If you’ve been following the “Thrive” series from our Trending at ICC blog, the common thread has been this: thriving in this life is directly linked to faith in the Lord. This doesn’t mean that people of faith are somehow exempt from challenges, difficulties, and hardships. Quite the contrary. It does mean that when a hard season comes, they are better equipped to not only persevere but also anticipate what is on the other side of it. That their vision for life, be it individual or as a family- is aligned with God’s vision. A thriving faith sees no bounds with God or His faithfulness to His children.
Throughout Scripture, we find people who demonstrate for us what a thriving faith looks like, especially one that does so under hardship and persecution. One such example was a church primarily made up of young Christians. It was the church in Thessalonica.
The book of Acts tells us that Paul came to Thessalonica during his second missionary journey—so fairly early in his ministry, where he preached in the synagog for three sabbaths (about three weeks). However, severe persecution arose from some of the non-believing Jews, where riots erupted and so Paul immediately left the city, fearing that his presence there would only make the situation against the Christians worse.
A short time later, Paul found out through a report from Timothy that the persecution had continued, but so did the new faith of the Thessalonian church (1 Thessalonians 3:6). He knew that just from his brief time there—something special was happening with the Christians in Thessalonica. So he wrote them a letter to tell them that, along with answers to questions he wanted to clear up for them.
“Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly[a] mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers[b] loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
From this passage, we’ll see 5 marks of a thriving faith— which made the apostle Paul so encouraged as he affirmed their faithfulness in this letter.
The First Mark: they were redeemed (Verse 1, 4, 5).
This church was in Christ— meaning, it was made up of believing and redeemed people. It may seem basic to some, but the first mark of a thriving faith is our salvation! Those of us who have responded to the gospel. We have been chosen by God to be saved. This is the essence of Christianity. It is not people seeking God. It is God seeking people and then people, in turn, seeking back.
The Second Mark: They were surrendered (Verse 6).
Paul said they had “become imitators of us and the Lord.” That’s a tall order from the apostle. “Imitate me,” he says. Remember, these people didn’t have a New Testament to read— it wasn’t written yet. They were Gentiles and some Jews and had never seen Jesus. They didn’t know anything about Him other than what Paul told them.
You see, to them, Paul was the personification of Jesus Christ. And all they knew to do was to mimic what Paul was. But get the significance.
“You became followers of us and of— “the Lord” (verse 6). You see, he pushes it back where it belongs. He is saying mimic me because I am imitating the Lord. He says that in several other places in his letters. Not imitate me because of me, but because I imitate Christ! They were surrendered to Christ-likeness. In other words, “be imitators of us because we’re surrendered to Christ.
The Third Mark: Suffering.
The second part of Verse 6–“…for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit…” This is what I was referring to earlier, about how God uses suffering to strengthen our faith and show Himself strong in our lives. It sounds paradoxical and it is. Christians can be sorrowful, yet we rejoice in the Lord— for all He’s done and will do. This tells us that the joy of the Thessalonian church was not predicated on life circumstances. It was the joy from the Lord that allowed them to rise above the ebb and flow of good or bad; being satisfied or suffering.
A thriving faith will have its share of suffering. In fact, evidence of a thriving faith is suffering. The enemy doesn’t want people who are fully surrendered to Christ. That is why faithful people will suffer. In fact, if we didn’t suffer, I’d be worried.
Do you want to confound the enemy? When you’re going through it, praise the Lord anyway! Which leads to:
The Fourth Mark: A Strong Witness.
Verse 7—“so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. Throughout the history of the church (you can read about the early church in the book of Acts), God used persecution to spread His gospel. He also uses the example we set, especially during hardship, which speaks volumes for the cause of Christ.
Paul said that those Thessalonian Christians were examples. And not only that, but verse 8—“For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere so that we need not say anything.”
This is important— their example and witness reflected God’s Word.
The complement of their faith was that in their witnesses they were nothing but a sounding board from which the Word of the Lord spread out to the world.
The Fifth Mark: serving (as in serving and waiting on the Lord).
Verses 9-10—“For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
In these last two verses, we have two words: serving and waiting that tie the whole thing together. A thriving faith is this- someone who is redeemed, fully surrendered, even through suffering, as he/she projects a strong witness of the word of God— because they serve the Lord alone and not idols—as they wait for the Lord Jesus to come.
This should bring about a sense of urgency for us individually and as the Body of Christ!
Jesus is coming back— and we don’t know when. But as we live expectantly of that day, just as the Thessalonians did, the Lord will prioritize our very lives with the things of Him.
These marks are what make for a thriving faith.
If you’re thinking about your own faith journey— begin with these questions: Am I redeemed and surrendered? Am I willing to suffer for the cause of Christ? How is my witness? Do I serve the Lord by serving others?
While these may seem like tall orders, remember—our imitation of Christ is a natural consequence of the Holy Spirit’s work in us!
-Pastor Joe Garofalo