Pressing on to Maturity, Part 3: Feeding on Faithfulness – 1 Thess 3:6-8

report card

This past week has been a flurry of graduation activities – Julie graduating from HS along with her homeschool soccer teammates and then Steve receiving his English degree from Princeton. Graduation is a significant milestone because it means you have successfully passed a large number of tests. Lots of students didn’t make it this far. Think of all of the report cards that you have received down through the years. It started way back in elementary school – simple marks of Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory. Then it got more defined with letter grades with the ambitious students striving for those A’s. Lately Julie amazes me with grades like 105… How can you get over 100?? I guess it’s like athletes giving 110% effort.

But think about it from the perspective of the teacher. Teachers have invested their lives in trying to get their students to learn the necessary material and make progress in that specific discipline. I look at Karen’s efforts in teaching math to the homeschool kids at the Heritage Tutorial Service – she takes the results very personally. She feels bad when her students perform poorly. She has a huge stake in seeing them succeed. Why? What’s it matter to her if they flunk out? She is conscientious and she is concerned about the future of her students. She longs to see them succeed. In some respects, even though she knows she cannot control how diligently the students work or how seriously they prepare, the report card is somewhat of a report card for her. She needs the encouragement of her students making the effort and of those efforts being productive.

We are switching focus today in our study of 1 Thess chapter 3. We have been in the middle of a four-part series looking at

4 AREAS OF EMPHASIS FOR CHURCH PLANTERS AS THEY ENCOURAGE THEIR DISCIPLES ON TO MATURITY
– FAMILY FELLOWSHIP
– SACRIFICING SECURITY
– FEEDING ON FAITHFULNESS
(today’s message)
– PERSEVERING IN PROGRESS (next week)

The emphasis today switches from the faithfulness of church leaders to the faithfulness of their growing disciples. But just as in teaching – these two areas are closely related.

This is report card day and thankfully I can report that the Thessalonica believers graduated successfully. Timothy returns from his travels with the good news that the believers have stood firm in the Lord in the midst of much pressure and persecution. They majored in much more important subjects than math and English. They have received grades in faith and love and they have come through with honors. And Paul and Silas and Timothy could not be happier. In the pressure of ministry, church planters feed on the faithfulness of their disciples.

III. (3:6-8) PART 3: CHURCH PLANTERS ARE ENCOURAGED BY FAITHFUL DISCIPLES

Church planters have a pressing need to see their disciples standing firm in the Lord and walking in the truth. Think about how it is with us as parents. There is nothing more joyful than to see our children doing well spiritually and nothing more heartbreaking than to see them choose the path of rebellion and foolishness. We know what lies down that road. We grieve for the waste of life and opportunity. (NIV)

Prov.10:1A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother.”

Prov.17:21To have a fool for a son brings grief; there is no joy for the father of a fool.”

Prov.17:25A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the one who bore him.”

Prov.19:13A foolish son is destruction to his father

GriefBitternessDestruction – Solomon certainly knew what type of anguish David had experienced – His own son Absalom chased him off the throne and out of the royal city; Solomon was no picnic to parent either

Not just an OT concept – 3 John 1-4I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.”

[Children – now you know what Mom and Dad want for Mother’s Day and for Father’s Day – flowers and ties are nice … but what floats our boat is to see you walking faithfully with the Lord]

A. (:6) Three Ways a Disciple Can Encourage His Spiritual Leaders [or children can encourage their parents]

  • Faith
  • Love
  • Appreciation (by Virtue of a Good Report) – cf. report cards: “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news

Shepherds delight in good news about the condition of their flock

Robert Thomas: “Just now” shows that Timothy’s arrival from Thessalonica immediately preceded the composition of the Epistle and probably provided its chief motivation.

Same word normally used for proclaiming the gospel; evangelizing; spreading the good news

The Cycle of Good News – proclaim the good news to the unsaved – so exciting you have to share it

2 Kings 7:9This day is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent; if we wait until morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household.”

Urgency of proclaiming the good news

  • See God convert them
  • Receive back the good news that they are maturing in the faith and standing firm
  • You feed on that good news as you are motivated even more to proclaim the good news to Others

Let’s look at the 3 subjects that these disciples majored in:

1. Faith under Fire — Exhibited under Pressure Situations

Confirmation of their election; they were the genuine article; deep roots bearing godly fruit –

Willing to depend on God for help against impossible obstacles

Parable of the soils

MacArthur: Your faith was real. You were good ground, weren’t rocky soil, weren’t weedy ground, didn’t get choked out, didn’t get burned off, you were good ground…good news about your faith, you’re real.

