As we continue studying the book of 1 Thessalonians, Todd Wagner teaches through chapter 3, teaching us the importance of loving and encouraging one another in the Truth and the significance of our faith regardless of the circumstances life throws our way.
The Marks of a Healthy Church Family
Clear Thinking About the End Which Leads to Christ-like Living in the Present
Ignorance is not Bliss - Always Being with Jesus Is
A Reminder that Holiness and Purity Matter
An Encouragement to Excel Still More in an Encouraging Way
Missing Each Other Without Missing the Mark
Getting The Most Out of Time In God's Word
Bible First, Bible Most
Get Used to Different
Leaders That Create Churches Others Are Thankful For
A Letter of Thanks to a Church to Be Thankful For
May your eternity be full of joy as a result.
Improve your prayer life by learning from the way Paul Prayed for others. Here is every prayer Paul offered in the early church:
Romans 1:8–10; 10:1; 15:5–6, 13, 30–33; 1 Corinthians 1:4–9; 16:23; 2 Corinthians 1:3–7; 2:14–16; 9:12–15; 13:7–9; Galatians 6:18; Ephesians 1:3–5, 15–23; 3:14–21; 6:19–20; Philippians 1:3–6, 9–11; 4:23; Colossians 1:3–14; 1 Thessalonians 1:2–3; 3:9–13; 5:23–24, 28; 2 Thessalonians 1:3–5; 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12; 2:16–17; 3:2–5, 16; 1 Timothy 1:12; 2:1–3; 2 Timothy 1:3–7, 16–18; 4:22; Titus 3:15; Philemon 4–7, 25
As we continue studying the book of 1 Thessalonians, Todd Wagner teaches through chapter 3, teaching us the importance of loving and encouraging one another in the Truth and the significance of our faith regardless of the circumstances life throws our way.
Good morning, friends. It is great to be with you virtually and to long for the day when we can be all together one more time. I'm Todd, and if you're tuning in to Watermark because a friend has invited you, we're so glad you're here, and we look forward to the day we can greet one another in person.
The last couple of weeks, we have been trying to figure out what the new normal is, so we've done our Sunday mornings a little differently than we typically do, and this is a little different as well. We're not going to spend the 20 minutes we have other times kind of setting the message up. We're going to dive right into what we've been studying together. You're going to see how incredibly relevant the Word of God is all the time.
We are in a book called Thessalonians. If you're just joining in with us, let me tell you who the Thessalonians were. They were an early church that had been established by a guy named Paul, the apostle Paul. It was a strategic city at the crossroads of a major industry trade route during that day. There were all kinds of different world beliefs. There were all kinds of different ideas about how men could find life and meaning and purpose and whether or not there was a God they were accountable to at all.
There were a lot of what we would call pagan world religions. There was a synagogue of Jews. There were Roman mythological religions and all kinds of craziness that was happening in Thessalonica. Then Paul showed up, and he reminded, first, the people who had their Old Testament how God had anticipated one day fulfilling his promises to his people through a great deliverer: the Messiah, the one who would come and care for the needs of his people. Paul came on the scene and explained to them how that deliverer was Jesus.
My prayer this morning is you would be reminded of the exact same thing. I just want to start today (because I know there are some folks who are visiting with us) telling you exactly what Paul told the Thessalonians, what he said everywhere he went as a matter of first importance: that God is not waiting for you to seek him. God is not waiting for you to perform well enough long enough that you might eventually be able to shake hands with him and not be socially distanced for eternity.
God is the one who makes a way for you. All of us are descendants of Adam and Eve, and all of us have followed in the ways of our mother and father, if you will. We're all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, and because of that, every single one of us is prone to believe that God is not there or he's not necessary, and if he is there, he's not necessarily good, so we need to manage our relationship with him, and that disobeying him is not that big of a deal.
Now, he might be more powerful than us, so there's this almost superstitious idea that we have to appease him in some way, so we invent all kinds of world religions and all kinds of systems that either comfort us in our deep concern or make us believe we're going to be okay in that moment that waits for all of us: the grave. The Scripture says, "It's appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment."
So, all of us are trying to figure out how we can be reconciled to God, and Paul came to the Thessalonians, and I come to you this morning and tell you this is how. The truth is the wages of sin is death. Death is simply our separation from God, the God who is holy and true and loving. When we say, "I don't think I want what you want," he just says, "Fine. Not my will, then, your will be done," and God separates us from him.
Part of our separation from him is this world we are in today. God's world, God's kingdom, never had viruses, never had cancer, never had loneliness, never had divorce, never had abuse. God's world was defined by everything that in your little utopian mind you would imagine except better. As God lets us live in this world where there is pain because of our sin and because of the way humans operate apart from God, he didn't just leave us there. He began to seek us.
