24th Sunday After Pentecost November 11, 2012
1 Thessalonians 3:7-13
14, 611(1-5), 413(1-5), 413(6)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God, night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.
There is little doubt that we live in days that present obstacles and challenges to our faith in Christ. We are surrounded by so many distractions—entertainment, careers, friends, school, family commitments—that our faith can be threatened because we simply do not spend as much time looking toward Jesus as we ought. We don’t spend the strengthening-time in His Word that we need, and the more we look away from Him the weaker we become.
Our faith is also assaulted by the human reason that the world peddles all around us. When you hear non-Christians attack Bible truths over and over again, you may well begin to believe the errors after awhile. The student, for example, who hears about evolution at school time-and-time-again will eventually fall for it if he is not strengthened against it by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. The adult who is surrounded by the ungodly at work or in recreational activities will begin to think and act like them if not regularly built up in the faith.
As we near the end of the church year and our thoughts turn toward the Last Day and the promised second coming of the Lord Jesus, the Scripture before us reminds us to KEEP THE FAITH! even though the distresses of the present time may be great. Cling to what you have learned and been assured of concerning your Savior, for Satan will try his best to steal your priceless treasure away from you. Do not lose hold of Jesus on whom rests your confidence for this life and the life to come! KEEP THE FAITH! I. Your faith encourages others, II. Your faith is encouraged by others, and III. The Lord strengthens the faith of us all.
Attacks against the Christian faith have been present before. Martin Luther and other reformers who tried to preach the Gospel were persecuted 500 years ago. You might remember that the Apostle Paul and his companions were treated to a very rough welcome in the city of Thessalonica. There was rioting and they ended up having to flee for their lives under the cover of darkness. They had to run away to Berea and then to Athens because people did not want to hear about the forgiveness of sins that Jesus had won for them.
But in his prayers Paul remembered the Christians at Thessalonica daily. He knew that since he had been forced from the city the believers who remained were under a lot of pressure to give up their trust in the Lord. Paul was so anxious to know whether or not they had stood firm that while he was in Athens he sent his companion Timothy back to see how things were getting along in the church there. You can imagine the anticipation with which he waited for Timothy’s answer! Finally when Timothy returned, he presented to Paul a very good report! In spite of all the trouble that had been stirred up against the Christians, they had remained faithful to Jesus. They still loved and followed the only begotten Son. They still believed in the resurrection of the dead and they looked forward to the life of the world to come. They even had pleasant memories of the Apostle’s visit among them, even though it was his preaching which had led them to endure hard times at the hands of those who did not believe. You can imagine how Paul felt when he heard this news—he was incredibly relieved and happy. He put pen to paper and wrote to the Thessalonians: “Brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God…” [vv.7-9] You can just feel the excitement and joy Paul must have had as he wrote those words. His dear Christian friends had not lost their faith. He could not thank God enough for this great blessing!
So we see how the faith of the Thessalonians became a source of encouragement and joy to the Apostle Paul. Now the question is: Can your faith be of the same encouragement to someone else as the faith of the Thessalonians was to Paul? When others see you clinging to the Lord faithfully even in times of difficulty and hardship, can that be a source of joy to them? The answer is, “Yes!”
Think back, for example, to those who have been your spiritual overseers in times past—former pastors, teachers, or Sunday School teachers. When they receive word that you are still rooted and grounded in the truth of God, do you think that makes them happy? Of course, it does! Sometimes I get a chance to communicate with former pastors of this congregation. They ask me once in awhile how this person or that person is doing. When I can answer with the words, “They were in church just last week,” that makes them very glad. They loves to hear that their brothers and sisters are still standing firm in the faith. It encourages and uplifts them.
You who have taught Sunday School or Vacation Bible School, or you who have witnessed the truth to someone at some point in your lives, wouldn’t you be glad if you were to hear later that the faith of someone whom you had taught or helped was strong and growing?
When you come to church on Sunday, you do not come only for yourselves. When others see you and see your faith they are encouraged and strengthened. They know they are not alone in standing for the truth because they can see that you stand with them. That’s why the writer to the Hebrews said (10:25): “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25 NIV).
It is a reminder to us all to cling to Jesus. Keep the Faith! because your faith can be a source of joy and encouragement to your fellow Christians.
Your faith can also be encouraged by others. For all of us have room to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus.
In the second section of the text, we find the Apostle writing these words to the Thessalonians: “…night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith” [v.10] Even though Paul had received a good report from Timothy, he knew that there were still areas in which their confidence in the Lord needed to be strengthened further. They were not perfect, even as none of us are. They still had doubts, fears, and sins to which the Gospel of Christ could be applied. If Paul were able to return to them, they would be encouraged and strengthened by his presence as he shared the Word of the Lord with them.
None of us has attained the fullest measure of faith in Jesus that we can possibly attain. None of us trusts in His forgiveness as firmly as we could. None of us faces the next day with as much confidence in Jesus to carry us through as we could have. So God gives us a great blessing—He gives us fellow believers who help to supply what is lacking in our own faith. He gives us Christian friends who help to turn us to God’s Word and encourage us in many and various ways to keep the faith.
I cannot tell you how many times I have been encouraged by something one of you has said or done. I am sure you do not even know when you have done it or said it, nevertheless you have, at times, helped supply what is lacking in my faith by reminding me of some comforting Word of God, or by your example of Christian perseverance, or by your quiet faithfulness that goes on from day to day. When I see you, my Christian friends, turning to Jesus for answers and trusting in Him for help, it encourages me to do the same all the more.
You have had similar experiences in your lives too, I suspect—times when a fellow Christian has in some way been able to supply what is lacking in your faith. Maybe someone has called you with encouraging words just when you needed them. Maybe seeing the simple faith of a son or daughter has taught you again to be more childlike in trusting your Heavenly Father. Maybe you have been rescued from the path of destruction by the efforts of a brother or sister in the faith. The Lord God can work through others to supply our spiritual needs and that is a great blessing—something for which we can be thankful each and every day!
We have been talking about how your faith can be an encouragement to others and how the faith of others can be an encouragement to us, but you know that it is God who is behind it all. And the Apostle knew that too. That is why he concluded this section of his letter to the Thessalonians with a prayer: “May our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ…make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.” [vv.11-13]
It is finally not our faith that is actually going to move the heart of someone else, nor is it their faith which will move our own hearts. We can encourage others and others can encourage us only insofar as God is also working. For finally, we are not strengthened in our trust just by the example of someone else, but we are strengthened by the Holy Spirit working in us through the powerful Gospel.
When Christ says to us, “Your sins are forgiven. I have paid the price on the cross for all the wrong you have done,” that strengthens our courage and resolve to put sin behind us and follow Him faithfully.
When God says to us, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” His Word is able to fill us and comfort us when we are lonely and uncertain about the future.
When the Holy Spirit lives in us, making our bodies His dwelling places, He gives us the strength to say, “No,” to the Devil and turn from the temptations that are all around us.
It is God who strengthens us so that our love increases and overflows for one another. It is God who strengthens our hearts all the way to the end when we will indeed stand blameless and holy in His sight because of Jesus Christ who has lived perfectly in our place and died the death we so richly deserved for our sins.
Dear Christians, as the Last Day approaches and we are beset on every hand by troubles and trials that threaten our faith in Jesus, remember these words of Paul to the Thessalonians who were themselves suffering all kinds of evil attacks. KEEP THE FAITH! For your faith can be a joy and encouragement to others, your faith is encouraged by others, and that the Lord Himself will strengthen your hearts to the end. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.