The witness of the weak…

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1 Thessalonians 3:1 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we decided to be left alone in Athens; and we sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith, so that no one would be shaken by these persecutions. Indeed, you yourselves know that this is what we are destined for. In fact, when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we were to suffer persecution; so it turned out, as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith; I was afraid that somehow the tempter had tempted you and that our labor had been in vain. 

The chapter goes on to note that the faith of the Christians in Thessalonika had not wavered, but was indeed firm. What struck me this morning is verse 5:

For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith; I was afraid that somehow the tempter had tempted you and that our labor had been in vain. 

As you know, many of the Christians communities to whom the apostle Paul wrote letters were struggling with persecution. In some cases the pressure was too great for the relatively new believers who fell away from the faith. When I first read the passage above, this is where my mind went. Maybe Paul was trying to encourage the suffering believers to keep the faith.

But then it occurred to me that maybe the problem was not persecution in Thessalonika, but the persecution of Paul and his ministry partners in Athens (v.1). Paul wrote often in his letters that God’s power is made perfect in human weakness. It is in our weakness that God comes alongside us and advocates on our behalf. That said, our world doesn’t often think much of the weak – in the ancient world or even now. Strength is what makes the best impression, not weakness. This morning I think Paul’s concern is that his repeated persecution may have compromised him in the eyes of the Thessalonians – with the help of the “tempter” (Satan) who would no doubt be whispering in the ears of believers that Paul was weak, so his God must be weak, so his gospel message must be weak.

Lots of us are feeling a bit weak these days. Continual anxiety and stress will do that. There is no shame in that. And while my weakness may compromise me in the eyes of other people, it is not so with God. I know that God knows my weaknesses more than I do since I don’t always see my own faults. Yet God loves me anyway. I want to be strong, but some days I simply can’t. My weakness gets the upper hand. Sound familiar? So today I am confessing my weaknesses to God and asking God to do a work in my life I cannot do on my own. Lord let it be so. Amen.

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