God shows his compassion and his kindness by first revealing himself through a people and giving his law and showing that there really is a standard, there really is holiness, there really is a God, he really is powerful. So God made his name known through acts of power all throughout human history…not just stories, but recorded human history. It's what separates our Bible from the mythology in all other systems.
God dared within the Judeo-Christian world to reveal himself in the context of history, and you can go back and test it. It's not nonsensical, because you can make sense of it as you go back and study archaeologically, study historically, and in so many other ways. God pursued us, and most fully, he has pursued us through his Son who has said he is the visible image of the invisible God, the exact representation of his nature.
And God made him, Paul declared to the Thessalonians and I declare to you, who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf in order that we might become the righteousness of God by believing in him. Paul said to the Romans, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…" The message Paul came to the Thessalonians and preached was that the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus.
If you have never trusted in God for the forgiveness of your sins, that is of first importance. God wants you to know that he wants to forgive you. God has made provision for your sin. He has made provision for you if you'll just acknowledge what is true: your life is not what a pure and holy and good life should be, but what is unspeakably, wonderfully true is that God loves you and has made a way for you to be forgiven by him.
If you've never done that, what you need to do is confess that Jesus is Lord and you're not and that God raised him from the dead. The Scripture says if you will do that and if you believe in your heart those things and say those things and confess those things with your mouth, you will be saved. So, let me pray for you and pray for all of us, and then we are going to dive into a letter Paul wrote back to a group of people that believed this. You're going to find it is incredibly relevant for the world we live in today.
Father, as we come this morning, we just want to start with the gospel, the good news that you're not angry at us, that you seek us, and you call us to acknowledge what is obvious to all of us. This doesn't look like a world you would create, and this doesn't look like a life we would long for. No, we see loneliness, we see cancer, we see separation, and we see abuse. All of us, in some way, can look back over our own lives and see that we have been a part of the cancer of the way of unbelieving men and women on this earth.
We have created heartache for ourselves and heartache for others, and we just confess. Lord, there is nothing about us that could ever please you, and there's nothing about us that could ever meet the standard of righteousness a perfect, holy, eternal God deserves. So Lord, we, maybe for the very first time, confess our sin and say, "Lord, I need grace. I need forgiveness. I don't want this world to be my home. I don't want this world to be my best experience."
The world you're still in with your people, still in with your restraining grace, limiting evil. Even in the midst of pandemics and the things I've already mentioned, you're still here working and wooing, both through your people and through your Spirit. We don't want this to be the best world we know, Father, so we acknowledge this truth about our world: "I'm a sinner," and, Lord, if there is anything like a good and loving and benevolent God, he would come and rescue us from this world.
Lord, those of us who believe thank you that we know you've done that in the person of Jesus, and those who are going to believe for the first time would say right now, "Father, I thank you that you don't offer tomorrow to my procrastination but you do offer forgiveness to my repentance. I come today and acknowledge my need for you. I ask that you would allow Jesus' death on the cross, his shed blood, to be the means through which your wrath and justice are satisfied.
I don't know why you would do that for me, but I believe it to be true, and it is, in fact, good news. I put all my confidence in Jesus and all my confidence in that cross, and now I seek his people and seek your way, Father. Teach me more of your way so I can be a means through which others can come to know the good news I've learned, maybe just this morning, or that I'm gathered with other believers virtually this morning because you've already let me believe it."
We love you, Father. We thank you for your grace. We thank you that this world is not our home, that there is a resurrection unto a world where there is no tear, there is no sadness, there is no sickness, there is no night, and you are there. Until then, would you let us be more present in the way we love one another in your name? Let us be your church, your means of grace. Let us glorify you. In Jesus' name, amen.
The first thing you want to do if you prayed that prayer for the first time is let us know. We mentioned to you that you can sign up for the Current at watermark.org/connect, and I'd encourage you to stay in touch with us that way, but if you just prayed that prayer, you can go to our website and let us know. You can go firstname.lastname@example.org and just say, "I need more info about how I can be a part of the body of Jesus Christ," and we would love to encourage you that way.
We mentioned last week, when we were talking about this letter Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, there was a verse that if there was ever a perfect verse to read on a Sunday when we were distanced from one another, it was this one. It was 1 Thessalonians 2:17. There's a phrase there that is very, very familiar that we use a lot, sometimes even when we're in romantic relationships with other people.
This is what the verse says: "But we, brethren, having been taken away from you…" We do pray it's for a short time, but Paul wrote to the Thessalonians… It had been months since he had been there for the first time. He said, "But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit…" We sometimes say, "I'm not there in body, but I'm there in spirit." That's where it comes from: Paul's words. "…were all the more eager with great desire to see your face."
Paul went on from there and added a few more verses, and then we get to chapter 3. All chapter 3 is is him repeating chapter 2, verse 17. Let's read it together, and I think you're going to find it very encouraging. Let me remind you what I said to you last week. I want to stick it in again right here. I don't know what you're doing this week or what you're streaming, but we have an opportunity for you to be equipped.
