(2:17 – 3:13) PRESSING ON TO MATURITY — CHURCH PLANTERS FEEL
THE BURDEN OF ENCOURAGING THEIR DISCIPLES TO MATURITY
This past week has been a flurry of graduation activities – Julie graduating from HS along with her homeschool soccer teammates and then Steve receiving his English degree from Princeton.
Graduation is a significant milestone because it means you have successfully passed a large number of tests. Lots of students didn’t make it this far. Certainly at Princeton you have the cream of the crop intellectually in many respects. Think of all of the report cards that you have received down through the years. It started way back in elementary school – simple marks of Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory. Then it got more defined with letter grades with the ambitious students striving for those A’s. Lately Julie amazes me with grades like 105 … How can you get over 100?? I guess it’s like athletes giving 110% effort.
But think about it from the perspective of the teacher. Teachers have invested their lives in trying to get their students to learn the necessary material and make progress in that specific discipline. I look at Karen’s efforts in teaching math to the homeschool kids at the Heritage Tutorial Service – she takes the results very personally. She feels bad when her students perform poorly. She has a huge stake in seeing them succeed. Why? What’s it matter to her if they flunk out? She is conscientious and she is concerned about the future of her students. She longs to see them succeed. In some respects, even though she knows she cannot control how diligently the students work or how seriously they prepare, the report card is somewhat of a report card for her. She needs the encouragement of her students making the effort and of those efforts being productive.
We are switching focus today in our study of 1 Thess chapter 3. We have been in the middle of a four-part series looking at
4 AREAS OF EMPHASIS FOR CHURCH PLANTERS AS THEY
ENCOURAGE THEIR DISCIPLES ON TO MATURITY
– FAMILY FELLOWSHIP
– SACRIFICING SECURITY
– FEEDING ON FAITHFULNESS (today’s message)
– PERSEVERING IN PROGRESS
The emphasis today switches from the faithfulness of church leaders to the faithfulness of their growing disciples. But just as in teaching – these two areas are closely related.
This is report card day and thankfully I can report that the Thessalonica believers graduated successfully. Timothy returns from his travels with the good news that the believers have stood firm in the Lord in the midst of much pressure and persecution. They majored in much more important subjects than math and English. They have received grades in faith and love and they have come through with honors. And Paul and Silas and Timothy could not be happier. In the pressure of ministry, church planters feed on the faithfulness of their disciples.
III. (3:6-8) PART 3: CHURCH PLANTERS ARE ENCOURAGED BY FAITHFUL DISCIPLES
Church planters have a pressing need to see their disciples standing firm in the Lord and walking in the truth. Think about how it is with us as parents. There is nothing more joyful than to see our children doing well spiritually and nothing more heartbreaking than to see them choose the path of rebellion and foolishness. We know what lies down that road. We grieve for the waste of life and opportunity.
Prov. 10:1 “A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother.”
17:21 “To have a fool for a son brings grief; there is no joy for the father of a fool.”
17:25 “A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the one who bore him.”
19:13 “A foolish son is destruction to his father”
Grief . . . Bitterness . . . Destruction – Solomon certainly knew what type of anguish David had experienced – His own son Absalom chased him off the throne and out of the royal city; Solomon was no picnic to parent either
Not just an OT concept –
3 John 1-4 “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.”
[Children – now you know what Mom and Dad want for Mother’s Day and for Father’s Day – flowers and ties are nice … but what floats our boat is to see you walking faithfully with the Lord]
A. (:6) Three Ways a Disciple Can Encourage His Spiritual Leaders
[or children can encourage their parents]
(by Virtue of a Good Report) – cf. report cards
“But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news”
Shepherds delight in good news about the condition of their flock
Robert Thomas: “Just now” shows that Timothy’s arrival from Thessalonica immediately preceded the composition of the Epistle and probably provided its chief motivation.
Same word normally used for proclaiming the gospel; evangelizing; spreading the good news
The Cycle of Good News –
– proclaim the good news to the unsaved – so exciting you have to share it
2 Kings 7:9 “This day is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent; if we wait until morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household.”
Urgency of proclaiming the good news
– see God convert them
– receive back the good news that they are maturing in the faith and standing firm
– you feed on that good news as you are motivated even more to proclaim the good news to others
Let’s look at the 3 subjects that these disciples majored in:
1. Faith under Fire — Exhibited under Pressure Situations
Confirmation of their election; they were the genuine article; deep roots bearing godly fruit –
Willing to depend on God for help against impossible obstacles
Parable of the soils
MacArthur: Your faith was real. You were good ground, weren’t rocky soil, weren’t weedy ground, didn’t get choked out, didn’t get burned off, you were good ground…good news about your faith, you’re real.
