Hope and Endurance
June 21, 2009
1 Thessalonians 1:2-6
In Luke, chapter 9, verse 51, we read, When the days were coming to a close for Him to be taken up, He determined to journey to Jerusalem
In Experiencing God Day-by-Day, Henry Blackaby says it is easy to become distracted in the Christian life! The moment you understand what God wants you to do, it will seem as though everyone around you requires your time and attention! When the time came for Jesus to go to the cross, He “set His face” toward Jerusalem, so that nothing would prevent Him from accomplishing His Father's will. So obvious was His resolve to go to Jerusalem that the Samaritans, who hated the Jews, rejected Him because they recognized that He was a Jew traveling through their village to the hated city of Jerusalem.
Jesus determined not to digress from His mission, but He took time to minister to many people along His way. He sent out seventy disciples into the surrounding towns (Luke 10:1). He healed lepers (Luke 17:11–19). He cured a man of dropsy (Luke 14:1–4). He brought salvation to the home of Zaccheus (Luke 19:1–10). He continued to teach His disciples (Luke 15:1–32). Jesus did not refuse to minister to others as He went to Calvary, but ultimately He refused to be deterred from His Father's will.
If you know what God wants you to do, set your sights resolutely toward that goal with full determination to accomplish it (Prov. 4:25). Your resolve to go where God is leading ought to be evident to those around you. Beware of becoming so sidetracked by the opportunities around you that you lose sight of God's ultimate goal for you. Do not succumb to the temptation to delay your obedience or to discard it altogether. Once you have received a clear assignment from God, your response should be unwavering obedience.
Adrian Rogers of Love Worth Finding Ministries adds, John Calvin was one of the greatest theologians who ever lived. He said, "I gave up all for Christ and what have I found? I have found everything in Christ." Do you wish you could say that too? You can. Just don't get confused about what it means to "give up all" to find Christ. So many think that being a disciple means they must get into a movement or go to the mission field or attend seminary. Friend, being a disciple is fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ -- knowing Jesus intimately and following Him wherever He leads. Fellowship with Christ comes before service for Christ. We must minister to Jesus before we can minister to anyone else.
Today we will begin the study of the book of First Thessalonians. Thessalonica was the capital city of the Roman province of Macedonia — present day Greece. It was a populous city — a center of trade and commerce, ideally suited to Paul's missionary strategy to concentrate on centers of influence in order to evangelize as many as possible. Paul stopped there briefly as he travels on his second missionary journey with his co-laborers, Silas and Timothy. (For details on this journey you will have to go to Acts 15:36 through chapter 18). Now it is AD 51-52. He had left Timothy in Thessalonica, and traveled south to Corinth where he has been for 18 months. Now Timothy arrives to report about the problems in their church plant. So Paul sits down to write his first letter to the church he left behind in Thessalonica. Many biblical scholars consider this letter as Paul's first New Testament epistle.
He writes for several reasons: he wants to encourage the faithful believers and reassure them and exhort them to keep on keeping on until Christ's return. Paul needs to deal with errors in their thinking and lifestyles and he also needs to defend himself, his conduct and motives against opponents seeking to undermine his authority and work in Thessalonica. I gather some of the believers were having Roast Paul for Sunday dinner!
Please open your Bible and turn to 1 Thessalonians, chapter one and we’ll read verses 1 - 3: Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
In these three verses, Paul encourages the believers. He gives thanks to God that faith has produced work and love has produced labor and hope has produced endurance. Let’s look at faith, hope, and love. You might say that faith in yourself produces hard work, and love for family produces labor to earn food, and hope for victory produces endurance to finish the race. And, of course, that would be true. But it wouldn't be Christian. It wouldn't be of any spiritual or eternal value. It wouldn't be what Paul is talking about here.