We have our Equipping classes available online. We have PowerPoints on there. We have audio you can listen to. Here's a slide that tells you about all of the different classes that are there. You can learn the Bible, the metanarrative and the cover-to-cover. You can learn more about Jesus. We ought to master the Master's life. We can learn how to follow him. We can specifically learn more about God's Word.
The one I want to really emphasize is this Keys to Effective Bible Study. There's one on apologetics: Answering the Tough Ones. There's one about doctrine: Know What You Believe. You can find out at watermark.org/equippingcourses how you can find out about more of these things. So, you should know how to study your Bible.
I said last week, when you come to the Bible, you want to come eagerly. This is the Word of God. It's not the ideas of men. It's not a great novel. It's not great nonfiction. It's the Word of God, so we should come eagerly, like, "I get to meet with God." And we should come humbly, because we have no business hearing from God unless he, in his grace, invited us into that inner circle. So we should thank him that in his holiness he allows us to come.
We should come expectantly because the Word of God is living and active, and we know he's going to go to work. Therefore, we should come ready to change, and ultimately, the reason we study God's Word is because having it have its effect on us and transforming and changing us, we want to be a means through which we can declare that hope and be a source of grace to others.
So, let's come eagerly to God's Word this morning. I'm going to read all the way down to verse 10, and then we'll wrap up our time by looking briefly at verses 11-13, and I'll tell you why I separate it that way. Let's read verses 1-10, and then what I want to do is make some observations and take out some timeless principles, and I think you'll see plenty of application there for you. All right, Lord. Teach us your Word.
Paul says, "Therefore…" to this church that he says is their glory and joy. "Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone…" If you're just listening, Thessalonica is up there just north of where modern-day Greece is. You can still find it. It's still there today. It's not far from the bridge that goes over toward Asia. We're in Europe, and Paul is there, and he's saying, "We're down south in Athens."
"…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, so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this." Paul said, "I know you're probably concerned about me, and I want to tell you what's going on."
"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. For this reason, when I could endure it no longer…" There it is again. He says it for the second time. "…I also sent to find out about your faith [I love that you were concerned about me; I'm concerned about you] , for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain [you would have left the faith] .
But now [I didn't just write to you, but] ** Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love…"** Paul sent Timothy up there, and Timothy has returned back and given a report, so Paul is writing this letter in response to the report about how the church had been doing.
"…and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. 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, as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?"
Paul is writing this amazing letter because he has heard a report back about how everybody is doing.I want to say this to you. If you're a member of Watermark and you didn't get a phone call this week, not from just your Community Group but from somebody who you allow, through your gracious gifts, to serve you as part of the Watermark staff… If you didn't get a phone call and you're a member of the church…not a regular attender but a member of Watermark…then something is wrong. We don't know that you think you're a member.
To our knowledge, almost 10,000 folks got individual phone calls this week from us, and in a little bit I'm going to tell you about some of what I heard back. I can relate to Paul in two ways. I can relate to Paul in how he was encouraged when he heard back from Timothy about how the church was doing, and I'm going to talk about that in a little bit. Secondly, I can't tell you how excited I am for us to get together again.
Somebody sent me this meme this morning. Those of you who have been around a little bit longer know about a gentleman by the name of Chris Farley. He made an entrance one day onto a late-night show that I think might be us the first day we're back together. Paul said, "I'm so excited to be with you." Check this out. This is kind of how we all feel, I think, about the first time when we get back together. Watch this.
Okay. I'm working on my cartwheel so that when we get back together I can fire one off for you. It's going to be a lot of fun. I've said it every week. One of the things dis-health reminds us is what we want to do with our health, and one of the things that being separated from one another does is it reminds us how much we should love the privilege of getting together.
Here's what I want to do. I want to show you some basic observations I pulled out that were instructive to me and I think are going to be instructive to you as we study this text. Here's the very first one. Paul said in verse 1, "When I could endure it no longer, I thought it best to be left behind in Athens and send Timothy (and probably even Silvanus) up to you, our brother and God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith."
First of all, here's a simple application: when you get with other believers, when you get with anybody, as ministers of the gospel, you ought to be an individual who strengthens and encourages others in the faith. Whatever you're doing when you're together… You can catch up with quick conversations and little tidbits about life and just basic goings on; if there was a NCAA tournament, talk about the shot that was just made, or whatever it might be…
By the way, isn't it amazing how much time we've gotten back because we're not distracted and entertained by all of the sports out there? I've really loved the fact that that has not been a part of any of my conversation for a week. There's nothing wrong with those things, but they definitely have a place, and too many times they're elevated to a place they shouldn't be elevated to.
