Encouragement to continue to grow in Christ
Lesson text: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4
Preached in Quabbin Valley on 4-19-09
We will be looking at the second letter to the Thessalonians over the next few weeks.
It seems that Paul planted this church in three weeks time. Now that is as far as I am concerned quite a feat but it wasn’t long before he was forced to leave the city. You can read about that in Acts. Paul was forced to leave due to the opposition from many of the Jews.
It seems very unlikely that once Paul was gone that the problems for these Christians would stop. You can be sure that there were still problems even after Paul had left. Remember this is a three week old church and new Christians and although they are left with help, Paul left some to help the church, they are new and being persecuted by outside forces.
Paul writes a letter to the Thessalonians and that is the first letter that we are not going to be looking at but not too long after Paul writes first Thessalonians he writes to them again.
1) Paul’s thanks to God
Paul opens up his second letter to the Thessalonians by saying:
2 Thessalonians 1:1 Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. (2Th 1:1-3 NIV)
Paul starts off by encouraging these Christians. Paul is not making things up or lying to them but wanting to encourage them. He wants to lift their spirits. So Paul mentions how he and those with him have a duty to give thanks to God for them. The word “ought” is the word for an obligation, Paul felt obligated to thank God for these Christians, for what God was doing in them and through them. There are two reasons that Paul mentions why he is obligated to thank God for them.
1- Their faith was growing abundantly; it was growing more and more. Their faith was growing like a weed we might say. Weeds just grow and grow and grow. No matter what kind of soil you have or watering or sunlight it seems that weeds just grow. That’s what’s going on here with these Christians, their faith is just growing. In the very midst of struggles these Christians were increasing in faith. As we get further in to this letter we will find out that some of the struggles were coming from within the church membership. There were certainly external pressures on these Christians but no matter what was going on Paul says their faith has been increasing. That doesn’t mean that each individual Christian in this group was growing in faith but it meant that collectively Paul heard of their faith as a body growing.
a. You know it seems that the church actually grows more rapidly in times of persecution; it seems that faith increases when times are tough. Now why might that be? Because people are moved to rely more heavily on God and less on themselves.
b. Not only do trials strengthen those who love God and want a relationship with Christ but it weeds out those who have come to Christ for some other reason, it weeds out those who really never wanted a relationship with God.
i. Jesus told the parable of seeds being sown in different types of soil and he said
ii. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. (Mat 13:20-22 ESV)
c. I think we need to start looking at struggles, trials, and difficulties in a different light. Shouldn’t we rather consider these hard times as times of growth and times to lean more fully on Christ?
d. The Thessalonian Christians are having problems like every other person with wife, work, husband, and kids, but they are also having struggles in the church and from those outside the church who would like nothing more than to see the church fold and for this talk about Jesus the Messiah to halt.
2- The second reason he gives for be obligated to thank God for them is the love that every one of them has for one another. 2 Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. (2Th 1:3 ESV)
a. These Christians love one another but they don’t stop there, their love is growing abundantly, overflowing is the idea. Not that every individual member is growing in love there are a few, not many who it seems are not working together in love but the majority of these Christians are growing and overflowing in their love for one another.
b. We have talked before about how we are to love one another haven’t we. Should we be growing in love for the family of Christ that meets in Ware? We should be increasing in our love for those whom we see and worship with on a regular basis and it needs to be more than a surface level kindness. Love has to do with wanting what’s best for another. Do you want what’s best for the Christian sitting next to in the chair? Do you want what’s best for the Christians in this room?
c. How do we love? By becoming more intimately involved with each other getting to know one another and by keeping one another from committing sin and by encouraging one another to live more Christ-like each day.
d. These Christians were growing in faith and in their love for one another. Do you think they were drawing closer to God? The natural result of a growing faith and a growing love for other Christians is a drawing closer to God.
i. Can a person love God and hate his brother or sister in Christ? 19
ii. We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1Jo 4:19-21 NIV)
2) Paul boasts of the Thessalonians
Paul goes on to say that he actually boasts to other churches about them.
2 Thessalonians 1:4 Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. (2Th 1:4 NIV)
What’s Paul doing here? He is trying to encourage these Christians by letting them know that their faith and love is an example to others. They are focused on Christ or they wouldn’t be growing in faith and love but remember they are undergoing persecution and afflictions but it’s hard to endure under pressure isn’t it. Paul wants them to continue to endure in Christ.
Did you realize that Christians are to be examples one to another, and when a Christian or church is being faithful and growing when they are going through hardships it’s OK to encourage them by letting them know that they are seen as an example to others as they follow Christ through the fire. We’re not talking about lying or puffing someone up or by telling them wonderful things about themselves so they will treat us well or something like that.
Were talking about telling the truth in love and encouraging them to continue to be strong. That’s what Paul is doing here. It’s not wrong for us to as Paul is doing here as long as we are not lying or messaging someone’s ego.
If a person is in a race and it’s a long one and they are doing well don’t we encourage them by saying “you're doing good, keep it up, others are looking to you as their example” and things like that? We do. We are in a race together and sometimes you’re running the race in such a way that reflects Christ and its hard and I can come along side you and say you’re doing good, keep going, you’re an example to me and others.
Ultimately Paul is trying to encourage these Christians to continue to grow in faith and love and to continue to endure in trials, as they have been as good Christian soldiers.
What can we learn from this passage?
1- We ought to give thanks to God for Christians who are striving to be Christ-like.
2- We ought to be growing in faith towards God and love for one another.
3- And we ought to encourage Christians who are struggling in life to remain strong in the Lord. Don’t tell them lies don’t puff them up but encourage them. And not necessarily they way Paul is doing here. We can encourage in many ways.
I want to encourage all of you to commit yourselves a new to Christ, commit yourself this day once again to Christ, leave the past in the past look to the Cross for your hope, help, and power and press ever onward toward the goal.
Let’s do that as we enjoy the Lord’s Supper.