Today’s Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1
When the famed cellist Pablo Casals reached ninety-five years old, a young reporter asked, “Why do you still practice six hours a day?” To which Casals answered, “Because I think I’m making progress.”
Your goal is to make progress every day of your life. We call it growth. As John Newman said, “Growth is the only evidence of life.” That is true naturally and especially spiritually. The Thessalonian Christians were new Christians and more importantly growing Christians.
The Thessalonian church was under heavy persecution, yet continued to grow through it. This is important: they were not just going through it but growing through it. What a lesson for us. That when we are faced with difficult times, we remember that we can grow through them. Growth is not arrival, it’s movement. Growth is not perfection but better.
The writer of the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” John Newton, said it best: “I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be; but I thank God I am not what I once was, and I can say with the great apostle, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’”
Listen to Paul’s words of commendation to these young Christians who were not what they used to be but growing:
You need to know, friends, that thanking God over and over for you is not only a pleasure; it’s a must. We have to do it. Your faith is growing phenomenally; your love for each other is developing wonderfully. Why, it’s only right that we give thanks. We’re so proud of you; you’re so steady and determined in your faith despite all the hard times that have come down on you. We tell everyone we meet in the churches all about you. (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4, MSG)
These new believers were growing through hard times. They were growing in two areas: their love for others was developing wonderfully and their faith was growing phenomenally—the New American Standard Bible says, “your faith is greatly enlarged.” And all of it happening in difficulty. He was basically saying, “Your faith is getting supersized.” We know that word supersize because we know McDonald’s. Supersize to us means bigger fries and bigger Coke. But it does cost to supersize. Paul was saying, “You paid the extra cost for the supersize of faith and it’s evident.”
What was the cost? That’s the next verse: “Your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure” (verse 4). Notice it says “persecution and affliction.” Those two words are important. One is about the outside battles. The other is the mental battles. And Paul was commending them by acknowledging, “You are getting hit outside and inside and holding your own, because you are holding on to God.”
A family-owned coat store in Nottingham, England, has a sign that hangs for all to see:
We have been established for over 100 years and have been pleasing and displeasing customers ever since. We have made money and lost money, suffered the effects of coal nationalization, coat rationing, government control, and bad payers. We have been cussed and discussed, messed about, lied to, held up, robbed and swindled. The only reason we stay in business is we can’t wait to see what happens tomorrow.
It seems that the Thessalonians should have put that sign on their church. Tomorrow for the Thessalonians was phenomenal faith and developing love. Tomorrow for many is fearful but not for these new Christians. They were growing through their adversity.
A daughter complained to her father about how difficult things were for her. “As soon as I solve one problem,” she said, “another one comes up. I’m tired of struggling.”
Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen where he filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In one he placed carrots, in the second, eggs, and in the last, ground coffee beans. He let them sit and boil, without saying a word.
The daughter impatiently waited, wondering what he was doing. After a while, he went over and turned off the burners. He fished out the carrots and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. He poured the coffee into a bowl. Turning to her he asked, “Daughter, what do you see?”
“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.
He brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. She smiled, as she tasted its rich flavor.
“What does it mean, Father?” she asked.
He explained that each of them had faced the same adversity—boiling water—but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting, but after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg was fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. By being in the boiling water, they changed the water.
He asked his daughter, “When adversity knocks on your door, which are you?”