In 2010, Brandon Stanton began a photography project titled “Humans of New York,” with the goal of photographing every one of New York City’s inhabitants. As he took pictures, Stanton also documented the stories his subjects told him about their lives. The resulting collection of images and quotes currently contains hundreds of portraits and has over twenty million social media followers. Part of the appeal of “Humans of New York” is its implicit affirmation that every person is valuable and every person’s story is worth knowing. In today’s passage, Paul gives us a portrait of the Thessalonian church; its intimate details celebrate the life of those Christians, providing a pattern for our own intercession.
Paul begins with a statement of fact: these believers belong to the Father and the Son by the work of the Spirit. Though this church endured severe suffering and was confused about their future resurrection, they were securely and eternally loved by God. As we intercede for “all the Lord’s people” (Eph. 6:18), we remember that they are first of all people who belong to the Lord.
The Thessalonians lived out this identity with their “work produced by faith” (v. 3). In the midst of trials, they modeled their lives on the lives of the apostles, who were often persecuted, and on Christ himself—our highest example of righteous suffering (1 Peter 2:21). Then, having followed godly examples, the Thessalonians became examples for the other churches in their region and even believers everywhere (v. 8).
These stories motivated Paul. He gives thanks to God for the believers, he mentions them constantly in prayer, and he remembers them before the Lord (vv. 2–3). His knowledge of their situation and his concern for their spiritual wellbeing find their expression in prayer.