We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. -1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 ESV
There was no one, aside from the Lord Jesus, as encouraging as the apostle Paul. He was thankful even in the most uncertain circumstances. One of the places this is most clearly seen is in his first letter to the Thessalonians. There he recounts his ministry and offers thanksgiving for God’s work in a young church.
Before even meeting the Thessalonians, Paul encountered a demon-oppressed girl who was following them around trying to draw attention to them. For me, one encounter with the girl from “The Ring” and I would have been out of there! Yet Paul persisted. Then he was beaten by rods and jailed for public disturbance. He ends up freed by an earthquake and then there was the now infamous conversion of the Philippian jailer.
Yet Paul continued from Philippi to Thessalonica to boldly preach the gospel even in the midst of more conflict. It only took around three days for Paul’s preaching in Thessalonica to cause a mob! We have much we can learn from Paul’s endurance.
Even as he suffered, Paul overflowed in thankfulness to God for the faith, love, and hope that was present in this young church. But why was he thankful for this? Paul knew that none of those virtues could be produced naturally by them; God gets the credit! Faith, love, and hope are gifts from the Holy Spirit. He recognized that God was at work in them.
Paul looked at the Thessalonians and saw more than their needs or trials, or even their sins and struggles, but he saw what God was doing under the surface. He matched evidence of troubles with evidence of grace. He knew that people are more than their circumstances. This is a reality we would do well to learn in our modern day.
When we look around at others what do we see? Do we look at external trials or internal transformations? Do we notice their faith, love, or steadfast hope? Before Paul turns to correct this church, and he will, he recalls his many reasons to be thankful. Are we ready to be thankful before we are critical?
What we need in our day is more thankful hearts. We need to be mindful of God’s work in others. Our communities of faith are far from perfect, but the One at work in them is. Any faith, any love, and any hope is a sign that the Author of the Church will also be the Finisher of the Church, and thus we have a reason to rejoice. He who began a good work always brings it to completion (Philippians 1:6).
May we find ourselves, even in the midst of deep discouragement, modeling the emphatic, unstoppable thankfulness of the apostle Paul.