Let’s look again at Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians.
Doesn’t it seem odd that Paul’s advice was to focus on the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ instead of on implementing the practical advice he had given? They had a lot of life difficulties accented by persecution for their Christianity. Planting a church in the Greek-Roman world was trouble enough!
What are your troubles today? I am in some of the most trying days of my life. Widowhood is not for sissies! I yearn for a simple “how to survive” booklet and some comfort or escape from my grief. It takes a lot of self-discipline to focus on anything other than our immediate comfort or survival when we have a lot of problems. Emotions rage. And they can control us if we aren’t careful.
I used to teach a government class to high school seniors. The students were to examine current political issues and come to a logical conclusion as to the best way to solve problems like abortion, helping the poor, foreign relations etc. The first step was to identify their emotions about the issue and put them up on a shelf until they gathered the facts. My, it was hard for seventeen year olds to do!
Try putting your emotional responses to your troubles up on a shelf for awhile. Take hold of yourself. Exert self-discipline. Paul was not talking about denial of emotions here, but an acknowledgement of the ones resulting from their problems and a refusal to be ruled by them. Our culture today celebrates emotion, and looks at it as okay to be ruled by our emotional responses. Paul recommended a different approach. He advised them to think about the Second Coming of Christ and let that stir their emotions in a different direction.
Gather The Facts
The first step is to think about what we know to be true about the Second Coming and to avoid all speculation.
Jesus will give Christians rewards. There will be a public awards ceremony (I Thess. 1:19). Paul believed his work with this church plant was worthy of a reward. What might you receive a crown for? Perhaps it will be for your patience and long-suffering with a difficult family member? Maybe it will be for standing up against an abusive spouse who was emotionally or physically damaging you or your children. Perhaps it will warm your heart to visualize yourself getting a crown. If you are in the middle of crying about something else, it will encourage you to think about receiving a crown when Jesus comes back. Try it.
Jesus will declare you to be without blame and holy as He presents you to the Father (I Thess. 3:13). When we are having troubles, it is easy to sin. We lose our tempers. The stress is so uncomfortable we seek ways to feel better: misusing alcohol or drugs or sugar or sex. When the One who never sinned presents you to the Father, He will cover your sins with His righteousness so you will not be embarrassed or rejected (I Thess. 5:23-24). Are you burdened by your own sinful reactions to your stresses? Here is an appropriate way to seek comfort and relief: imagine yourself being presented to the Father clothed in pure white linen. You will be accepted into His courts with praise, to live in His presence forever.
The Anti-Christ and all who are lawless will be blown away by the coming of the Lord Jesus (2Thessalonians 2:7-11). They will not be presented blameless before the Father nor live in His presence. How can thinking about this help you now? Is there a person in your family who treats you with disregard, harshness, or who, if you are honest, shows no love, joy, peace, patience, or self-control? They appear to consider themselves above God’s commandments; they are unable to break their habit patterns of treating you badly or with disregard. They are ruled by their own agenda or emotional reactions to their problems. Do these habitual patterns make it appear they are in danger of being blown away in that last day? Then, get control of yourself. Pray for them that their minds may be enlighten with the truth and they may repent of their sinful attitudes and escape the condemnation which will surely come to all who are lawless and have rejected the Lord Jesus as their Savior. As you pray for them over time, watch your own emotions soften to forgiveness and compassion. But, when their actions continue, you may have to take a firm stand against their abuse by bringing in outside help or even separating yourself or your children from them.
Paul is not denying our emotional make-up. But he is recommending self-control and right thinking. And then an enjoyment of the warmed heart these generate.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word (2Thessalonians 2:16-17).