Monday, March 23, 2015

1 Thessalonians 2:17- 3:5 “A God Centered Church manifests love and genuine concern for one another!”


The apostle Paul was the human instrument which God had used to bring the Thessalonian church into being, just as Pastor Charles Whitson was used of God in 1985 to bring our own congregation into being. 

Giving birth to a congregation can be compared in many ways to giving birth to children. There is joy in having spiritual children and then there is the anxiety as we watch them grow and as we become separated from them in time. At all times there is the longing to watch their progress and to visit them and see how they are doing. At the heart of this is a deep love and care for their spiritual progress and well-being . This is what you will find in this passage and we see this clearly in the apostle Paul who had earlier compared himself to both, a mother (2:7) and a father (2:11). Just as a father and a mother’s heart are tied to their newborn and then growing child, so the heart of a biblical pastor and elder beats for the people who they have come to love , as they see them being born again by the Holy Spirit and grow in their midst.

In this part of his first letter to the Thessalonians, he gives us a glimpse into his own heart as he openly speaks of his great love and concern for these , his spiritual children who were now so far removed from him. He speaks of having been "torn away” (literally "orphaned"[1]) from them, though he explains that they had been torn away from each other "in person, but not in heart". Such language displays the love that the apostle had developed for his spiritual children and it is important that we seek this mindset also among ourselves as a God-centered church. 

Having been separated from them he now has an intense desire [2] to see them ‘face to face’ (2:17)

There was a problem however. He says, “we wanted to come and see you- I, Paul, again and again (lit. once and twice)- but Satan hindered[3] us “ (2:18). 

We must take note of this, and we need to affirm that Satan will most certainly put hindrances in our way as we seek to be a biblical and God centered church. You will remember that Satan tried to hinder the work of the Lord Jesus (Lk 4: 1-13) and of the early church. We know from Acts 17:8-10 that the gospel was being resisted in Thessalonica [4] and therefore the significance of this statement is that Paul regarded Satan as the ultimate power behind such determined opposition to the gospel. While the individuals who opposed the work of Christ were both guilty and accountable to God, their actions were inspired by Satan. We must understand that Satan is the sworn enemy of Christ and His church, and we must not be ignorant of his schemes (2 Cor. 2:11). And so, Paul clearly saw the hand of a personal, evil being (whom he calls the "tempter" in 3:5)[5] intervening in the travel plans of his missionary team. 

In 2:19-20 we continue to observe Paul’s heartfelt feelings for the Thessalonians. He says to them: “What is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at His coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.” Here is a real sense of righteous pride in his spiritual children. They are his “hope," "joy," and "crown", and please note that he says this in reference to Christ’s coming[6] . These people were the result of his gospel labours, and just as any craftsman or artist may look at his finished product with a sense of good pride and achievement , so Paul looks at these people with a real sense of satisfaction. They are the evidence that he has been faithful to his commission from Jesus. You can almost hear him saying : “Look , Lord here they are – the believers in Thessalonica to whom I made your gospel known – and they believed !” 


  1 THESSALONIANS  3 

In those days when telephones and e-mail and ‘whatsapp’ weren’t even remotely thought of, it wasn’t easy to communicate in a hurry. Paul is concerned about the young believers in Thessalonica. How are they doing ? He is longing for news from them , and when he can bear it no longer, he sends Timothy , their co-worker (lit. deacon – servant) to Thessalonica and Paul and Silvanus (1:1) would remain in Corinth or perhaps in Athens (3:1) which is about 500 km’s away. 

So, Timothy [7] was asked to establish[8] and encourage[9] the believers in Thessalonica. Paul was concerned that their afflictions (literally pressures - Gr. “thlipsis” ) (3:3) would be too much for them. He was concerned that they would lose their spiritual moorings, although Paul had previously warned them concerning this (3:3,4). Suffering is in inevitable accompaniment of being a biblical church and a biblical Christian in this world (see 3:2,3). So Timothy’s task was to essentially to encourage them and to find out, how they were doing - … to learn about their faith …(3:5), for Paul knew that the same Satan who kept him from coming to them , was also capable of tempting [10] them so badly that they might fall away, and so he feared that his labour among them might have been in vain. 

The good news now follows in 3:6-10. Timothy is back from his visit to Thessalonica , and it was good news – it was ‘ gospel’ to Paul ! The word ‘euaggelion’ is not normally used in this sense. It is normally used to describe gospel preaching. But this was truly good news to Paul, for now his worst fears were calmed . These new converts were indeed standing strong in their faith! Timothy reported that the faith and love which they possessed and of which Paul had spoken in the beginning (1:3) were still there. Those are the vital signs of spiritual life - faith, love , hope ! Thank God that they showed signs of spiritual life ! 

