Sermon: Genuine Faith Cares for Other Believers 1 Thessalonians 2:17–3:5

Genuine Faith Cares for Other Believers

1 Thessalonians 2:17–3:5

Truth Taught- Faith is shown to be genuine when we love and care for other believers.

1 Thessalonians 2:17–3:5 (ESV)

17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.

Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

  1. Paul’s Love for His Spiritual Children (2:17-18)

17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us

The Apostle expresses his utter heartbreak over being separated from his spiritual offspring. We remember the event and how the Jews were seeking to kill him and how his friends in Thessalonica helped Paul escape. He understood, as did the new believers that he may not be able to return. He loved them and longed to see them and be with them. He wanted to disciple and help them grow in their faith.

We can get a feel for how Paul viewed these new converts by reading this epistle. Already we’ve seen sections that speak of Paul’s love and gentleness among them like that of a nursing mother…

1 Thessalonians 2:7 (ESV)

But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.

We also read about his affection for them as a loving father…

1 Thessalonians 2:11–12 (ESV)

11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

Now as we read verse 17 of our text and as we look to the original language we realize that his longing to see them is like a parent who has been taken away from his young children. The original rendering of verse 17 goes like this: because we were orphaned. Our Bibles have it as being torn away highlighting the violent ripping apart, which is correct, but they leave out the relational part that has caused Paul’s heartbreak. Paul had lost his young children and his heart yearns for them. There is so much emotion on the Apostle’s part that the words are somewhat awkward. Like a parent separated from his young children, he really isn’t too concerned with grammar or with what he sounds like. I’m reminded of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  

Luke 15:20 (ESV)

20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

This father was very wealthy, a dignitary who had many servants and much property. When he saw his lost son he didn’t act dignified. He ran to embrace his son. Wealthy men in the ancient world did not run. It was an awkward sight to see a man holding his robe between his legs in order to run. He didn’t care, did he? His whole world was focused on his lost son who had just returned.

This is much like the emotions Paul felt for his children in the faith. When Paul traveled on his missionary journeys his converts were his spiritual children. Every time someone was converted under Paul’s ministry and he had to leave them part of himself, as it were, was with them. He cared and loved them and viewed them as his spiritual children.

Philemon 10–12 (ESV)

10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart.

Another example is when Paul left Ephesus after being with them for about three years. Notice the love between Paul and those who came out to bid him farewell…

Acts 20:36–38 (ESV)

36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.

So, he longs to be with his spiritual children but he writes that Satan hindered him. It’s important for us to remember that Satan is not walking around dressed in red carrying a pitchfork but is our adversary and an enemy of the Church and of the Gospel. It’s also vital to keep in mind that Satan is under God’s authority. So, the devil does what the devil does and God uses the devil to accomplish His sovereign purpose. Because Satan kept Paul from returning to Thessalonica, we have in our hands the Book of 1 Thessalonians. Even though Paul never returned this divine authoritative letter did. God’s Word was what they needed more than Paul. So, Satan’s hindrances worked God’s sovereign purpose while Paul didn’t go God’s Word did.

It is very important that when things go a different way than we had hoped and even planned that we simply trust that God is at work and He knows best. Have you ever had a time when you were frustrated over the unfolding of a given situation? Why are we frustrated?

It doesn’t matter what the issue is. It can be a major life changing issue or something small. Frustration takes place when a child’s Happy Meal toy breaks as much as when something on a larger scale breaks. Kids, when you’re tempted to be angry over something not going your way try to stop and pause and realize God is at work and He knows what’s best for you and be thankful that he didn’t let you go your own way.

  1. Paul’s Connection With His Spiritual Children

19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.

We believe, as do all biblical churches, that salvation is eternal not temporal. Our salvation is eternally secure in Christ if it is truly genuine salvation. So then, the question we should ask is how do we know our salvation is genuine?

Matthew 24:13 (ESV)

13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Hebrews 3:12–14 (ESV)
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Paul reminds the new Christians that they and specifically their faith and salvation in Christ will prove to be his crown when Jesus returns. Paul’s joy and hope and victory is connected to the perseverance of the new Christians he writes to.

We might say it like this: Paul’s confidence in his own salvation at the end of time includes knowing that his faith is genuine because it bears fruit in the present, and the Thessalonians’ victorious faith is what he hopes to lay at Christ’s feet as part of the evidence of his own faith.

I realize this is a strange concept. I also realize we are not in control of whether someone comes to Christ or not. Yet, in the course of our entire life there should be fruit being produced by our faith. If our faith is genuine it will reproduce itself in others.

Philippians 2:16 (ESV)

16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

Philippians 4:1 (ESV)

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

He stresses that whether or not our salvation is genuine will be brought to light at the return of Christ or as he states, at His coming. This word coming comes from the Greek word parousia. This is a special word, which strictly means the coming or appearing of a King whose visit was revered and even, at times, feared.

