As we continue studying the book of 1 Thessalonians, Todd Wagner kicks off chapter 4, teaching us the importance of encouraging one another and how we can excel still more.
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
Encourage someone every day this next week! Be it a phone call, text message, email, handwritten note—any way you want—encourage someone every single day.
When is the last time you received encouragement from someone? When’s the last time you encouraged someone else? As we continue studying the book of 1 Thessalonians, Todd Wagner kicks off chapter 4, teaching us the importance of encouraging one another and how we can excel still more.
Good morning, Watermark friends. It is awesome to be with you. I am sorry that we're not here together. This is the fourth week of us not being able to gather because we're trying to love our neighbors by sheltering in place and making sure, while we have no idea who has this contagion called the coronavirus, we are honoring not just our God and our King but one another in the way we are choosing to gather.
It is great to be with you. I know there are some friends who are dipping in for the first time. My name is Todd. I'm part of the team here at Watermark. It is always a privilege to get to spend time with you in this way. We have been working our way through a book of the Bible. If you're new to the Scripture, sometimes you hear things and you're kind of like, "What in the world does that book particularly mean?" The book is called 1 Thessalonians. There are two letters written to them.
Here's what I want to show you. God's Word is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and it's always useful. We don't believe we have to read some holy book so we look holy or so that we appease God. We believe God has done everything for us that we need to be reconciled to him, and what we're reading here is God's revelation.
God has pulled back the veil to show us things he wants us to know so we can be reconciled to him in mind. Not just by faith through the finished work of his Son on the cross but that we might be one with him in mind and in spirit. So, we study God's Word because God is a loving Father who is desperate to show us the path of life.
Let me start by praying for us. We're so glad you're here. We really hope you join us next week and invite your friends. What we typically do on certain holidays is we make our service a little tighter just so some guests who maybe don't typically join us can get the one thing we want to lay on them.
Today and days like this we study for a little bit of an extended period of time, but next week, our service will be right around an hour. There are going to be all kinds of opportunities and all kinds of assets we're going to send to you to invite your friends to be with us next week, but let me invite you right now to do what wise men always do: to lean in when God is trying to speak to them.
I just want to remind you: you'll never want to know God's will more than he wants to reveal it to you. You don't have to climb some mountain and hope you run into the right swami with all your stuff on some yak and some Sherpa leading you up there. God is screaming at you, trying to get your attention, because he loves you. God loves you. I know some of you are living in a world that you go, "It doesn't look like God loves me."
Some of you might be in homes where there's abusive speech or even abusive people, not just speaking at you but in their physical interactions with you, and it can feel like God doesn't love you. You can feel like this world does nothing but abuse you and leave you scared. The first thing I would tell you is: Please raise your hand. Reach out. Do everything you can to let others know it's not as it should be in your home.
But this isn't ultimately any of our home, and it's not as God intended it should be on this earth. The Scriptures explain to us why we are where we are in a world filled with pandemics and problems, and it's because of this thing called sin. It's why we make war against sin, and it's why we who have come to know that God is not somebody to be managed or appeased but somebody to be enjoyed… It's why we seek him all the more: because we know the more we reacquaint our hearts to God and learn his ways, the more useful we will be to him.
We also know there's nothing we can ever do that would make us holy in his sight except believe in his gracious provision. That's the good news. If you're just tuning in, I want to tell you, we don't believe we need to work our way to God. We believe God has crashed into our world and demonstrated his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. One of the reasons I'm so excited about next week is it is a week that almost everybody leans in, like, "What's this big Christian celebration called Easter?"
Well, those of us who are members of Watermark and parts of Jesus' true church all around the world celebrate Easter all the time, and we celebrate who our God is all the time and that he has made provision for us that we can know him and enjoy him. Next week, in the message, I'm going to have a few little shorts and resources I'll show, and then afterward I will give to you to take little clips, one-minute messages, minute-and-a-half messages, just to share out to others in a very creative way.
So look forward to that, but today, here is the one-minute clip: God loves you. He's not upset with you in the sense that he understands what it is to be tempted. We believe that Jesus, who is the visible image of the invisible God, has been tempted in every way as we have been. Jesus and God came and walked on this earth and was tempted, yet without sin, so God could make him who knew no sin (Jesus) to become sin on our behalf that we, by faith in God's provision of Jesus, might become the righteousness of God in him.
If you are still confused about how to be reconciled to God, let me in these next 20 seconds tell you how to do that. It's by acknowledging that your sin and the pandemic of your rebellion and all human rebellion on earth is what causes every bit of trouble as a result of our being pulled away from God, yet God has run to you, and through the cross of Jesus Christ, he has made a way for you to believe that the wrath of God has been satisfied by pouring it out on his Son, that you might be forgiven if you acknowledge your need and trust in his grace. That is good news.
