1 THESSALONIANS 2:17 - 3:13
We have been going through Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians. Last week we saw chapter 2:1-16 where Paul describes his initial coming to Thessalonica.
In verses 1-12 we saw Paul’s initial coming to Thessalonica.
· He came with boldness (verse 2)
· He came with truth rather than from error or impurity or with deceit (verse 3)
· He came with pure motives (verse 4-6), not to please men but to please God.
· He came like a nursing mother (verse 7).
· He exhorted and cared and implored like a loving father (verse 11).
Then in verses 13-16 we saw the way in which the Thessalonian believers received Paul’s message:
· They received it as God’s message (verse 13)
· That message of the Gospel did a work in them when they believed (verse 13)
· They became imitators of the churches of God that had gone before (verse 14). A family resemblance began to be seen.
· They endured suffering at the hands of their countrymen.
Now as we pick up in verse
17, we will see the rest of the story. Paul
was only in the seaside town of
Suddenly the church is alone. There are no elders. No pastors. No deacons. No one who can even spell “seminary.” Just a tiny group of believers that have come to believe in the work of a Galilean Rabbi who died in their place and who rose from the dead.
Frankly, it has been a bit bewildering and unsettling.
There is something about being alone and abandoned that is always unsettling. In my younger years, I worked as a Battalion Chief for the Fire Department. It was many years ago in the days before I was even an officer that I responded to a fire aboard a cargo ship. We made entry into a passage where the heat was rolling over our heads and the smoke was so black that you could not see your gloved hand in front of your face. I know that for a fact because I tried waving my hand in front of my mask. Nothing. Then I felt a gloved hand on my shoulder and a yell over the roar of the flames, “I’m getting low on air; I’ll be back.”
That isn’t how it is supposed to work, but, as I said, that was a long time ago and things were different then.
Before I knew it, I was alone. Dark. Blazingly hot. At a time like that, you become amazingly existential. I recall the question going through my mind: “What on earth am I doing here?”
That is how the Thessalonians must have felt. But then there came word from Paul in the person of Timothy. He brought greetings and a word of encouragement. That encouragement is seen in these verses:
WE CAN BE ENCOURAGED BY MUTUAL PRESENCE
But we, brethren, having been bereft [literally, “orphaned”] of you for a short while-- in person, not in spirit-- were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. 18 For we wanted to come to you-- I, Paul, more than once-- and yet Satan thwarted us. 19 For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:17-19).
Paul has been away from the believers at Thessalonica for some time and he misses them. He is with them in spirit, but that is not sufficient. He wants to be with them.
It was nearly 31 years ago
that Paula and I first met. We were both students at
It wasn’t long before we
began to miss one another. Upon
occasion, I would either hitchhike or take a bus or even walk part of the way
Why? Why did I go through so much effort and so much time in order to come and visit her? Because we were in love. Let me tell you a secret about Christianity. When you are in love with Christ, you want to be with Him and you want to be with His people.
There is something wonderfully encouraging about the presence of the people of God.
You’ve heard of the little girl who had been sent to bed. She called out to her mother from the bedroom. “Mommy, I’m afraid to be alone in my room!” Her mother replied, “It’s okay, honey. The Lord is in your room with you.” Came back the plaintive call, “But I want someone with skin on.”
The church is the place where we meet God “with skin on.” He says, “Do you love Me? Then love one another.”
A lot has been made in Bible Studies and sermons concerning the idea of heavenly rewards. To be sure, the Bible does have some things to say on the subject. But Paul’s focus here is not upon some physical or spiritual reward that God is going to give. His focus is upon those to whom he has ministered. THEY are his reward.
The Lord has brought people into your life to whom only you can reach out and minister and show the love of Christ. You might object, “I don’t know how to speak the way you do, John.” That’s okay. You don’t have to. You only have to speak or act or show the love of Christ in the way YOU know how. God will do the rest. And when He does a work through you in the heart and life of another person, you will find that THEY have become your hope and joy and crown of exultation.
There are some of you for whom I have had opportunity to minister. It may have been a big thing like introducing you to the Lord and explaining the way of salvation. Or it may have been a little thing like a smile or a handshake. It might have been merely laughing with you when you laughed or in crying with you when you cried. It might have been a time of praying with you when you didn’t know what to pray and I didn’t either, but we both went to the Lord with your burden. You are my crown.
But that is not all. Some of you have ministered in my life. You have encouraged me and you have prayed for me. Some of you have come to me and said, “John, you need to do this better or you need to focus on that goal.” I listened to the Lord speaking through you and I received your advice and your correction. I am your crown.
Look at the person sitting next to you. He or she is a special opportunity for ministry. Think of the neighbor that lives next door. No, the other one -- the one to whom you might not often speak. God has given to you a potential for ministry -- an opportunity to reach out and to demonstrate the love of Christ in a very real way.
WE CAN BE ENCOURAGED AMIDST SHARED PERSECUTIONS
Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone; 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith, 3 so that no man may be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. 4 For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know. (1 Thessalonians 3:1-4).
Paul wants to encourage those who are going through hard times. His words of encouragement presuppose that you WILL go through some hard times. It is a simple truth that, if you make a stand for Christ, then there will be some who will not only reject you, but who will also do what they can to afflict you.
This is not a chance happening. In verse 3, Paul says that you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. We often talk about being predestined to salvation and the Bible does indeed teach that sort of thing, but here we have something more -- it is that we were predestined to affliction.
Is that bad? No, that is GOOD. It means that your sufferings and your problems and your afflictions have not caught God by surprise. It means that they are all a part of God’s grand design to mold you and make you into the person He wants you to be. It means that He is even working out those very troubles as He works all things for good to those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.
