The Thessalonians are suffering.
Paul and the apostolic team are being persecuted.
The Judean churches are being brutalised. The churches in Macedonia and Achaia are being terrorised to the point of destitution.
The external pressure on the Thessalonians is immense. The internal pressure within the church from false prophets, and idle and disruptive believers is almost as painful.
The conflict is real. Into this powder keg the Apostle Paul shows us Christian Leadership is first and foremost theological. It’s about God.
My friend and mentor Paul Windsor would often say in his preaching lectures that in every biblical text "God always wins best actor”. God is central.
None of what is happening to Paul, or to the Thessalonians is central. God is. It’s all referenced, but none of it is Paul’s reference point. God is. It’s all significant but none of it is central. God is.
"The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath." 1 Thessalonians 1: 8-10
Paul wants to saturate their hearts in God’s goodness and greatness. He wants to settle their hearts in God’s love for them through the Son and his death and resurrection, Paul wants them to recognise the presence of God’s Spirit in and with them.
He wants to stiffen their commitment to God’s living and active Word. He wants to strengthen their understanding that Jesus rescues them from the coming of God’s wrath. He wants them to see God’s preserving power in the reality of satanic evil.
He wants them to find God’s rest and their resolve. He wants them to experience God’s power in their weakness. He wants them to know God’s peace in the persecution. He wants them to know God’s strength in the storm. He wants them to know God is good and he is central.
In a profoundly courageous move, with massive personal, political, and economic implications, the Thessalonians have turned away from one set of Idols. Paul doesn’t want their hearts settling for another set of idols and idolatries—from within the church or outside it—whether that be teachers or teaching, ideologies or ideologues, false prophets and prophecies.
These are tumultuous times on these islands. None of this should be ignored. God in his grace has made us citizens of this land at this time and we are grateful.
There is turbulence in our churches, and challenges in our camps and support ministries. Again, none of this should be swept under the carpet.
In our weakness as weary leaders, let us recognise that the way to lead in, through, and out of these challenges is to lead theologically. The challenges are real, but they are not central.