When you understand that God loves you enough to die for you before you do a single thing for him…all you do is acknowledge your sin and know the wages of your sin is death, separation from the God who is life, and that his free gift is eternal life…then you put your trust in him, and then you seek him with all of your heart. That's what we're going to be talking about today. Let me pray for you and with you, and we're going to dive in.
Father, thank you for a chance to be reminded of why we want more of you: because you are good, and every good thing on earth is from you. Every pandemic, every problem, every abuse, every expression of human anger, every foolish thing that's here that causes us pain is a result of a world that doesn't believe it needs you. So we, this morning, who know you in your kindness seek you.
I pray, Father, you in your kindness this morning would seek somebody who's listening right now and they would go, "Lord, I want to know you. Is it possible that I can be your friend?" and you would tell them, "Yes, in Jesus," and they would acknowledge their sin right now, "Lord, I'm a sinner," and they would put their trust in your provision for their sin. You just simply say, "God, I know there's sin in this world. I know there's sin in me, and I thank you for love, and I thank you for the cross where Jesus died for me."
I thank you, Lord, that you proved that the sacrifice of Christ was enough by raising him from the grave with power to show that he was, in fact, who he said he was. Lord, I thank you that now Jesus is the one who can extend to us forgiveness and grace and opportunity to know you. So, Lord, we pray that the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, would right now let us know you more. Would you teach us from your Word?
Thank you because you're living and active and because truth travels across time and place that the truth you had for your church 2,000 years ago in some Greek province can be more than Greek to us. It can be alive and clearly understood and relevant to us. So teach us now. We come to you with an open heart. Show us your way. Conform us to the image of your Son that we might be, in our blessed state, a blessing to others. In Jesus' name, amen.
All right. Well, 1 Thessalonians. We're in chapter 4. You might have heard that we were going to go down through verse 7 or even to verse 12, but I decided not to do that. As we move into what we call Passion Week or Holy Week, we wanted to focus on what it means to be holy. We are at a really important place in this book. If you've not been with us, I'm going to catch you up very quickly. You're going to see why Paul was so thankful for this community, and I'm going to get to tell you how thankful I am for you.
One of the things that happens a lot around here is we celebrate God at work in our midst in and through his people, and we rejoice at all of the things he's doing, and sometimes people say, "Man, you guys talk too much about Watermark." I want to let you know something. I don't really care about Watermark other than Watermark is the place I am being cared for and shepherded, where I'm a part of God's family, where I'm admonished and encouraged and helped, and where Jesus is doing what he always wants his people and his church to do.
I care about the church of Jesus Christ. One expression of that is this community of friends called Watermark. I love it because it's Jesus' church, and where Jesus' church is alive and active, there ought to be really good things and things that cause others to be thankful. So I do often talk about what I see God doing, Jesus doing, the Spirit of God doing here.
Apart from the Spirit of God, we have nothing. There is nothing good we can do, so when you hear me praise Watermark, you hear me praise Jesus' church. You hear me praise the truth of God's Word worked out in your life, just like Paul did to our friends in Thessalonica. But when we get to chapter 4, Paul is going to say, "As awesome as you are, there's work to do."
Let's just read it together. Here we go. First Thessalonians 4:1-2. Paul says, _ "Finally…" _ I love Paul because he's a lot like me. I'm sure before this day is over I'll go, "One more thing I want to throw out to you," and then I'll talk for 10 more minutes. Paul, in Philippians 3, says, "Finally…" Two more chapters. In 1 Thessalonians 4, he goes, "Finally…" Two more chapters.
"Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification…"
That's where we're going to stop. We're going to pick it up after Easter by talking about all of the different things Paul shares with the church in Thessalonica that they ought to be excelling still more at. Let me just tell you what's coming. He says, "You should excel still more in your purity, in your love for one another. You should get better as a faithful, hardworking, responsible individual who isn't flying a sign and asking others to care for you if you have the ability to work. You should have hope-filled grieving."
Christians, one of the craziest things about us is if the coronavirus or something else leads us to a moment where we're separated from one another through the grave, we sing at funerals of people who know Jesus. Paul says, "I want you to excel still more in your hope that this world isn't your home and that even the grave doesn't win. I want you to excel still more in your readiness for judgment, because after the grave you're resurrected to a moment where you're going to stand before your King."
