I am writing this article from our hotel room in Johannesburg, South Africa. As my wife and I prepare to leave this wonderful country, my heart is filled with many memories. My first time to South Africa was in 1995. This country was in turmoil. The apartheid had been removed from power and there was much violence going on. I choose not to think about that, but instead my mind goes back to the thousands of South Africans that I have met over the past 24 years. I do not know how many trips I have taken here, but it is over 40. For many years, I came more than once and for the past several years it has been three trips a year. I have met some amazing people of faith and courage.
Over these 24 years, this ministry has constantly been ministering to those who either lead or will lead God’s church. There is no way that we can count the number of people that our ministry has touched over these years. Many of the pastors take what we share and teach it to their people before we even leave the country.
If there was one thing that I want them to do it would be this, to never give up! Over the past 42 years of ministry, there have been many times when I was tempted to throw up my hands. The pains of faithful ministry are great. But because we have not quit, they make the joys even greater. The Apostle Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians from Corinth not many months after he wrote his first letter. Paul knew that the church in Thessalonica was a young church, less than a year old. He had started the church there but because of the persecution, left three weeks later and made his way to Corinth. So, we understand that both his letters were written to those young in faith, but also those who were under persecution. In each letter, Paul encourages the believers there to stand firm in the Lord or in the teaching that they had received from Paul.
In 1 Thessalonians 3:8, Paul writes, “For now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord.” Timothy had caught up with Paul in Corinth and had brought a report that the church was operating in their faith even in difficult times and that it was spreading around the known world. Paul tells the Thessalonians that he really lives because he has heard of the faith of this young church. Paul, then adds this command, stand firm. The Greek word that Paul wrote is stēkō. It means to stand or in this context it would mean to continue in the state you are in. Paul is telling the Thessalonians to continue to stand and not to be moved by anything.
We need to understand that consistency is needed to move forward in the Kingdom of God. We cannot depend on feelings because they change at the drop of a hat. We cannot base our faith on experiences because those experiences fade in time. The excitement fades fast as we live life in all its experiences. Even coming to South Africa is not as exciting as it was 24 years ago. Why? Because I have grown accustomed to the beauty here. I see so many believers that run from one experience to the other. Experiences are great, but they are not the thing that causes us to stand. Many believers leave their faith because they find that after chasing experiences and feelings, they are still not fulfilled.
What are things that make us stand? In 1 Thessalonians 3:8, Paul tells them to stand firm in the Lord. We must stand in our relationship with Christ. We are in Him and He is in us. He is our Lord. As we walk with Him through every experience and through times where there are no feelings, we gain the strength to stand. In 2 Thessalonians 2:15, Paul writes, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.” Paul again tells them to stand firm. In this verse, he tells us how to do that. He tells us to hold to the traditions. For you who are non-traditionalists, please do not stop reading but let me finish. The Greek word for hold in this verse is krateō. It comes from the word kratos which means strength or might. The word krateō means to seize or hold on to with all your strength. Yesterday, Audrey and I took our first, and probably our last, elephant ride. You can rest assured we were both seizing the saddle we were on! Krateō took on a new importance!
When Paul said to hold on to traditions, he was talking about the words that he had spoken to them. He was talking about the Gospel. He said to stand and hold on to his words that he spoke in those three weeks and to the words that he wrote. Another way that we stand is by holding on to the Word of God. Never allow it to escape your grasp. Hang on to it because your life depends on it. There are many things that are going on in the Christian world that are trying to loosen our grasp on the Word of God. Do not allow that to happen. Seek every day to tighten your grasp and to stand. Make sure that the foundation of your life is the Word of God and not popular or feeling and experience-based teaching.
If we will be consistent, we will win. We will finish the course and move into the winner’s circle as we stand before God. That is my prayer for you!