It's amazing to me how many folks are like, "I can't wait for the NFL draft so we have something to talk about." Listen. The NFL draft has its place, and it's not where it has been in the American perspective for a long time. I like that it has been demoted. What should always be promoted is that when you're with people, what ought to be at the top of your mind is that people would be strengthened and encouraged.
That's why Paul sent Timothy, and it's why God sent you…in every conversation, in every email. One of the things that sometimes would grieve me is when I would get together with my believing friends and I would look back over the course of the night, and I would go, "You know what? There was nothing that happened there that was distinctly Christian about our time together. There was never a moment when we didn't just do what any human would have done."
Now, we would encourage one another just with our friendship, and it's not like you have to feel bad and guilty that you don't move everything to a conversation about a certain Scripture, but I think you ought to look for ways to move every conversation toward a certain Scripture and strengthen people in what is true and honorable and right and pure and lovely. Whatever is excellent and worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things, and let it inform your speech.
One of the marks of a Spirit-filled man, it says in Ephesians 5, is that we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. So, definitely have fun talking about meaningless things, and just remember they're meaningless, and don't ever leave somebody without talking about meaningful things. That's why Paul sent Timothy. It's why God sent you.
Now, why did Paul send Timothy? What he says in this entire section in chapter 3 of 1 Thessalonians is, "I love you. You matter to me. You weren't just a fundraising stop for me. You weren't just a place that I would stick my head in, give you a few ideas, ask you to support the traveling evangelist, and move on." Paul said in chapter 2, "We didn't just give you the gospel, but our very lives as well." Paul was making it very clear that he was the kind of leader and the kind of shepherd God wants us all to be.
In writing this, I was reminded of this simple truth: the mark of a good shepherd is love for the sheep. I say this, and you might look at that and go, "Todd, that's not a really profound insight that the mark of a good shepherd is love for the sheep. I mean, that's exactly what Jesus said in John, chapter 10." And so he did, but it was a good reminder for me and a good reminder for you that people are not looking for a gifted speaker. They're not looking for somebody who can make them laugh. What ultimately people want is to be loved.
It's why the quarantine, the social distancing, the shelter in place, is so painful to us. We want to be together. We are made in the image of God, and God has eternally existed in the person of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Community, mutual submission, and love are not just the highest ideals of men; they have eternally existed in the very nature and person of God. You're made in his image, and you're not called to be alone. When you are an image-bearer, you will love as he loved. The mark of a good shepherd is love for the sheep.
Let me show you how this characterizes Paul's ministry. In fact, again and again, when Paul was being accused of being like everybody else who ran through town and was pushing product, he would always go back and go, "If I was pushing product, how come I didn't ask for anything from you? If I was pushing product, how come I didn't just leave town and not leave a follow-up address? Why would I send Timothy back? No. I was loving you, and my life's love for you should be a shadow of Jesus' love for you."
Let me tell you this, church. As you're out there in your neighborhoods, one of the ways people are going to know God loves them is that God's people love them. Jesus says people are going to know we're his disciples by the way we love one another. Paul said, "The goal of our instruction is love." A pastor named Frederick Faber, who lived a while back, essentially said, "Kindness has converted more people than zeal, eloquence, and knowledge combined."
It's not kindness as a trick, it's not kindness as a form of seduction, but it's the kindness of Christ that should lead us to repentance. When the world sees in us love in the way the Father loves by living sacrificially and servant-heartedly and selflessly in the way we care for and tend to the needs of others, and we do it in Jesus' name… We don't ever do random acts of kindness. Everything we do is informed by our King. We are servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. The mark of a good shepherd is love.
Watch this. Paul loved people. In 2 Corinthians, Paul was being accused of being a false prophet, and he said to the church in Corinth, which is where he wrote the Thessalonian letter from… He said, "When we were in Athens, we couldn't stand it anymore, so we sent Timothy up to you in Thessalonica. Then we went over a little bit farther to the west to Corinth, and then Timothy came back to us and gave us the message about how you're doing."
So from Corinth, Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians, and then a little bit later, he wrote a letter back to the Corinthians. The same thing was happening there. People were accusing Paul of not being a true apostle, a true person sent forth from Christ. I just want you to see what Paul said, because it's what marked him, and I'm making this observation because it's what should mark you.
Paul says, "For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin." What Paul was wanting was these people, who were God's people, to know God and to be ready for that moment when they were going to stand before him. Now, the only thing that ultimately makes us ready as we stand before him is that we're clothed in his righteousness alone. That's why I started the message today with what is of first importance.
When we come to our Beloved… When my wife and I got married, as most people do… Most people exchange gifts on their wedding day as an expression of the joy they have in yoking themselves to one another. I got my wife a couple of old quilts I thought she would really love that were handmade, kind of Quaker-ish old quilts. She got me a shotgun, so her gift was a whole lot better than mine. But you come bearing gifts.