If you don't know Jesus, all you're going to have to give him is your effort to be holy, and that's not going to work out well for you, but if you know Jesus, you're going to stand before him and be judged on how you did as a servant. Not to be dismissed from his presence but to be blessed and rewarded for your work. It's why we're studying God's Word: because when I stand before Jesus, I want him to give me gifts and say, "Well done."
And guess what. I want to take those gifts so I can lay them at his feet and say, "No. It was all of you from beginning to end. Every good thing in me was you in me. Not me for you but me dying to myself that Christ might live in me." So Paul says at the end of the book, "I want you to be ready for judgment, and I want you to courageously endure."
I will tell you, by the time we get to chapter 5, it's like every other word is something that Paul says, "Excel still more in this. Excel still more in this." It's like rapid fire. When you get down to halfway through chapter 5, it's like Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! "Stay at it." I can relate to Paul. I have been told that I am an Enneagram Eight. I don't really know what that means other than that people would say, "Todd, it's just natural for you to write 1 Thessalonians 4:1: 'Excel still more.'"
I don't know if that makes me an Eight, but I am somebody who loves 1 Thessalonians, chapter 4, but I have learned something and been reminded of something because I've been in Thessalonians. Paul waits until he gets to chapter 4 before he says, "Hey, come on, man! You can do more!" He spent the first three chapters, 15 minutes in his conversation with this church in a written letter that was read out loud to them, telling them how much he loved them, and there's a lesson for me and, I think, a lesson for you.
As I said, this is the fourth week we haven't been able to gather in large numbers. Watermark is a very large community of friends now, so even the first week when they said, "Hey, you can't have 500 or more who get together," we couldn't meet. The next week is when they started to say, "We'd love you guys to not have more than 10," so a lot of communities of faith can't meet. They really want us to stay just with our individual families. And it's hard. I don't care how much you love somebody. It can be really hard to shelter in place for a long time.
I have been so encouraged, and I want to start by saying this. One of the reasons I'm desperate for you to hang in there with me today and learn what Jesus has for you is because the Wagner household has experienced a lot of blessing, and we have not had one blowup in 21 days of being isolated. We've had moments of annoyance. I myself have had to be reminded, "Hey, Dad, that wasn't the best tact to take as you start that thing."
I want to encourage parents with really young children. I have seven adults in my household right now. (Camp, I'm giving you a little leeway at 16.) Seven adults and one newborn who are living with us. We at the dinner table the other night stopped after we ate and just celebrated the kindness of God in our imperfection that we are enjoying one another. We're laughing. We're all learning things and sharing things and serving one another.
Then we actually did take some time after celebrating the grace that's on our family… And I offer this to you only to say this is what Jesus wants for you. We're not perfect by any means. That's why we spent more time, after thanking God for his kindness, sharing some things that every single one of us can do to excel still more. As great as the Wagner household is (and I am thanking God for the Wagner household), it can excel still more. I love Watermark. I love this church. As great as this church is, we can excel still more.
So we went around and thanked God for things that we saw, and we sharpened each other. They helped me with some ways I could be a better patriarch or leader in the home. Literally, right through all of the adults (we left the 4-month-old alone), we just sharpened one another and then have hearkened back to that a couple of times since then to say, "This is kind of what we were talking about," in a spirit of gentleness and with a lack of defensiveness, just wanting each other to be more of who Jesus wants us to be so our home and expression of Jesus' church can be more of what God wants us to be.
This is what Paul did when he was talking to the church in Thessalonica. Let me just walk you back through. There's a lesson for us here, and I'm going to give you the lesson first. Here's the point I came across as I reflected on where we were: lots of encouragement before lots of correction is always the right way to love people.
This is what Paul has already done. He starts the letter to them in chapter 1, verse 3, saying, "I love your work of faith, the way your faith isn't just spoken; it's lived out. It goes to work. Your labor of love. Love is hard. I see you laboring, straining to love one another. I see your steadfastness of hope." The world in Thessalonica wasn't perfect, just like your world, but there's a hope you should have as a Christian that should make people go, "Oh my goodness!"
So, 1 Thessalonians 1:3. Look at this. "I'm always encouraged by you because of your work of faith, labor of love, steadfastness of hope." If you jump down to verse 6: "I'm thankful…" For the same reason I'm thankful for you. "…that you became imitators of us and the Lord," Paul wrote to this church. I see at Watermark so many of you trying to become like great saints of old, purposing to conform yourself into the image of those who can say, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ."
You became imitators of godly people who were trying to become imitators of the Lord, which means you've become imitators of the Lord. Thirdly, he says, "I'm so encouraged because you hear me when I teach." You'll go, "Man, Todd has great insight." Todd doesn't. I don't have the creativity to be a liberal preacher. I'm not trying to make up a new philosophy every week. I am a steward of the mysteries of God. I'm a servant of Christ, and I'm just giving to you God's Word, and you receive it that way.
