(2:17 – 3:13) PRESSING ON TO MATURITY — CHURCH PLANTERS FEEL
THE BURDEN OF ENCOURAGING THEIR DISCIPLES TO MATURITY
Today we are finishing a four part series from 1 Thess 2:17 – 3:13 about Pressing on to Maturity. The Apostle Paul went to great lengths to defend his ongoing commitment to encourage the new believers at Thessalonica on their pathway to maturity. He wasn’t out to take advantage of them. He hadn’t left town and forgotten about them. He talked about the importance of Family Fellowship; he reminded them of how he sacrificed his own security in sending Timothy to check up on them; last week we looked at his incredible joy over the good report that Timothy had brought back – energizing Paul as he fed on their faithfulness and spiritual stability.
Immaturity is natural for a baby … in fact it is the only possible condition; but healthy growth must be expected over time or something is drastically wrong. I remember when our older son Rick didn’t seem to be developing physically at a normal rate and we took him to the midget doctor to get checked out. Turns out he was just a late bloomer … but not seeing the growth you expect can be alarming. God is not in the business of producing spiritual pygmies. Last week we talked about the good report card that Paul had received regarding the spiritual status of the believers at Thessalonica – especially their rock solid faith and active love so that they were standing firm in the Lord. That was Paul looking into the past to see their track record in following Jesus Christ. What type of disciples had they proven to be thus far. Now he looks into the future to encourage them to press on and persevere in spiritual growth and progress until Jesus returns.
Just any type of growth won’t do. It must be growth in the appropriate areas. I’ve been going to the gym lately because I had some growth in the wrong areas. My added weight was even affecting my sleep patterns – not helpful for Karen’s sleep either. Humbling (and costly) to take one of those sleep apnea studies – just to have the doctor write out a simple prescription: eat less, exercise more, sleep more. It’s the same spiritually – nothing complicated … just follow the instruction manual God has given. I would rather see more muscle and less fat. It takes discipline and perseverance – but surprisingly what I eat and how much I exercise does seem to make a difference. Go figure! Someone might be growing in their intellectual knowledge of spiritual things but the result will just be a big head rather than spiritual strength. Someone might be accumulating earthly treasures but their heart might not be loyal to God’s kingdom.
How do you evaluate your own spiritual growth lately? Have you been growing in the right areas? Or do you need to spend more time in the spiritual gym?
How have you been actively encouraging others to grow? Remember last week that Paul said what really gave him satisfaction in life was seeing the spiritual maturity of others.
Before we look at our passage for today, let’s quickly review our Scripture reading passage from Phil. 3:12-14 – Paul’s perspective on his own spiritual growth – what he pursued for himself is exactly the same type of maturity that he exhorts his young converts to pursue. He practiced what he preached. You will appreciate the parallel thoughts of these two passages today – Phil 3 and 1 Thess 3.
PRESSING TOWARD THE GOAL IS THE ONLY WAY TO RUN THE RACE OF CONFORMITY TO JESUS CHRIST
Walvoord: “On the one hand, discontent with one’s spiritual life can bring discouragement and unnecessary resignation to spiritual defeat. On the other hand, in overestimating one’s spiritual attainments, it is easy to become complacent with the measure of transformation which has taken place. Either alternative is falling short of the scriptural standard. What Paul is teaching in this section is that absolute perfection, such as exists in heaven, or attainment of spiritual victory which makes defeat impossible, is never achieved in this life. But there is the possibility of a high plateau [I prefer: growing experience] of victory in Christ, of joy in the Spirit, and of the satisfaction of having served the Lord acceptably. It is this proper doctrine that the apostle is attempting to teach in this section.”
I. THE GOAL IS CONFORMITY TO JESUS CHRIST
THE MOTIVATION OF A LOFTY GOAL:
“in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ
Jesus” / “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”
A. Salvation is Just a Starting Point
B. Christ Jesus Sets the Standard
Rom. 8:28-29 = the purpose for which we have been called by God
C. The Prize is Worthy of the Effort
II. IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE ALREADY “ARRIVED” YOU ARE OFF TARGET
THE DELUSION OF PERFECTION: great passage for refuting those who hold to perfectionism
(just ask their spouse = easier way to refute them)
A. Some People Feel They Have Reached the Spiritual Mountaintop
“Not that I have already obtained it”
He had not received yet all that God has for him.
