When I read Paul’s warm greeting to the church at Thessalonica, I’m reminded of a poignant quote from Catholic thinker Henri Nouwen: “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”
Simply put, real friends are the ones who stick with you through the tough stuff. Instead of pontificating about the philosophical realities you’re facing, they’re the ones who enter the mess with you. They walk with you through the challenges and the painful moments, regardless of whether or not you’ve reached resolution, healing, or victory.
The apostle Peter tells us we should not be surprised when affliction comes our way. “Instead,” we ought to “rejoice as [we] share in the sufferings of Christ, so that [we] may also rejoice with great joy when his glory is revealed” (1Peter 4:13). Peter is primarily talking about our individual sharing of Christ’s sufferings with Him. However, there is another layer here; we are to rejoice in sharing Christ’s sufferings with one another. For Peter knew that shared suffering and perseverance would build not only a deeper connection with Christ, but also a more tightly knit community within the body of Christ.
Perhaps part of Paul’s profound appreciation for the church at Thessalonica stemmed from the fact that they had stuck with him and supported him through thick and thin, “in spite of severe persecution” (1Thessalonians 1:6). Yet they had not grown weary in doing good, caring for those in need, or preaching “the word of the Lord,” which “rang out from [them]” through faith (v.8).
While Paul initially wrote this passage as a blessing and commendation, there is an implicit call for all of us in this prayer of blessing. As members of the Body of Christ, we are meant to share in Christ’s suffering. This often means that we will endure hardship and resistance for the sake of His name and His gospel. This also means we are called to lend a “warm and tender hand” to our friends and other members of the Body.
Friends, this is where the rubber meets the proverbial road. When we lend our time, our treasures, and our talents to those in need—perhaps at the expense of our own comfort and security—we glorify God and participate in His kingdom work. Instead of fearing the fiery trials, we should aspire to be the kind of local church Paul would thank God for in this present age: empowered by the Holy Spirit to faithfully endure with one another and persevere against that which opposes God’s kingdom.
That’s how we become a cause for thanks in tumultuous and painful times.