, we can guarantee that Paul was praying for the Thessalonians. He tells them that night and day he kept praying most earnestly that he would get to see their faces and complete what was lacking in their faith (10).
Then he goes on to pray for them in the letter by saying:
"Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; 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..." (11-12).
We, as God's people must realize the power of prayer to keep both ourselves and those to whom we are ministering strong in the faith. It is the power of God, the Holy Spirit, who will take any situation that we are going through and cause it to abound for His glory.
Prayer should never be a last resort for the believer going through the lemons of life. It should be a first step in overcoming the trouble. And if we tell someone we're going to pray for them, we need to do everything in our power to carry out that request. Even if it means that we make a written list of all those for whom we agreed to pray and go through that list regularly. We must remember as James tells us in his book: "The fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." (James 5:16 NKJV).
This leads us to the final reason both Paul and the Thessalonians were able to thrive under much tribulation. We see in verse 13, which is the final part of Paul's prayer, that they realized that this world wasn't all that there is to reality. They were anticipating Jesus' return.
IV. Anticipate Jesus' Return (13)
Paul's main reason for praying for his spiritual children was:
"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."
One day the Lord Jesus Christ will return to take His Church to be with Him in the Rapture. Paul will say more about this in chapter 4 but is alluding to it here at the end of 3. His prayer is that there be no grounds of accusation against them because of unholiness when Jesus comes back.
He isn't praying for their salvation here. They are already saved. He is praying that the Holy Spirit will finish His work of sanctification so that they may not be ashamed when they stand before the judgment seat of Christ and that they may not lose any of the rewards that they could receive from Jesus' hand.
It should be every saint's ambition to have the Lord say to us: "Well done thou good and faithful servant!" And, like any good father, the Apostle Paul wants this for his children as well.
All of us, when going through major problems in life, must realize that this world isn't all that there is. No tragedy is permanent. And no blessing is forever here either. We have a greater home to look forward to that Jesus is preparing for us. And we can't lose sight of that ultimate destination if we hope to be of any value in this present existence in which we are now living.
There is a beautiful poem by another unknown author that kind of sums up how we should view the trials in our lives. It goes like this:
"Lord, I've never moved a mountain and I guess I never will. All the faith that I could muster wouldn't move a small anthill. Yet I'll tell you, Lord, I'm grateful for the joy of knowing Thee, and for all the mountain moving down through life, You've done for me.
When I needed some help you lifted me from the depths of great despair. And when burdens, pain, and sorrow have been more than I can bear, you have always been my courage to restore life's troubled sea, and to move these little mountains that have looked so big to me.
Many times when I've had problems and when bills I've had to pay, and the worries and the heartaches just kept mounting every day, Lord, I don't know how you did it. Can't explain the wheres or whys. All I know, I've seen these mountains turn to blessings in disguise.
No, I've never moved a mountain, for my faith is far too small. Yet, I thank you, Lord, of Heaven, you have always heard my call. And as long as there are mountains in my life, I'll have no fear, for the mountain-moving Jesus is my strength and always near."
Ultimately, all of the troubles in our lives should not lead us to despair, but back to the only One who can ever move the immovable mountains with which we are faced.
Chances are that none of us here, who live in America, have ever encountered the persecution that Paul and the church that he founded had encountered. Although, there are many Christians in this world that have suffered like this and continue to suffer. We should never cease to pray for the persecuted church around the world and help them in any way possible.
However, all of us have, or will one day have, major problems in our lives that are beyond our control and beyond our ability to cope with our own strength.
When we hear of others that we know that are going through such pain and sorrow, let us take a lesson from I Thessalonians 3. Knowing that these problems are inevitable, let us give comfort to those in need and really pray for them that their faith remains strong. And may we pray especially that they may remember that this life of sorrows will one day be over and will be replaced by eternal joy and happiness.
And when we go through the Valley of the Shadow of death ourselves, let us allow others to minister to us in our time of need as well. We weren't made to do this life alone. The Body of Christ should be our refuge in times of storm.
By ourselves, we will fall. However, together, we can get through the toughest problems in life and turn the sourest of lemons into the sweetest of lemonade. Finally, together, with the help of Almighty God, we will all make it safely home to glory. Praise the Lord for His provisions for our needs!
© 2019 Jeff Shirley