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Our hope, our joy, our crown (1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au
  1. Visiting loved ones

Who would you visit if you could and why would you visit them? For us with our eldest son now living just outside of Cairns for the last decade whenever we get an opportunity, we like to visit him. Although it is hard to find the time, we visit him when we can.

It’s probably the same for many of you. If you are separated from those that are dear to you, you try to visit them as much as possible. Of course, that became very difficult a few years ago with COVID making international travel nigh impossible for a couple of years. Many were prevented from travelling home to visit family. We tried to make do with things like Zoom or face time and other video conferencing platforms to keep in touch. However, even with these marvels of modern technology it is not the same as physically being there with them. We long to visit them.

In the same way even though Paul could write letters to encourage the churches that he had established, he still longed visit them because the people in those churches were so dear to him. He wanted to see them face to face so he could encourage them. In the case of the Thessalonians, he perhaps felt this longing more intensely because he had been separated from them much sooner than he would have chosen to be.

1 Thessalonians 2:17-18

But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way.

The word that the NIV has translated we “were orphaned by being separated” was a Greek word that could be used to refer to the separation of a child from a parent or a parent from a child. In being separated from the Thessalonians Paul probably felt like a parent who had his children removed or perhaps a parent forced to leave his children behind. He’d been forced to leave Thessalonica because the city had been thrown in turmoil with believers being arrested on account of him and Silas and even though he had made every effort to go back to them he’d been hindered from doing so. In these verses he assured them that that even though he was separated from them in person (literally =in face), he wasn’t separated from them in thought (literally in heart). He carried them with him in his heart and thoughts.

In the passage that we are looking today Paul has explained how he longed to see the Thessalonians and how he’d been prevented from doing so (2:17-20); he the explained why he’d sent Timothy (3:1-5) how when Timothy returned, he’d been encouraged by the news he brought of them (3:6-10) and finally his prayer for them (3:11-13). Today we want to look at the love and concern the apostle Paul had for the Thessalonians to consider what we might learn from his example.

  1. Paul’s longing to visit the Thessalonians

You might have imagined that with all the trouble that had been stirred up in Philippi and Thessalonica Paul would haven’t been wanting to go back to anywhere near Macedonia any time soon. But that wasn’t the case. Even though his first visit had resulted in a riot he was eager to return and he wrote that he had made every effort to do so but Satan had blocked their way.

1 Thessalonians 2:18

18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way.

  • Satan blocked our way

We don’t know how Satan had hindered them from returning. We don’t know what means he used. He might have stirred up trouble within the church in Corinth that had prevented Paul from leaving at that time or perhaps he’d stirred up the local authorities so that they had made it difficult for him to return. But Paul said that Satan had “blocked their way” (NIV 2011).

Paul realised that the struggle he was having was not just with flesh and blood, but there were unseen complexities to what was going on. It wasn’t just the jealous Jews or the Roman authorities making things difficult there was the devil and his schemes to also contend with. In Ephesians chapter 2 Paul refers to him as the spirit who is now at work in the those who are disobedient (Eph.2:2). He often is behind things. Later in the same letter he wrote…

Ephesians 6:12

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

We need to remember that there is more to the struggle that is going on in our world than just what we see. Satan “is the adversary par excellence”[1] whose main activity is to oppose God and his people. He didn’t want Paul to go to Thessalonica to strengthen and establish the believers there and so in some way he hindered Paul’s efforts to go and see them.

The evil one doesn’t want believers encouraging and strengthening one another. He seeks to separate believers from those who would encourage them and build them up. Have you ever wondered why you find it so hard to be regular at church? Or why it is such a battle sometimes just to get here on a Sunday morning? Or why staying home or going shopping or doing something around the house seems so appealing? The evil one doesn’t want God’s people coming together to strengthen and encourage one another. He doesn’t want you hear on a Sunday. He doesn’t want you having others around you who know you and what you are going through who will encourage you to keep standing firm until the end. Friends, we need the encouragement of other believers so that we might stand firm in our faith. We must recognise the devil and his schemes to keep us apart and we need to resist him and not fall into his trap. The writer of Hebrews warns his reader to not stop meeting together as some had got into the habit of doing, but to encourage one another and to do it all the more as they saw the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:25). We meet face to face to strengthen and encourage one another.

