Strength in Affliction, Sensibility, and Destiny

David Burchard Exposition Leave a Comment

You can listen to the audio here, or read the manuscript below.


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Paul was a wealthy man. Now, I couldn’t tell you how much property the man had to his name. It doesn’t seem like a lot.

But he was rich. How?

He had the Thessalonians, and many other Christians in churches he’d established.

The Thessalonians, and those like them, were his joy and glory. Their wellbeing was his own. As their faith grew in health and riches, so did his heart grow in gladness, in satisfaction in life. As they endured and grew in maturity, he was strengthened to live as a happy man.

These were saints for whom he’d have given anything to see them prosper. Anything. They meant more to him than life.

Last week, Graeme showed us from chapter 2 that these Thessalonian Christians were being persecuted. And Paul was prevented from coming to them.

Tonight we’re looking at chapter 3; and it answers a simple question. Paul loves the Thessalonians. They’re persecuted. He’s prevented from coming to them.

So what does he do? A man of action, what does he do about his problem?

We can look at the chapter in four parts.

  1. Though Paul can’t go to the Thessalonians himself, he sends Timothy to them (1-4).
  2. Timothy brings back a report to Paul (5-6).
  3. The report brings comfort and joy to Paul (7-10).
  4. Paul prays for himself and for the Thessalonians (11-13).

Let’s start with the first part: The Sending of Timothy, verses 1-4.

Verse 1 begins with, “therefore”.

“Therefore” connects what Paul just said in chapter 2 with what he’s about to say. And it sets up the big question. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy were hindered from coming to Thessalonica. The Thessalonians are their glory and joy and are going through a rough time of persecution. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy didn’t just want to be with them in spirit. They wanted to be with them in person.

And it got to the point where they just couldn’t endure it any longer.

So, for that reason, still in verse 1…

“we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone”

Verse 2

“and we sent Timothy…”

For whatever reason, though all three couldn’t get to Thessalonica, one of them could. So, they decided to split up in Athens. Paul and Silvanus stay in Athens and they send Timothy to Thessalonica.

Why’s that a big deal?

It’s a big deal because of who Timothy is. He’s the best Paul can send. In verse 2, “our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ”. Timothy is the man Paul later trusts to oversee the Ephesian church, Paul’s son in the faith to whom he writes his final letter before being executed.

Why do they send Timothy? Verse 2 tells us.

“to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith”

Paul takes personal loss in order to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonians’ faith.

Notice that Paul wasn’t just satisfied with a letter. He knew that Timothy’s physical presence was key to their strengthening.

Listen, I’m glad I live in a world full of technology. I’m glad to be able to WhatsApp and Facetime all around the world.

But technology will never replace the strengthening, encouraging effect of being physically together.

That’s why it’s a big deal that we meet together every Sunday—morning AND evening! It’s why it matters that we pray and sing and eat together. It’s why no technology will ever replace one of our pastors standing before us in the same room and telling us what God’s Word says.

Why did Paul want to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonians’ faith?

Verse 3: “so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions”

Paul didn’t want them to be disturbed and shaken by the afflictions they were suffering at the hands of their own countrymen.

Neither does Almighty God want us to be shaken by our afflictions, whether they come from hands on High Street or Holyrood.

Why shouldn’t the Thessalonians be disturbed by the persecution?

Verse 3: “for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this.”

Why would Christians be disturbed by persecution? It’s our destiny.

Christians are destined for affliction.

Destiny is unavoidable; so we shouldn’t be disturbed when it shows up.

Destiny is determined by our God; so it’s guaranteed to go well for us.

Even if the Dundee Police decide to run Christians-of-worth out of town for bigotry, we don’t need to be shaken. We’ll press on in our work as bold as lions.

We’ll die the victors.

Paul’s confident that the Thessalonians know this to be true.

How do they know their destiny?

Verse 4: “For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.”

They know their destiny because Paul repeatedly has told them their destiny.

Suffering affliction is the Christian way. Like Christ, Christians walk through affliction to victory. It’s conquest’s road—through cross to crown, through the Valley of the Shadow of Death to the Summit of the Celestial City.

That’s the first part of the chapter.

Now the second: Timothy’s Report (5-6).

Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians, not just to strengthen them, but also to get a report about their faith.

This second part is marked off just like the first part. “For this reason, when I could endure it no longer…I also sent to find out about your faith.” So, Timothy’s mission was both for the Thessalonians and for Paul.

Why did Paul want this report?

Verse 5: “for fear that the tempter might have tempted you”

Paul knows that Satan is at work in the persecution against his brethren. Like a good shepherd, he wants to know that Satan hasn’t succeeded in leading them astray.

Just as then, so now, Christians are at risk of being tempted off the straight and narrow.

Being led astray by the work of the devil can take different forms. Sometimes it’s an open denial of Christianity.

At Dundee Pride there was an Anglican vicar praising sodomy. He’s a weasel in a collar, led astray from the faith.

Less obvious, but still beaten by the devil’s tempting work, is the Church of Scotland that happens to be against homosexuality but is for women officers in the church.