Analogy of the crucible – trials burning off the dross; left with pure gold and silver
Thanksgiving for changed lives – evident to others; you don’t have to toot your horn
Steadfastness of their faith
Study the Book of James – In the Practical Realities of Everyday Life Genuine Faith Embraces Fully the Will of God – Faith should be evidenced in all these areas:
– (1:1-18) Trials test our faith with the goal of perseverance (1:2-3, 12)
Are we going to give up and give in or Stand Firm in the Lord?
– (1:19-27) Need to be doers of the Word; obedient – some key areas: (v.22)
– self control in the area of speech
– ministry of compassion to those in need
– personal purity
– (2:1-13) Faith without impartial love is dead (2:1)
– (2:14-26) Importance of good works – vindicate the reality of our faith (2:17)
– (3:1-18) The taming of the tongue and practical wisdom (3:8, 17)
– (4:1-10) Intimacy with God – not friendship with the world; Draw near to God and He will
draw near to you (4:4, 8)
– (4:11-17) Submission to the will of God (4:12, 15) – not taking matters into our own hands
Accepting God’s role as Judge and the Sovereign master of our destiny
– (5:1-12) Be patient and persevering – takes faith – example of farmer (5:7)
– (5:13-20) Fervent, effectual prayer –takes faith – example of Elijah (5:17-18)
Faith still needed to grow; there was room for improvement; Paul wanted to visit them and fill in any cracks or holes in their faith
What report could others give about your faith? Where are you stepping out and trusting God – walking by faith instead of by sight … willing to attempt something that is beyond your natural ability … takes faith to commit to a church planting effort … doesn’t look like much at the start …
Takes faith to witness in a variety of contexts;
Takes faith not to be anxious about tomorrow, about our finances …
2. Love in Action toward others
MacArthur: You love God, you love Christ, you love each other, you love the lost.
Gal. 5:6 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.”
They had certainly applied Paul’s teaching in the proper manner:
1Tim 1:5 “the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
[Next week: Paul will be praying for them – that their faith and love grow and abound and not have any holes or cracks that would cause problems]
They should know we are Christians by our love; amazing how the early church demonstrated love in practical ways
Study 1 Cor. 13 to see what Genuine Love should look like in our relationships with other believers
3. Appreciation and Affection — A High Regard for Spiritual Leaders; Valuing the Partnership
“and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you.”
Phillips: “cherish happy memories of us”
Robert Thomas: Timothy’s report of the kindly feelings of the Thessalonians toward him assured Paul that they had not written him off as an exploiter, disinterested in their welfare. They still maintained a warm spot for him, matching his own tender longing to see them (cf. 2:17; 3:10).
Wouldn’t it be great if people always thought kindly of us … Paul experienced plenty of slanderous attacks; counted it a blessing when people responded with kindness …
But not a man-pleaser; not a politician – out to please God rather than man
Gal. 1:10 “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.”
1 Thess. 2: 4 “not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts”
Look at all of the curses and name-calling and slander that Christ endured:
– Is. 53:3 “He was despised and forsaken of men” – prophesied that He would be maligned
– Psalm 22:6-7 “But I am a worm and not a man, a reproach of men and despised by the people. All who see me sneer at me” – great Messianic Psalm speaking of His crucifixion
– Matt 10:25 “If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household?”
– Matt. 12:24 “But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.”
– 1 Pet. 2:23 “while being reviled, He did not revile in return”
Look at all of the false charges levied against Paul:
– 2 Cor. 10:10 “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.’”
– 2 Cor. 12:19-21 – attacks on him at Corinth
– Phil. 1:15-18 – people competing with him from bad motives
Matt. 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Don’t look for your reward too soon – It is worth waiting for
Still, it is nice when believers think kindly of you as a spiritual leader; it is nice when they want to fellowship with you in person and demonstrate their loyalty and affection and respect and appreciation
These Thessalonian believers were loyal to the Apostle Paul
Need to express our kindness and appreciation so that our leaders can be encouraged
Long to see one another – Acts 20:37
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
We have looked at 3 ways a disciple can encourage spiritual leaders; now . . .
B. (:7-8) Three Reasons Church Planters Need Encouragement
1. Pressure and Persecution Abound on the Front Lines
“for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction”
Suffering is worth it anyway … but certainly alleviated by good reports
The idea of trouble, distress or hardship is dominant in Luke 21:23; 1Co 7:26; 2Co 6:4; 2Co 12:10. This is the predominant sense here in 1Thessalonians 3:7 where anagke refers to difficult circumstances that come on one with compelling force. . .
