As Christians, we are always in a time of waiting; we’re living between the certainty Christ is risen and death has been defeated, but still waiting on Him to return so what started on the Cross will be fully realized in the new creation. It’s a bit like the Israelites when Moses led them out of Egypt. They were freed from slavery and got through the Red Sea, but then spent 40 years in the wilderness, waiting and pressing on for the Promised Land. And those 40 years included times of frustration, argument and mistrust. Waiting and pressing on is no easy task.

Have you ever had your integrity called into question for seeking to follow God? Paul experienced it more than once! In the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, we find Paul’s ministry and reputation was under fire and clearly was a tempting message for the church to look for an ‘easy out.’ For whatever reason, the struggles of living in a world where Christ is yet to return had resulted in some folk seeking to undermine Paul. There were (as we can tell from Paul’s responses) accusations he was teaching an erroneous message, doing it for deceitful reasons and seeking personal gain out of the situation.

Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12
Paul recounts the grounds for trusting his message and his leadership. We learn about good and trustworthy leadership: people who are willing to suffer for the sake of others (vv. 1–2); whose motives are centered around pleasing God and doing the right thing, irrespective of whether they’ll be liked (vv. 3–4); and who do what they do, not demanding payment, honor or prestige, but instead lead with innocence and the care of a nursing mother caring for her infant children (vv. 7–8). Paul’s leadership was worthy of honor: he labored and worked with purity and integrity, and was willing to face accountability (vv. 9–10) all for the sake of encouraging the church to live the life God was calling them to live (vv. 11–12).

In times of waiting, when we’re not getting what we want when we want it, it’s tempting to compromise–to lay aside our integrity for a shortcut and some gratification. Paul probably faced many such a temptation. However, he knew that would miss the point! It’s tempting to listen to those who encourage us to go with our doubts about Jesus’ call on our life and those who point us in His direction. Reminding ourselves of the big picture and the stakes at play, we have a Savior and a King from heaven whose motives are pure–even to the point of self-sacrifice and death–one who lived with integrity and no guile, helps us to not get side-tracked by those who are full of charisma but inflame our fears, and cause us to doubt and lead us astray.

Read 1 Thessalonians 2:13 16
As we read on in Paul’s letter, we find the Thessalonians, like the church in Judea, Paul and Jesus himself, were also facing opposition for the Gospel. No wonder they were tempted to listen to an easier message and doubt the Gospel they had come to embrace! Paul encourages them that their perseverance in suffering is part of a faithful life: the prophets, Jesus, Paul and the church in Judea had faced the same thing (just look at Jesus’ parable of the vineyard in Mark 11). Part of the instruction Paul repeatedly gives in his letters to “become imitators” includes holding fast to the Gospel, even when it’s costly.
Waiting is tricky. Waiting when the chips are down is trickier. Waiting when the heat is on, and we’re facing a long, and painful road is almost impossible! Yet it is possible–not in our own strength, but because we do not wait alone. We do not press ahead solo. We are part of a kingdom not of this world, where Jesus is King and He is with us by His Spirit. He will equip us each day and hold us when the pain becomes too much. He will do the work in our lives He wants to do. He is with us–to the end!

Questions for Reflection
  1. What other examples of leadership have you encountered?
  2. Paul’s defense in vv. 1–12, on first reading, can sound a little like hubris. In light of the above, reread it. How does it sound now? What surprises or intrigues you about Paul’s model of leadership?
  3. When do you find yourself liable to doubt the message of the Gospel or those who are proclaiming it? What do you think is driving this temptation?
  4. In v. 16, Paul describes how “God’s wrath has overtaken them at last”–speaking about those who were persecuting the Judean church. The event Paul is talking about it is probably the uprising in Jerusalem in 48 C.E. Whatever the actual reference, Paul sees this as something of justice being realized that is a taste of God putting everything right when Jesus returns. How does this hope that God will restore all that is broken and not as it should be help us today? How can it help us to trust God when we’re waiting and facing hardship?
  5. We are part of God’s family, a family who has experienced suffering and persecution from the very beginning, yet in that have seen the goodness and grace of God at work. How can this give us encouragement and confidence?

A prayer for this week
Heavenly Father, like the Israelites, we live between the liberation of the Cross and promise of the New Creation. Thank You that this journey is not one we do alone. Help us to wait faithfully and be people of integrity and innocence with one common aim: to please You. Where fears and frustrations tempt us to doubt and fear for ourselves, remind us of the truth. Give us courage. In Jesus’ name, amen.

The Rev. Dr. Suse E. McBay
Associate for Adult Christian Education and Prayer Ministries