14 April 2007

1st Thessalonians chapter 3--Establish, enocurage

You know, you can read the entire book of 1st Thessalonians in less than a half-hour. But in those few pages, there is so much stuff! If you're inspired by GOD, you can say a lot in a few words. Charles Spurgeon once said that he could sum up the gospel in five words--“Jesus Christ died for me.” Well, In chapter 3—Paul says a lot in 13 little verses. As I read this chapter, it reminded me of something. Every once in a while I wonder how some of the people I went to school with turned out. Did the valedictorian go on to make a ton of money? My friend Terry went into the Navy—is he still in? I managed to find a few of them a couple years ago. One’s in ATL with her hubby. One’s in Kannapolis, NC. Keep in mind we're a bunch of kids from upstate New York.

Now, let’s think about the apostle Paul here. He went to Thessalonica, preached, and many believed. But at one point, he’s sitting there thinking, "I wonder what is going on back in Thessalonica? Timothy, go find out!!" Well, when GOD sends us out into the field from the comfort of our own little church, it's like we’re all a bunch of Timothy’s. Let’s see what we are sent to do.

First, we ESTABLISH AND ENCOURAGE the saints.
Verses 1-3.
Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.

We ESTABLISH others. The word "establish" means "to strengthen." It’s real easy for a new believer to fall if they don’t have a firm foundation. But Matthew 7:24-25 says, “…whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” That was part of Timothy’s ministry—to make sure they had a good foundation. You’ve heard of a house “settling.” Well, Paul wanted to make sure this church had not begun to “settle.” He wanted to make sure that they were still standing on the Rock--our Lord Jesus Christ. And on the foundation oif the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20), Rather than the shifting sand of world values.

It's easy even for someone who seems to be grounded in their faith to be led away. 1st Timothy 6:9-10 says, But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts…for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. Let me give you a couple examples:

  • Amy Grant was, at one time, the most well known gospel singer on the planet. Even people who didn’t listen to Christian music knew who she was. And just when she could have made huge impact on the world for Christ, she went secular. Started doing songs that weren't exactly Christian. And in recent years, she made headlines for dating country singer Vince Gill--while he was still married. I do not doubt her love for the Lord, or salvation. But when I think of how much more she could have done with her talent, it really is sad.
  • Also, you may—or may not—remember a Christian rock band from the 80’s called Stryper. When they broke up one of the members did an interview. And in this interview, he said, “The worst career move I ever made was singing for GOD.” These were people who needed someone to come and establish them. That's what makes me thankful for Third Day, Chris Tomlin, and Tobymac. Artists that are successful, but their music glorifies GOD.

Next, we are also sent to ENCOURAGE others. We have had several people, and families, go out from our church—one lady to China, another family to Mexico. Talk about some people needing encouragement! Think about how depressing it is when you have no one to talk to. Imagine how it must feel to seem like you're the only Christian on the planet. They say, “The Devil makes work for idle hands.” Now, that saying isn't in the Bible, but this one is: Proverbs 27:7—The satisfied soul loathes a honeycomb, but to the hungry soul, every bitter thing is sweet. To children, negative attention is better than none. When no one else will be your friend, Satan will, if you’ll let him. Look at these women who stay with abusive men because they think no one else will have them. When I hear about these women, I think of 1st Peter 5:8--...your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. Satan will devour women like that.

You know who else he’ll devour? Ever hear someone say they're a Christian, but they don’t go to church? There may be a way to reconcile those two—if there is, let me know. Hebrews 10:25 tells us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves…but [encourage] one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. We need to ESTABLISH, to ENCOURAGE, that no one should be shaken. It’s so easy to get caught up in today. You may wake up in a bad mood, your car won't start. And it's easy to take that and project it onto our whole life. But you and I, we know better. The things we go through now are nothing...‘Cause there’s a better day a-waitin’!! Romans 8:18—the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. If you think about that verse for a minute it oughta blow your mind. To some people we’re nothing. Ask someone in Montana, “Have you heard anything about FBC Powell lately?” they'll say, "Uhhhhhh………nooooooo." But guess what? When we stand before the Lord of all the Earth, His glory will be revealed in us!!! That’s why Paul says here that he wanted no one to be shaken by these afflictions.

Why? For you know yourselves know that we are appointed to this. When we point out how hard it can be to follow Christ, we often quote 2nd Timothy 3:12. But if you start back at verse 10—But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me…And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. That’s why Paul chose him to go to Thessalonica. Actually, GOD told Paul to choose Timothy. You see, GOD knows who to send to certain people. Ever get a phone call from someone who knows what you are going through? You hear a word from GOD that you really needed to hear? Sometimes GOD gives you an answer out of the blue. That’s why GOD sent certain people to minister with us. People who haven’t always been perfect. People who know what it’s like to have a past. People who know what it’s like to get evicted and repo’d. Even more importantly, to know what it’s like to be changed by the grace of GOD and by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We also suffer TRIBULATION from the world, and TEMPTATION from Satan.
Verses 4-5.
For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know. For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain.