  • The Thessalonians were his glory and joy

Paul said that he made every effort to see them. But why make the effort to try and see them when already he had been through so much? It is because others will be our joy or glory or crown when Jesus returns says Paul. On that day, Paul said that his glory and joy were the Thessalonians.

1 Thessalonians 2:19-20

For who is our hope or joy or crown of boasting in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 Indeed you are our glory and joy!

On the day that the Lord Jesus returns our glory and joy will be to see the people who we’ve encouraged standing holy and blameless before the Lord. They will be our joy. They will be our glory, our crowning achievement. On that day we will see that our labour won’t have been for nothing. As Paul will say later, that it might not have been in vain (3:5).

When Jesus returns, we won’t be rejoicing in the business that we might have managed to build up over our lifetime. We won’t delight in how well we did in our career.  It won’t matter how much wealth we might have managed to accumulate for ourselves. What will matter is whether we in this life used the time we had to invest ourselves in the people around us so that they are there with us on that day. Our joy and delight and reward will be seeing those who we’ve loved and encouraged standing before the throne of Christ holy and blameless.

It’s you work in the Lord that won’t be in vain. Paul told the Corinthians that they were always to give themselves fully to the work of the Lord, because your work in the Lord is not vain. The thing is work of the Lord always involves people. We are to give ourselves fully to encouraging the people around us.

  1. Timothy sent

Paul had wanted to return to Thessalonica to strengthen and encourage the people there. But whatever it was that was preventing Paul didn’t prevent Timothy returning. Therefore, Paul sent Timothy[2] to find out about their faith and to strengthen and encourage them in it.

1 Thessalonians 3:1-5

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. 4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. 5 For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labours might have been in vain.

  • They were going through trials

Paul wrote that when he could stand it no longer, they thought it best to send Timothy. Now Timothy was not like some of the substitute teachers I had who like a place holder until the real teacher was back. He was not only a brother he was a co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ. He had been sent to strengthen and encourage the believers in their faith. He was sent because Paul was concerned that the trials that the Thessalonians were going through might have unsettled these new believers and that the tempter might have taken advantage of this tempting them to abandon their faith.

  • Timothy sent

Therefore, Paul sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage them in their faith. He would do it by reminding them of the gospel and the instructions that they had taught them.

One of those things that they needed to remember was that they were to expect trials. Paul wrote in verse 3 and 4 of chapter 3 that they were destined for them and that they already should have known this because he had told them that they would be persecuted previously when he was there.

  • Expect trials

Part of the basic instruction of new believers was that they were to expect trials and hardship on account of their faith. This comes through in many places in the NT. The apostle Peter told the believers in Asia Minor not be surprised about the fiery ordeal that had come on them as though some strange were happening to them (see 1 Peter 4:12).

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he reminded Timothy that everyone wanting to live a godly life will be persecuted.

2 Timothy 3:12-13

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

The early believers expected hardship and persecution to come their way and so should we. We should realise that it will be “tough to be a Christian in this world because this world isn’t a Christian world, and we don’t belong to it”[3]. The Lord Jesus told his disciples this.

John 15:18-19

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

It’s in the face of such opposition that we are called to stand firm, holding fast to the gospel. But we don’t do it alone we are to do it together. We are meant to strengthen and encourage one another.

  • Encourage one another.

While Paul sent Timothy and wrote this letter to strengthen and encourage the believers, he also told them that they were to encourage one another.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

It wasn’t just Paul who was to encourage them or even Timothy. The Thessalonians were already doing it, but they were to keep on doing it. We need to realise God has put us here where we are for sake of others. We are to keep on reminding one another of the gospel, of our hope in the Lord Jesus. We especially need to be there for one another because the other expectation we ought to have is that we will be tempted especially when we are facing trials. For during trials, we often find ourselves being tested. The apostle Peter wrote:

1 Peter 5:8-9

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

When times are tough the evil one will come with his lies to tempt us. But we are to resist him and stand firm in our faith and one of the way that Lord has provide to help us do that is having people around us who will keep reminding us of the truth that we have believed.

