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Thank God for Faithful Disciples (Pt. 1)

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I. Introduction

A. Reiterate last week’s sermon

1. Authors: Paul and his two traveling companions

2. Date: AD 50 from Corinth (earliest Pauline letter)

3. Recipients: an assembly of new believers in Thessalonica, important Macedonian city

4. Purpose: Paul wrote for three reasons:

a. Encourage: to persevere in godly behavior in the midst of persecution by the Jews and pagans.

b. Assure: of Paul’s integrity and his love for his disciples.

c. Inform: regarding the Second Coming and the fate of dead saints at that time.

B. This week, we are going to begin to study the body of the epistle [Read vv. 1-10].

1. I’ve entitled this section, “Thank God for Faithful Disciples” because that is what we see Paul doing.

2. This portion of the letter breaks into two natural sections:

a. Paul Mentions His Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians (v. 2a)

b. Paul Explains His Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians (vv. 2b-10)

3. Remember, Paul had what he thought was four consecutive flops in ministry (Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens – Acts 16-17)

4. When Timothy returned with good news (3:5-8), the Apostle could hardly contain himself.

C. Proposition: From Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving for the Thessalonians, we are going to focus upon three virtues seen in these young believers, which should characterize every Christian, so that we may examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith [Restate].




II.  Paul Mentions His Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians

A. Point: It’s Proper to Give Thanks to God for Others (how do we know this?):

B. Proof: Verse 2a

1. His thanksgiving is typical

a. Wrote nine letters to churches (and four to individuals)

b. Eight times he begins or mentions thanks for the reader(s)

c. Rom 1:8; 1 Cor 1:4; Eph 1:15-16; Phil 1:3; Col 1:3; 1 Th 1:2; 2 Th 1:3; Phil 4

2. His thanksgiving is habitual (We give thanks)

a. Present tense indicates that this is a habit (not a one-time occurrence)

b. He emphasizes the habitual nature by the term “always”

(1) Not like we understand the word – every moment

(2) Tells in the next clause what he means: whenever we pray (see Philemon 4)

(3) Illustration: We use the term always to mean often.

c. Not only Paul’s habit, but the others with him also.

(1) “We” in this case includes Silvanus and Timothy

(2) Sometimes, Paul means “Me” when he says, “We” (3:1-2), but not here.

3. His thanksgiving is inclusive

a. Paul has a fond memory of every saint in Thessalonica

b. No one is excluded

c. There is something worthy of thanks in each saint

4. His thanksgiving is proper

a. Thanksgiving is a form of prayer

b. Prayer should only be directed toward God

c. This is the proper response to any good work

(1) He doesn’t thank the Thessalonians

(2) Only once thanks someone other than God (Rom 16:4).

d. God is sovereign

(1) According to Scriptures, we are depraved and dependent creatures

(2) Paul says “there is nothing good in me” (Rom 7:18)

(3) If we do anything good, it is due to His grace at work in us

C. Application:

1. So you see, it is proper to give thanks to God.

2. There is no circumstance that we cannot find something for which to thank Him.

3. Even in the midst of the most difficult trial, there is something for which to be thankful.

III. Paul Explains His Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians (vv. 2b-10)

A. After mentioning that he and the others give thanks, the Apostle then explains his thanksgiving to his readers.

1. He reports the manner of his thanksgiving, the timing of his thanksgiving, and the cause of their thanksgiving.

2. Or, we could say he gives them the How, When, and Why of his thanksgiving.

B. The “How” (v. 2b)

1. How do they thank God?

2. By mentioning them in their prayers.

a. This again is habitual action.

b. They continually make mention of the readers, continually giving thanks whenever they come together to pray.

c. This may seem obvious, but it was important for Paul to point it out.

d. It is possible that they had a prayer list.

C. The “When” (v. 3)

1. This is where I want to camp for the rest of our time today.

2. Just as they always give thanks, they are also “constantly bearing in mind” these three virtues that Paul mentions.

a. This could be translated, “While constantly bearing in mind . . .”

b. Their remembrance of the Thessalonians is contemporaneous with their thanksgiving

c. Like “always” above, the term constantly has the idea of repetition, frequency. It is used to describe:

(1) The uninterrupted necessary payment of hard taxes

(2) The continual ministry of an official

(3) The constant pounding of a battering ram against a city wall (Rogers and Rogers, 471)

3. “In the presence of our God and Father”

a. This phrase should be linked, not with hope in Jesus, but with the bearing in mind

b. It takes place before the Father – when they are approaching the very throne room of God in prayer.

