Believing ALL the promises of God

Posted: July 21, 2008 in 1 Thessalonians

One of our favorite things to do is to eat at a good Chinese buffet. It’s all-you-can-eat & you can go up & down the aisles customizing your plate exactly how you see fit. As fun (and delicious) that is to do at a restaurant, it’s downright unhealthy to do that with our Bibles. Yet that’s exactly how some people treat the promises God gave us in the Scriptures…just pick & choose what they like, while disregarding the stuff that doesn’t appeal to them.

The problem with this is that ALL the Bible is necessary for us (2 Tim 3:16-17)…and (even if we don’t like it or agree with it) ALL the Bible is true. Thus it behooves us to take God at His word & simply believe Him for what He says…whether it’s regarding triumph or trials.

This is where Paul finds himself in regards to the Thessalonians. He had encountered many trials (as did the church itself) & he was afraid that they were going to chuck it all in the face of difficulties – even though God had promised difficulties were going to come. So he was pretty desperate to find out how they were handling it & was rather pleased at the report.

1 Thessalonians 3 (NKJV)
1 Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, 2 and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith,

A. When did Paul go to Athens? After Berea (Acts 17:15). Luke doesn’t record quite everything that happened, but apparently Timothy had been sent back to check on the church (remember, Paul had to leave suddenly). Acts 18 picks up with Paul going to Corinth, but mentions Silas & Timothy coming from Macedonia (Acts 18:5) – the location of Thess & Berea.

B. Note the description of Timothy (and I’m not saying that because he’s got a great name! J). Paul goes into depth with him – possibly because of his youth & relative inexperience at the time. Calls him a:

a. brother”: not merely a brother in the Lord, but a brother in ministry with Paul & Silas – hinting at a trusted relationship.

b. minister of God”: had a reputation for serving the Lord.

c. fellow laborer in the gospel”: Shared in the work that was to be done…Timothy didn’t watch it take place; he took part in it.

d. The bottom line is that Timothy had proven character – which was the reason Paul was comfortable sending him to the young Thessalonian church. No one is perfect (outside of Christ), but we need to be able to trust that our teachers/pastors are truly serving the Lord…

e. What exactly is Timothy’s relationship with God? Many translations say “co-worker of God”; NKJV & others “minister of God.” This is actually one area in which Greek manuscripts differ. The majority of manuscripts use the word διάκονος (deacon) = “minister/servant” whereas some others leave out this word entirely. This is one instance where I’m going to show my bias for the Majority Text – because although we ARE co-workers with God in that He has entrusted the Great Commission to us (1 Cor 3:9); we are not co-workers in that we are equal with Him…He is still God & we serve Him.

C. What did Timothy do as a laborer in the gospel?

a. Establish/strengthen the church: The idea is to be made stable/set firm. The church is built by Christ Jesus on the rock of the gospel of Christ Jesus…and every aspect of our growth must be solidly based on Him & Him alone.

i. One way of ensuring this takes place? By sticking close to the word of God!

b. Encourage the church: Greek should sound familiar = παρακαλέω We share in one of the same ministries of the Holy Spirit, to come along side one another in the church & comfort each other with the same comfort with which we’ve been comforted (2 Cor 1:4).

c. We (as a church) STILL need to be strengthened and encouraged! We may not experience daily persecution (though it’s not as impossible for us as we may think) – but we ARE in a spiritual battle. Against the devil – against temptation…we are in a fight that is only won by Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit! Thus we need to be established in Jesus, and encouraged by His Comforter.

3 that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. 4 For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know.

A. Which afflictions? The various riots breaking out in every city Paul preached in. … (Thess & Berea no exception!)

B. It would be easy (even understandable) for a young church to be “shaken” by this. Greek literally speaks of a dog wagging its tail – and the church could easily have been tossed to & fro wondering “What’s going on around here?”

a. Ever get the impression that once someone gets saved that life is supposed to get easy? It never quite works out that way! This is one reason it’s so important to be firmly established (vs. 2) – it helps prevent us from being shaken (vs. 3)…

C. Paul was “appointed” to this. Jesus told him to expect tribulation & afflictions… [Jesus instructing Ananias – Acts 9:16, “he must suffer for My name’s sake.”]

a. Are we “appointed” as well? Without a doubt…it’s simply part of being a Christian. 2 Timothy 3:12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. []

b. We shouldn’t be surprised when troubles come! Jesus specifically told us to expect it! John 16:33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” []

i. (Guzik) “Some believe that affliction means God is angry at the believer. The truth is that affliction means that God loves us enough to give the best when we may only desire what is easy. The symbol of Christianity is the cross, not a feather bed. Affliction is just part of following Jesus; therefore Paul recognized that Christians are appointed to affliction.”

ii. With promises like that, some people surely wonder: “Why on earth would I EVER follow Jesus? Who wants to be persecuted?” The answer: no one wants to be persecuted. But no one wants to spend eternity in Hell either. We don’t follow Christ Jesus to have a good life or an easy life; we follow Christ Jesus so that we might have everlasting life, forgiven by His grace.