So what gifts can we come with? The answer is we come with the gifts of our good works that we've done in Jesus' name to show our love for him, and then everything we have done has been to represent him and to make his name more famous. When gals get engaged, all they do is walk around like this, constantly scratching their hair like this, so people can see this mark that they are about to be betrothed until that wedding band goes over it.
Our mark is love. It shows us that we're engaged to our King, and when people ask, "Who gave you that mark of love in your life?" we say, "It's Jesus." Paul was just saying we want to be individuals who can be presented to Christ in this way. Paul then in verse 23… I want you to read this. I want you to see his heart. He says, "Are these other people who you say are better servants of God than me…?" Watch Paul's ultimate defense that he was a servant of Christ.
He said, "…I speak as if insane…" In other words, whenever you say, "I'm really the representative of Christ," and then you start to talk about things that you do… Paul is saying, "This is a little crazy." Watch what he says. "Are they servants of Christ [these other guys you think you should follow] ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes [because they didn't like what I was saying, but I just kept on going even though I was beaten] .
Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure [all to bring the gospel to people] ."
Watch what he says. "Apart from all this, do you know what has been the most difficult thing for me? The daily pressure on me of my concern for you, because I love you. That has been the hardest thing for me to endure: not knowing how you're doing," Paul wrote. We're all going through a season where life isn't as it should be, but I want to ask us: Is that the heart we have right now for our day-in and day-out mindset?
Remember what I just said? The mark of a good shepherd is love for the sheep. Christ wants us all to be those kinds of shepherds. When you think about what's hard for you, do you think about, "Do you know what's really hard? It's hard because I can't be with people to strengthen and encourage them, to be a source of life to them, to be a means of grace to them. Nothing is as hard for me…no beating, no suffering from a government decree…as being unable to be near you."
It's interesting. We had a guy who came to our house this week who was working on some of our Internet stuff. It had been scheduled for a while. They came once we passed the test that we were not a home that would be a danger to that AT&T employee. The young man who came in… I just was with him. I didn't just have him come provide a service for me. It was a great opportunity to spend some time just loving him, asking him about his family, asking him about his story, eventually asking him if he had the hope I have.
At the very end… He was wearing a little rubber glove, and I gave him a fist bump. He just looked at me and said, "Man, that felt so good. I miss handshakes. I miss hugs." Here's what's amazing. God misses intimacy with you, and that's why he sent Christ, and he did more than give you a fist bump; he went to a cross. Jesus tells us if we know him, that is what should mark our lives: love for one another.
Look at 2 Corinthians 11:29. Paul says, "Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?" What Paul is saying there to the Corinthians… I'm here because I'm expounding upon this idea that the mark of a good shepherd is love. You're going to see this is true of everywhere Paul went, and it should be true of everywhere we go.
Paul is saying, "You didn't struggle without me feeling your struggle. You weren't led into sin without my being concerned for your temptation and the devastation it's going to bring to you if you give yourself to it." That's why we admonish faithfully one another: because we love one another, and we don't want to see sin have its way.
We know Jesus says love is the greatest commandment, that we love God, and because we love God, you can't separate loving others from it. That's Matthew 22:37-40. We know that Jesus in John, chapter 10, said, "You know what? The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. That's what he does, but not me. I'm the Good Shepherd, and the Good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep."
In John, chapter 13, verse 1, right before Jesus offered himself as a sacrificial Lamb, he said, "Now that my hour has come, I'm going to go and be that Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world." Then John wrote, "…having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them…" Some Bibles would say "to the uttermost." Mine says, "…He loved them to the end."
Folks, this is not some sappy, superficial love. What Paul is doing here is what we all should do. He's saying what should mark me is not that I meet on Sunday morning. What should mark me is not that I teach God's Word. What should mark me is love. We see it all the time, but we certainly see it here in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-10. Let's keep reading and see what we have here.
He says, "I'm coming to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith," and then we get to verse 3, and Paul says, "…so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions…" Watch this. It's going to show up twice in verses 3 and 4. "…for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this." How did they know Paul was destined for trouble? "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…"
Paul had heard that the Thessalonians… First of all, they knew Paul was run out of the city, that Jason was arrested, that there was a bond given, that a guy named Jason in Thessalonica gave money to some authorities and said, "Hey, I promise you this guy who is turning the world on its head by preaching this gospel story… We're going to ask him to leave."
So Jason had put probably no small amount of money, a fortune, and given his word that he would get Paul to leave because people were coming after him. So they snuck Paul away, and people were concerned. "What happened to Paul? Where did he go? Is he all right? Paul said he was going to suffer afflictions. How bad was he afflicted? Jason, where is he?"
Paul caught some of this message that the Thessalonians were concerned for him, but Paul, when he was there, had prepared them for this. He had prepared them for the fact that "Listen. This world isn't my home. I am going to take up my cross and follow my Savior who took up a cross for me." Paul, in teaching them what he was going to go through, was also preparing them for what they would go through.