When Paul speaks of faith giving rise to work and love giving rise to labor and hope giving rise to endurance, he has in mind some very definite Christian, spiritual transactions between us and God—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Notice how Paul links the Christian life of faith and love and hope to every member of the Christian Trinity:
First, notice the relationship to God the Son: at the end of verse 3 the faith and love and hope are "in our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul is describing particular spiritual effects of being in relation to a living Person, Jesus Christ. Faith and love and hope which are "in our Lord Jesus Christ" give rise to a particular kind of work and labor and endurance that count for eternity because they come from Christ and honor Christ. We often call this work “ministry”, and as you know, ministry can be for Christ without coming from Christ. We all have a ministry. Is your ministry Christ-led? If it is Christ-led it will bring honor to Christ and have eternal value. If it’s not Christ-led, it will be wood, hay, and straw – it won’t last. 1 Corinthians 3:11-13 states: For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. Our work, labor, and endurance must be built on the sure foundation of the Son of God.
Second, notice the relationship of these things to God the Father. At the beginning of verse 3 it is to God the Father that Paul gives thanks for the faith and love and hope that the Thessalonians have: "Remembering before our God and Father . . . " So evidently God the Father has been instrumental in producing this faith and love and hope, since he gets thanked for it.
Now, let’s look at verse four together: For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, In verse 4 the connection with God the Father is even more specific. If faith in Christ produces work, and love in Christ produces labor, and hope in Christ produces endurance, this is clear evidence that the Thessalonians have been chosen by God. Verse 4 connects with verse 3 like this: "We give thanks for your faith and love and hope for (by this) we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you." We know that you are among the elect of God because of the fruitfulness of your faith and love and hope. When we were studying the book of John, chapter fifteen spoke frequently of bearing fruit (Jn 15:2, 8, 16). As the bride of Christ we bear fruit to God the Father (Rom 7:4)
Third, notice the relationship to God the Holy Spirit. Verses 5 and 6 make the connection clear. Now turn and we’ll look at these verses "For our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction." So the change in these people's lives is not only evidence that they are chosen by God the Father, as verse 4 says; it is also evidence that the Holy Spirit was powerfully at work within them.
Verse 6 spells out the evidence of this just like verse 3 did: "You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit." The fact that affliction didn't destroy the joy of their faith is evidence that the gospel had come with Holy Spirit power and not just in word. I just finished reading a book by Randy Alcorn call “Safely Home” about the persecuted church in China. If you have the Holy Spirit living in you, like the believers in China, affliction can increase your joy. I highly recommend that each of you read “Safely Home”, an amazing story of hope and endurance.
So the upshot of all this is that the faith and love and hope of verse 3 are not general psychological principles that happen to work and make people more productive and stable. Rather they are profound theological realities. They come from a relationship with the living Lord, Jesus Christ. They are the result and evidence of being chosen by God the Father. And they are the work of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of a particular message called the gospel. If you’re true believer, know this people, you were chosen by God to be His child. Ephesians 1:4-5 tells us: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love
he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, What an encouragement to know God reached down from heaven, tapped us on the shoulder, and said, “You’re mine!”
What we want to focus on this morning is the relationship between endurance and hope. Our text is found in verse 3 and in particular the phrase, "endurance of hope." I take this to mean that hope produces endurance, or that endurance is the fruit of hope. My reason for this interpretation is that "work of faith" and "labor of love" seem to have that meaning—namely, a work which comes from faith and a labor which comes from love. Faith produces work. See James. He says, by works faith is made perfect (Jm 2:22). And love produces labor. Similarly then, endurance comes from hope and hope produces endurance.
The question I want to ask this morning is this: How do you keep on enduring in obedience to Christ—say, in some relationship or some ministry—how do you keep going month after month for years or even decades when there are emotional and relational and spiritual and financial obstacles, and when the normal human encouragements evaporate and you feel forgotten and alone?
What does it take to hang in there when the glamour of a new ministry opportunity is gone? The limelight is terribly fickle, isn’t it? And it can move from ministry to ministry in the local church. For a while it is on the music ministry. Then there is a special focus on revival meetings. Then comes a missions opportunity, and going across cultures is a glorious thing. Then Women’s Ministry stands out, then urban ministries, then small groups, then camp ministry. Yes, even ministry opportunities can be fickle.
As the limelight focuses on a ministry, it looks bright and exciting, and so that ministry attracts people. There is a thrill and joy and camaraderie and a sense of God’s power. But then the limelight moves on. Gradually no one seems to be talking about your ministry any more. It doesn't turn up in the Star Phoenix. Other ministries seem to be getting people excited.
