Experience and Expectation

Christ Covenant Church
Rev. Marq Toombs
12 May 2019
Fourth Sunday of Easter

Series on 1 Thessalonians — The Future Shapes the Present

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Sermon Text: 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13

Therefore when we could bear [endure] it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish* [make you stand, set you up] and exhort [comfort, counsel] you in your faith, that no one be moved [lit. wag the tail; fig. agitate, move back and forth] by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined [appointed] for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, [to be pressed, squeezed] just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news [lit. proclaimed the gospel] of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly [lit. you have good memories of us and always…] and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if [since] you are standing fast* in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish* your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

To refresh your memory, here’s the situation at Thessalonica.

Paul and his coworkers preached the gospel in the synagogue and the marketplace. There were mixed responses. Some believed the gospel and received Jesus Christ as Lord and King. Others reacted violently against the message and its messengers. Christians were harrassed and forced to pay fines. Paul and his coworkers were forced to go into hiding and smuggled out of the city under cover of darkness. They continued preaching the gospel everywhere they went, but their aggressors pursued them from city to city until they finally got far enough away.

Now, Paul is writing the church at Thessalonica a letter, from 300 miles away in Athens.

In this letter he looks back on those unfortunate events in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. By gospel, I don’t mean the crucifixion and resurrection only. I also mean the ascension and parousia (coming and appearing) of Jesus Christ.

As we have seen in this miniseries, every chapter of this letter ends with a vision of the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is why we say the Future Shapes the Present. Put a fancy way, eschatology shapes ethics — and experience. The promise of his coming reshapes the practice of our going. The end shapes the now.

As we move towards the end of all things, the end moves towards the now in all things.

Twice in this text Paul says, we could endure it no longer. We couldn’t stand it. We couldn’t take it. We couldn’t bear not knowing how our little children were doing in our absence.

In context, Paul has described himself and his coworkers as a mother, a brother, and a father. He feels a kindred spirit with the church. We are family.

As a parent, you can put up with lots of things, almost anything, until it comes to your kids. They are your pressure point. If someone messes with your kids, or if something bad happens to one of your kids, that changes everything, doesn’t it?

@DailyKeller once tweeted, “Once you become a parent you will never be happier than your unhappiest child. Your heart is tied up with them.”

The same holds true for pastors in many ways.

A pastor is only as happy as the least happy lamb of the flock under his care; a minister is only as content as his most discontent member.

Like the apostle Paul, he will feel anguish and distress until he hears the good news of their love and faith. And only when he knows they are standing fast in the Lord will his heart be comforted and relieved.

Already/Not Yet

Experience

The church at Thessalonica has experienced hard times.

Acts 17 — After Paul and co-workers preached the gospel, some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.

The Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd.

1 Thessalonians 2 — You suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved. 

[Note: In light of recent news, I feel compelled to say that Paul was not anti-semitic at all. Jesus was a Jew. And Paul was a Jew who became a Jesus follower — a Christian. He simply wanted his kinsmen to do the same. He is simply stating facts about what happened in Thessalonica — the Jews did this, the Gentiles did that.]

They were in good company with Christ and the prophets = sharing in their sufferings, bearing the cross.

That was Then, This is Now: You’ve experienced hard times as well. Afflictions come in many shapes and sizes.

Expectations

Fantastic expectations vs Realistic expectations 

Contempo church and church planters = promotes sensationalism, mind-blowing, spine-tingling, authentic community, and fun experiences

Apostolic church = promised cross-bearing — “you yourselves know that we are destined [appointed] for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, [to be pressed, squeezed] just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.”

China, Sri Lanka, and Other places. We’re starting to feel the pressure and squeeze more and more in the USA.

Already/Not Yet

Experience

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news [lit. proclaimed the gospel] of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly [lit. you have good memories of us and always…] and long to see us, as we long to see you . . . For now we live, since you are standing fast in the Lord.

The good news and report bring sweet relief. You can almost hear Paul’s sigh of relief as the report brings him a breath of fresh air.

Afflictions can make or break a person.

They often destabilize folks, but in this case, the church was stabilized in the midst of them. They were standing fast, not stumbling around or falling down or giving up.

They were resisting the pressures of the Tempter. They were living the cross-shaped life.

Expectations

Now may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish* your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Notice that Paul did not prayer for better conditions or circumstances, but for deeper and fuller love for two things: the church and the world; one another and all.

For brothers and sisters, friends and family, neighbors and strangers — even enemies!

Love is the ultimate apologetic — the ultimate reason and defense for the Christian faith.

The reason for the prayer: so that you heart may be established / stand fast.

Sanctification prepares us for the coming of the Lord. The future shapes the present.