What Paul is talking about here, is what Jesus told us about in the parable of sower. Matthew 13:19-22

“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet …when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.”
If someone comes and talks about the gospel a time or two, hands out a few tracts, and never returned, how long would it be before Satan snatched it up, or the heat of the sun scorched it, or the cares of the world choked the life out of all the seeds that were sown? When you plant, you don’t just dump a packet of seeds on the ground. In fact, before you even open them up, you have to get the ground ready. Then after you plant the seeds, you have to care for them, nurture them, and water them. When it comes to kingdom, you get the ground ready by prayer, you take care of and grow the seeds through preaching of the Word. Then when it comes harvest—you get credit, right? Wrong! When it comes to GOD's kingdom—you plant, you water; you nurture, but guess who needs to get the credit? Listen to what Paul said in 1st Corinthians 3:6-8--I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

Remember back in chapter 1--the gospel comes in power--anything we do that does not come from GOD, does not have His blessing, will fail. It may look like resounding success—to us. But compared to GOD’s will, we will have failed miserably. That’s why we gather together in Jesus’ name. That’s why each of us needs to encourage other believers with the word of GOD. So that should they be tempted by the tempter, we can establish and encourage them concerning their faith. We are one body. 1st Corinthians 12:16“And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. There are some who are not going to church, that need to be. We need to be encouraging these people to come, because they are part of us, and we are part of them.

Finally, we are REFRESHED and REVIVED by the faith, love, and remembrance of those we minister to.
Verses 6-8.
But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.

Every year, our church holds a "Global Impact Celebration." We have missionaries come in from all over the world. It’s such a joy to see these people. To hear the reports of what GOD is doing in Idaho, and Canada, and Mexico, and Africa. And I can only think of how Paul must have jumped for joy when Timothy returned.

Their faith. Recall that many devout Jews wanted to arrest Paul. And consider that after Paul and his friends left, those people were still there. And they probably didn’t cotton too well to these believers’ new found faith. These new Christians were more than likely going around telling everybody they knew. In the book of John, it tells of Jesus healing a blind man. And when this man is brought before the Pharisees, they claim that Jesus is a sinner, because He did this on the Sabbath. I love this exchange, in John 9:24-27--So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, "Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner." He answered and said, "Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see." Then they said to him again, "What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?" He answered them, "I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?" After which they promptly and courteously…tossed him out of the synagogue.

This is much like the report of the faith of the Thessalonica that Timothy took to Paul. It’s much like the report that we give when people ask how our mission is going with those we minister to. When we report of their faith. Well, not only did Timothy have a good report of their faith, he had a good report of their love. 1st Corinthians 13:2-3—And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. They knew Christ as Lord and Savior. They had the love of Christ inside of them. John 13:35“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” “A good remembrance of us.” It wasn’t that Paul had been such a wonderful speaker. It wasn’t anything Paul had done that kept these people’s faith. It was the Holy Spirit. There are churches that look at their flock and think, “Oh, where would these poor people be without my preaching?” OH PLEASE!! Remember 1st Corinthians 3:6. It’s the Holy Spirit that changes lives. It’s the Holy Spirit that keeps us from wandering away from GOD if we are truly His.
Philippians 1:6--...being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ...
1st Peter 1:5—we are kept by the power of God through faith…
Psalm 23:4—Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…
A shepherd’s staff is curved on one end. Why? Because the shepherd uses it to bring the sheep back into line when they go astray.

Look at verse 8 of our text. I want to look at that word “live.” People are passionate about things. When I first got to Knoxville, I thought, “Look at all that orange.” Ever hear somebody say, “Billy Joe just LIVES for football season”, or “Billy Ray LIVES AND DIES with those Vols”? That’s kinda what Paul is saying here. Remember in chapter 2 he called them his glory, hope, joy, crown of rejoicing. Basically, what he was saying was, “I live and die with you guys.” THAT is the love Paul had for these people. I was reading what one gentleman had to say about this passage. I’m just gonna paraphrase what he said:

It would have been easy for Paul to put up with some kind of opposition from someone outside of the church, knowing that he had made true disciples. And now, his worrying about these people was over, knowing their determination. It would have been a killing thing to the apostles if these people had been unsteady, or turned their backs on the Lord.

A child can throw a tantrum, can destroy stuff. But how much more does it hurt to hear "I hate you." Then again, how much more does it mean when that child says, "I love you." When Timothy came back and told Paul about their faith, love, and remembrance. Probably gave him a fist pump, maybe gave him some noogies. And isn't that how we should react when we hear about someone struggling, coming out not just as good, but better than before?

We PRAY for others and we GIVE PRAISE to GOD
Verses 9-10.
For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God, night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith?

What thanks can we render to GOD for you? Here’s this man who could quote the OT scriptures backwards and forwards. Yet the words to thank GOD for these people escape him. …fill up what is lacking… He wasn’t saying, “Well, you guys just aren’t quiiiiite good enough yet…” John 21:25 says that Jesus did so many things that they would fill up all the books in the world. Paul is saying here, “I have so much more to tell you about our Lord than I had time to tell ya. I can't wait until I see y’all again.” Is there ever really enough time to talk about how wonderful our GOD really is? A million men could live a million years, and combined couldn’t do it. But Paul said, “I'm gonna do my best.”

Finally, we LOOK AHEAD and LONG TO SEE these people again.
Verses 11-13.
Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.

This should be the prayer of all churches for those they minister to. May this be the prayer for every church we plant. And may it be the prayer we have for our missionaries as they go out into the world to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to a world that is lost, and dying. Amen.

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