Does God mean, then, for ministries to flourish only when they are in the limelight The answer is clearly, NO. What then is needed? The answer is: Endurance.
Absolutely indispensable in the ongoing life of the church of God is the power to endure - to keep going month after month, year after year, even decade after decade in obedience. And for many of us that will mean long-haul endurance in a particular ministry in spite of emotional and relational and spiritual and financial obstacles, even when the encouragements of the limelight and the attention and the glory and the admiration are gone, and we feel like the joys of ministry are passing us by.
What does God require of you in your ministry or in your marriage for that matter, in the burden of a sickness or disability? He requires endurance. And where does endurance come from? It comes from hope. "I give thanks to God . . . for your work of faith and labor and endurance of hope." Says Paul to the church at Thessalonica.
Without the endurance of hope, the work of faith and the labor of love will prove to be no real work of God but only the love of the limelight. We do not live in a generation that puts a high premium on endurance do we? Endurance in relationships or jobs or in ministry. And we are very much a product of our age. If we follow Scripture, we will be swimming against the tide. So be it! This is a call for the endurance of the saints! Listen to what Revelation 14:12 has to say: Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
Christians are supposed to endure in the path of obedience, not so they inherit the blessings of heaven; as the blessings of heaven are certain. Endurance is the path of obedience. Our confidence in Christ enables us to endure.
Is the message of the gospel, you must endure to the end in order to be saved? Of course not! The message of the gospel is you shall endure to the end because you are saved, because you have the indwelling power supplied by the Holy Spirit.
You shall endure precisely because you are saved. Salvation is the free gift of grace. As Ephesians 2:8 tells us: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, We endure because we are sure that the blessings of heaven are certainly ours.
Now the reason I stress this is that the place you must go to strengthen your endurance – to receive hope - is to the Scriptures. And I don't want you to miss the precious encouragement of God in Scripture – the double-edged sword of Hebrews 4:12 is intended to strengthen and sustain your hope and empower your endurance. First let's look at the Old Testament then the New Testament.
In Jeremiah 32:40 God promises,
I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.
Ezekiel says in 36:27.
I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my commandments.
So what do we learn from these verses? We learn that the people of God SHALL endure in the path of obedience. "I SHALL put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me!" "I SHALL put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes." Endurance is a promised gift in the Old Testament. It is one of the great SHALLS of God's sovereign grace!
And so we come over to the New Testament and read in Philippians 1:6, "I am sure that he who began a good work in you SHALL bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." God WILL do it. And 2 Timothy 1:12, "I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me." In other words God SHALL keep Paul faithful in the ministry he has been given, and He shall keep you and I faithful in the ministry He calls us to. There’s a saying, “If He takes you to it, He will take you through it.” If you feel God has abandoned your ministry because it is no longer exciting and new, rest assured, that is not God. He who calls you is faithful (1 Thess 5:24)
To the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:8–9) Paul says, "Christ SHALL confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son." In other words, if God calls you into the fellowship of his Son, he will give you endurance to the end. Stand on the promise of 1 Thessalonians 5:24 "He who calls you is faithful, and he WILL do it!" and "Those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Romans 8:30).
The path from justification to glorification is a path of obedience. This path is the guarantee and the gift of God bought for God's people by the blood of the new covenant. Turn with me to Hebrews chapter 13 and we’ll look together at another great promise. I’ll read verses 20 and 21: "Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" . The blood-bought blessing of the new covenant is the commitment of almighty God never to turn away from doing us good and working in us what is pleasing in his sight, and thus to cause us to ENDURE in obedience to the end. Endurance is a gift and guarantee of the new covenant sealed by the blood of Jesus for all who trust in him. Galatians 6:9 says: And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
And so we take heart when we feel weak, and we look away from ourselves to God's grace and power and rekindle our hope that we can and will endure in the path of obedience to which he has called us.
Now these are texts in the Bible which are for your encouragement and strength. Endurance has been bought by the death of Christ for his people and is guaranteed. Endurance is a must for God's people and by it they will obtain the reward of salvation. You shall endure because you are saved.