Affliction — (thlipsis from thlibo = to crush, press together, squash, hem in, compress, squeeze in turn derived from thláo = to break) originally expressed sheer, physical pressure on a man. Medically thlipsis was used of the pulse (pressure). It is a pressing together as of grapes. It conveys the idea of being squeezed or placed under pressure or crushed beneath a weight. When, according to the ancient law of England, those who willfully refused to plead guilty, had heavy weights placed on their breasts, and were pressed and crushed to death, this was literally thlipsis.
In summary, the truth you need to remember regarding afflictions (thlipsis) is that
(1) tribulations have a purpose
(2) one’s response to tribulations demonstrates the reality of one’s faith
(3) temporal tribulations produce inestimable future, eternal glory
(4) God will avenge tribulations you have endured for His Name and Word
Mayhue: Both words are used together in Job 15:24 (LXX) of one who is terrified and overpowered. It is no wonder then that the Lord appeared to Paul in a vision at Corinth saying, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city’ (Acts 18:9-10; cf. 1 Cor 2:3). In the midst of intense pressure over preaching the gospel, the good news from Thessalonica comforted Paul and brought great joy.
2. Pastoral Concern Regarding the Maturity of Their Faith
“we were comforted about you through your faith”
the crucible of life will test the reality, depth and maturity of their faith
Since Paul had so great concern for all the churches – reports of steadfastness in faith brought him great encouragement and comfort; he was also saddened whenever he learned of people falling away from trusting the Lord
3. Personal Fulfillment Tied to Perseverance of Disciples
“for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord”
church planters are in this business to see fruit that remains
This is the key phrase that should dominate our thinking this week. What causes us to really live?
Think of the world’s perspective – they might say they would really be living the good life if
– they have financial security – no worries; all their needs met
– freed up to travel and do the fun things they have always wanted to do
– received the job promotion that gives them the challenge and opportunity of a lifetime
– chance to party with their buddies and give themselves over to their favorite form of entertainment
For church planters like Paul – it was never about himself – What a statement … his joy in life is tied to the spiritual well-being of others … just like for parents it should never be about us – that would be selfish – How are our children doing?
Think of the phrase “Get a life!” – usually directed at someone who is involved in less than significant pursuits … Paul’s emphasis here is surprising.
The real meaning of life; rejuvenation; stimulated to renewed ministry activity
Preach and leave the results to God?? In one sense; but not in a dispassionate sense; we care deeply about the eternal impact on the lives of others; the preacher is not a mere broadcaster; strong affection for others; expresses his desire for others
We have already seen that spiritual leaders function as a tender Mother and as a nurturing Father – that is the type of intimate relationship they have with their disciples
Hiebert: Before there had been a dead weight of apprehension; they felt lifeless and had no enthusiasm. But now in consequence of the news Timothy brought, we live feel like we truly live, not just exist.
The present tense indicates that this is not just a momentary reaction but an abiding inspiration.
Paul’s words are a vivid rhetorical description of the contrast between the former state of apprehension, when they were ignorant concerning the reaction of the Thessalonians under persecution, and the ease of mind and encouragement produced by the news Timothy brought. They felt that they had been given a new lease on life, could again go on living with a sense of fullness of power and satisfaction. Had the Thessalonians apostatized, it would have been a veritable deathblow to Paul.
Importance of standing firm
MacArthur: If you have a strong faith, if you have a strong commitment–that word “stand fast” is a military term, steko. It refers to a refusal to retreat against an attack. Stand your ground under attack. When I see you stand your ground under attack, I really live, I really live. I know you’ve got your armor on, you’re holding up the shield of faith. I really live. To the Corinthians he wrote, chapter 16 verse 13, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” To the Galatians he wrote, chapter 5 verse 1, “Keep standing firm.” To the Philippians he wrote, chapter 1 verse 27, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ that I may hear of you that you’re standing firm.” In chapter 4 verse 1, the Philippians again, he said, “Therefore my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” And in that second letter to the Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 15, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.” Always wanted them to stand firm…stand firm. And always the idea was standing against an attack and showing your faith is real, your commitment is strong. That’s the delight of the pastor’s heart.
How are you being an encouragement to those who are shepherding you spiritually? We need encouragement! You have the power to provide it.
Like cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a distant land. (Proverbs 25:25)
Have you taken the time to give a cup of cold water to anyone lately? How about spiritual leaders from your past – ones whom you haven’t seen for many years. Maybe they would appreciate a word from you.