Here's a simple application for you that I wrote down as I read this: great leaders prepare their people with truth; they don't seduce them with lies. This is one of the reasons the health, wealth, and prosperity nonsense so offends me. It's one of the reasons I spent some time this week… People asked me, "Why did healing ministries shut down during this season?" Well, it's not because the government asked them to. I'll tell you that.
That might have been their excuse, but let me tell you something. The government is not going to shut down a healing ministry that's going to keep people out of hospitals or is going to make it unnecessary for pharmaceutical companies to come up with an antidote for the virus. No. If you have a vaccine that is prayer and the power of God, the government says, "Unleash it." There's a reason they didn't unleash it.
It's because healing ministries, in the way they're often represented, are out of step with what the New Testament says should be your expectation. God still heals, and we should pray for healing, but the idea that if you have faith and the idea that Jesus' death on the cross is going to keep you from future diseases is so thoroughly unbiblical that God sometimes… One of the benefits is he uses situations like this to show you that you shouldn't follow that nonsense.
So listen to the biblical teaching on that. There were two: "Why did healing ministries shut down?" Secondly, "Does the Bible say I'm always going to be healed?" The answer is no. Do you know what the Bible says? What Paul taught the Thessalonians, that there are going to be many troubles and distresses. Again and again, you're going to find that what Paul did was faithfully represent Jesus.
Let me show you, great leaders prepare their people with truth; they don't seduce them with lies. Here's an illustration I want to throw in real quick. Can you imagine being on an airplane and somebody walking around and saying to you, "Hey, I want you to put this thing on your back. It's something that's going to make your flight better. You're going to be more comfortable. When the food comes out, it's going to taste better. The stewardess is not going to charge you if you want to buy some things they no longer give for free."
So you put on this thing, this backpack, this parachute on your seat, and you find out once you put it on, in fact, it doesn't make your flight more comfortable. It doesn't cause you to not have to pay for things. In fact, you might be a lot more uncomfortable than the people who rejected the gift of the parachute. The parachute is not given to you on this particular plane ride because it's going to make you healthier and wealthier on the flight; it's because you're wise, because the guy who gave it to you knows this plane is going down.
One of the reasons I am so discouraged when I hear people misrepresent what the gospel is going to do for you by telling you it's going to benefit you on your flight through earth and make everything better on your flight through earth is because it's going to make people go, "This is crazy! My life isn't better ever since I put this thing on, this faith. Oh yeah, I've been burdened with this idea of eternal judgment, but it doesn't look like judgment is going to come."
Moments like this, people realize this world is not something they can control, and every time people move closer to the grave, they start to see, "Maybe I can't control my life," but they fly for a long time sometimes in their arrogance, and they go, "Hey, this isn't comfortable. In fact, now I can't even do what I want to do. I can't sit the way I want to sit, live the way I want to live with this thing on," and they start to take it off and discard it.
But if you told people, "I'm going to tell you why. There's going to be a moment this plane is going to go down. It's going to go down quickly, it's going to be unannounced, and if you don't have it on, you're probably not going to have time to put this parachute on when that door opens and you get sucked out," I think people would wear the backpack with little difference.
Now look. There is something called the gospel blessing. That is not the same as the prosperity gospel. There is a prosperity and a success and a peace and a joy and a hope that comes with wearing the gospel, but may we never tell people, "It's going to keep you from affliction and make your flight easier." No.
Paul says this in 2 Timothy 3:10-11. He's writing to his friends there, and he says, "Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me!" Watch this. Here's what I want you to know. Verse 12: "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." Great leaders prepare their people with truth; they don't seduce them with lies. Let me show you the greatest leader who ever lived. This is Matthew 10:16-22. Jesus says:
"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you."
How can you know the words of the Father to speak? By knowing the Word of God and hiding it in your heart, sharing the gospel story. That's all you have to do: testify that you know this Jesus by whom you have been saved. Jesus says, "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end…"
"Not the one who has a comfortable faith and wears, if you will, the gospel while it makes them a little more comfortable on their flight, but the one who really knows me." Great leaders prepare their people with truth. Let me just give you some more truth. Jesus continued. This is so important. Matthew 10, verse 23 and following:
"But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!
Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."
Church, let me encourage you with this: "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows." I love what one pastor a long time ago, John Calvin, said. He said, "What else can we wish for ourselves, if not even one hair can fall from our head without his will?" God knows all about the coronavirus, all about cancer, and all about you.
So, great leaders prepare their people with truth; they don't seduce them with lies. I have so many other places I could go. Paul again and again throughout Scripture keeps talking about his love for the church. I'll have a lot of other Scripture you can look at that will be there for you on the sermon discussion guide, as we always do. All of the points we're putting down there.