B. Some People Feel They have Arrived
“or have already become perfect”
He had not been matured yet to the point where he was like Christ.
C. The Reality is That We All Have a Long Way to Go
“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet”
III. LOOKING AT THE PAST WILL SLOW YOU DOWN
THE PITFALLS OF THE PAST:
“forgetting what lies behind”
A. Weighed down by Sins/Failures of the Past (Heb. 12:1-2) / OR
Complacent because of Past Spiritual Success
(Past Positive Performance is no Indication of Future Success —
cf. the warning on commercials for mutual funds)
B. Tainted by Bitterness and a Lack of Forgiveness / OR
Over confident because of the evidence of the Fruit of the Spirit
C. Resigned to Powerlessness / OR
Distracted from continuing to Rely on the Lord
IV. PRESSING TOWARD THE GOAL IS THE ONLY WAY TO RUN THE RACE
THE CHALLENGE OF PERSEVERING IN MAKING PROGRESS:
A. Requires a Perspective of Hope — “I press on”
B. Requires a Work Ethic of Diligence — “but one thing I do… reaching forward to what lies ahead”
C. Requires a Large Dose of Perseverance — “I press on toward the goal”
That is what Paul practiced in his own life – that is the type of race he has been training the Thessalonians to run – that is the same path we must follow – no exceptions … no shortcuts
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
III. (3:9-13) PART 4: CHURCH PLANTERS ENCOURAGE THEIR DISCIPLES TO PERSEVERE WITH THEM IN SPIRITUAL PROGRESS –
5 AREAS OF SPIRITUAL PROGRESS
A. (:9) PROGRESS IN JOY AND THANKSGIVING
“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.”
The sense of this rhetorical question is that words simply cannot adequately express to God the thanks which filled Paul’s heart. His joy was overflowing every time he remembered these saints before his God.
Psalm 116:12 “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” vv. 13-19 are the response – including the sacrifice of thanksgiving
Third outpouring of thanksgiving expressed by Paul in this short epistle — 1:2; 2:13
constantly thinking with fondness in his heart of their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ”
Greek word “thanks” is where we get our English word Eucharist – to show favor; gratitude
Other aspects of prayer like intercession for needs will cease when Christ returns; but we will continue to express our thanksgiving and gratitude for all of eternity
We lose sight of how important a thankful heart is to God:
1 Thess 5:18 “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”
1 Cor. 14:16-17 – giving of thanks should be a major component of our corporate worship services
2 Cor. 4:15 “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God” – spread of the gospel message and the liberating power of the grace of God should cause giving of thanks to abound … end result is that God receives even more glory
2 Cor. 9:11 ff – sacrificial giving – when done cheerfully and from a thankful heart – enriches those in need so that thanksgivings to God overflow
Good way to evaluate what ministries to invest in – time, spiritual gifts, money – what will cause thanksgiving to overflow so that God is glorified – be involved in that
Ephes 5:4 “and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” – Pastor Charlie had preached about putting off the old man and putting on Christ – here is one way you do it with your tongue – need to express your thanksgiving
Col. 2:6-7 – marks one who is characterized by maturity – “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.”
We owe something back to God for all of His rich blessings and encouragement and grace to enable us to progress in spiritual maturity; what we pay back is our thanksgiving
Opposite: lack of contentment; grumbling; complaining; indifference; ungratefulness; failure to fully appreciate God
Our countenance should reflect our joyful and thankful spirit
Joy is the deep-down sense of well-being that abides in the heart of the person who knows all is well between himself and the Lord.
Transition: Constant connection between thanksgiving and prayer – good to study this — Phil. 4:6
Col. 4:2 “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving, praying at the same time for us as well”
B. (:10a) PROGRESS IN PRAYER — Persistent Prayer for Renewed Opportunity to See Them and Grow Them to Maturity
“as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face
1. Frequency of Persevering Prayers
“worked night and day” as well 2:9 – How is this possible??
