2010-02-07 (am) 1 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5 Present Hope
When we were last looking at Thessalonians, the apostle Paul was explaining his absence from them. He knew there were people who were disparaging his good name. He knew that the pressures the Thessalonians were facing could tempt them to turn away from the truth.
What Paul was feeling was a bit like a parent whose child goes off to college. You know what’s out there: partying, good friends and potentially bad friends. Will he find a church? Will he put into practise all the things I have been trying to hammer into his brain for the last 18 years?
So, before he leaves, you try to cram all the advice you can think of into the last minute. Call me the moment you get there. Call me if you’re lonely. Call me if you’re having too much fun. Go to church, read your Bible, pray, everyday. Keep your room clean. Do your laundry, here’s a notebook on how to do it.
And with many hugs and more tears, he leaves. And, nothing. No phone call. The police haven’t called either, so you know he’s not in trouble or dead. A week goes by. Then another, a month, another month. Finally, at the beginning of December, he calls. Hi Mom! I’m coming home for Christmas, okay? Bye!
Now, Paul said that he’s like a parent to the Thessalonians. He’s both like a nursing mother and also like a loving father. Though he was only there for a very short time, possibly only as long as 3 weeks, he cares deeply for this young congregation.
Paul knows what they are facing. He knows the temptations they’ll experience. Paul warned them before he left.
Okay, you’ve received the good news about Jesus. You’ve seen the truth. There isn’t many gods, there’s only one God in 3 persons. God the Father created the world. God the Son, Jesus saved the world by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. God the Holy Spirit lives in you and convinces you of the truth.
Even though this is good news, even though this is the truth, even though this is reality, lots of people don’t want to hear it. Lots of people are invested in the lies. They are so invested that the cost of turning to the truth is too great for them. They are going to ridicule you. They are going to bully you. They will economically sanction you to get you to turn back to the old way of life.
Satan will tempt you. He will remind you of your old gods. He will try to tell you that they are more effective than the God in heaven. He will tell you that those gods will make things easier and better for you. Your business will grow, you will prosper, you will have all the desires of your heart.
But don’t believe it for a second. You’ve seen the one true God! You know that he is greater than anything else on earth! You know that he is totally satisfying. You know this because you have been thirsty, you’ve been parched, you’ve lived in a spiritual desert and now you’ve been given living water. You’re thirst has been quenched as with the coldest, most refreshing water!
You know that God’s mercy is unfathomable. You can’t measure it. You try, you let out the line, but the line runs out far before you get close to the bottom. You can’t possibly imagine God’s amazing love and mercy. From God you’ve received promise after promise. No matter what you’ve done in the past, it will not be counted against you. No matter what sin you might yet commit, you will be forgiven, because you stand before the righteous judge with Christ’s righteousness wrapped around you.
You are able to turn aside all temptation because you have given your hearts to God. Yes, you will struggle. You will be faced with all kinds of challenges, but you are able to overcome them! You have the Holy Spirit living in you! God has given you a new heart, a heart that pounds after Him! You are full of new opportunities, so new and wonderful and great that even though the temptations are mighty and powerful, they pale in comparison to what you have in Christ.
Okay, it has been three weeks. Don’t forget what I’ve told you. Put it into practise. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. I’m going to have to remember that phrase, that’s a good one. Let the light of Christ live in you and shine out of you. You were once in the darkness, but just as God spoke and light appeared in the darkness, so God spoke and light appeared in the darkness of your hearts and you are new!
I have to go. It is for your protection that I leave. I will be back. I will do what I can to help you. I will write. I might even send Timothy and Silas to be with you. I care so deeply for you. I wish I could stay, but I must go. Be strong!
And so Paul left. After way too short a time, he had to go. But he can’t stop thinking about the little church in Thessalonica. He’s concerned. I wonder how Bob’s rheumatism is. I wonder how Frank’s coping with his glaucoma. I wonder how business is going for George. I better pray that they will not waver in their faith in God. I better pray that God will give them strength to face every challenge to their faith.
And so Paul prayed. And he tried to go. He would leave the city, only to be turned back. He was frustrated. The funds to travel weren’t there. He couldn’t make it. He had people in Athens who were listening to his message. He had responsibilities there. He longed to go, but couldn’t.
What parent wouldn’t want to go to the university to check up on their child? Who wouldn’t wish to see how their child is doing? Out of love you hope that all is well. You hope that they are holding onto what you have taught them.
