If I were to ask you what gave you the most hope, brought you the most joy, or made you the proudest, what would be the first thing that came to your mind? Would it be an accomplishment, or perhaps a possession? Would it be a talent, your career, or your prized collection of baseball cards or designer handbags? Would it be your family, children, house, or car? What are your pride and joy?
Paul asks this question of himself when writing to the believers who lived in Thessalonica. In 1 Thessalonians 2:19, he asks “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming?” Before I tell you his answer, let me give you a little back story. Paul is writing this letter (the Book of 1 Thessalonians that we find in the Bible) to these believers praising them on their Christ-likeness and Christian conduct, and has just told them how much he desperately wanted to see them again. It seems that the last time he was with them, he involuntarily had to leave and was prevented via Satan from returning “over and over again.” So while he waits for the time when he can return, Paul writes this letter and asks them what they think is his hope, joy, and crown. His answer is simple. What made Paul the proudest is those who had received the Gospel of Jesus Christ – especially these believers at Thessalonica. Verses 19-20 say, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.”
Paul knew that the real value on this Earth (apart from himself knowing Christ) is people. It is not possessions, money, or even talents or abilities. Before Paul was born again, he had all of these things. Before Christ, he was a man named Saul who was one of the top Jewish religious leaders. He was incredibly knowledgeable of the Law and Scriptures, was likely very talented in his teaching, and would have had every earthly thing he could have wanted at his fingertips. He knew the value of those things, and yet once he met Christ, he happily let those things fade away as he traded his value system for something else: sharing the Gospel of Jesus with people and seeing them saved. This is what gave him joy, made him proud, and gave him hope.
Paul knew what the Thessalonians were before they trusted Jesus as their Savior: idol-worshipping pagans, completely lost in darkness. Yet here they were, completely transformed by the power of God into loving, faithful Christ-followers. For Paul, who gave everything he had, put every effort he had into seeing people saved, and was persecuted beyond what we could understand, this was more than enough to keep his fire burning. He knew that he had the honor of being used by God to further the Kingdom and that one day, he would receive that crown in Heaven that he could lay at the feet of Christ.
For me, this is quite convicting. In our American cushy lives, we face little opposition with sharing the Gospel with others, and yet do we yearn with a passion to see people saved? Is it our pride, joy, and hope? Let this be a challenge to us to refocus our mindset and value systems. May we passionately yearn to share the Gospel of Jesus with the lost world around us. May it bring us hope and joy to win souls for Christ, seeing them transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. May we earnestly run the race that the Lord has put before us, earning crowns along the way that we can one day lay at the feet of our Savior!