What does it mean to live with enduring faith?
The Thessalonian Christians were living with enduring faith. Among the first converts to Christianity, they were undergoing a time of persecution because of their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. As some of the first believers in Jesus, the Thessalonians were identified by the apostle Paul as being chosen by God to be “the first fruits of salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” To appreciate what Paul meant by this statement it is important to understand what first fruits and sanctification mean in the Bible.
Originally, the offering of first fruits was the act of giving the first produce of a harvest to the priests as a sign of remembrance and thanksgiving for God’s present and future faithfulness. No other crops were to be harvested until the offering of first fruits was made. The Hebrew word for first fruit is bikkurim which means “promise to come.” Mentioned 13 times in the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), the offering of first fruits is also mentioned in other Old Testament books as well as some New Testament books as the concept of first fruits expanded from offering the first produce of a harvest to including the offering of types of financial resources.
When Paul told the Thessalonians that God had chosen them as the first fruits for salvation, Paul was telling them that God had selected them as bikkurim, a sign of God’s “promise to come.” As the first fruit of the harvest of believers in Jesus, Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to “stand firm and hold fast” with enduring faith as they were sanctified or “set apart for special use or purpose.” A biblical term that defines the act of being made whole by God’s searching and sending love, sanctification is the story of God searching for us like a shepherd searching for a lost sheep and rejoicing with us when we realize that we are the lost sheep whom God has found.
Sanctification is the journey of enduring faith that is described in the 23rd Psalm as the psalmist states:
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Sanctification is the journey of enduring faith by which we are made whole through God’s holiness. In II Thessalonians 2:16-17, Paul described the journey of sanctification through this blessing: “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.”
The 17th chapter of the Gospel of John records Jesus praying for the sanctification of his disciples and for his own sanctification as he prepared himself for his crucifixion.
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
The act of being sent into the world in Jesus’ name, sanctification is the story of Jesus’ followers being made whole as the biblical story of God’s grace shapes and defines our lives. When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that God had chosen them “as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit,” he was encouraging them to trust in God’s presence even as they faced the un-faceable through their faith in Jesus.
Betty, Cecil, and their two children, Daniel and Deborah were a missionary family in Mozambique when, on January 20, 2000, four thieves broke into their compound and in the process killed Cecil. In an interview that was conducted years later, Betty was asked how their family kept moving forward as they faced the un-faceable through their faith in Jesus. Betty replied, “I can only credit it to the grace of God and his plan step by step by step. It was like you wake up every morning and you put one foot in front of the other foot and you keep going, just trusting that God has it all in his control, which I totally believed from that day forward and those days before that day forward that he did.”
The Thessalonian Christians were facing the un-faceable as they trusted in the wholeness of God’s holiness. The first fruit of the promise to come, they were living with enduring faith in the midst of persecution as they put one foot of faith in front of the other.
In her book, Life and Death in Shanghai, Nien Cheng witnessed to the sanctification of enduring faith as she recorded her experiences in a prison during the Chinese cultural revolution. At a key moment in her incarceration, she writes about seeing a tiny spider crawling up the side of the cell window. When it climbed to the top of the window, she described how it began the intricate process of spinning a web: “It swung out and descended on a thin, silken thread spun from one end of its body. With a leap and a swing, it secured the end of the thread to another bar.” This process happened over and over until there was a frame upon which to build a web. “When the spider’s task was complete, it went to its center and settled there.”
Nien writes, “I had just watched an architectural feat by an extremely skilled artist, and my mind was full of questions. Who had taught the spider how to make a web? Could it really have acquired the skill through evolution, or did God create the spider and endow it with the ability to make a web so that it could catch food and perpetuate its species?” She then concluded, “For the moment, I knew I had just witnessed something that was extraordinarily beautiful and uplifting. Whether God had made the spider or not, I thank (God) for what I had just seen. A miracle of life had been shown to me. It helped me to see that God was in control. Mao Zedong and his revolutionaries seemed much less menacing. I felt a renewal of hope and confidence.”
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.” May God bless us with enduring faith.
by Pastor Marc Brown
November 13, 2022
Accompanying Scriptures: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for November 13, 2022
Scripture Lesson 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
The Good News “Enduring Faith”
Music “Your Labor is Not in Vain” by The Porter’s Gate
Closing Music “Variation on ‘Luther’s Theme” by Robert Thygerson