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Lesson 9: “I Couldn’t Care More” -- Part 2 (1 Thessalonians 3:6-13)

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September 18, 2016

An unknown author wrote (in Reader’s Digest [10/01, p. 188):

Try to name the five wealthiest people in the world. Name the last five winners of the Miss America competition. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.

Now, name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.

The people you’ll never forget are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money or the most awards. The people who make a difference in your life are the ones who care. And they will live forever.

Every Christian wants God to use his or her life to impact others for eternity. This especially applies to our children, but also to extended family and friends. To impact people for eternity, we must truly care about them in a way that they feel it. Our caring is like the key that opens the door for the gospel and for the truths that are necessary for them to grow in their faith. Caring alone isn’t enough without the truth of the gospel. But truth without caring usually will be met with resistance, not acceptance.

We saw last time that if we truly care for one another, we’ll want to be together and we’ll want to strengthen and encourage one another spiritually. Now, Paul shows us two other aspects of truly caring for one another:

If we truly care for one another we will rejoice when we hear of others’ stability in the faith and we will pray for their continued spiritual growth.

In verses 6-10, Paul is overjoyed to hear Timothy’s report of the Thessalonians’ stability in the faith. In verses 11-13, he expresses a “prayer-wish” that he might be able to visit them and that they would continue to grow in their faith.

1. If we truly care for one another we will rejoice when we hear of others’ stability in the faith.

At the personal cost of being left alone in Athens and then in Corinth, Paul had sent Timothy back to Thessalonica. Paul himself could not go, perhaps because of the bond that Jason had been forced to take, but Timothy could slip into town unnoticed. The trip was over 200 miles each way. If he walked, it was at least a 10-day trip one way, plus the time that he spent with the new believers there. Paul was greatly concerned, praying constantly that the persecution had not caused these new believers to turn from the Lord. When Timothy finally returned and gave him good news about their spiritual condition, Paul was ecstatic. We learn four things about genuine concern for others’ stability in the faith:

A. Faith in Christ and love for God and for one another are the goals for spiritual stability.

1 Thess. 3:6: “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you ….”

Timothy’s “good news” is the Greek word that is almost always elsewhere used of the gospel. His news about the Thessalonians was like hearing the gospel to Paul. It caused his heart to leap with joy. When Timothy reported that the Thessalonians always “thought kindly” of Paul, it refers to disciples “maintaining and practicing a teacher’s model or pattern” (Gary Shogren, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 1 & 2 Thessalonians [Zondervan],  p. 140). Even though Paul and his companions had been, in one sense, the cause of the Thessalonians’ trials, they still longed to see them, just as Paul and his companions longed to see the Thessalonians. At the heart of their kind thoughts and longing to see Paul was the fact that he had brought the gospel to them.

Timothy brought Paul good news about the new converts’ faith and love. John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 268) calls these two qualities “the entire sum of true piety.” He adds, “Hence all that aim at this twofold mark during their whole life are beyond all risk of erring: all others, however much they may torture themselves, wander miserably.”

“Faith” is obviously, faith in God. “Love” may primarily be love for one another, but I believe it also includes love for the Lord. When Jesus reinstated Peter after his failures, He asked him three times, “Peter, do you love Me?” (John 21:15-17). Paul said (1 Cor. 16: 22), “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed.” The church in Ephesus was commended in many ways, but rebuked because it had left its first love for Jesus (Rev. 2:1-7). But love for the Lord is inseparable from love for the people for whom the Lord laid down His life. So “love” includes both.

Paul had observed both the faith and love of the Thessalonians. He mentions their “work of faith” (1 Thess. 1:3). He adds (1 Thess. 1:8): “For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.” He also refers to their faith in 1 Thessalonians 3:2, 5, 6, 7, 10; 2 Thess. 1:4, 11; & 2:13. He mentions their “labor of love” (1 Thess. 1:3), which refers to love for others stemming from their love for God. He also refers to their love for others in 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9; & 5:13. In 2 Thess. 3:5, he mentions, “the love of God,” which probably refers to God’s love for us (cf. 1 Thess. 1:4).

In his other letters, Paul often links faith and love (1 Cor. 13:2, 13; 2 Cor. 8:7; Gal. 5:6; Eph. 1:15; 3:17; Col. 1:4; Titus 2:2; 3:15; Philemon 5; cf. also, James 2:5; 1 Pet. 1:8; 1 John 3:23; Rev. 2:19). But these two qualities seem especially important to Paul in his final two letters to Timothy, his son in the faith:

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

1 Timothy 1:14: “And the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.”

1 Tim. 2:15: “But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.”

1 Timothy 4:12: “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”

1 Timothy 6:11: “But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.”

2 Timothy 1:13: “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.”

2 Timothy 2:22: “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

2 Timothy 3:10: “Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance ….”

So with other essential qualities, such as holiness, we can say that faith and love are two prime marks of genuine Christianity. We must believe in God and the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. We must continue trusting God, even in the midst of difficult trials, as the Thessalonians were doing. We must love God with all our hearts and love one another, which are the two greatest commandments (Matt. 22:37-40). When God’s people are walking in faith and love, they are spiritually stable.