The Apostle is teaching here that he understood when Christ appears he will give an account and those with whom he shared the Gospel and discipled would be part of his crown of victory.

In teaching this we must also realize that we too will give an account. The Church will be examined at the time of judgment.  Each of us on an individual basis will stand before our Lord and give an account.

2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV)

10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Paul’s point here is very important for us to consider especially in light of today’s preaching that tells us that a mere profession of faith is enough. Paul believed that genuine faith will produce outward works and without works produced by faith, ones faith is not valid…

James said it this way,

James 2:14–17 (ESV)

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Do you have confidence that your faith is genuine? On what grounds have you placed your assurance? Paul placed his on the fact that his genuine faith was being reproduced in others. In our faith based works we too can gain assurance that our faith is the real thing and we too will receive the crown of victory at our Lord’s return. Paul did love those new believers and he had two reasons he wanted them to persevere in the faith, he wanted them to be saved and see Christ themselves and he also want them to persevere so that they would be part of his reward when Christ returns

  1. Paul’s Sacrificial Care for His Spiritual Children

Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

It’s not super clear whether Paul’s “we” is what’s called an editorial we or a plural we. Sometimes writers will use we when they really just mean they, themself. Tracing the Acts narrative it seems that Silas was also with Paul now in Athens. At any rate he at least means that by sending Timothy to the Thessalonians he has greatly sacrificed for their welfare.

Paul shows his pastor’s heart here. Most of the time we give feelings a hard time. Here Paul is feeling the anxiety of not knowing how these young Christians are getting along. Is their faith still strong? Is persecution about to overwhelm them? Do they know how much he really loves them? A pastor’s burden for his people can be overwhelming at times. If the pastor is worth anything and if he cares at all, he in a very real way experiences the same emotions his people do. If a couple in his church is struggling, he too struggles. If someone has not attended for a few weeks a pastor wonders and cares why. When there is a death in the family and a pastor’s people are grieving he too grieves with them. When someone is ill his heart longs for their healing.

We must recognize that Paul’s affection for his people is not a…an emotional sentiment.  Sure there’s emotion in it and there’s not a thing wrong with that, but it is not merely simply an emotional sentiment with a desire to socialize.  It is a strong compulsion to nurture and to protect and to perfect believers facing very serious difficulty, distress in their spiritual infancy.  It was more than just a desire for fellowship. It was a desire to fulfill the call of God in their life and bring them to spiritual maturity.  In fact, he knew that once he and Timothy and Silas, who were all there in Thessalonica together had left, that the persecution wouldn’t end — it was the persecution that really kind of moved them out and he knew it wouldn’t end — it would only intensify against that baby church, only a few months old in the Lord.  And thus he was carrying a very heavy burden.  And you remember, he too had been banned from the city and one man had offered himself as security, as a bond against him ever returning and two, he had been hindered by Satan, which may have encompassed that banning as well.  But he couldn’t bear not knowing their condition, he couldn’t bear not knowing about them and that is because he had affection for his people.—MacArthur

So what does the Apostle do? He gives them his trustworthy Timothy, which was an enormous sacrifice for Paul and a great blessing for those brand new Christians. Timothy could go even though Paul couldn’t go.

Timothy was sent for a specific purpose…, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions.

His task was to carry on what Paul had started. I can almost hear Paul say to Timothy as he sent him away…My dear Timothy, go and help these beloved believers who are suffering so. Disciple them, encourage them, equip them for ministry. Explain to them how much we love them and still carry such a great burden for their success in the faith.

Paul’s love for his spiritual children was so great that he often put his own life at risk for their welfare. In this he was modeling the Lord Jesus.

John 10:14–15 (ESV)

14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

Application

As we look through this passage we see the heart of God’s chosen Apostle. As brilliant as Paul was he was not above caring and sacrificing for God’s people. He did whatever it took to see God’s people remain faithful. This is what God has called every Christian to. He’s called us all to love other believers to care for other believers to encourage and exhort. He’s called all of us to sacrifice for the good of our fellow church members.

What would God have you do to help care for someone here in this Church?

Kid’s here is an assignment for you this week. Pray and ask God who in this Church could use some encouragement? Have your parents help you if you need help to write a letter or a card and give it to that person next week. Tell them you’ve been praying for them.

 

 

*Resources Used:

John Stott, The Gospel and the End of Time

1 and 2 Thessalonians by Robert Cara

1 and 2 Thessalonians by G K Beale

1 and 2 Thessalonians by Leon Morris

1 and 2 Thessalonians by FF Bruce

1 and 2 Thessalonians by G L Green

 

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