Today’s Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3
No one seems to wrap gifts anymore in boxes and wrapping paper. We use a gift bag and some colored tissue paper on top. If we forgot the occasion, whether it’s a birthday or an anniversary, usually a gift card (which means I forgot to shop) lies beneath the tissue paper. Here in 1 Thessalonians 3, the apostle Paul shows us a special gift that we can easily miss because of the packaging and its wrapping.
At times I have prayed for things and never realized that the answer came in wrapping I never expected. We know Paul spent some months with this Thessalonian church and preached in their city. After being gone a few months, Paul sent Timothy to check on the church there. He wrote this letter to encourage them, because they faced false teachers, whom he did not want infiltrating the young church, as well as some difficult persecution. He knew that in the midst of those difficult times, they needed strength and encouragement “so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this” (verse 3).
Those words, disturbed by these afflictions, are revealing. In fact, the actual word is deceived [by these afflictions]. I have learned that hard times can deceive people. Hard times can deceive us about God, deceive us about ourselves, and deceive us about life. We begin to believe the lies that say, God doesn’t love me. That’s why I am going through this and These hard times are punishments for the bad things I have done. I’m the only one who goes through stuff like this. I am all alone. It’s the deception of hard times. When people go through difficulty, so does their faith.
So Paul sent to these young Thessalonian believers much-needed gifts: encouragement and strength. But the packaging was different. Listen to verse 2: “We sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith.” God packaged strength and encouragement in a person—Timothy.
The movie The Blind Side chronicles a Christian family, the Tuohys, who took in a homeless young man, Michael Oher, and gave him the chance to reach his God-given potential. That homeless boy became the first-round NFL draft pick for the Baltimore Ravens in 2009. At a recent fundraiser, Sean Tuohy noted that the transformation of his family and Michael all started with two words. When they spotted Michael walking along the road on a cold November morning, Leigh Ann Tuohy uttered two words that changed their world. She told Sean, “Turn around.” They turned the car around, put Michael in their warm vehicle, and ultimately adopted him into their family. Hope was packaged for Michael Oher in the Tuohy family. Sometimes we don’t recognize the packaging.
The Thessalonian church was about to discover their friend in their adversity. They just needed to be aware of God’s packaging for this gift who was coming. Sometimes we ask for things and miss God’s answer because of the packaging. We all need strength and encouragement every day. What does that answer look like? Paul told the church of Thessalonica that they needed strength and encouragement so “we sent Timothy.” Timothy was to be their strength and encouragement.
That is why God places a high value on making sure we stay right with brothers and sisters. That person you are fighting with may contain your answer to prayer. Locked up in them may be your strength and encouragement for today. God’s packaging of His answers is usually wrapped up in flesh and blood. How about the greatest “flesh and blood” packaging? Jesus.
Is there a friendship that needs to be repaired with an apology? You may be missing more than a friend, you may be missing your answer to your prayer. Make it a priority not only to call today but to understand that friendships are too valuable to let a hurt close them off.
John Maxwell tells about a Midwestern fair in which “spectators gathered for an old-fashioned horse pull (an event where various weights are put on a horse-drawn sled and pulled along the ground). The grand-champion horse pulled a sled with 4,500 pounds on it. The runner-up was close, with a 4,400-pound pull if hitched together. Separately they totaled nearly 9,000 pounds, but when hitched and working together as a team, they pulled more than 12,000 pounds.” As the strength of the horse pull shows, there is more power being part of the body of Christ than just being some loner Christian.
Your effectiveness multiplies when you are joined with the right people. Paul knew that he needed to put Timothy next to the Thessalonians so they would be able to pull a lot more; that Timothy would give them the encouragement and the strength they needed to pull the weight. The saying is true “that the quality of your life is determined by the quality of your relationships.” There is another saying, a Zambian proverb, that is equally true: “When you run alone, you run fast. But when you run together, you run far.”
In their gift of Timothy, the young church in Thessalonica received help to run far. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst” (MSG). That’s a good gift.