B. Joy over someone’s stability in the faith can bring encouragement when we’re going through affliction.

1 Thess. 3:7: “For this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith ….”

Paul had been going through hard times in every city where he preached. He was unjustly beaten, put in the stocks, and thrown into prison in Philippi. He was forced to leave Thessalonica because of persecution. The Jews in Thessalonica followed him to Berea, stirring up the crowds against him, forcing him to leave. He saw some fruit in Athens, but mostly jeers and rejection.

He went to Corinth, where the Jews resisted his message and blasphemed. They rose up against Paul and brought him before Gallio, the proconsul, who angrily drove them away from his judgment seat. Gallio passively watched as the Jews beat Sosthenes, a Jewish convert, in front of the judgment seat. Paul was fearful that he would be harmed. One night the Lord graciously appeared to him in a vision and said (Acts 18:9-10), “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” F. F. Bruce (Word Biblical Commentary, 1 & 2 Thessalonians [Thomas Nelson], p. 67) suggests that after all of these trials, Paul and his companions may have wondered if God had truly guided them to go into Macedonia.

So even Paul needed encouragement and comfort from God in the midst of the battle. When he heard that the Thessalonians were standing firm in their faith, he was reassured that he had not labored there in vain (1 Thess. 3:5). He was comforted or encouraged (the Greek word is parakaleo). He had sent Timothy to encourage the Thessalonians, but now Timothy’s report about their spiritual stability encouraged Paul.

I’ve never suffered anywhere near what Paul went through, but I have had to battle discouragement. It wasn’t a problem for me in the early years of my ministry, but as time goes by, you begin to wonder whether all your years of service have made much difference. Years ago, I began to notice that the Lord balanced out criticism that I received with encouragements that my ministry had helped someone. If someone said something negative, I would receive a positive comment that same week. Or, vice versa, if someone said something positive, I’d brace myself for something negative, and it almost always came. More lately, He graciously has given me more encouragements than criticisms, perhaps because I’ve been more prone to discouragement. But when you hear of how God has used you to bring someone to Christ or to help someone stand firm in their faith, it’s encouraging.

I’ve found it comforting that two great men of God, Moses and Paul, were concerned that their labors for the Lord might not matter in light of eternity. Moses prayed (Ps. 90:17), “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; and confirm for us the work of our hand; yes, confirm the work of our hands.” And, Paul repeatedly seemed concerned that he may have labored in vain (Phil. 2:16; 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 15:2, 58; Gal. 2:2; 4:11; 1 Thess. 3:5). At the end of his life, he summed up his accomplishments (2 Tim. 4:7): “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” If God has used you to help someone else stand firm in their faith, you can be encouraged when you’re in a trial.

C. Joy over someone’s stability in the faith reflects our true values.

1 Thess. 3:8-9: “for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account.”

Which of the following causes you to erupt in spontaneous joy and thankfulness?

“We’re going to give you a nice raise!”

“Here are the keys to your new car!”

“Congratulations, you’ve just won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes! You’ll be receiving $7,000 a week for the rest of your life!”

Or, you meet a friend whom you haven’t seen in a while and hear that in spite of going through many trials, he’s standing firm in the Lord. That’s what made Paul’s heart leap for joy. That which makes us really happy reveals our true values.

Paul didn’t take credit for the Thessalonians’ stability in the faith. Rather, he thanked God for them because their perseverance through persecution showed that God was truly at work in them. Many times Paul and other leaders pointed to Christians who were stable and growing in their faith as their source of joy (Rom. 16:19; 2 Cor. 7:4; Phil. 1:4-5; 2:2; 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:20; 2 Tim. 1:4; Philemon 7; Heb. 13:17; 1 John 1:4; 2 John 4, 12). As the apostle John wrote (3 John 3-4): “For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.”

“Stand firm” was a military term, used of not retreating in the face of an attack. To stand firm in the Lord implies that they were truly in the Lord through faith in Christ and that He was their refuge. When the enemy attacked, they fled to the Lord and trusted in Him. I have heard Christian counselors say that advising people going through trials to trust in the Lord is worthless medicine. But over and over the Bible gives us examples of God’s people who trusted God when under attack. When David was hiding in a cave from Saul and his troops who were seeking his life, he sang (perhaps quietly! Ps. 57:7): “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises!” That’s the resolve of standing firm in the Lord. If you really care for people, when you hear that they’re standing firm in the Lord through trials, you will rejoice and give thanks to God.

So, faith in Christ and love for God and for one another are the goals for spiritual stability. Joy over someone’s stability in the faith can bring encouragement when we’re going through affliction. Joy over someone’s stability in the faith reflects our true values.

