The summer after I graduated from college (now more than 35 years ago), I volunteered at an Adventist Hospital as a chaplain while auditing the chaplaincy training course. I became good friends with two young Roman Catholics who were preparing for the priesthood and in the program. It was my first opportunity to discuss theological issues with one of “them” and I enjoyed it very much. I quickly took on the role of protector assuming they would face a hostile Adventist environment.
Soon it seemed as if my fears were validated as the group facilitator seemed to be constantly picking on them. I often came to their defense until the leader explained that he was trying to get them out of their comfort zone and make them mad, “because only then can we see the real person.” When you are under attack, he explained, who you are and what you are made of is more evident.
There are times in our lives when we all get angry and it’s difficult to think that our feelings and behavior at those times are truly indicative of who we are. But it is possible to interpret 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2 in that manner. Isn’t Paul suggesting that how he reacted to difficult circumstances was a strong indicator of more than just good character?
1You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you His gospel in the face of strong opposition. (NIV)
Character Counts “You know.”The readers were expected to testify to the good character Paul demonstrated in spite of “strong opposition.” Paul encouraged them to live as he lived, for his actions under the circumstances proved the influence of the power of God. If he were merely doing the right thing for the wrong reason, and if his message were not true, no one would have benefited.
In spite of outrageous difficulties experienced at Philippi—difficulties that would have made others want to give up—the missionaries came to Thessalonica and were faithful in delivering the message God gave them. They did so while facing an unidentified opponent and strong opposition. No doubt the believers were well aware of initial difficulties in establishing the work there.
So the principle is established, as D. Michael Martin states in his Thessalonians commentary:“Faithfulness in adverse conditions is one proof of pure motives.” You really have to believe in your message to be mistreated and still proclaim it clearly.
When I'm in the Los Angeles area, I enjoy the radio spots featuring Michael Josephson called “Character Counts.” So many times I have been inspired by his stories of people who made the morally right choice when making the wrong one would have been so much easier. What you do in difficult circumstances IS truly indicative of more than just who you are. It illustrates Who is guiding your life.
Several years ago I was asked to give someone a ride to the Washington Metro from the General Conference office. I willingly agreed and was surprised to discover the man in need was Robert Folkenberg, a former world president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
I was excited at the prospect of having a few minutes alone with a man I had been waiting a decade or more to speak with. For those who don’t know, Folkenberg had resigned from his position under difficult circumstances. I knew no specifics about what happened or why, but I have been around long enough to know that there are always at least two sides to every story, especially when you are a central figure. I also know that there are always those who might wish to use you for nefarious purposes.
Though I had no right, I knew I had to say something to this man, something heartfelt. “Pastor Folkenberg,” I began after some get-acquainted small talk, “I want you to know how much your example means to me. A natural tendency might be to fight back hurting the Church in the process, but you never dipped the flag. I thank you for that and admire you.” There may come a time when we all face adversity when working in ministry, but I felt that he had set an example of peace.
His honest reply startled me. He turned to me and said words I will long remember: “Every time I was tempted,” he began, “I would say to myself, ‘Bob, this is not who you are.’” At about that moment we arrived at the “Kiss and Ride” section of the Greenbelt Metro Station. After saying thanks for the ride, he opened the door and was gone, leaving me to contemplate the true measure of the man who had been in my car.
What Folkenberg has accomplished since his “incident” is inspiring. Though many might have become bitter; he founded Share Him, arguably one of the most successful evangelistic efforts in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Paul and James
For so many years in my ministry, the apostle Paul and his book to the Romans has guided my theological perspective. I have often wondered (mostly quietly) how the books of James and Romans could exist peacefully within the same New Testament.
The letters to the Thessalonians came early in Paul’s career, so it could be argued that his theological foundation was not yet fully formed. However, what we have in the first two chapters of this book are a clear indication that you cannot easily dismiss how a person responds to the indwelling Spirit of God and then behaves towards others from a discussion of soteriology.
At any time in our lives, but especially in difficult or trying times, we should ask ourselves this penetrating question, “Is there enough evidence to convict me of being someone who walks with Jesus?”
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4642