Bad things are going to happen and some of them are going to happen deliberately, both from the hand of God and from the hand of men. We live in an increasingly anti-Christian culture and there will be increasing episodes of people who will try to do you wrong because you are trying to do right.
There are people who will try to persecute your.
There is a tempter who will try to tempt you.
You determine to stand firm, no matter what. You have been called to be a part of the army of God. Your weapons are not of this world but are supernatural -- the gospel and the truth and faith and love.
Paul says, “We were so worried about the welfare of your believers in Thessalonica that we sent Timothy back to you to get news on how you were doing.”
How were the Thessalonians doing? They were going through hard times. But that in itself does not dishearten or discourage Paul because he had told them at the outset that they would go through hard times. It is okay that they were going through hard times as long as they ENDURED in the midst of those hard times. This brings us to our next point.
WE CAN BE ENCOURAGED BY PERSEVERING ENDURANCE
For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor should be in vain. 6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, 7 for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; 8 for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 3:5-8).
Paul says, “I could not endure it any longer; I had to send Timothy back to find whether you were enduring in the faith.” You see, it was not enough for Paul to know that the Thessalonians had made a decision for Christ in the past. He was ultimately concerned, not over a past decision, but whether they were enduring TODAY in their faith.
There is a segment of Christianity today that puts altogether too much emphasis upon making a decision for Christ. Sometimes this is punctuated by having someone walk down an aisle or say a prayer of commitment. These are all good and worthy things. But such a commitment is only the first step of what is to be a Christian WALK.
I can remember how we all applauded when our grandson took his first little baby steps. A faltering step. Then another one. And then a third. But it would be supremely tragic if that had been all there was. Baby steps, by there very nature, are a prelude to further walking.
Paul sends Timothy from
“They are still living out their Christian FAITH.”
“They are showing LOVE”
“They long to see you as you long to see them”
There is actually a play on words used here. Throughout chapter 2, Paul spoke of how he had brought the GOSPEL to the Thessalonians.
· We had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition (2:2).
· We have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel (2:4).
· We were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives (2:8).
· We proclaimed to you the gospel of God (2:10).
The word “gospel” simply means “good news.” Paul and company had come to Thessalonica proclaiming the good news that God sent His Son. But now Paul uses this same word translated “gospel” in verse 6 to speak of the good news that Timothy brought back that the Thessalonians are still walking in faith and in love.
As a result of one gospel, the other gospel became apparent in the lives of the Thessalonian believers.
How about you? You have heard the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ -- that God sent His only Son into the world to die as a sacrifice for sins -- that He died upon the cross and rose again and has conquered sin and death.
That is the Gospel. But is the gospel apparent in your life? Has it changed you so that you your life is characterized by faith and by love? It had in the case of the Thessalonians.
In July 2002 a cave-in took place in the mines of Pensylvania. The miners were mining their own business when suddenly water started rushing into the mine. They were trapped in the darkness. Helpless. Soon to perish. For three days and three nights they were alone as rescuers tried to drill down to their location. And then salvation broke through to bring them from darkness to light.
After it was all over, I saw an interview of all nine of them. They were asked what this event did for their relationship. They were bonded together. They will never again see themselves in the same way.
Christians are part of a life and death event. It chose us. When we were in darkness and death, light and life broke through into our world. We have been saved. We share a common bond. A bond of life and death. A bond of shared endurance. We should see each other differently. And we shoult pray for one another differently.
WE CAN BE ENCOURAGED BY INTERCESSORY PRAYER
For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, 10 as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith? (1 Thessalonians 3:9-10).
There is a great and a mighty ministry that takes place in our church. I’m not speaking about what happens from the pulpit or in our Sunday School classes or any of those other “high visual” ministries that take place. I am speaking of a ministry of intercession.
There is a lot of prayer that goes on around here. A ministry of intercession. And if I were to mention the names of some of those who are the most involved, you might not even know their names. But that is okay. Their names are familiar in heaven, for they are constantly before the throne.
Paul tells us several things about his prayer:
· He prayed continually: We night and day keep praying (3:10).
· He prayed earnestly: We night and day keep praying most earnestly (3:10).
· He prayed with an eye to personal involvement: We night and day keep praying most earnestly that WE may see your face, and [that WE] may complete what is lacking in your faith (3:10).
I love the place where Jesus calls His disciples together and He says, “I want you to pray to the Lord of the harvest that He will raise up workers for the harvest who will be able to go out and gather in the harvest.”
That order to pray is given in Matthew 9:37-38 and I am certain that the disciples said to themselves, “You want us to pray for workers? Okay, we will pray for workers to be sent out.” Then you turn the page to Matthew 10 and what do you see? The Lord turns to those same praying disciples and says, “PRAYER ANSWERED!!! I am sending you and you and you...” Paul does the same thing here. He says, “I am praying that God will send me to come and minister to you.”
Have you been praying that way? Or have you been praying like Moses did before the burning bush: “Lord, here am I; send Aaron!”
WE CAN BE ENCOURAGED BY A PROMISED RETURN
Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; 12 and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you; 13 so that He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13).
Christianity is past, present and future. There is a goal to the Christian life. If you are a believer, then God has not only saved you and given you a holy position in Christ, but also He is presently doing a continuing work within you. That work will one day be completed. It will be completed when Jesus returns with all His saints.
We have a hope for the future. Hope is faith in the future tense. Where there is no hope in the future, there is no encouragement in the present. Paul says that, as you live in the light of the promised return of the Lord, you are motivated to...
Establish your heart unblamable in holiness
Increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men