The How and Why of Steadfastness in Faith Through Suffering

8 Nov

I have been absolutely enjoying my personal devotions in 1 and 2 Thessalonians recently. In these two small letters, Paul packs in a whole lot of theology on suffering. In God’s sovereign care, He has been using these two letters to carry me and Linda through some very difficult times recently.

Most recently, while reading 2 Thessalonians, I came across something very surprising. While there are many places in Scripture that address the issue of suffering itself, I came across this small section in 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12 in which Paul addresses a related, but different aspect of suffering – namely, the “How” and “Why” some people – albeit difficult, to be sure – seem to have a settled trust in God in Christ through the suffering.

Have you ever wondered about that? Have you ever wondered how it is that some people you know (it could be a family member, friend, a hero of the faith, etc.) walk through such difficult times in their lives, trusting in the sovereign care of God through Christ? I believe this section not only tells us the “how,” but also the “why.”

Now, for the purposes of this blogpost, I am defining “suffering” here broadly as any difficult situation (either provoked by someone or not) in which one is tempted by the difficult situation to not continue to personally trust God through Jesus Christ. In this broad sense, we are constantly tempted in this way to not continue to personally trust God through Jesus Christ.

In light of this, how and why are some people able to go through suffering (“with, to be sure, ups and downs along the way” – John Frame), trusting in God’s sovereign care over their lives?

1. The How? God grants it to them. 

In verses, 3-4, Paul rejoices in the fact that the Thessalonian church is “growing abundantly” in faith and love for one another (v. 3). Furthermore, they have also displayed a “steadfastness and faith in all [their] persecutions and in the afflictions that [they] are enduring” (v. 4).

But! Who does Paul say ultimately deserves credit for the Thessalonians’ increasing faith and steadfastness in all the persecution and affliction they were enduring? Verse 3: “We ought always to give thanks to Godbecause your faith is growing abundantly…”

Ultimately, God is the one who grants this settled trust in His sovereign care (though, again ““with, to be sure, ups and downs along the way”) in the midst of suffering.

2. The Why? As evidence of His “Righteous Judgment“.

Now, here is what was personally intriguing to me. Not only does God indicate how some are able to continue to trust in God’s sovereign care through suffering, but He also indicates why. That is, to what end does God allow those who do endure… to endure in faith through suffering?

The reason that Paul indicates why there are those whom God enables to trust in His sovereign care through suffering is in order to “prove“that His righteous judgment is coming. He writes:

This [steadfastness and faith through suffering] is evidence of the righteous judgment of God… since indeed God considers just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted… when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels. – 2 Thess. 1:5-10

Now, why would God need to give evidence (i.e., God-granted steadfastness and personal trust in God through suffering) that that there was a judgment coming? I think this passage gives us at least three hints:

First, it is to let the Thessalonians know that the injustice they were being subject to would not go unpunished. God cares about the evil that happens to His people, that seeks to make shipwreck of their personal trust in Him. God is not idly standing back, unable to act justly against the evil suffering that His people endure.

Rather, according to Paul, God is going “to repay with affliction those who afflict you…” (v. 6).

God cares about the suffering that we go through that constantly seeks to undermine our personal trust in Him. God will judge those who try to do this (i.e., Satan himself and his children who persecute us). And the God-granted steadfastness and faith in the midst of that is “evidence” of this.

And so, personally, for those of us who, by God’s grace, have been granted this “steadfastness” and personal trust through suffering, He is wanting to show us that God will act justly in the end against His (and our) enemies.

But also, in those times when it is difficult to trust God in the midst of suffering, I believe God is calling us to look at those more mature saints whose faith have been tested time and again through suffering and thus, be encouraged in the midst of our suffering by being reminded that, yes, God is, in fact, in control. In other words, their steadfastness and faith is evidence that God will judge.

Secondly, on a related note, God wanted to let the Thessalonians know that He was personally with them through the suffering. The first reason was more to show God’s control and authority and this second reason is more to demonstrate God’s personal presence (see Frame’s Lordship attributes).

In other words, because we know that God will ultimately “repay with affliction those who afflict [us],” we can be sure that God loves us and cares for us. This is why in the same breath that Paul tells the Thessalonians that God will afflict those who afflict them, he tells them that God will “grant relief to you who are afflicted…” (v. 7).

Thirdly, God gives us this “evidence” (again, this God-granted personal trust in Him through suffering) in order to encourage us to continue to persevere in our personal trust in God through the suffering. I’m sure there were those Thessalonians who were so discouraged by all the suffering and affliction, that they were so close to giving up trusting in God.

But, God pointed to their (and I would argue, others’) God-granted steadfastness and personal trust as an assurance to them that He was with them.

3. Finally, what are some Implications?

First, humble dependence on God through prayer for ourselves and others is non-negotiable. Paul not only begins this section acknowledging that God was the one who grants this steadfastness, but also ends says that he, Silvanus, and Timothy “always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power…” (vv. 11-12).

We are to pray to God continuously in humble dependence for continued and increasing personal trust in God through suffering.

Secondly, while we go through suffering, we are to rest in God’s sovereign (#1) care (#2) over our lives through this suffering, knowing that there will come a time when God will ultimately enact His justice and mercy.

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