5 For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain.

A. So Paul understood that his persecutions were going to be tough for the church to handle… That’s why he sent Timothy to them…

B. Ever have a tragedy shake your faith? … That’s what he was afraid of for the church… … Satan takes advantage of those times to tempt us away from Christ…

a. No matter what’s going on around you – no matter what you’re enduring – no matter what the devil is whispering in your ear…hold fast to the promises of God! Jesus promised He would never leave us nor forsake us (Heb 13:5) – that He would be with us always, even to the end of the age (Matt 28:20) – that He cares about our most basic needs (Matt 6:31) – that He would come back and receive us to Himself (John 14:3) – and much more! We need to take Christ at His word & simply believe Him!

b. It’s interesting that in our spiritual warfare, we’re instructed to take up the sword of the Spirit (the word of God) & yet still stand fast (Eph 6). What’s the picture? Of the believer holding fast to God’s inspired word and trusting Him through faith to endure every battle we encounter. … …

6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you—

A. Apparently the church held fast to the gospel & didn’t think less of Paul (despite the rumors)…

B. They were also growing in the Lord – Timothy had brought “news of your faith and love. Remember that the church had eventually become an example to the whole region of the gospel of Christ – some of the most prominent ways that was evident was through their faith (trust in the truth of God) & love (outworking of the grace of God)…

7 therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. 8 For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.

A. In the midst of his trials, all Paul wanted to know was whether or not the church was standing fast in Christ…and when he found out, he was comforted.

B. That’s not only reflective of the heart of a pastor; that’s truly good news for any church fellowship in the body of Christ! So many people leave the grace of Christ to chase after legalistic trips – or they leave the sufficiency of Christ to chase after magical signs – or the leave the truth of Christ to chase after the philosophy of man… We need simply to stand fast in the Lord!

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

A. They thanked God for the church… They rejoiced before God for the church… They prayed abundantly for the church… Amen! What a terrific response to a good report coming back from Timothy. They could thank God for what He was doing in the lives of the believers as He strengthened them & matured them in Christ. They could rejoice in praise for their faith. They would pray that God would continue to help them grow.

a. ‘Wait a minute…if Paul was thanking God for their faith, why would he pray for something that was lacking in it?’ Answer a question with a question: do we ever want to stop growing in Christ? Who would want that?! There’s always more to learn of His truth – there’s always more experience of His grace…

B. How did they pray? (1) Consistently: night & day…whenever they thought of the church. (2) Fervently: exceedingly (‘superabundantly’)…with passion & intensity. (3) Eagerly: to see them face to face again. (4) Sufficiently: that they would be matured & made complete in Christ. Great model for intercession among the church!

– Gives an example of their daily prayers here as he launches into one…

11 Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you.

A. The request is simply that Paul might see them again, but he bathes it in theology.

a. OUR God and Father: When we are born again by the Spirit of God, we are all brought into the same family of God. There may be all kinds of different church congregations and fellowships – but there is only ONE church.

b. He is both God AND Father: He is the Almighty Creator God for Whom the universe fits within the palm of His hand – He is everlasting and is perfectly righteous, holy, and just because He is GOD. At the same time (because of Christ Jesus), He is our loving Abba Father who invites us to come boldly before His throne of grace in our times of need.

c. our Lord Jesus Christ: By linking Him with God the Father, Paul is affirming that Christ is God the Son. Both are equally powerful and equally authoritative – both the Father and Lord Jesus are the One able to actually direct Paul back to Thessalonica.

d. Why is all this important? We need to understand Who it is that we pray to! We don’t raise our hands to the Hindu god Vishnu – we don’t make requests to the Islamic idea of Allah…we pray to the One True God – fully revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ!

