“3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater; 4 therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God
for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. 5 This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. 6 For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Thess 3-12
Paul commends them because their faith and love has greatly increased and was growing even greater. It seems he is indicating that the strengthening of love was related to the increase of faith. I believe that love is a natural fruit of faith since our faith comes from God and God is love. It would just make sense that love would increase as faith grows stronger. When we do not love one another as we should, it is a sign that our faith is weak because faith works by love. Our understanding of the love that God has for us is directly proportional to the amount of faith we can have in Him, thus affecting the amount of love we can have for others. Not loving others correctly hinders the work of God. If we cannot forgive, we cannot be forgiven. It can also hinder our prayer lives as well so that we cannot receive from God all that He has to give us.
But what really piqued my interest was that their faith and love were growing in the midst of persecutions and afflictions. IN THE MIDST of them. They weren’t as a result of having gone through them. The growth didn’t happen in a time of peace as preparation for affliction. No, they were currently experiencing them.
I’ve experienced this in my own life. My greatest battles have proven to be my greatest growth times. Our Pastor said on Sunday, “To acquire a great victory, you must walk through a great battle.” That just made sense to me. So many times we want to have great victories without having to go through the battle that it takes to acquire them. How can a victory be great if it was not hard fought? Even in sports, our greatest victories are the ones that we had to fight hard for. I rarely remember the games where we ran all over our opponent. It didn’t cost me anything to win. I didn’t have to stretch my mental or physical abilities to gain it. It was more like a light practice than a competition. Spiritual battles cause us to stretch, to push, to press through things. This causes growth. If we look at them as opportunities to grow and to see God work in our lives, it immediately takes some of the sting away and turns our minds heavenward from whence comes our help.
The best thing about spiritual battles is that we know who wins before we even enter the fray. So we can view them much differently than one with no hope and no help. We are guaranteed victory through Christ “who always causes us to triumph.” We needn’t lose any battle that comes our way. Our adversary has already been overcome through Christ. So the matter is not IF we will emerge victorious, but how we are to wage battle through to victory.
So why do we sometimes lose?
We were blindsided
Sometimes we just don’t see things coming. Sometimes that is just the way it is. Often it is because we have not been walking entirely in the Spirit or our prayer times have been more talking than listening. When we had a devastating car accident, God did warn me something was coming, but I was so busy getting ready for the trip, I didn’t take the time I should have to pray and seek the Lord. But, on the other hand, I was praying and walking closely with God at the time so when it did happen, I recovered quickly because I realized that God had been preparing me through the months beforehand to handle it. In May my retina detached. In the months before that, I felt God preparing me for some kind of change. I didn’t know what but I knew that challenges were ahead so when it happened, instead of panic, there was peace. Yes, it was emergency. Yes, we had to scramble to get surgery scheduled and it felt as if the situation was controlling us instead of us controlling the situation, but in the midst of all of it there was incredible peace.
Lack of Knowledge
Did not God Himself say, “my people perish due to lack of knowledge?” Sometimes our troubles are self inflicted. If we do not know what God says about the things that come to buffet us, then we cannot know what we can expect Him to do and be in the midst of them. God is merciful. He will even comfort sinners in the midst of adversity but for the Christian there is so much more available. Lack of knowledge concerning the Lord’s body and blood caused weakness (sickness) and even death among believers in 1 Corinthians. How do I know they were Christians? They wouldn’t have been taking communion if they weren’t. If we receive things from God through faith, then we must have knowledge of what we can expect from God if we are to receive by faith. Without the knowledge of His will in every situation we face, we cannot have faith that He is able to accomplish His will in that situation. Jesus only did what He “saw His Father doing.” He always knew the will of God, even when he prayed “if it be they will.” Because of this He knew He could pray and see the will of God accomplished on the earth.
Christians bear a lot of things because they aren’t that bad or doctors can help with the symptoms. Instead of fighting the fight, by the power and grace of Christ and allowing God to be glorified, they just accept things and live with them. Where physical healing could be there is sickness. Where restored relationships could exist, there are fractured ones. Where emotions could be stable and joy could be the ruling emotion of each day, there is depression or drug-induced happiness because the person is just too lazy to seek God for a victory plan and would find it too tedious to carry it out. This is also most likely coupled with the previous reason-lack of knowledge of the Word of God. Where things are bearable or tolerable, people just tend to put up them and miss out on what God has for them. Maybe these would seem like small victories, but without overcoming the small battles, the large ones are lost before we get started.
One of my favorite stories in scripture is the story of Paul and Silas in prison. They chose worship over worry. They chose witnessing over whining. They chose victory over quitting. How could they do this? How did they have the spiritual fortitude to do this in the midst of their persecutions and afflictions? Because the same grace and peace they brought to believers from God, they had already received themselves. They knew the will of God and rejoiced that they were right smack in the middle of it. Knowing that you are walking in the will of God is the greatest joy that a human can know. His will is perfect and worth every battle that we must face to see it accomplished in our lives.
No matter what you are facing today, there is victory ahead and an opportunity for God to show Himself strong. Seek Him. Find His will. Follow His plan. Shine in the midst of hardship and let the world see that there is a God who is greater.