Because you do, here's the next thing Paul encouraged them about: "I'm thankful you're doing so amazing, because you're an example," in chapter 1, verse 7. "You're an example to all of the churches (in the particular region they were a part of)." Then look at this. In verse 8, he says, "Not only have you become an example, but you've become a means through which other people can know the gospel. The Word of God has sounded forth from you all around." So amazing.
Then we get to verse 9. "We see how you turned to God…" Can I just make a note right here? Notice it doesn't say, "You turned from idols to God." It says, "You turned to God from idols." There's a reason for that. When you see the beauty of God, you run to him. It's not like you always see the futility of body image, the futility of pornography, the futility of the way that seems right to man. You see the beauty and kindness of God. It's the kindness of God that leads you to repentance.
Can I just say this to believers? Stop trying to convince people that they're not happy. Show them the beauty and the perfection of your God. That's what Paul did. He told them about the good news that God isn't looking for man to earn his way to him but in his kindness and in his beauty, God ran to them, and then the people go, "You know what? If there is a God who loves me, who is perfect and holy, who imputes or gives to me his perfection and holiness, who then teaches me his way, who will deliver me from the grave, who will allow me to be a blessing to others that is more enduring than anything in the world, I want to run to that God."
Don't try to convince people about the negativity of sin as much as you remind them of the beauty of God. The truth is most of us have tasted enough of the nastiness of sin that we're hopeful there has to be more. Paul said these people turned to God from sin. Watch this. In chapter 2, verse 13, he says, "I thank you that you received the word of God not as the word of men; you took it for what it really is, the word of God." Paul was thankful for that.
Then again in verse 14. He's repeating things he was thankful for. He's coming back. He's saying, "Have I already told you that you became imitators of God and were such a blessing?" What I'm trying to show you is that Paul is giving a lot of encouragement. Then when you get to chapter 3, which we looked at last week, in verse 9, he says, specifically, "How can I thank God enough for all the joy which we rejoice before our God because of you?" It's amazing.
Then, if you even go back a chapter before that, this is what he says in chapter 2 at the very end: "Who is my hope and my joy and my crown? It's you, church. It's my family that I see walking in the love of God." Then he sums it up with this: "You are our glory and our joy." How many of you guys have heard that? Have you heard that from your mom, your dad, your friends? I want you to hear it from me, your elder and your pastor.
This is 1 Thessalonians 2:20. You, church, are our glory and joy, and I'm so thankful for you. I know you're not perfect. That's why there's 1 Thessalonians, chapter 4, but let me just start by telling you again and again of all of the amazing things I see in your life and that I see you doing. I want you to have more of the goodness of God and his way, which is why we teach here.
So, the very first application we have with today's message is: lots of encouragement before lots of correction is always the right way to love people. Now here's what I want to do. I actually said to my sons, "Hey, guys, do you feel like I do a good job with this?" I think a lot of us have heard you kind of need five statements of affirmation before one statement of correction. I don't know where that came from. If you follow the Scripture, I see like 15 before I see one.
I know it's an area that I can, myself, excel still more. I was talking to my kids about this, and I go, "Can you guys give me a good example of when you think I could have done a better job of loving you before admonishing you?" I was a little encouraged, because they go, "No, no, no. The perfect example of that, Dad, is not in the way you've done it." We laughed about a movie that I think a lot of you guys have seen before. It's called Despicable Me.
If you know Gru, he becomes this evil individual who later turns for good, but the source of his corruption in his early days was the fact that he didn't get a lot of 1 Thessalonians 1-3. Remember this little scene? He tries to show up before his mom, and he says, "Look, Mom!" "Eh." Not so much. That's a great movie, and it's a great scene. You can imagine how that got little Gru all kinds of worked up and always looking to please Mama. You hear a lot about a father wound, that a lot of us haven't heard, "Well done. You have what it takes. I believe in you." We don't want to "Eh" one another.
Let me give you the second part of this observation. Correction is right when necessary, but encouragement is always necessary. I'm going to just smother you with Scripture. Listen to what the Scripture says again and again about encouragement. Here come a bunch. Proverbs 12:18: _ "There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." _ We don't want to be thrusting our thoughts into people's lives. Paul didn't. He spent three chapters of love before he's saying, "This is what you can do better."
