For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (verses 19-20)
Paul was a man with eyes clearly focused on Jesus. “Set your hearts on things above where Christ is seated,” he urged the Colossians (3:1) – it was his own day-by-day, committed focus in the “right now” of his life. But even more, he had his sights set on the future, on the certainty of that day when “we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). In that he rejoiced! Wonderfully, that future certainty overflows backward into the present, meaning that right now, “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2).
This intermingling of future hope and present reality caused Paul to highly value the work the Lord had given him to accomplish in his own lifetime, and the relationships that resulted. He knew that the fruit of present work and the joy of present relationships would spill over into all eternity.
Which led him to abundantly rejoice in the Thessalonians. He speaks about them with words that ultimately find their fulfilment in the second coming of Jesus: hope, joy, crown, glory.
Ultimately, hope is anchored in the certainty that everything will be brought to fulfilment in Christ, lifting our spirits beyond all present circumstance. Paul experiences that hope now reflected in the lives of these new Thessalonian believers who have trusted in Christ.
Joy is that deep-seated wellbeing, grounded in Christ’s salvation, which wells up in celebration and praise, yielding fullness of life, as we look forward to that great coming day. This salvation in Christ is what these Thessalonians have stepped into. Their future is sure. Paul knows it. End-time joy fills his heart in the present moment. Yes, he had experienced opposition and persecution while preaching the gospel in Thessalonica – but now there is joy unspeakable.
Paul speaks of a crown. He’s not referring to a bejewelled sign of royalty, but rather to the victor’s wreath given at the athletic games. This is the prize for a race well run, based in persistence and faithfulness, the athlete powerfully crossing the finish-line. Paul, of course, is thinking about the race of life, striding onward until the day of Christ Jesus. When he crosses that finish-line, the Thessalonians will be part of Paul’s own crown. What joy!
Glory – it’s a big word. In that final day, it will be the stunning revelation of the character of our Lord, the veil pealed back so that we clearly see the fullness of his goodness and the full extent of his powerful workings. Wonderfully, some of that working has been in Paul’s own life, for the Lord used him to see salvation brought to the Thessalonians. They are Paul’s glory in the sense that he had the joy of participating in that work – as the Lord’s glory is seen in their lives, so, too, will it be seen in Paul’s.
So, what about me? What about you? For us, too, the present moment spills over into the hope and joy and crown and glory of the future. We may not have Paul’s capacity. No matter. The Lord still has work for us to do. He wants to use us, right now, in his kingdom purposes. There are people around us, like the Thessalonians, in whose lives the Lord desires to work. Will we yield to his promptings? Will we step into the opportunities he lays out before us?
In that great coming day, will we, like Paul, be able to say: Here is my hope, my joy, my crown, my glory. All of it reflective of Christ. All to his glory. May it be.
Lord, sharpen my engagement in your kingdom purposes. With the seriousness of eternity I want to embrace the opportunities you put before me now. Strengthen me for your work. To your glory. Amen.
Reflect: What kingdom opportunity is before you? Where is the Lord calling you to serve? Who are the people he is wanting to touch through your life? What steps will you take to engage?
Photo by James Barr on Unsplash