12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you,

A. Increase and abound in love: The idea with both words is that their agape love would be superabundant – both in quantity and quality… There are a lot of doctrines we hold dear that can sometimes cause division in the church when we put too much emphasis on them… But if there’s one thing a Christian is not going to be able to ‘overdo it’ in, it’s in loving one another!

a. Great Commandment – Matthew 22:38-39 (38) This is the first and great commandment. (39) And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ []

b. New Commandment – John 13:34-35 (34) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (35) By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” []

c. Summary of all the law – Romans 13:10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. []

d. To put it lightly: we are commanded to love one another! J This is the law of Christ (Gal 6:2) – and it is fulfilled the only way law is ever fulfilled: by the grace of Christ! It can seem impossible to love one another as Christ loved us – and it is, without the Spirit of God working in us…

B. To whom?

a. To one another: The church. Not that the world isn’t important, but as a Body of Believers, showing agape love to one another should hold a position of priority.

b. To all: their neighbors. Who’s our neighbor? Jesus was asked the same question (Luke 10:29) – told the parable of the Good Samaritan.

C. Their example? Paul’s missionary team. [] What a great place to be in maturity – that we could be an example of love to new believers!

13 so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.

A. What does it mean that Jesus would “establish our hearts blameless in holiness”? Just as Paul prayed that the church would grow in their love, he also prays that they would grow in their holiness. Note he doesn’t write of sinless perfection (impossible) – only that they would be blameless.

a. Keep in mind this takes place in exactly the same way as our super-abundance in love: by the grace of Christ! Jesus is the one that sets us apart to begin with (making us holy) – and through His Holy Spirit He empowers us to grow in Him, so that our lives are increasingly holy as we are transformed by the renewing of our mind.

b. Emphasized by the fact that we want to be found blameless before God the Father. In comparison with perfect holiness, what does it matter if man doesn’t think we’re so bad? We need to be found blameless before GOD – and that only happens through Christ Jesus.

B. When do we need to be found blameless? At the coming of Christ. There’s a bit of disagreement on what exactly Paul refers to here.

a. Rapture? – Some think Paul is exhorting the church to be ready to be caught up at any time. Great exhortation! We certainly wouldn’t want to be caught sinning at the very moment that Jesus calls us to Himself in the twinkling of an eye – we want to grow in holiness.

b. 2nd Coming? – Others think Paul is showing the church is already with Christ in heaven at the Bema Seat & would be found blameless in holiness as the wood, hay, & stubble is burned away in preparation for Christ’s 2nd Coming in Judgment.

i. My personal opinion: the 2nd Coming. Note who’s accompanying the Lord Jesus on His return: the church! Gives us a great idea of the timing of the rapture – it’s got to be a separate even from Christ’s 2nd coming because we’ve got to be with Jesus in order to return with Jesus… He establishes us holy before Him so that we might be with Him at His coming.

c. Whatever the case, make no doubt about it – Jesus Christ IS coming again & every one of us will stand before Him (either in His grace or in His judgment). Are we ready to see Him face-to-face? What if it’s today?

Conclusion:

It’s interesting as we look over those last verses starting with vs. 9 that what Paul was praying for overall for the church was that they’d increase in faith, hope, and love. That their faith would be perfected – that their love would superabound – and that they would remember their hope of eternity epitomized by Christ’s coming. In the end, he seemed to have a lot of confidence that the church would do just that, because they were standing firmly on the promises of God.

Take Jesus at His word! (All of it!)

Heeding His warnings about trials will help us have faith to endure them when they come. We won’t be tossed to/fro like a wagging dog-tail – we’ll be established and encouraged as we are strengthened day-by-day by the bread of the word of God.

Believing His promise to return will help us be ready for when He does. Not that we’d ever be able to look forward to the day we see Jesus with pride (God forbid; we are saved solely by His grace!); but that we can look forward with assurance knowing that the work He has begun in us, He will be faithful to complete.

Maybe you’re here as a skeptic today – someone who doesn’t really believe that what the Bible says is true…and so you don’t think that you can trust the promises of God. You need to consider one very important fact: every single promise that the OT made about the 1st coming of Jesus Christ (over 330 of them) came true. God has a perfect track record in keeping His promises…and because of those prophecies we can know without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus really is the Son of God risen from the dead. Because THAT is true, we can know that every other promise He makes is true…which includes all the promises of judgment because of sin.

God is so holy and so righteous that all sin will be punished – everyone from murderers & idolaters to liars will have their part in the lake of fire (Rev 21:8). This is not God’s will for you! He is so good and so loving that He sent His only Son to die on the cross to take the punishment you deserved so that you can be forgiven and spend eternity with Him. But you must respond to that offer of grace! [How? Repentance & Faith]

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