Calvinism 6: He Will Do It
051-00764 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24
I. Reaching the pinnacle of Mt. Everest.
A. Finishing a job better than you began it.
1. Going to the same job day after day, year after year with the same excitement you had the first day.
2. Celebrating your fiftieth wedding anniversary.
3. Receiving a college degree.
4. Driving in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs.
5. Dancing with the Bolshoi Ballet.
6. Singing at the Met.
7. Reaching the 13th week after 12 weeks of chemotherapy.
8. Losing 20 pounds.
9. Working for justice and peace in an oppressive and violent world.
10. Loving your neighbor whose dog barks all night.
11. Completing a 30 day retreat of silent prayer and meditation.
12. Maintaining your love for life after a crippling accident.
B. All of these things have one thing in common.
1. None of them are possible without perseverance.
2. The determination to see things through to the end no matter what.
a) Whether conflict in a relationship or smooth sailing. Whether feelings are hurt or your heart sings with happiness. Whether your passion is hot, lukewarm or cold.
b) Whether in pain or prosperity. Whether alone or supported. Whether encouraged or discouraged. As it is said, through thick and thin.
3. Perseverance is a dogged determination to finish, and to finish well.
C. This does not mean that perseverance always produces a winning outcome.
1. Yet perseverance itself is winning.
2. Failure is not a matter of reaching a different outcome than you expected.
3. Failure is not following through no matter how hard it is to do.
4. We have all had experiences of quitting when things got too tough or when interests wane.
a) One of my greatest regrets is coming within one merit badge to attain the Boy Scout rank of Eagle and dropping out because it wasn’t much fun anymore.
b) One of my proudest days was when I received my Master’s Degree when I was 39. The journey to that end had begun 17 years earlier. There were many paths and side roads along the way, each one making me better equipped for the work that lay ahead.
c) However, none of those detours appeared to be moving me closer to the goal at the time.
D. According to the writings of John Calvin, perseverance in the faith is an essential characteristic of a Christian life. His followers made perseverance the “P” in TULIP.
1. Total Depravity; Unconditional Election; Limited Atonement; Irresistible Grace; and Perseverance of the saints.
2. Perseverance is a key theme throughout the Bible.
3. The portion of Scripture we read this morning is just one of the many passages which encourage perseverance.
4. Though the application may change, the principle remains the same.
II. Paul’s Instructions to the Thessalonian Church.
A. First he tells those in the Church to respect, submit to, and love their pastors.
1. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 (NIV) We ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.
2. When I say pastors, I mean anyone who is called and ordained to serve Christ as his representatives in leading the Church.
3. Pastor means shepherd. And all Elders and Deacons are called to shepherd the church.
a) Elders serve by governing the church in Christ's name. They received this task when Christ entrusted the apostles and their successors with the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 16:19). Elders are thus responsible for the spiritual well-being of God's people. They must provide true preaching and teaching, regular celebration of the sacraments, and faithful counsel and discipline while keeping in confidence those matters entrusted to them. And they must promote fellowship and hospitality among believers, ensure good order in the church, and stimulate witness to all people.
b) Deacons serve by showing mercy to the church and to all people. They received this task in the early church when the apostles designated special persons for the work of mercy (Acts 6; 2 Cor.8-9). In Christ's name the deacons relieve victims of injustice. By this they show that Christians live by the Spirit of the kingdom, fervently desiring to give life the shape of things to come. Deacons are therefore called to assess needs, promote stewardship and hospitality, collect and disburse resources for benevolence, and develop programs of assistance. They are also called to speak words of Christian encouragement. Thus in word as well as deed they demonstrate the care of the Lord himself.
c) These tasks of elders and deacons call for believers who are Christlike, who are mature in the faith, and who exercise their offices with prayer, patience, and humility.
d) Have you heard or read these words before? They are part of the Form of Ordination in the CRC.
e) Heeding Paul’s words, the same form requires a commitment from the members of the Church: I charge you, people of God, to receive these office bearers as Christ's gift to the church. Recognize in them the Lord's provision for healthy congregational life. Hold them in honor; take their counsel seriously; respond to them with obedience and respect; accept their help with thanks. Sustain them in prayer and encourage them with your support, especially when they feel the burden of their office. Acknowledge them as the Lord's servants among you.
f) Heavy words when the Council makes a decision with which you disagree. Or when your Minister of the Word and Sacraments challenges you to greater holiness in a way you do not like.
4. You may feel that you are more qualified, more intelligent, wiser, or even pious than those who are over you.
a) But each one has been called by God, affirmed by the Church, and ordained to the ministry.
b) You have not. And in the Christian Reformed Church, those who once served as an Elder or Deacon does not qualify them to remain an Elder or Deacon after their term has expired.