Look how Paul refers to the church in Thessalonica. The Thessalonian church is his joy, his crown when Christ returns. This means that they are proof of God’s work in Paul. God was using Paul to minister to the Thessalonians. God blessed Paul with everything he needed to preach the gospel, and preach it well. God broke down Paul’s pride, and he willingly let God do it, so that God could transform Paul’s weakness into strength.
And Paul knew, he knew that if the report from Thessalonica was good, that they were still faithful in the face of opposition, then God was indeed at work in them. If they were still faithful, then they would be jewels in Paul’s crown.
Do you know where this comes from? When we go before the Throne of God at the end of time, we will give an accounting of what we’ve done in this life. Yes, the bad things will be mentioned, but not counted against us because of Christ’s righteousness. But the good things, the obedience we did, the passing on of truth to our children, to others will be like jewels in a crown. They will be proof positive of our missionary efforts.
We are all missionaries. We all have a field it is our families. If God has blessed us with children, then we have a responsibility to teach the truth to our children. We are commanded by God to teach them the faith. To demonstrate it in our lives and to pass it on to their lives. We will all give an account to God in this.
But there will be more expected from actual missionaries like Paul. More will be expected from Sunday School teachers. More will be expected from Pastors. God has placed a huge weight of responsibility upon us.
But before we freak out, before we beat ourselves up for realising how much we fail and how much we will mess up, we have to remember that God equips us for this task. God has given us everything we need to invest all this truth into our children.
We have to be on guard for things that will distract us from this task. It might be laziness. It might be indifference. It might be our own desires to do things we want to do now, instead of doing the task which God has placed before us. We have our children for a very short time, we must be focussed on passing the truth of Jesus Christ to them, seizing every opportunity available to us: family devotions, teachable moments, church, Christian school, Christian college, to name a few.
We do this, because we know that trials and temptation exist. The situation in Thessalonica is the same as that all over the world. The worldview of everyone around them was hostile to Christianity. The Greeks worshipped a plurality of gods. The Jews worshipped an incomplete understanding of God; they worshipped a religious system.
The world we live in is very similar. People worship a plurality of Gods: they worship nature, trees, rocks, mother earth, they worship humans, athletes, movie stars, and other famous people. They constantly hold these things up for us to follow as well.
They follow false teachings about the origin of life, of the structure of the universe, that it all happened by chance, that it wasn’t created by God. And they try, through subtle and not so subtle ways to convince us otherwise. They are at times militant. They allow themselves to have false notions of religion, of Christianity so that they can persist, and even force their views on Christians.
And we interact with this world all the time. But we have the truth, we know what reality is. We know what the true worldview is, what the true culture is. And because we know it is true, we trust that God will protect us.
Because there is this reality that Paul was very concerned about. He was concerned that having had such a short time with the Thessalonians, he was not able to teach them enough. He was concerned that the tempter would have tempted them to abandon the truth.
Don’t we have the same concerns for our children? Don’t we hope that we’ve done everything we can to teach them the truth? Don’t we also pray? Don’t we pray not only for our own children, but also for our grandchildren and great grand children? Don’t we even find ourselves praying for other people’s children?
Aren’t we abundantly aware of the temptations that so easily can lead even the strongest astray? But don’t we still take some comfort in knowing that the God of all truth is greater than the gods of this world? Don’t we take comfort in knowing that God loves our children even more greatly than we do? Don’t we pray, knowing that God is able to lead those who have turned away back into the fold? Don’t we pray knowing that God is the good shepherd who leaves the 99 in order to rescue the lost one?
This is the present hope that we have. That God is faithful even when we are not. That God has poured out his truth into our lives. That God is transforming us, giving us new hearts, new minds, to do his will. God is empowering us to be faithful followers. God is empowering us to be excellent parents. God is empowering us to be excellent missionaries, teachers, and pastors.
We have seen God’s glory. We know we will enjoy him forever. We know we will glorify God forever. We have tasted the truth, we have consumed the living water. We are completely satisfied in God. We know nothing else compares, nothing else comes close to the goodness of God.
And so we joyfully follow God, regardless of the circumstances. The circumstances of this life, the trials and the persecutions do not change the character of God. He is still the God of all goodness. He is still love. He is still our Father. Rather, the trials of this life simply throw God’s greatness into sharper contrast.
Our present hope in God results in trust. We trust God’s promises to provide: patience for raising our children, strength to work hard and diligently, jobs, money, the good things in this life.
Above all, our present hope reminds us that God is with us, no matter what. Amen.