How about Proverbs 12:25? _ "Anxiety in a man's heart weighs it down…" _ There's a lot of anxiety out there. _ "…but a good word makes it glad." _ When's the last time you gave somebody a good word? Instead of scolding them for their fear, reminding them of what is true. We see this in Hebrews. It's a verse I quote a ton. Chapter 3, verse 13: _ "But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called 'Today,' so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." _
Hebrews 10:24-25. I want to remind you I wrote an article the Dallas Morning News published when they asked us about this coronavirus and it being a problem for churches being able to gather together and worship. I said, "Wait a minute. First of all, let's define church biblically, and let's define worship biblically." We'll put a link to that article so you can reread it in the sermon study guide. I just said, "Listen. The church isn't a building." I'm not sitting in the church today; you're the church. This isn't the worship center; this is the worship center.
I talk about Hebrews 10:25, where it says, _ "…let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together…" _ That's not Sunday; that's all the time. That's the Hebrews 3:13 "day after day," and it's not just every day; it's often throughout the day. _ "…and all the more as you see the day _ [of judgment] _ drawing near." _ Because we want to be ready to stand before our King, and we want to be useful to our King while we're here.
Look at this. In 1 Thessalonians, chapter 5, Paul is going to say it there in verse 11. _ "Therefore encourage one another and build up one another…" _ Do you see a theme in Scripture? I do. Look at verse 14 of chapter 5. _ "…encourage the fainthearted, help the weak…" _ It's all right there. Look at Proverbs 16:24. _ "Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." _
Ephesians 4:29: _ "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification…" _ To build up. That's what the word edification means. A building is called an edifice. Your words ought to be constructing life in people, not taking life from them. Make your tongue the tongue of a disciple.
Look at this. Isaiah 50:4: "Lord, give me the tongue of a disciple, that I may know how to sustain the weary. God, you who waken me morning by morning, Lord, you who awakens my ear to listen as a disciple, as I listen to you, let me speak words of life to others." Isaiah 57:4 takes the other side of that. It says people who are not faithfully speaking as a disciple are speaking as one who opens wide their mouth and sticks out their tongue. Who does that? Children of rebellion, offspring of deceit.
See, the Devil's name Satan means accuser. He's always accusing people. But here we're seeing God say, "Don't be that person." If you learn to love like Paul did to the Thessalonians, then you'll have the words of the tongue of the wise. Proverbs 15:2 says, _ "The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, but the mouth of fools spouts folly." _ That's a proverb I quote to myself all the time.
By the way, if somebody is spouting folly at you, you don't return fire with fire. We've all heard the statement, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." That's Proverbs 15:2. You don't fight fire with fire. Hate doesn't get rid of hate. Only love gets rid of hate. That's why Proverbs 15:1 is there: _ "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." _
My wife and I have for the last decade tried to have a rule, which is we can't both be crazy at the same time. So when we start having crazy, we don't meet crazy with crazy. You meet crazy with grace. We just kind of disengage and say, "Let's go be with the God who's not anything but crazy in his grace. Let's relearn his ways and come back at each other with the tongue of a disciple."
Do you see what's happening? Have you been paying attention? There's a spike in abuse…child abuse, spousal abuse, verbal abuse. It's because the world doesn't know God. If your household is increasing in tension, I'm reminding you, because I love you and I know you love God, that you can excel still more. Maybe you came into this message and you didn't know God and you just prayed for the first time that God would forgive you your sins.
He has forgiven you, and now be forgiving and gracious toward others. The grace which you have received, the blessing you have received, be a blessing to others. Would you just let us know? Would you email us here? You can go to our web page, and I think there's an firstname.lastname@example.org. Just mail it to email@example.com. Just say, "I've just trusted Christ. I need some encouragement so I can grow and be a source of grace in my home."
One last thing. I want to talk specifically about leadership in the home. Dads, we have a disproportionate ability to bring life or to bring death, and so does Mom. Proverbs 14:1 says, _ "The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands _ [and her own lips]_ ." _ You want to be a Proverbs 31 woman, not a Proverbs 14:1 woman. A Proverbs 31:26 woman opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
I love that about my wife, and I love that about God's women. The teaching of kindness is on their tongue. Men, you should be conformed in the image of Christ, and it's the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. You don't want to be this skank. Proverbs has a lot of other women in there too. Proverbs 21:9: _ "It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman." _
So, why don't you remind your wife that you love her and not just move to the attic. This idea continues again and again. Proverbs 21:19 says it this way: _ "It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and vexing woman." _ Proverbs 25:24: _ "It is better to live in a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman." _ Proverbs 26:21: _ "Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife." _
Hey, guys, maybe one of the reasons your wife is so contentious is because of Proverbs 26:21: because your life and your lack of leadership is like hot ember and wood to fire that sparks in her a rage that kindles anything but the Spirit of God. We want to be life-giving spirits. That's one of my favorite descriptions in the Bible of who Jesus is. Jesus was a life-giving spirit. That's what the Scripture says in 1 Corinthians. And so should we.