4. This leads us to the three virtues which the authors were constantly remembering in prayer to God—virtues which should characterize every Christian.

IV. Three Principles of Genuine Faith

A. Here they are:

1. Genuine Faith is Characterized by Righteous Works

2. Christian Love is Characterized by Diligent Labor

3. Biblical Hope is Characterized by Perseverance

B. In Paul’s earliest letter, he introduces for the first time the three great abiding Christian virtues – faith, love, and hope,

1. Most familiar to us is 1 Cor 13:13.

2. In that context, love was listed last because his emphasis was on the need for love in using spiritual gifts.

3. In Thessalonians, his focus is on the return of the Lord and the hope associated with that (every chapter ends with this concept).

4. Here, he also mentions the forms in which these principles mainly exhibit themselves (Ellicott, 8:131)

C. Point: Genuine Faith is Characterized by Righteous Works

1. Proof: Verse 3a

a. Genuine Christian faith is characterized by good works.

b. Faith is complete trust and reliance, confidence in someone or something.

(1) It’s not just a profession. It is a commitment.

(2) The Thessalonians had put their complete faith and trust in Jesus Christ, as presented in the gospel, and it was evident by their works.

(3) He knew what they were like before they believed, and after, and he saw the difference in them.

c. “Works”

(1) The term can refer to whatever displays itself in activity – a deed or action.

(2) Or, as here, it can refer to the manifestation of that activity, that is, the result (James 1:4 – Let endurance have its perfect result [work]).

(3) We get our term “ergonomics” from it.

(4) Paul and the rest of Scripture are very clear: salvation does not result from human works, but it is validated by them.

(a) Ephesians 2:8-10

(b) James 2:14-26

2. Picture: Now these good works are manifest in a thousand ways (Lenski).

a. In caring for the poor in the church

b. In setting up the gym

c. In evangelism

d. In discipling others

e. Anything that is done for the sake of Christ.

f. It’s what Jesus called laying up treasure in heaven.

g. See 1 Cor 3:10-15

3. Application: As is often said, “It’s not enough just to talk the talk; you have to walk the walk.”

a. The proof to Paul of the Thessalonians’ genuine faith and what he remembered thank God for was that they had been transformed, as their works demonstrated.

b. The same holds for us.

(1) If we indeed know Christ, then we are going to be eager to do things that build up His church.

(2) When others think of us, we should hope that they are reminded of our faith in Christ which shows itself in our work for Him and His church.

Not only did Paul constantly remember their faith-produced work, but he also remembered their labor of love. You see,

D. Point: Christian Love is Characterized by Labor

1. Proof: v. 3b

a. True love labors for another

b. “Labor”

(1) Different focus than the term “work”

(2) Work focuses on the result; labor focuses on the action involved

(3) We get the term “copious”

(4) It refers to strenuous effort, to the point of sweat and fatigue; it is hard work which has an element of trouble or resistance.

c. “Love”

(1) You are familiar with this term – agape.

(2) This term was lightly used by the Greeks until Christians adopted the term to refer to the kind of love that God has demonstrated toward mankind.

(3) The Greeks were fond of eros (erotic) which is a self-gratifying love; they also knew philos (or phileo), a mutually-beneficial kind of love.

(4) Agape is altogether different.

(a) It is a self-sacrificing love; a love which does what is in the best interest of others and without expecting reciprocation.

(b) Agape is a decision we make, a choice to love the other person without strings attached.

(c) Jesus gave instruction regarding this highest form of love – John 15:13

(d) Notice that it is not an emotion, not a feeling – it is love in action

1. 1 Cor 13

2. Feelings may follow, but it is done regardless of how one feels (Eph 5:25)

(e) This kind of love is not natural for us.