Here's another observation I would make as we teach this. One of the primary ways the Enemy attacks God's people is by convincing them that God doesn't care for them. It's one of the primary ways he comes after you. He wants you to believe that if God was good, he wouldn't leave you in the wilderness hungry.
That's what he did to Jesus. "Really? This is a good deal? The Father sent you to earth to be his Messiah, and you're in the wilderness. The Spirit of the Lord led you to the wilderness, and you've been here 40 days and 40 nights without food or water. Abandon him. Don't trust him. Trust me," the Enemy said. Jesus responds with Deuteronomy 8:3 and says, "It's written, 'Man doesn't live by bread alone.' As much as my body in the middle of this fast would love to be comforted by food, do you know what really comforts me? What I know to be true about God."
Just remember this. One of the primary ways the Enemy is going to try to take you out is to convince you that God has forgotten you, that he doesn't care for you, he doesn't love you. If he did, this wouldn't be your story. Now listen. Sometimes our story is what it is because we haven't listened to God, but even then, God says, "Let that pain, that burden, that 'heavy-ladenness,' bring you back to me."
Don't ever think that in the midst of difficult circumstances God has forgotten you. His understanding, the Scripture says, is inscrutable. His compassions never fail. He doesn't promise us that he will keep us from storms; he tells us he will take us through storms, even sometimes not just the valley of the shadow of death but through death itself. Ours is just to be faithful.
The Enemy is going to lie to you again and again. Let me turn this. Just like one of the primary ways the Enemy is going to attack you is by convincing you that God doesn't care for you, here's another principle. One of the primary ways we show our faith in and love for God is to trust him in the face of the Enemy's attacks when he says stuff like, "God doesn't care about you. God has forgotten you." Don't ever believe it.
Go back to Matthew 10 and be reminded. "God knows all about it. He knows the number of hairs on my head, those ones you just pulled out. You want to cut my head off? He knows what you're doing all the time. Every time a bird falls, God notices it. You don't think he knows me, made in his image?" There are so many psalms I spent some time in this week: Psalm 42, Psalm 46.
Psalm 138 is a great little psalm David wrote, and in verse 8, there's this phrase that so encouraged me. This is just David in the midst of all the temptation he was facing and the pressure of his enemies to not believe in the goodness of God. David says in Psalm 138:8, "The Lord will accomplish what concerns me…" He's got this. "…Your lovingkindness, O Lord , is everlasting; do not forsake[me]the works of Your hands."
"You don't forsake the work of your hands, so if it's mine in this moment to suffer, Lord, I know you will accomplish what concerns me. Let me just be concerned with trusting you." You see this attitude again and again through Scripture. Woe to the man or woman who waits until there is trouble to trouble themselves with the idea of God. You want to figure out who God is right now.
Our friend and leader here on the Dallas Campus, Blake Holmes, whose son Gage went through the trouble of childhood cancer, leukemia… Blake used to always say, "You don't want to wait until you're on the eighth floor of Children's to start to work out your theology." And you don't want to wait until trouble has hit to determine if God is good, because the Enemy will wear you out.
You want to fill your mind and your heart with truth so in those moments of testing you can be careful to live in a way that is faithful and ready. You want to know him before you need him or you will struggle with what you don't know or you'll struggle with what you do know, and if you don't know God, what you do know isn't going to be enough to get you through that.
Proverbs 24:10, a proverb I've quoted a ton: "He who is slack in the day of distress, his strength is limited." We don't want to be individuals who go, "I don't think this is working out well for me, so God must not be there." No. We should have enduring strength because we know the goodness and power of God.
Go and read Daniel, chapter 3, of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, where they say to Nebuchadnezzar, in verse 17, "You just need to know, O king, that our God is able to deliver us, but even if he doesn't…" The Scripture says, "…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire… But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." You want to have an "Even if" faith, not an "If then" faith.
All right. There's so much great truth in this little text that we could continue to go in, but let me wrap up with a quick couple of points. Paul writes a little bit later in verse 8, "…we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord.""Do you want to know what is life to me? Hearing that you're doing well." This is just a truth. I wrote this down: nothing encourages a distant friend as much as hearing of your nearness to God and his way.
That is certainly true of what has happened this week with you and me. Nothing encourages a distant godly friend as much as hearing of your nearness to God when you're not together. Paul, in verse 9, goes on to say, "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…" Paul said, "Timothy came back. He said you were killing it."
I have here pages of single-spaced notes from members of the staff as they talked to you, talking about the things you were doing in the midst of our being able to gather in this way. I mean, story after story of hearing of your testimony, of knowing who God is in the midst of this trial. I'll just share a couple of them with you.
One of you, our members, friends who are out there, who's in re:gen was talking about how this particular trial has been so different and how because she knows Christ now… She says, "Ever since I've come to know Jesus, I've quit surviving and I've started living. This week, my re:gen group, which couldn't meet together on Monday, got together virtually, and I was refreshed and reset in my thinking," because others of you strengthened and encouraged her when we were together.
