Fluorescent lights are the worst. I used to not think this way, but after a year of dating my girlfriend Jamie who despises them, I’ve come to see things from her point of view. Just about every time we FaceTime, she is in her room with just the light from the window and a lamp. Again, it used to bug me, but after a while I came to discover they’re just obnoxious and overbearing. I’d much rather go from a dark room to the gentle light of a lamp, rather than having my eyes assaulted by the behemoth fluorescent lights on the ceiling.
Now before you check out, this blog is not about lighting preferences. I wanted to illustrate that there is gentle light, and obnoxious light.
The reality is, there are men and women, children and youth, who are sitting in our churches in darkness. They are discouraged, depressed, weak, unsure, hopeless. The list goes on and on. There are real needs in these dark situations of grief and pain, suffering and trials. These brothers and sisters in Christ need light. They need to see the light of the gospel in the darkness of their days. 1 Thessalonians tells us in 5:14 that we are to comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
How then do we speak into their lives, how do we share the light of the gospel without being obnoxious or inconsiderate?
In 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, I believe that we are given the direction we need in order to bring this light. We are called to be the light via compassion, instruction, exhortation, and intersession (this outline is not my own).
The church at Thessalonica was under heavy persecution, and the community of believers were reeling as a result. They were nervous, unsure of their hope, scared. They had bought the lie that the ‘day of the Lord’ had arrived, and that they were left behind to suffer alongside the wicked. False teachers had entered their midst, convincing them that they were in fact in the last days. In the darkness of persecution and hopelessness, Paul wrote to them a letter of encouragement. These were professing believers who had bought lies about God’s character, God’s nature, and God’s plan for their lives. There are many today who fall into believing lies as well (me included) and need to be reminded of the truth. So how does Paul do it? How does Paul strengthen and not shame these believers? How should we do it? How should we be interacting with those of our brothers and sisters who have lost hope? How do we strengthen them rather than shame them?
Paul tells them in this section of his letter that they are beloved by the Lord (2:13). There is no shaming here. Paul leads by compassionately and gently reminding them of their identity in Christ.
In the thick of this darkness, Paul doesn’t barge in, throw open the windows, pull back their sheets, and drag them outside. He lights a single candle of hope, a solitary but brilliant flame of compassion. – Charles Swindoll
We are to care for the discouraged and strengthen the weak among us. Our church communities would truly overflow with Christ-like love and amazing hope if we treated the discouraged and weak among us in this way. Not shaming them and making them feel bad for feeling bad, questioning the level of their faith, but rather compassionately speaking hope into their dark hearts. Paul definitely had his moments of aggressive exhortation and frustration, but here we see him model compassion that leads to life. However, he definitely wasn’t merely compassionate to the Thessalonians.
But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 2:14
Paul encouraged the dark souls of the Thessalonian believers with instruction in gospel truth. Theology and doctrine can go a long way to mend not only the mind, but the heart of broken believers. When there are weak and discouraged members of our spiritual family among us, we should be consistently instructing them in the truths of the gospel. Again, not in a flourescently obnoxious manner, but by gentle reminders of what is true. Jamie does this for me better than anyone, constantly calling out lies in my mind for what they are, and reminding me of truth. We should speak into darkness with compassion and instruction.
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. – 2 Thessalonians 2:15
Here’s where Paul takes a stark turn that we should pay attention to. He’s compassionately shared truth of the gospel, but now he exhorts the believers in Thessalonica to stand firm. We are to encourage the depressed or discouraged among us to keep fighting, to be on the assault, on the attack. The fight for faith is just that, a fight. I have been so passive too many times in my life, not taking the fight to the enemy. Paul reminds the discouraged Thessalonian believers to hold firm to the truth.
In times of pain, anguish, mourning, depression, or doubt, nothing is more stabilizing than the truth of Scripture – nothing. – Charles Swindoll
We should exhort the weak and discouraged among us to stand firm and hold to the truths of God in Scripture (remember this should be done compassionately).
Paul concludes this section with a prayer (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17). Pray, pray, pray. When you are aware of a brother or sister suffering in the darkness, pray for them. Prayer has power. Even the knowledge that others are praying for me can go a long way to bring a little bit more light into my life.
Paul in this passage doesn’t pray for the suffering of the Thessalonians to end, for their dark days to suddenly be complete. Rather, he prays that God would comfort them by reminding them of who they are and what they have in Christ. When we suffer, we want immediate rescue. Paul understood that suffering leads to greater faith.
If you have a member of your faith community whose hope is shrouded in darkness, reach out to them. Be compassionate, instruct them, exhort them, and don’t forget to intercede for them.
If you are in a dark season, remember Scripture, remember truth, and remember that the Lord is for you and not against you.
But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. – 2 Thessalonians 3:3
In His Name,
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