Here's what we're going to do. We're going to take three minutes. I'm going to keep putting all of those verses about encouragement back up on the screen, and I want you right now maybe just to turn to the folks who are in the room… Maybe spend the first minute just praying about what you should say to be a life-giving spirit and encourage folks with things you've seen that have been expressions of the grace of God.
Or if you've already done that with excellence in your house, just text a friend and let them know, "I see God at work in your life. I want you to know I'm proud of you. I'm grateful for you. I see you in so many ways. You're my joy and my crown and my glory. I love Christ in you." Let's not just read our Bible; let's apply it. Correction is sometimes necessary, but encouragement is always necessary. Take a moment before we excel still more and encourage one another.
Okay. I didn't get any texts, but that's okay. I hope you did, and I hope there are many hearts that are refreshed right now, and I hope in grace you're ready for chapter 4. I love you, Watermark. I have folders going back over a decade that I put notes and emails of encouragement in, just testimonies of life change and encouragements I've received. I have letters from Korea and Australia and all over Africa, all over the Middle East, and probably almost every state in our country from people who are talking about the work they've seen in you.
In the same way the Thessalonians were a source of encouragement to the whole region, you have been. You, church, are affecting this city. There are thousands of people who are not a part of Watermark who have been encouraged by you. I think again of some of the phone calls I've gotten. I know one of you, as an example, just saw an opportunity to encourage our medical people who are out there, who we want to obviously thank God for, and you decided to take them some lunches.
You didn't want to just take them lunches and dinners; you wanted to support local restaurants, so you started to go buy meals at a restaurant and take them to a hospital to feed the medical staff. Then you started to share with other moms in your neighborhood, and then it turned into over $10,000…just this one of you with a small network of friends…$10,000 supporting local businesses and supporting local nurses and doctors, just caring for them. It's so great.
Your 8-year-old son said to you, "Why aren't you putting your name on these things?" and you said, "Because I just want them to know they're loved." The son then said, "Mom, we don't want them just to know they're loved. We want them to know God loves them." So the 8-year-old son said, "Mom, let's pray that they know how much God loves them, and let's figure out how to make sure they know this is an expression of God's love." There are so many stories like that.
There are thousands of people. You're affecting this city. You're affecting this region. I got a text from somebody recently that there are other churches that watch the way you worship not just on Sunday but all week. We have this thing called HAGWOW (have a great week of worship). Somebody sent me this picture. This is a church in California that you have encouraged that has come and visited here at Watermark.
They've heard about teaching people that worship is not just something you do on Sunday. They have this slide. As you walk out into their courtyard as people leave, as you walk out to the parking lot as people leave, they are reminding folks, "Have a great week of worship." That is from your modeling what can happen in a community how to have a great week of worship. You are affecting hundreds of churches, literally. Thousands of churches are being spurred on because of your faithfulness.
You are affecting the world. Dozens of countries have healthy communities of faith in them because of your example. You have two megachurches that are about to launch that came out of your work that have 15 to 20 acres of debt-free property with buildings on them where several thousand people in Fort Worth and in Plano have been discipled, encouraged, spurred on, borne out of your work. I mean, come on!
This isn't like we hope it kind of makes it. These are thriving churches that I would love to be a member at and love to go to. Way to go, church. But you can do better. You can do better. We can do more. Our best days are ahead of us. We want to make war against sin. Let me take you back to the very end of 1 Thessalonians, chapter 3. I'll start in verse 9 just so I can encourage you again. This is what Paul said.
_ "For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy…" _ I just told you again about how encouraged I am. _ "…with which we rejoice before our God on your account…" _ He says in verse 10, "But night and day we keep praying for you most earnestly that you might complete what is lacking in your faith." This is really important.
When Paul talks about what is lacking in the Thessalonians' faith and what I'm about to talk about is lacking in yours and mine has nothing to do with faith's beginning or even the assurance that God will complete it. In 1 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul says this. "I want to complete what is lacking in your faith." That's why I'm telling you in chapter 4 that you should excel still more.
In a minute I'm going to take you to 11-13. What Paul does because he loves you, what I do because I love you is I pray for you. When it says you're lacking something in faith, it doesn't mean faith's beginning. It doesn't even mean what your faith in Jesus Christ will ultimately accomplish. What it's talking about right there is simply this. This is the phrase I wrote down to try to explain what saving faith is.