5. You see, the authority of the office is in the office, not in the individual. What Paul calls us to is the love, respect, and submission to the office because we believe this is how Christ has chosen to order his Church.
B. Yet he says even more. “Live in peace with each other.”
1. Let me remind you that the word “peace” within the Scriptural context does not simply mean “without conflict.”
2. Peace means living in wholeness, trusting that God is sovereign and in control, even when others make decisions you think are wrong.
3. It is faith that what occurs is not in any hands other than Christ’s.
4. This short line works as a hinge between the 1st instruction and the 2nd.
5. Peace requires order. So submitting to your Council and Pastor is God’s design. The explanation of the work of God’s chosen is God’s design.
C. 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15 (NIV) And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
1. There are three kinds of situations listed with three different kinds of ministry in each one.
2. We should not take these as exhaustive, yet each is significant.
a) Those who are idle are to be warned.
b) Those who are timid are to be encouraged.
c) Those who are weak are to be helped.
3. When the leaders of the Church do things this way, it serves not only to minister but to model for all believers the order of peace.
4. He continues with instructions for everyone.
a) Be patient with everyone.
b) Never think that vengeance or payback is acceptable.
c) Instead, we are called to respond with kindness.
(1) And note well that Paul directs this entire description to the Church, “to each other,” and to the world, “to everyone else.”
D. Tough to live this way? Absolutely. However, Paul speaks with inspiration from God so we may not waver from these instructions for life in Christ.
III. And if you think that is hard enough, keep reading.
A. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 (NIV) Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
B. There are two sets of instructions here.
1. The first is about joy, prayer, and thanksgiving, which are to be activities all the time and in all circumstances.
a) Similar statements are made in other places: 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV) Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Psalm 37:5 (NIV) Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this. Psalm 55:22 (NIV) Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. Philippians 4:4 (NIV) Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
b) It is not according to Paul and others, these activities and perseverance in them is God’s will.
C. The second is about putting out the Spirit’s fire.
1. The way to avoid quenching the Spirit is twofold.
2. First, do not treat prophecies with contempt.
a) Calvin says of this, “By the term prophecy, however, I do not understand the gift of foretelling the future, but as in 1 Corinthians 14:3, the science of interpreting Scripture, so that a prophet is an interpreter of the will of God. For Paul, in the passage which I have quoted, assigns to prophets teaching for edification, exhortation, and consolation, and enumerates, as it were, these departments. Let, therefore, prophecy in this passage be understood as meaning—interpretation made suitable to present use. Paul prohibits us from despising it, if we would not choose of our own accord to wander in darkness.” (commentary on 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians)
3. At the same time, Paul tells us to test everything.
a) The actual word he uses is “prove.”
b) This has a slightly different connotation for testing tends to be the work of skeptics, whereas proving is a work of demonstration.
(1) In other words, do not merely accept everything you hear, even from the pastor, but do not simply reject what you hear either.
(2) Rather hold all teachings up to the light of Scripture and use them in your life to demonstrate what is from the Spirit.
(3) After that, cling to what is good and avoid that which is evil.
c) The effect of what historians and others have called the Enlightenment is that everything is approached at the beginning as if it was wrong and must be proved right.
(1) So we have all seen the contemporary application of everyone is innocent, until proven guilty as everyone is guilty unless they can prove they are innocent.
(2) There is a difference between an honest search for truth, and an assumption that truth is wrong unless proven correct.
D. The greatest difficulty here is in the present and tense.
1. The Church and its members are to persevere without wavering.
2. How is this possible? We all know our weaknesses. We all know that we cannot accomplish these things no matter how hard we try.
IV. The commands of God cannot be decreased because of our incapacity to obey.
A. However, when we are weak we are made strong; when we are low we are lifted up; when we are unable we are made able.
1. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (NIV) May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.
2. We are incapable of making ourselves do what God demands.
3. Yet there is comfort, for God promises to do it when we cannot.
4. Paul calls this Sanctification which is being made pure and holy.
B. And that is not all, because God is the one who sanctifies us.
1. What God calls us to do, he does.
2. And God continually calls us to press onward, be faithful, and persevere.
C. Here is the grace: God wants us to be faithful, so he is faithful to bring us along through our failures, disappointments, troubles, and even our rebellions, to the goal of our salvation, which is to be made righteous and holy through and through.
1. Psalm 138:8 (NIV) The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever— do not abandon the works of your hands.
D. A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water. The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. "I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you." "Why?" asked the bearer. "What are you ashamed of?" "I have been able to only deliver half my load because this crack in my side. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts." The water bearer in his compassion he, "As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” Sure enough, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure. The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house."
E. That’s why it is good to be a cracked pot; the master is sure to do what he wills.