And Hebrews 10:35–36 teaches: "Do not throw away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised." You need to endure so that you can do the will of God so that you can obtain what is promised. The inheritance is given to those who endure in obedience to the will of God Hebrews 3:6, 12 says “but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. In 6:11, Hebrews And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end,
And 10:23: Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
Those are the two kinds of texts you find in the Bible concerning endurance. The one kind assures us that we SHALL endure because we are saved. The other kind urges us to endure so that we will be saved fro wrath. Endurance is a gift and endurance is a duty. And these are not in conflict. When dealing with a holy and sovereign God, these are not contradictions. We MUST endure to the end, for he is holy; and we SHALL endure to the end, for he is sovereign and He has empowered us.
The SHALLS of Scripture Do Three Things
- They turn us away from all self-reliance and boasting (1 Corinthians 4:6 -13) and direct us to the sovereign power of God.
2.Turn us away from all legalism—the thought that we could ever earn the heavenly reward (Eph 2:8-9). It was bought by Christ. It is a free gift and cannot be earned. Endurance is not a way of paying for salvation. It is a way of experiencing grace and living by faith. As Galatians 2:20 tells us, It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. And, last
3. The SHALLS of Scripture give confidence and peace to the broken and contrite who cast themselves on Jesus for forgiveness and help. James 5:11 says, Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
And the MUSTS of Scripture Do Three Things
- They remind us of the miracle of conversion. You can't be converted to Christ and have everything stay the way it was. There MUST be a change—a change that endures. There must be the "work of faith, the labor of love, and the endurance of hope." "Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh" (Galatians 5:24).
2. The MUSTS of Scripture direct our attention to the exceedingly great value of the reward of heaven. If we must endure, and if endurance comes from hope, then I must get my heart free from the love of the world and set it on the value of the things above so that my hope in God will be kindled and I will have the power to endure in obedience to Christ. As Colossians 3:2-4 tells us, Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
3.The MUSTS of Scripture provide us with a way of testing whether we have any right to claim the SHALLS for ourselves. To whom do the SHALLS of Scripture belong? They belong to those who fly to Christ for forgiveness and help. In Colossians 3:16-17, we’re told, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
So the SHALLS of Scripture give the Christian life its peace and security and stability, and the MUSTS of Scripture give the Christian life its urgency and earnestness and mission. The SHALLS base the Christian life on the sovereign grace and power of God. The MUSTS remind us of the necessity to depend on this grace and power.
So in the end both the SHALLS and the MUSTS of Scripture point us to the same thing: they point us away from ourselves to the sovereign grace and power of God. The SHALLS do it with promises of grace. The MUSTS do it with commands.
And so when you read in Scripture that God SHALL cause you to endure (Jeremiah 32:40), the aim is that, with all peace and joy, you would set your hope on the sovereign grace of God, and in that hope find the strength to endure. And when you read in Scripture that you MUST endure, the aim is the same: that, with all urgency and earnestness, you would set your hope on the sovereign grace of God, and in that hope find the strength to endure.
The SHALLS of Scripture are sweet and reassuring. The MUSTS of Scripture are urgent and earnest. Both call us to hope in God..
The MUSTS are not telling us to endure in our own strength. And the SHALLS are not telling us that we don't have to endure. Both the SHALLS and the MUSTS are telling us: HOPE IN GOD! HOPE IN GOD! HOPE IN GOD! For this is the great source of power to endure in the path of obedience.
If you put your hope in the sovereign grace and power of God and not in your own strength, or in the approval of others or in money or in fleeting pleasures or in status, then when the limelight shifts off your ministry and you, and the praise of man is gone, and the glamour of self-denial evaporates and all the supports of men crumble, then you SHALL endure—with the endurance of hope.
Therefore my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:58)
In closing, I want to share with you a reflection on life written by comedian George Carlin who died a year ago. George, not known as a profound thinker, gives this sad reflection of life today: The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider Freeways , but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.
We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.
We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things.
We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.
These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom.
This is a picture of hopelessness, isn’t it? But we have HOPE in GOD, hope to endure. “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer 29:11)
If you have not already, put your hope in Christ, do it now. Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, acknowledge your sin, let go of worldly hopes, and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, the power to endure, and the hope of everlasting life.