Praying always – not without break or cessation; but constant pattern at all times of the day and night without long seasons in between of neglect or forgetfulness
Cf. 24/7 Response Center – all calls received and treated as emergency calls; not dismissed or put on the shelf until later; night or day = no difference
Keathley: Their prayer life was not a haphazard affair. This illustrates the reality of their own faith, their dependence on the Lord, and the genuineness of their relationship with Him. They believed God was in charge and that He answered prayer.
Mayhue: The word Paul uses for prayer (deomai) indicates a begging-like passion for God to supply an urgent need.
2. Fervency of Persevering Prayers
Compound word with superlative emphasis = overflowing all bounds, surpassing, superabundantly, surpassingly, beyond measure, exceedingly, quite beyond all measure, overwhelming, over and above, more than enough. It describes an extraordinary degree, involving a considerable excess over what would be expected.
3. Fellowship Goal of these Persevering Prayers
“see your face” – If you are not so good with names and faces = not a good thing; faces reveal the individual personality; not just coming to visit the collective entity of the gathered church; he knows them as individuals; Shepherd knows each sheep; sensitive to where they are hurting and where they need help
Robert Thomas: Paul returned to the Macedonian province approximately five years later (Acts 19:21; 20:1; 1 Cor 16:5; 2 Cor 2:13) and in all likelihood made a point of visiting Thessalonica.
C. (:10b) PROGRESS IN FAITH —
“and may complete what is lacking in your faith”
Not a negative thing to note that they had not yet arrived … there will still areas where their faith needed to grow and mature
Hiebert: The meaning is not that something has gone wrong with the faith of the Thessalonians and that rectification is needed. Rather, Paul clearly recognized that the faith of their converts needed to be brought to its full development. This is indicated by the addition “what is lacking in your faith.” Not that the faith they had was defective, but it still needed completing and rounding out
When applied to that which is weak and defective, it denotes setting right what has gone wrong or restoring to a former condition, whether mending broken nets or setting broken bones. And so it means to fit or join together and thus to mend or repair.
For example Mark records
And going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending (katartizo – present tense) the nets. (Mark 1:19)
Secular Greek used katartizo for manning a fleet or outfitting an army with provisions so they would be thoroughly prepared to go to war. This latter secular use has spiritual parallels for the saints in Thessalonica (indeed all saints) needed to be thoroughly prepared and “outfitted”
I think of outfitters where you rent canoes or provisions for white water rafting or tubing down a river; you must be sure to take with you everything you need for safety and to have a successful outing
D. (:11-12) PROGRESS IN FELLOWSHIP AND LOVE –
1. (:11) Face-to-Face Fellowship
“Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you”
“our God and Father” –
Combines Majesty and Intimacy
Rule of God Provisions and Love of Father
Transcendence Warm Embrace
Universal Program Personal Guidance
Clear support for Deity of Christ – putting Christ on an equal footing
Bruce: The fact that the verb direct is singular in Greek, despite its compound subject, has no such theological significance as is sometimes imagined; in such a construction the verb commonly agrees with the nearer subject. But it is significant that Christ is thus associated in action with God the Father.
MacArthur: By calling God our . . . Father, an address emphasizing personal relationship, and Jesus our Lord, an address emphasizing personal rulership, Paul switched the usual popular ideas about God being the ruler and Christ being the one with whom believers have a relationship. The use of our before both God and Jesus underscores the relationship Paul and the Thessalonians enjoyed with both Persons of the Trinity. God came down to be intimate with them as their gracious, loving, and forgiving Father, and Jesus ascended to heaven’s throne to be their sovereign Lord..
PreceptAustin: Kateuthuno gives a picture of opening up the way by removal of obstacles so that the desired goal may be reached. Paul recognizes the uselessness of personal efforts toward a revisit unless God “clears the way” and removes the obstacles that Satan had previously placed in his path of return which made that path impassable. Paul had learned the secret (Php 4:13-note) that it is God Who “directs our way” and Who Alone is powerful enough to remove all hindrances (1Th 2:18-note) that Satan places in our path. . .
means to make straight, to straighten fully, to guide or lead directly straight towards or upon something, to guide one’s way or journey to a place. The idea is that of conducting one straight to a place, and not by a round-about course.