The church was at work. We're not making this up; we are set up. So well done, church. Story after story. I especially loved when we would call our members who were students in high school, like sweet little Awni (52:05), who said, "I'm searching for opportunities to further the gospel and the peace of the Lord with my friends," and when our staff team asked, "How can we pray for you, Awni?" listen to what she said.
"Just pray that I would use this time to increase my dependence and continuing faith in Jesus during this time; that I wouldn't succumb to fear and worry; that I'd be an example to those around me in the house and help them love the Lord more; I'd be an encouragement to others; I'd be an example of peace; I would trust the Lord more through this circumstance so I can see he's sufficient for all circumstances." My goodness!
I think about another high school friend who was a little discouraged because it was her sixteenth birthday this last week, and lo and behold, a bunch of her friends planned something. All throughout the day, they kept popping in in creative ways virtually to celebrate her.
I think about how I've heard numerous stories of those of you who have taken people in, literally into your home. One of our members knows of a young man whose parents both tragically took their lives, and as they head into this season of needing shelter and family, they brought this individual in and just said, "Be a part of our family. Let us be God's family for you."
I think about one of you who was at a car dealership, and as you were waiting for your car to be serviced a while ago, you bumped into a person who worked there. That person was coming out of real hardship in their life, and they were trying to change their playgrounds and their playmates, so they moved out from where they were. They were actually living in the car.
You went home, you talked to your Community Group about how you might care for this individual, and the solution you came up with was that you would invite that person who's recovering from brokenness into a house that had been healed, and now, for two and a half weeks, they've been a part of your family.
There's story after story about how you all are caring for one another, and provisions; how some of you have left businesses, and seamstresses who make clothes who have stopped doing that to make medical masks. I mean, there is nothing here but an account of the faithfulness of God's church at work. Nothing encourages a distant friend as much as hearing of your nearness to God and his way.
Two things just to wrap it up. First, you see how Paul says at the very end of verse 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?" Just a point of application: there is never a time when any of us doesn't need to grow and excel still more.
Next week, we're actually going to get into a passage where, for the first time, he starts to provide a little instruction, not just encouragement for the Thessalonian church. All of us still need to be admonished and encouraged and strengthened and equipped, and it's why we're going to encourage you to keep being in touch with one another.
It's why Paul gave us pastors and teachers and one another: because no matter how much we walk with him, there's still a little lacking in the faith, but God will complete what he has begun in you, especially as you stay with his Word, stay in fellowship with him in his Spirit, and stay with his people. We love the way you've stayed with one another.
In verses 11-13, Paul ends with a prayer, and this is how we end. Look at Paul's prayer. In the sermon discussion guide, I have put down an outline for this prayer, and I've also put down these verses. They'll be there. You can't write them down right now. You can maybe take a picture with your phone, but that's not even all of them. We'll scroll to the next screen.
Don't be concerned you just missed them. It'll be on the website today, the sermon discussion guide, all of those verses. What were those verses? It was every single prayer of Paul for the church. So, as you pray for one another, work your way through all of those prayers. Here was Paul's prayer to the Thessalonians. Here's the outline for the prayer we're about to read.
May we be together soon. May you increase in your love and your care for one another, and for those who are not yet in the faith, may you continue to follow the example, Paul said, of himself and Silvanus and Timothy. May you continue to follow the example of your leaders and Christ, ultimately, but also, we pray, the leaders here who you look to. Then fourthly, may you increase in your holiness, in Christlikeness before God and a watching world, and as a result of that, may your eternity be full of joy. Let me pray 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 for you.
Father, we thank you that even as Paul prayed for that church, we can pray the exact same way. May you our God and Father and Jesus our Lord direct their way to us. Would you take care of this coronavirus and the things which separate us so that we can be together? May you, Lord, direct our path together. Until we're physically together, may we use every means of communication you've provided for us so we can be faithful in strengthening and encouraging one another.
May the Lord cause this body to increase and abound in love for one another, and not just in their love for one another but for all people. Lord, help this church be what you intend your church to be. May we care for one another, and may others around us who don't yet know the love of God see the love of God in us. Lord, help us, all of us who are leaders of Community Groups, of families, of this church, be worthy of saying to others, "Imitate me as we imitate Jesus Christ."
So that, Father, as we are conformed into your image, you would establish the hearts of this church without blame in holiness before God so that, Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus, with all the saints, my friends here would be eternally full of joy, clothed in your righteousness alone, but arms filled with gifts of service to you so we would not shrink back at your coming. Thank you for your Word, for how relevant this text is, and for the chance we have now to love one another. Help us, Father, to build our lives on Jesus and his Word. We worship together now in his name, amen.