  1. Timothy’s report

Paul wrote this letter just after Timothy had returned from Thessalonica with the good news about their faith and love. In verses 6 to 10 Paul told explained how he had been encouraged by Timothy’s report.

1 Timothy 3:6-10

But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. 7 Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8 For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

  • Paul was encouraged by them

Paul had been greatly encouraged by the news of their love and faith. He was encouraged to hear how much they longed to see him. It was good news and what was at the heart of this good news was the fact that the believers in Thessalonica were standing firm in the Lord. This in turn encouraged Paul and his companions in all their own distress and persecution that they were experiencing. He was filled with joy and couldn’t thank God enough for all the joy that was theirs on account of hearing how the Thessalonians were doing. He wrote that now they really lived.

We need to remember that encouragement is a two-way street. It works both ways. You might feel that you are there to encourage someone, but often seeing them standing firm encourage us. We encourage one another. We spur one another on. When Paul wrote to the Romans of his intention to visit them and impart a spiritual gift to make them strong in the next sentence he wrote: “That is, that you and I may be mutually encourage by each other’s faith” (see Romans 1:12). Hearing that the believers in Thessalonica were standing firm in the Lord was enormous encouragement to the apostle and his fellow workers to press on.

Brothers and sisters, there isn’t ever a point in this life where we don’t need to be strengthened and encouraged by God’s people. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re OK, that while others might need it you’re getting along just fine. You don’t need to be as regular at church as others might.

Friends, it makes no difference how long you’ve been a Christian or how regular you’ve been attending a church or how impressive your Bible knowledge is or what things you might have done for the Lord or what gifts you have been given, you need encouragement and that is best done through meeting together in person. Paul wrote this letter to encourage the Thessalonians, but his longing was to visit them and do it face to face. He wrote that he earnestly prayed day and night to see them, “face to face” (This is how he CSB and ESB translates verse 10). He wanted to be there in person to keep on encouraging and strengthening them.

  1. Paul prays

And this was also what he prayed for. The last part of this section is Paul’s prayer in which he not only prays for God, the Father and the Lord Jesus to clear the way for him to go Thessalonica, but he prays for the Thessalonians that the Lord might strengthen their hearts so that when the Lord Jesus returns, they might stand before God holy and blameless.

1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

This prayer reminds us that we not only need to be there for one another we also need to be praying for one another. Without God all our efforts are going to be in vain. Without God working in our hearts to convict us of the truth and strengthen us we won’t stand. Therefore, while Paul urges the believers to grow in love, he also prays that God might make their love abound not just for each other but everyone. While he sends Timothy to strengthen them, he also prays that the Lord might strengthen their hearts so that they might be blameless and holy before God when Jesus returns.

We are not only to be encouraging people, but we are to praying for them. If you are in a discipleship group pray for the others in that group, not just when you are meeting together but home. If you are KLAG teacher or a youth leader pray for the children that you are seeking to encourage. If you are parent, it might seem obvious but pray for your children. Paul constantly prayed for the people he was seeking to encourage and so should we.

We need to be there for one another. We all will go through trials. We will all face temptation. We need to be there for one another to encourage and strengthen one another. And we should be praying for one another that we might stand firm in the faith and that our love for one another and others might increase and overflow so that when Jesus returns, we will together stand before God holy and blameless.

 

 

[1] F.F. Bruce, “1 & 2 Thessalonians, WBC Vol. 45, page 55.

[2] The fact that Timothy was a much more junior member of the team might have meant it was a lot easier for him to fly under the radar with the authorities. We know from Acts that it was Paul and Silas who had been thrown in prison in Philippi and then requested to leave the city (see Acts 15:16-40). We also know that when the mob in Thessalonica had gone to the house of Jason, they had gone there searching for Paul and Silas. There was no mention of Timothy who seemed to have escape their notice..

[3] David Pawson, A Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Page 31