Importance of dependence upon the Providence of God
2. (:12) Lavish Love
“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”
Difference between love (unselfish sacrifice) and lust (taking advantage of another) – takes that up in chap. 4; provides instructions on loving the brethren
Phil. 1:9 I pray that your love should abound still more and more
Hiebert: Genuine Christian love . . . is the one thing in the Christian life which cannot be carried to excess.
Donald W. Burdick: [gives an excellent summary of agape writing that…]
It is spontaneous. There was nothing of value in the persons loved that called forth such sacrificial love. God of His own free will set His love on us in spite of our enmity and sin. [Agape] is love that is initiated by the lover because he wills to love, not because of the value or loveableness of the person loved. [Agape] is self-giving. and is not interested in what it can gain, but in what it can give. It is not bent on satisfying the lover, but on helping the one loved whatever the cost. [Agape] is active and is not mere sentiment cherished in the heart. Nor is it mere words however eloquent. It does involve feeling and may express itself in words, but it is primarily an attitude toward another that moves the will to act in helping to meet the need of the one loved.” (Burdick, D W: The Letters of John the Apostle. Chicago: Moody, 1985, page 351)
MacArthur: [for all] Other NT commands concerning all men include pursuing peace (Ro 12:18); doing good (Gal 6:10), being patient (Php 4:5), praying (1 Ti 2:1), showing consideration (Tit 3:2), and honoring (1 Pe 2:17).
Connection between Love and Holiness – essential for holiness (1 John 3:14; 4:20); If we do not love the brethren, we do not love God Himself and we do not have zeal for conformity to God’s character
E. (:13) PROGRESS IN HOLINESS AND HOPE –
“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”
Details about eschatology are not the key point here. We know the Lord Jesus is returning and we know He is coming soon.
“blameless” – not to be found perfect in holiness, but blameless, without reproach, spotless before God in His eschatological judgment (different from Greek work used for elders being without reproach)
Luke 1:6 – used of the priest Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth who were found walking blamelessly in all the commandments
Phil. 2:15 – prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent (in contrast to this corrupt world)
1 Thess 2:10 – the conduct of the missionary team among them had been blameless
1 Thess 5:23 – be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ
MacArthur: Paul prayed that there would be no grounds of accusation because of unholiness. Cf. 1Co 1:8; 2Co 11:2; Eph 5:25-27; 1Pe 5:16, 17; Jude 24.
“His saints” = “His holy ones” – angels, or believers who have died, or both??
4:14 – seems to be the context here; characteristically used of saints in the NT
[Mark 8:38 references the angels – but spells it out in the text; also OT prophecies reference angels]
All of the apostles make the same connection between the truth about our future destiny impacting our present pursuit of Purity – Why study eschatology?? It has a practical effect on how we live right now:
John: 1 John 2:28 – 3:3
Peter: 2 Peter 3:10-14
What’s the connection? Jesus is coming back soon … so what? Why a Push for Purity and Holiness?
– Accountability – our Lord and Judge is returning
– Urgency – time is growing shorter; opportunities must be seized; small window and it is shrinking – time to show our faith by our love is now
– Family Identity – need to live consistent with our nature as children of God
– Consistency of Values – where my treasure is … there my heart will be also
– Boldness and Confidence – Victory assured; no need to fear men; seek to please God
Remember the questions we asked at the beginning:
– How do you evaluate your own spiritual growth lately?
– Have you been growing in the right areas?
– How have you been actively encouraging others to grow?
Sometimes churches establish goals and measure their progress with those thermometer charts – you’ve seen them – how far has the mercury risen towards the completion of the goal? Maybe it is a building campaign where you need to raise $1.5 million dollars; maybe some type of attendance contest where you are tracking the results.
What we have seen in today’s passage is that there are 5 key barometers to our spiritual progress that we should be monitoring: are we making healthy progress in the area of
– Joy and Thanksgiving
– Fellowship and Love
– Holiness and Hope
The Lord Jesus is returning soon … Have we put our faith completely in Him for our salvation and our spiritual growth? Do we understand that we can accomplish nothing on our own? Are we persevering in the pathway of spiritual progress? Start by picking just one of these areas and making a plan this week to apply more discipline and seek the Lord’s grace and strengthening power.
Jude 24: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy; to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”