In 3:7-10 we find Paul’s own response to Timothy’s report : This good news really comforted Paul (see 3:8). There is really nothing better for a biblical pastor than to know that people who have professed Christ under his ministry are standing firm/ fast in the Lord. [Paul often uses this phrase, “stand firm“ in his epistles [11] ]. This assurance that they were in fact standing firm made Paul to feel that his life was now really worth living. This fact energized him and it enabled him to continue his missionary work in the midst of such tremendous opposition and suffering as is described in detail in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians. When your children succeed in the midst of great difficulty you have every reason to be proud and glad , and so Paul can say that they were indeed his joy and crown of boasting (2:19,20). A true pastor’s richest reward are the spiritual fruit borne in the lives of his congregation. 

In 3: 9-10 we continue to observe how Paul draws spiritual strength from the perseverance of the Thessalonian’s faith in Christ, so much so that this all becomes an occasion for a prayer of thanksgiving to God . Verse 10 tells us that this deep sense of joy was especially real during Paul’s times of prayer for the Thessalonians—"as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face …”. This prayer for them stirred up in him a desire to visit them to “supply what is lacking in your faith.” (same idea as in Romans 1: 11). New believers and young churches have much to learn, and a mature, godly Christian can go a long way to be a catalyst for further growth in such a community , supplying what is lacking among them. This is another way of loving the congregation. 

Finally in 3:11-13 we find a prayer from Paul for them (almost in the form of a benediction) It contains three basic requests : 
That God Himself would make it possible for them to visit the Thessalonians  (3:11).  This request is made even more significant in light of the Satanic resistance Paul had experienced earlier (2:18). 
That God would make them increase and abound in love for one another and for all (3:12). Love for the church which was Paul’s trademark , must also become the definitive mark of the Christian church (see 1 Cor. 13:4-7; John 13:35). This love in turn makes the gospel winsome and attractive to outsiders. [ Warning : Satan will constantly put obstacles in our way in this regard!] 
That God would establish their hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father (3:13)— i.e. he is praying that the heart – that is , the whole inner nature, including their thoughts, feelings and their will would reflect the moral character of the God who had so graciously called them to salvation (1:4). It is a prayer for their sanctification, and it makes them look lovely to God , and the thought is here that when Christ returns "with all His saints" then their present testimony would be an unmistakable sign that they do belong to Jesus. No guesswork needed ! 

Application 

Our theme relates to being a God centered church that is full of love and concern for one another. Paul who is a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ is our example to follow. It is a vital sign of a God centered church to be marked by love and genuine concern for one another. This is the attitude of Christ towards us, and it begins with a leadership which shows genuine love and concern for others. The extra- ordinary love and commitment of Paul, Timothy and Silvanus surely rubbed off onto this congregation. 

Let us then learn to love one another , by keeping one another in our hearts – even when we are far away . Let us learn to communicate with one another – write letters etc. asking “how are you doing? I am praying for you! I am concerned for you ! I would love to see you again …” 

Let us provide encouragement for fellow believers in the daily battles associated with Christian discipleship, by praying for one another. Let us learn from Paul’s prayer in 3:11-13 in this regard as to how and what we can pray for one another. Here Paul is praying for the powerful working of God Himself in them in regard to the opening of doors so that mutual encouragement can take place. He prays for real spiritual growth , mainly in love for another and also for the whole world. Love is the most basic and fundamental evidence of spiritual life in the church , and it is utterly important that the love life of the church is sought and cultivated – lest we be clanging cymbals and empty gongs (1 Cor. 13:1-3) 

Let us learn to provide meaningful companionship to one another and by providing words of strength and affirmation to one another . 

This is the pattern that we see here in the inspired letter of Paul to the Thessalonians . It has been written for our strengthening and encouragement. Let us pray now that the Holy Spirit would be pleased to entrench His Word in our hearts . Amen ! 





[1] Gr. aporphanizomai  -  being made an orphan , bereaved (KJV)
[2] Gr epithumia  -  a craving , longing
[3] Gr. enkoptō -  lit. to cut into – used of  placing obstacles in the road  ( Acts 24:4; Rom 15:22; Gal 5:7 )
[4] see last week’s sermon: “ A God centered Church must expect opposition “
[5] He refers to him also in 2 Thess.  2:9
[6] Frequent  mentioning is made of the coming of the Lord in  Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians  : see  3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1,8
[7]  On a number of  occasions  Paul sent   Timothy to pay a personal visit to one of the churches that he had established  - see 1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10; Phil. 2:19
[8]  Gk. Sterizō – to establish ,  to fix,  to set firm , strengthen  cf.  Rom  1:11 ;  Acts 8:23
[9] Gk. Parakaleō -   lit. to call beside , hence to admonish , urge , exhort 
[10] Gk. Peirazō -  to test or try  ( sometimes positively , with  the purpose of refining )
[11]  E.g 1 Cor. 10:12 , 15:58; 16:13; 2 Cor. 1:21,24; Gal. 5:1; Eph. 6:14; Phil.  1:27, 4:1; Col.  4:12; 1 Thess. 3:8; 2 Thess. 2:15; 

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