Anytime Christians respond to the heat of persecution by compromising belief and practice, they’ve been led astray by the devil’s work.

“You know, we don’t want the police to think poorly of us. So we’ll try to thread the needle. We’ll still believe the Bible, but we’ll just stay quiet about it.”

“You know, I generally like Christianity, but goodness, it’s frustrating to be considered hateful. I know: I’ll say that just the actual homosexual act is wrong. I won’t condemn the desire. It’s natural, you know? I won’t call men to change their desires, or to forsake effeminacy.”

It’s to the Bible, our firm foundation, the final rule and standard, the canon of Christ’s teaching, it’s to this book that we must cling in the face of persecution, lest we too fail under the heat.

Paul’s concerned about this because of the end of verse 5. If the tempter succeeds in his Thessalonian temptation, Paul’s “labor would be in vain.”

That’s why Paul wanted the report. And in verse 6, Timothy has brought it.

“But now that Timothy has come to us from you…”

Timothy has returned with his report. And Paul writes this letter in response to that report.

What was Timothy’s report? Was it good or bad?

Verse 6: Timothy “has brought us good news of your faith and love.”

The Thessalonians are enduring the affliction…holding firm to the faith…proof that Paul didn’t labor in vain.

They remain his glory and joy.

Not only have they remained steadfast, they also “always think kindly” of Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, “longing to see” them “just as” Paul longs “to see” them.

This is a mutual love, a mutual brotherhood, one that will endure through all the pain of life and find completeness in glory.

Timothy has strengthened the Thessalonians. He’s brought a good report back to Paul.

Now for the third part. Verses 7-10.

How does Paul respond to the good report?

He responds exactly as you’d expect a father to respond to good news about his family.

The report brings Paul comfort and joy.

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

The Thessalonians aren’t alone in facing persecution. Paul faces distress and affliction as well. And as his word to them brought them strength, so the word about them has brought Paul strength. Their endurance fuels his own.

Why would a good report have that impact on Paul?

Because of verse 8. “for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord.”

Because if the Thessalonians stand firm in the Lord, then Paul and Silvanus and Timothy really live.

Why is that? Verse 9.

“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…”

What’s really living for Paul?

It’s living with the joy with which he rejoices before his God.

That’s really living.

How does he have that joy?

It’s given to him from God through the Thessalonians. God gives him the joy of life with which he rejoices before God. That’s why he gives thanks to God, and not to the Thessalonians. But the Thessalonians are the ones God uses as joy’s channel.

See how God has designed life. Life’s meant to be really lived. That means God’s made you for joy. And God’s designed things so that you get joy from fellow Christians.

Andrew and Dave know this joy as pastors. God gives them joy as we bear fruit for God and stand firm in the faith. They labor for us. They’re concerned for us. And God gives them joy through us. Paul actually tells us to make sure we don’t make their job a pain, but a joy.

All of us are to know this joy as members. While you’re a member of this church, God gives you joy for real life through the faithful living of your fellow members. Is this how you think of LBC? Have you organized your life so that you can actually know your fellow members, and know their firm standing, and so get joy from God through them?

Life is for joy. And it’s to be joyfully lived in the society of the faithful.

This section ends with verse 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?”

Because of who they are to Paul, though he’s encouraged them through Timothy, though they’ve encouraged him through Timothy, he’s still earnest to see the Thessalonians’ faces. He wants to be with them and build their faith all the more.

That brings us to the end of chapter 3, verses 11-13.

The fourth section: Paul’s Prayer.

Verse 11 reads, “Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you…”

Paul prays that God the Father and Jesus the High King would direct his way to them. He prays that God would bring him and Silvanus and Timothy to the Thessalonians.

To pray for God to direct his steps is the most sensible thing in the world because God directs all things in the world.

We, Christians, are a blessed people. We alone have prayerful access to God the Father through Jesus, our Savior and Lord, who possesses full authority everywhere.

Christian, be sensible. Pray to Him who directs all things. Pray to your Father in the name of your Elder Brother.

Paul doesn’t only pray that God would bring him to the Thessalonians.

He also prays verse 12: “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.”

This increasing, abounding love for one another is to mark us as well.

What does it mean for us to love one another?

Put simply, it means that we treat one another lawfully, from the heart.

It is our duty to both pray for and live like this.

Why does Paul want the Thessalonians to increasingly treat one another lawfully, from the heart?

The answer is found in verse 13.

Verse 13: “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.”

That day, the day of our Lord’s coming with all His saints, is our twofold end. It’s our end, the end of our pilgrim’s road. And it’s our end, the aim of all our loving, all our standing, all our endurance. We want God to establish our hearts without blame in holiness before Him, our Father.

That is the day of glory that awaits us.

And this is what Paul did about his separation from his beloved Thessalonians.

He sent his most trusted assistant to strengthen their faith and get a report. Encouraged by the report, he prays to God that he might come to them soon and that they might grow in love.

Paul was rich. He loved his glory and joy, the Thessalonians. In love, he acted.

May God bless His Word to us all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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