Saving faith fully accomplishes God's promise to deliver you to him and is always evidenced by a continuing work that makes you ever more like him. This is what is lacking. A true saving faith justifies you before God, leads to sanctification, and will one day result in glorification. What is lacking is not the justification and not what God himself will accomplish, which is the glorification, but what God is accomplishing.
Notice I said it that way: what God is accomplishing right now with your joining with the Spirit's work by seeking his will and his way and encouraging, admonishing, and helping one another. This, again, is what saving faith is. Saving faith fully accomplishes God's promise to deliver you to him and is always evidenced by a continuing work that makes you ever more like him.
If you don't see in you a desire to know more of God and be more of what he intends you to be, that is a cause for concern about whether or not you have a saving faith. You might have an intellectual understanding, but we are saved by grace through faith alone, but the faith which saves is never alone. There is a work of faith, there's a labor of love, and there's a steadfastness of hope. You need the body of Christ to help you and encourage you along the way.
It's why Paul came right back around after that and said, "That's why God gave me to you. That's why there are pastors and teachers." No pastor can ever say, "My job is done. I don't need to help these folks anymore," which is why every good pastor always prays. Here was the prayer of Paul last week:
_ "Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; _ [online, together, in communities] _ and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound…" _ There's that idea. Excel still more. _ "…in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you…" _ God is doing a work in Paul. _ "…so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints." _
Chapter 4: "Finally, here's how we're going to do it." When you get down to verse 3, you see this: _ "For this is the will of God, your sanctification…" _ That you would be increasingly more holy, that you would be more of what Jesus wants you to be as his child, that you would grow in grace and knowledge. You're going to see this idea all the way through the Scriptures. If I had time (and I'll put a link to the verses in John 17:13-21)…
When Jesus himself was with people for three years… Remember, Paul was only in Thessalonica for like four weeks. When Jesus was with men for three years, the last thing he did was pray the same prayer Paul just did, basically, in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13. Jesus himself, pouring himself (in ways that we don't even get that kind of time) into the lives of others ended in John 17:17…
Again, the whole prayer for Jesus in John 17:13-21 has this work, but in John 17:17, he says, "God, sanctify them in truth. Your word is truth." Verse 18: "Because as you sent me into the world, I'm going to send them into the world." This is what's so crazy. Jesus says, _ "For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth." _ I'm not going to unpack all of John 17:19 and what it means. We taught through the gospel of John. You can go get that message and what Jesus meant at that particular moment, but let me just say this.
It's why we teach God's Word, because the Word of God is what's going to produce in us more of what God desires to be in men and women so we can be bright and shining stars in the midst of a dark and perverse generation; so we can have the contagion of Christ so the kingdom of God can live in us and people can go, "My, how you love one another. My, how the teaching of kindness is on your tongue. My, how you are clothed with strength and dignity. My, how your families when they're sheltered in place are a place of blessing. My, how when you gather are you not filled with petty differences and conflict."
We have to make war against sin. Let me just read it to you this way. Every now and then, I come across different guys who have been sanctifying people in truth for a long time. I read them because I want to learn how I can serve you better. You know there was something about men who lived in the nineteenth century…J.C. Ryle, Charles Spurgeon, and guys like that. I sit at their feet and learn from them.
Spurgeon said, "I cannot trifle with the evil that [killed] my best friend. I must be holy for his sake. How can I live in sin when he has died to save me from it?" I can't say I love God and then keep polluting my heart with things that are inconsistent with the character and nature of God. If I believe he died for me, then I'm not going to take moments when I'm alone in my room and run to things that caused him to suffer. I can't trifle with the evil that killed my best friend. Paul is just encouraging us to take seriously our commitment.
I'm going to read this next quote in a couple of weeks when we talk about the first thing he admonishes us to be excellent in in our sanctification, but watch this. I love this. This is true. This is why you have to watch. If you have trouble growing in your heart… If something is alive, it's because you're feeding it…lustful thoughts, disgust with others, if you are coveting somebody else's family and somebody else's wife, somebody else's husband, somebody else's children. What the Enemy will do is he will feed you lies.
I love this statement by, again, Spurgeon. He says, "When Satan cannot get a great sin in, he will let a little one in, like the thief who goes and finds shutters all coated with iron and bolted inside. At last he sees a little window in a chamber. He cannot get in, so he puts a little boy in, that he may go round and open the back door. So the devil has always his little sins to carry about with him to go and open back doors for him! And we let one in and say, 'O, it is only a little one.' Yes, but how that little one becomes the ruin of the entire man!" That's just good writing is what that is, so I share it with you. It's why we make war against sin and we sanctify ourselves.