Analogy of the crucible – trials burning off the dross; left with pure gold and silver

Thanksgiving for changed lives – evident to others; you don’t have to toot your horn

Steadfastness of their faith

Study the Book of JamesIn the Practical Realities of Everyday Life Genuine Faith Embraces Fully the Will of God

Faith should be evidenced in all these areas:

– (1:1-18) Trials test our faith with the goal of perseverance (1:2-3, 12) – Are we going to give up and give in or Stand Firm in the Lord?

– (1:19-27) Need to be doers of the Word; obedient – some key areas: (v.22)

  • Self control in the area of speech
  • Ministry of compassion to those in need
  • Personal purity

– (2:1-13) Faith without impartial love is dead (2:1)

– (2:14-26) Importance of good works – vindicate the reality of our faith (2:17)

– (3:1-18) The taming of the tongue and practical wisdom (3:8, 17)

– (4:1-10) Intimacy with God – not friendship with the world; Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (4:4, 8)

– (4:11-17) Submission to the will of God (4:12, 15) – not taking matters into our own hands. Accepting God’s role as Judge and the Sovereign master of our destiny

– (5:1-12) Be patient and persevering – takes faith – example of farmer (5:7)

– (5:13-20) Fervent, effectual prayer –takes faith – example of Elijah (5:17-18)

Faith still needed to grow; there was room for improvement; Paul wanted to visit them and fill in any cracks or holes in their faith

What report could others give about your faith? Where are you stepping out and trusting God – walking by faith instead of by sight … willing to attempt something that is beyond your natural ability … takes faith to commit to a church planting effort … doesn’t look like much at the start …

Takes faith to witness in a variety of contexts;

Takes faith not to be anxious about tomorrow, about our finances …

2. Love in Action toward others

MacArthur: You love God, you love Christ, you love each other, you love the lost.

Gal. 5:6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.”

They had certainly applied Paul’s teaching in the proper manner:

1Tim 1:5the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

[Next week: Paul will be praying for them – that their faith and love grow and abound and not have any holes or cracks that would cause problems]

They should know we are Christians by our love; amazing how the early church demonstrated love in practical ways

Study 1 Cor. 13 to see what Genuine Love should look like in our relationships with other believers

3. Appreciation and Affection — A High Regard for Spiritual Leaders; Valuing the Partnership

and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you.”

Phillips: “cherish happy memories of us”

Robert Thomas: Timothy’s report of the kindly feelings of the Thessalonians toward him assured Paul that they had not written him off as an exploiter, disinterested in their welfare. They still maintained a warm spot for him, matching his own tender longing to see them (cf. 2:17; 3:10).

Wouldn’t it be great if people always thought kindly of us… Paul experienced plenty of slanderous attacks; counted it a blessing when people responded with kindness …

But not a man-pleaser; not a politician – out to please God rather than man

Gal. 1:10 “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.”

1 Thess. 2: 4 “not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts

Look at all of the curses and name-calling and slander that Christ endured:

  • Is. 53:3 “He was despised and forsaken of men” – prophesied that He would be maligned
  • Psalm 22:6-7 “But I am a worm and not a man, a reproach of men and despised by the people. All who see me sneer at me” – great Messianic Psalm speaking of His crucifixion
  • Matt 10:25 “If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household?
  • Matt. 12:24 “But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.”
  • 1 Pet. 2:23 “while being reviled, He did not revile in return

Look at all of the false charges levied against Paul:

  • 2 Cor. 10:10 “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.'”
  • 2 Cor. 12:19-21 – attacks on him at Corinth
  • Phil. 1:15-18 – people competing with him from bad motives

Matt. 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Don’t look for your reward too soon – It is worth waiting for

Still, it is nice when believers think kindly of you as a spiritual leader; it is nice when they want to fellowship with you in person and demonstrate their loyalty and affection and respect and appreciation

These Thessalonian believers were loyal to the Apostle Paul

Need to express our kindness and appreciation so that our leaders can be encouraged

Long to see one another – Acts 20:37


We have looked at 3 ways a disciple can encourage spiritual leaders; now…

B. (:7-8) Three Reasons Church Planters Need Encouragement

1. Pressure and Persecution Abound on the Front Lines: “for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction

Suffering is worth it anyway … but certainly alleviated by good reports

PreceptAustin:

The idea of trouble, distress or hardship is dominant in Luke 21:23; 1Co 7:26; 2Co 6:4; 2Co 12:10. This is the predominant sense here in 1Thessalonians 3:7 where anagke refers to difficult circumstances that come on one with compelling force…

Affliction — (thlipsis from thlibo = to crush, press together, squash, hem in, compress, squeeze in turn derived from thláo = to break) originally expressed sheer, physical pressure on a man. Medically thlipsis was used of the pulse (pressure). It is a pressing together as of grapes. It conveys the idea of being squeezed or placed under pressure or crushed beneath a weight. When, according to the ancient law of England, those who willfully refused to plead guilty, had heavy weights placed on their breasts, and were pressed and crushed to death, this was literally thlipsis.