D. Stability of faith comes through teaching God’s word.

Paul adds, (1 Thess. 3:10): “as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?” The way that Paul would have completed what was lacking in their faith was by teaching them God’s word. The word for “complete” refers to equipping or supplying a lack (Heb. 13:21). Paul uses it in Ephesians 4:12, where he says that God gave the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”

We’ve already seen the amazing depth of teaching that Paul supplied these new converts from a pagan background in just a few months with them. He assumes that they understand the trinity, the doctrine of election, how to endure trials and persecution, and much more. The Thessalonians’ lack was not because of sin, but rather that they lacked the full maturity that comes through further understanding of the truth revealed in God’s word. In chapters 4 & 5, Paul supplies in writing some of that which he would give them in personal teaching when he was able to come to them. “Your faith” here refers both to doctrine and its application. Doctrinal truth has to be applied to our daily lives.

Verse 10 mentions Paul’s constant, fervent prayers, while verses 11-13 voice more of the content of those prayers:

2. If we truly care for one another we will pray for others’ continued spiritual growth.

I can only briefly note three things:

A. Our prayers should be heartfelt and frequent.

We’ve already considered part of verse 10, but also note the fervency of Paul’s prayers. By “night and day” Paul meant, frequently or repeatedly. “Most earnestly” reflects his heart. He felt deeply the desire to be with these new believers to help them grow in their faith.

We shouldn’t turn our fervency or earnestness in prayer into a basis for why God should grant them. We always come to Him based on the merit of Jesus Christ and His grace, never on any worthiness in us. But at the same time, we shouldn’t just “knock and run,” like kids who ring a doorbell and run. If we feel deeply about others’ needs, we will keep knocking until the Lord answers (cf. Matt. 7:7-8, where “knock” is a present imperative, meaning, “keep knocking”). As it was, Paul had to keep praying for about five years before God granted him the opportunity to return to Thessalonica (Acts 20:1-3).

B. Our prayers are directed to our God and Father and to Jesus our Lord.

1 Thess. 3:11: “Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you.” Three things in this short request show Jesus’ deity: His close association with the Father (they are both the subject of a singular verb); His ability to hear and answer prayer; and His designation as “Lord.” Since Paul mentions this in passing without explanation, it shows that he had taught the deity of Jesus to these new converts. It was not some late invention of the early church fathers, as some liberals contend. Paul attributed the highest possible place to Jesus. When we pray, we come to a loving heavenly Father who cares for His children, and to Jesus our Lord, who gave Himself on the cross for us and lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25).

C. Our prayers are focused on the spiritual growth of others.

1 Thess. 3:12-13: “and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.” Here, spiritual growth means increasing love. We should be growing in love for our family members and for those in the family of God. But our love should increase and abound for all people, too.

Also, spiritual growth means increasing in solid, holy hope. “Establish” is the same word translated “strengthen” (1 Thess. 3:2; cf. 2 Thess. 3:3). To be “without blame in holiness” does not imply that we can be sinless in this life, but rather that we would be walking in the light before God on the heart level, maintaining a clear conscience before Him and others (Acts 24:16). We aren’t harboring secret sins while we put on a good front before others.

We live that way in view of the fact that we will soon stand before “our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.” “Saints” is literally, “holy ones.” It is used in Zechariah 14:5 to refer to the angels (see, also, Mark 8:38; Jude 14). But Paul uses it almost exclusively to refer to believers. So it may refer to both. When Christ returns, He will be accompanied by His holy angels and also by believers who have died. We who are living will be caught up to meet the Lord and this glorious company in the air, “and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

Also, since Paul’s prayer was that he might complete what was lacking in their faith (1 Thess. 3:10), his prayer here ties back in with their work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope (1 Thess. 1:3; John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 1 & 2 Thessalonians [Moody Press], p. 88). We never reach a point where we can say that we’ve arrived in faith, love, or hope. Pray for increasing and abounding faith, love, and hope for yourself, for your family members, and for those in this church.

Conclusion

So if we truly care for one another, we will want to be together to strengthen and encourage one another spiritually. We will find true joy when we hear of others who are standing firm in the Lord through trials. And we’ll pray for one another for continued spiritual growth. Don’t be a “whatever, I couldn’t care less,” Christian. Be a Christian whose life communicates to others, “I couldn’t care more!”

Application Questions

  1. If faith and love are goals for spiritual maturity, how can we honestly evaluate where we’re at in developing these virtues?
  2. What do you usually pray about? Does your prayer life focus on prayers for others’ stability in the faith? What does the content of your prayers reveal about your priorities?
  3. Many today say that doctrine is either divisive or too academic. Why is sound doctrine essential for spiritual stability?
  4. Would you describe your heart as established “without blame in holiness”? If not, what steps do you need to take to get to that goal?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life, Prayer

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