Watch this. When Paul gets to this place in chapter 4 and he says, "Finally, brethren…" That's a very humble statement. Paul is saying, "I'm not better than you; I'm one of you. I need to be sanctified. I need to grow still more. I request…" That's a humble statement. It's not Paul on his own authority scolding them and yelling at them. He's just saying, "Look. I'm a guy, and I need your help. It encourages me when I see you excel still more. It encourages me when I see more of Jesus in you. I want more of Jesus in me. And I exhort you…"
Let me give you a little Greek, because Greek is the language 1 Thessalonians was written in. The word for exhort is parakletos. Paraclete is a name for one who comes alongside to help. A paragraph is one little bit of writing that comes along other bits of writing that make a whole story. A parakletos is one who comes alongside to call or to help, and it's the name in the Scripture for the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is our Paraclete, and he reminds us, he whispers to us, he illumines God's Word, and he sanctifies us in truth. As we spend time with the Word the Holy Spirit gave us, it moves us more toward him, and that is why when we speak to one another, we counsel biblically: because the Word of God is what will not return void. So we share and remind each other of things that are true.
Paul says, "I'm just a guy, and as a guy, I want to ask, would you help me? I want to come alongside of you and encourage you to be more, that you in Christ…" Watch this. I'll read it to you again in 1 Thessalonians 4:1. "Finally, my brethren, we request and come alongside and exhort you who are in the Lord…" That's the phrase there. Your flesh is always going to want to let the little boy in the chamber door. Your flesh is always going to want to do things that killed your best friend.
Don't get discouraged that you're tempted and that your flesh doesn't want more of God. That's what your flesh is always going to want. But by faith, it's no longer you who lives but Christ who lives in you, and the Spirit which says, "Todd, follow me, not your own way; lean not on your own understanding but in all your ways acknowledge me…" That Spirit, that truth, is the one who will cause you to grow and receive the instruction of God. Do you see that?
You in the Lord Jesus. You as a Christian. Not you as a man or a woman with a will to do good, but you who have taken up your cross, which means dying to yourself and following Jesus. That's how you can grow. Those are the people who want to receive instruction as to how you ought to walk (this is 1 Thessalonians 4:1 now) and please God, just as so many of you already are, that you would excel still more.
Now verse 2. This is my request as a man. I want to encourage you, but the Holy Spirit has commanded you. This is not an option for a Christian. _ "For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus." _ I love you guys. As another man, I'm just saying, "Hey, I need your help. I want you to come alongside me and help me."
But let's be really honest. There is a sovereign King, and we're his subjects. There is a Commander-in-Chief, and we're in his army. There is a Master, and we are his servants, and he has commanded us to seek his will. And this is the will of God: our sanctification. People always ask about what the will of God is like it's some mystery that's out there. I want to tell you, there are a few places in Scripture where it just flat-out tells you, "This is the will of God."
One of them is right here in 1 Thessalonians 4:3. The will of God is your sanctification, that you would become more and more like Jesus every day. That doesn't happen just because you want it to; it happens because you persevere. It happens because you excel still more. It happens because you continue by faith seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. You set your mind on the things above.
One great eighteenth-century speaker said it's by perseverance that the snail reached the ark. Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of all the hard work you've already been doing. Church, you have been doing a lot of hard work, but persevere in godliness. Persevere in humility. Persevere in love. Persevere in diligence of studying the Scripture, in gathering together, in encouraging one another, in sanctifying your body in honor and not letting a little boy in by jumping on websites that aren't good for your soul.
I would leave you with this. This speaks about the will of God now. Don't worry about what the will of God is, like, "I've got to know what God is going to do with my life." Worry that you will do with your life what is God's will. Don't worry about when you're going to marry. Don't worry about what God is going to have you doing next week. Worry that what you do with your life is God's will. God's will is your sanctification.
I'll say it to you one more way. Don't worry about the will of God for your life; concern yourself with God's will, and God's will is that you discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness. You don't grow weary in doing good. You know we're thankful for you and praying for you, but you get after it and you excel still more. So, Watermark, 20 years of faithfulness. It's amazing. Eh. No, I can't say, "Eh." I just say, "Attaboy, attagirl, church. But let's go." Let's go.
You guys know we're writing some songs. We're going to debut a couple of fun new songs next week for Easter, but a song we wrote not long ago captured this idea, which is a statement I've said for some time, which is if you don't want to know more of God, I just don't think you know him yet. If you don't want to be more like Jesus, you just don't know who Jesus is yet. How could I want anything more than Jesus? So, if a man doesn't want to know more of God, it's doubtful he really knows him at all. Do you want more of God? I know I do. So keep praying for me and spurring me on.