Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1-3
Today, in Colombia, millions of lighted candles will line streets and window ledges. December 7th is celebrated as the day that Mary and Joseph pass through on their way to Bethlehem where Mary will give birth to Jesus, the Saviour of the world. The belief is that the candles indicate to Mary and Joseph the homes where they are welcome to rest during their journey. Those who live in those homes expect that God will reward their hospitality by blessing them during the coming year. This festival of lights always impressed me, even though the tradition is based on fiction and not fact. It impressed me because there was an anticipation, and expectation, a joy to it that so many traditions lack. People believe.
As Paul writes to the Thessalonian church, he compliments them on their faith and the perseverance that is the result of that genuine faith.
“We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring” (2 Thessalonians 1:3, 4, NIV).
Unlike the traditions that we hold dear, faith in God and perseverance in the face of whatever might come along to deny the reality of that faith, is never futile. God rewards faith. Colombians expect a blessing on their homes and families as a result of the exercise of their faith demonstrated by the lighting of the candles. Paul tells us that the reward of our faith is not primarily going to result in getting something checked off our personal wish list. He writes: “…we constantly pray for you…that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:11, 12, NIV, emphasis mine).
In the end, the exercise of our faith and whatever might result from it, is meant to bring glory to God through us and in us. The Thessalonians exercised their faith and were penalized for it, not by God, but by the society around them. Paul compliments them on believing that God would bring glory to His name as a result of their faith despite the material and physical losses they suffered because of the exercise of it.
It’s not easy stay positive in a negative world, to stay faithful in a faithless one, to persevere when everything tells us to quit. Perhaps that makes the reminder in 2 Thessalonians 3:3 all that more important. Paul writes: “God is faithful…” God’s faithfulness to His promises is His response to faith. He will deliver. We can count on it.