In summary, the truth you need to remember regarding afflictions (thlipsis) is that

(1) tribulations have a purpose

(2) one’s response to tribulations demonstrates the reality of one’s faith

(3) temporal tribulations produce inestimable future, eternal glory

(4) God will avenge tribulations you have endured for His Name and Word

Mayhue: Both words are used together in Job 15:24 (LXX) of one who is terrified and overpowered. It is no wonder then that the Lord appeared to Paul in a vision at Corinth saying, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city‘ (Acts 18:9-10; cf. 1 Cor 2:3). In the midst of intense pressure over preaching the gospel, the good news from Thessalonica comforted Paul and brought great joy.

2. Pastoral Concern Regarding the Maturity of Their Faith: “we were comforted about you through your faith

The crucible of life will test the reality, depth and maturity of their faith.  Since Paul had so great concern for all the churches – reports of steadfastness in faith brought him great encouragement and comfort; he was also saddened whenever he learned of people falling away from trusting the Lord

3. Personal Fulfillment Tied to Perseverance of Disciples: “for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord

Church planters are in this business to see fruit that remains. This is the key phrase that should dominate our thinking this week. What causes us to really live?

Think of the world’s perspective – they might say they would really be living the good life if

  • They have financial security – no worries; all their needs met
  • Freed up to travel and do the fun things they have always wanted to do
  • Received the job promotion that gives them the challenge and opportunity of a lifetime
  • Chance to party with their buddies and give themselves over to their favorite form of entertainment

For church planters like Paul – it was never about himself – What a statement … his joy in life is tied to the spiritual well-being of others … just like for parents it should never be about us – that would be selfish – How are our children doing?

Think of the phrase “Get a life!” – usually directed at someone who is involved in less than significant pursuits … Paul’s emphasis here is surprising.

The real meaning of life; rejuvenation; stimulated to renewed ministry activity

Preach and leave the results to God?? In one sense; but not in a dispassionate sense; we care deeply about the eternal impact on the lives of others; the preacher is not a mere broadcaster; strong affection for others; expresses his desire for others

We have already seen that spiritual leaders function as a tender Mother and as a nurturing Father – that is the type of intimate relationship they have with their disciples

Hiebert: Before there had been a dead weight of apprehension; they felt lifeless and had no enthusiasm. But now in consequence of the news Timothy brought, we live feel like we truly live, not just exist.

The present tense indicates that this is not just a momentary reaction but an abiding inspiration. Paul’s words are a vivid rhetorical description of the contrast between the former state of apprehension, when they were ignorant concerning the reaction of the Thessalonians under persecution, and the ease of mind and encouragement produced by the news Timothy brought. They felt that they had been given a new lease on life, could again go on living with a sense of fullness of power and satisfaction. Had the Thessalonians apostatized, it would have been a veritable deathblow to Paul.

Importance of standing firm

MacArthur: If you have a strong faith, if you have a strong commitment–that word “stand fast” is a military term, steko. It refers to a refusal to retreat against an attack. Stand your ground under attack. When I see you stand your ground under attack, I really live, I really live. I know you’ve got your armor on, you’re holding up the shield of faith. I really live. To the Corinthians he wrote, chapter 16 verse 13, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” To the Galatians he wrote, chapter 5 verse 1, “Keep standing firm.” To the Philippians he wrote, chapter 1 verse 27, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ that I may hear of you that you’re standing firm.” In chapter 4 verse 1, the Philippians again, he said, “Therefore my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” And in that second letter to the Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 15, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.” Always wanted them to stand firm…stand firm. And always the idea was standing against an attack and showing your faith is real, your commitment is strong. That’s the delight of the pastor’s heart.

CONCLUSION:

Importance of standing firm in the Lord — Psalm 1.

How are you being an encouragement to those who are shepherding you spiritually? We need encouragement! You have the power to provide it.

Like cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a distant land. (Proverbs 25:25)

Have you taken the time to give a cup of cold water to anyone lately? How about spiritual leaders from your past – ones whom you haven’t seen for many years. Maybe they would appreciate a word from you.


DEVOTIONAL QUESTIONS:

1) What helps us to persevere when others don’t think kindly of us and attack us unjustly?

