1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 – Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, 2 and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, 3 that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. 4 For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know. 5 For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain.
It’s astounding to me how fragile our faith can be. Sometimes circumstances, trials, and difficulties can cause a shaking in the foundations of our faith and trust in the Lord. Paul’s words to the church at Thessalonica are incredibly revealing. Paul was separated from the church but was deeply concerned that the state of their faith might have been in jeopardy. To ensure that he could stave off any attack of the enemy, he sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage them. What strikes me in this passage is the source of the shaking. Paul and his ministry team experienced great persecution and difficulty as they carried the gospel through the known world (see 2 Corinthians 11:26).
Upon hearing of Paul’s afflictions, it seems as though the church was experiencing a shaking of their faith. Perhaps they were asking questions like, “How could a loving God allow his servants to suffer so greatly?” Or, “If those terrible things are happening to Paul, would God allow them to happen to us?” These frightening and sobering questions were causing some to doubt the goodness, love, and even the reality of God. Paul’s response does not feed their doubt or give credibility to their insecurities. Instead, he addresses their questions and concerns with courage and truth.
To summarize, Paul would say, “God appointed us to these afflictions! We went into this ministry knowing full well that suffering and tribulation awaited us. We are ok with this reality because the cause of Christ is worth it.” Instead of trying to give them a padded answer to soften the blow of reality, he responds by embracing his painful and confusing circumstances in light of the gospel.
We would do well to take heed to Paul’s example. There are many today who are “tempted by the tempter” with difficult questions surrounding the reality of suffering and challenges in life. I know, I’m one of them. Trust me, pastors aren’t immune to questions and uncertainty! When put in a position to answer these challenging questions, many Christians are tempted to skirt the truth and create an answer that will appease the doubter. These kinds of answers only tend to magnify doubt. What we need today more than ever is the truth, spoken in love. Often the truth is not the answer that many will enjoy hearing. The truth frequently defies the ideals and desires of this secular age and godless culture, yet it is always the truth that sets people free when they embrace it by faith.
I’ve been observing a disturbing trend within Christianity lately. It is the idolization of doubt over faith. For many, uncertainty has become the doorway into supposed freedom. Many people preach doubt as though doubt, not faith, is the new hero of the Christian narrative. In reality, doubt, when given unbridled control, takes honest questions and leads them everywhere except to the doorway of truth. We have seen this manifested lately as many “high profile” Christian leaders like Josh Harris (Author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”) and Marty Sampson (Former worship leader and songwriter for Hillsong) have been publicly, and even proudly renouncing their faith in light of their doubts.
It’s been my experience that doubt will gladly walk hand in hand with your unanswered questions. First, he will take them by the home of fear, who is an expert at manipulating reason and preying on insecurities. He then will lead them down the hallway of emotion, who loves to imitate truth and govern one’s decisions. Finally, doubt takes your questions and tucks them deep into the bed of pride where they can find false rest within the assessment that “I know better than…” all while masking itself in false humility. The frightening thing is that doubt loves to conduct this journey in secret. A person can make a journey away from faith without anyone else recognizing it. Those who refuse to confine doubt to the boundaries of faith and the borders of truth fall into a perpetual downward spiral while they live within the self-deception that they are flying into freedom. I love how Spurgeon captured it when he penned the words,
Doubt discovers difficulties which it never solves; it creates hesitancy, despondency, despair. Its progress is the decay of comfort, the death of peace. “Believe!” is the word which speaks life into a man, but doubt nails down his coffin.
Questions can be welcomed passengers on your journey with Christ as long as faith is still in the driver’s seat. It’s when doubt takes the wheel and sets the course, that dangerous collisions lie ahead. Doubt always promises to carry one to freedom, but I’ve never met a chronic doubter that wasn’t imprisoned by some form of bitterness, past hurt, anger, or pride. Christian, please know that God can handle your doubts and even use them to lead you to the truth, but also be keenly aware that Satan wants to use your doubts as a weapon against your faith.
Let’s face it; there are a lot of realities that exist in this world that seem perplexing to our human minds. We can’t find all the answers we would love to have to reconcile all the questions we could produce. But let us always be mindful of Paul’s words, “That no one would be shaken by these afflictions.” Let us choose to trust the Lord when doubt, fear, and questions are beating at our door. Faith in the higher purposes and perfect wisdom of God is what will ultimately carry us through to real victory and freedom!
2 thoughts on “Suffering, Faith, and Doubt”
Thank you Pastor Josh.
You have really hit close to my heart. The doubt I carried for years left me with sadness, an aching for something more and a hole deep inside me… among the other things you mentioned. When I was saved that day in May, 2012, with you as our new Pastor, that sadness, that deep hole was transformed by the Grace of God. Sure I have doubt many days… but it’s doubt in myself, not my Creator. It’s doubt and fear that is put there by satan. In those times, when I choose to look up, speak my faith and gratitude, I am fully whole again. Just like that, my heart sings. Thank you for your beautiful words always.
Please~HELP us to Suffer~WELL