1. We are such self-centered, prideful individuals; what I affectionately like to call “black-holes of selfishness.”

2. It really takes a work of God in us to cause us to love like this.

(f) John says that we only express this kind of love because God first expressed it toward us:

1. 1 John 4:19, 10

2. See John 3:16

2. Illustration: Alan Blowers’s devotion.

3. Application: The Thessalonians, because of their faith in Christ, exerted themselves with great fervor to love one another in the midst of persecution and difficult circumstances.

a. It probably cost many of them work, or relationships, or possibly even their lives, but they labored tirelessly to do what was in the best interest and for the benefit of others.

b. How about you?

(1) Are you laboring to the point of exhaustion to love your brothers and sisters in Christ?

(2) Are you wearing yourself out for the sake of Christ, or are you wearing yourself out on other things that have no eternal value?

c. Paul was impressed by their tireless love for one another something that so encouraged his heart when he thought of them.

d. Would others say that about you? Or me?

Well Paul not only remembered before the Lord the church’s faith that worked and love that labored, but one other virtue also impressed his thinking – their hope in Jesus Christ compelled them to persevere in difficult circumstances.

E. Point: Biblical Hope is Characterized by Perseverance

1. Proof: v. 3c

a. Steadfastness

(1) NASB calls it “steadfastness.”

(2) But the idea is more than hunkering down and enduring something.

(3) The word is literally “to bear up under” something

(4) Refers to the ability to bear up under pressure.

(a) The Thessalonians had come to faith in the midst of persecution and continued to serve God in the pressure cooker of attacks by both Jews and pagans.

(b) This is not a stoic resignation to whatever circumstances fate might bring one’s way, but a joyful bearing up under pressure.

b. Hope

(1) Many non-believers think that Christians simply engage in wishful thinking.

(2) When we speak of faith or hope, they often think that we are mindless ignoramuses who dream of a pie in the sky future.

(3) Nothing could be further from the truth.

(4) Christians have a hope that is based on evidence.

(a) We have read the Scriptures and believe what they say.

(b) We have seen past promises of God fulfilled and believe that all of His promises are good.

(c) We see the world around us and have concluded that only God could bring to pass and sustain the physical universe.

(d) We have had a personal experience of being born-again and we know what He has done in us.

(e) All of these evidences and more have caused us to place our faith and hope in Him.

(f) Biblical hope is not wishful thinking.

(g) It is waiting expectantly for what God, who cannot lie, has promised.

(h) Illustration: my hope is that the sun will rise tomorrow. Based on what I know and have experienced, it will. But God’s promises are even more sure than that.

c. The faith of the Thessalonians which fostered their love for one another also produced hope in them, a hope that caused them to persevere through whatever trials might come their way. They did it with joy because the object of their hope was the Lord Jesus Christ.

d. Particularly, their hope was in the return of the Lord as is evident from this letter and the second one, as well.

(1) The Bible teaches us that Christ will return, just as he left, and will set up His kingdom and rule the earth with a rod of iron for 1000 years.

(2) After this, we will go into the eternal state with Him.

e. This is the promise of God and the Thessalonians believed it and it caused them to joyfully embrace their trials.

2. Illustration:

a. Book of Hebrews is an exhortation to Jews to bear up, to persevere in the midst of persecution (see 10:32-34).

b. This is a proof of genuine faith.

c. Only true Christians will persevere to the end, and only those who persevere to the end will be shown to be true believers.

3. Application:

a. So how about you?

b. Would people say about you, “Man, it doesn’t matter what the devil and the world throws at him or her. They see the best in every situation and trust God.”

c. Do you, like James exhorts, consider it the highest joy whenever you face multi-faceted trials?

d. Does your hope produce a joyful perseverance?

e. Or are you a grumbler? Are you a complainer? Do you pull back and hide when trouble comes?

V. Conclusion

A. Well, Paul began his letter with a mention of his thanks to God for the Thessalonians. Today we saw how he and the others gave thanks and also when they gave thanks.

B. More than that, we saw that Paul and the others remembered three virtues that so impressed and delighted them that they constantly brought them before the Lord whenever they prayed together.

C. These virtues are a part and parcel of being a Christian. If they are not present, then you are not a Christian.

1. Without faith it is impossible to please God.

2. Without love, whatever we do counts for nothing with God.

3. Without hope, we will not persevere until the end.

D. Beloved, search your heart and make sure that these virtues are present in your life. If they truly are, then let’s work together to make sure that we have works which please God, and that we are laboring intensely for one another, and that we persevere together in the work of the church, until the coming of my Lord and your Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen?

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