2) In what practical ways have you demonstrated your appreciation and affection for your spiritual leaders?

3) How aware and sensitive are you to the pressures and concerns of your spiritual leaders?

4) What is your answer if someone asks you:

  • What floats your boat?
  • What makes you tick?
  • Under what conditions do you consider yourself to be living life to the fullest?

QUOTES FOR REFLECTION:

MacArthur: That must have been a wonderful day. More and more weeks have passed. Paul was now in Corinth, his heart longing to know what was going on. Timothy arrived and at the same time Silas arrived and the news from Timothy was, I love this, “Good news.” Rather than using a simple word, he doesn’t just say, “And Timothy gave a good report,” or “Timothy came back and told us so-and-so.” He said, “Timothy brought good news.” You know what word he uses? The word “gospel,” euangelizo, it’s only used in the New Testament everywhere else to refer to the gospel. He brought us such good news I have to use a word that is usually referring to the news of salvation to even express how good it is. He takes the term reserved usually for the message of salvation by grace through faith, and so it was that kind of good news, thrilling news. And it really is amazing. He had such a heart for those people that he gets this report from Timothy and he calls it “gospel,” good news, the best news.

PreceptAustin:

Nothing done or not done in the flesh, no matter how outwardly pious appearing and ceremoniously religious, makes any difference in one’s relationship to God. What is external is immaterial and worthless, unless it reflects genuine internal righteousness wrought in a transformed heart by the Spirit as the saint abides in the Vine, Christ Jesus {John 15:5}. The point is that saving faith proves its genuine character by works of love. The one who lives by faith is internally motivated by love for God and Christ {Mt 22:37, 38, 39, 40}, which supernaturally issues forth in reverent worship, genuine obedience, and self-sacrificing love for others. And this was the good news Paul received from Timothy regarding the saints in Thessalonica.

Hiebert: Faith speaks of their characteristic attitude Godward, while love is their characteristic attitude manward. Their faith had its most significant exhibition in love toward others, especially their Christian brethren. If their faith separated them from the world, their love united them more closely to each other. The two terms summarize their religious and ethical excellence. The two must always go together. “Paul’s formula ‘faith working through love’ (Gal 5:6) expresses the intimate relationship between the two qualities.”…

The two nouns, “distress” (anagke) and “persecution,” (thlipsis) are linked together under one article, thus forming two aspects of the whole difficult situation in which they find themselves. The former denotes a necessity or compulsion that forces itself upon one, while the latter indicates the crushing pressure to which one is being subjected. Both terms refer to the difficult external circumstances confronting the missionaries. It is precarious to seek to identify their precise cause or character. Findlay points out that the former “signifies outward constraint, whether of circumstances or duty” while the latter points to “trouble from men.” But the word rendered “in” is again the preposition epi, “over,” and implies that the distress and afflictions continued but the missionaries were able to surmount them and no longer feel them as evil. This helped to make the report so welcome. This reference to their own distress and affliction is a tactful reminder to the readers that Paul was also facing difficulties while away from them.

Mayhue: The relationship had grown so strong that they greatly desired to be reunited, i.e. to see each other. Paul speaks of this strong yearning in the same terms as a babe desiring mother’s milk or his own longing later to see Timothy (2 Tim 1:4) and other churches (Rom 1:11; Phil 1:8).

Steve Shepherd: PROP.- In our text, Paul speaks of good news and pleasant memories that come from his relationship to his Christian brothers and sisters.

1- Good news and pleasant memories come when faith is working

2- Good news and pleasant memories come when fellowship is enjoyed

3- Good news and pleasant memories come when firmness is evident

David Silversides: Joy in the Saints (3:6-10)

God is the Christians’ greatest joy; but there is also joy in the people of God as they manifest His character; apostle has been defending his motives in coming and preaching the gospel to them; charged with coming and leaving and no longer having any care for them; He cared enough to send Timothy to them at sacrifice to himself; expresses joy he experienced when Timothy came back with such a good report

1. A Minister’s Joy (:6-8)

Not just “returned” but was sent back from them to Paul; Timothy had become one of them; avoiding any “us” and “them” mentality because we are brethren in Christ; Timothy had just recently returned; they were persevering in the face of discouragement; showed their faith was genuine; looked back with good remembrances and positive feelings of affection; no bitter disillusionment; looked back with fondness to the days when Paul and Silas were among them; Why did they want to see Paul? Acts 20:37 – elders at Ephesus wept when they realized they would see his face no more; ministers are not to be indifferent regarding the fruit of their labors or the welfare of the souls of men; they should care deeply