2006.08.20 Lets Make a Difference
Let’s Make a Difference – 1 Thes 5:12-18
It is not uncommon for people or families in Canada to have household pets. Many of us have pets or had pets growing up. The most basic is probably a goldfish; some of us have dogs or cats, maybe a bird. But others have more exotic pets like snakes or reptiles – maybe even an Iguana. I was reading up on Iguana’s this week and found out some interesting things that I didn’t know before – and no I’m not considering getting an Iguana as a pet. Did you know that an Iguana has the ability to change colours? The Iguana can change from a green to a brown and vice versa. They change colours for several different reasons, but primarily in response to external factors such as temperature or stress. So an external influence creates this change in colour of the Iguana. So the Iguana sees something stressful and recognizes the external influence and internally changes and they then appear different. Similar to this chain of events with the Iguana, we as Christians need to be that positive external influence that creates an internal change in others lives. The internal change that is sought in others is that they conform their lives more and more to the image of Jesus Christ. That’s the change that we are desiring – that they might be more like Jesus. This external influence occurs through what we would call encouragement. My definition of encourage would be – to give courage or to instill courage or confidence to others to live like Christ. That’s the reason why we encourage others….to build them up in Christ. There are many different types of encouragement. Most often we probably think of encouragement as saying nice words to someone, maybe writing a short note or card of kind words, or compliments. Maybe praising or thanking someone. But there is so much more to encouragement in my definition above – like a word of warning can be an encouragement; a correction and even a rebuke are also forms of encouragement. By encouraging others we want them to have the courage to live like Christ so sometimes that involves confronting others about the sin in their life. We can also encourage others by our actions, by our service, our example or maybe by blessing them with a gift or doing something thoughtful. So whether by word or action our goal through encouragement is to direct them to Christ. We don’t even have to personally know someone else to be encouraged – there are many biblical examples that we can be encouraged by. Pastor Kevin just spoke several messages on Abraham and there are many ways that we can be encouraged by his life. This morning I will focus more on the relational encouragement – from people that you know.
The passage that we will be studying this morning is found in 1 Thes 5:12-18. But before we dive into those passages, I need to give you a quick synopsis of 1 Thes. When you read this book, you really pick up on how excited Paul is about the Christians at Thessalonica. Paul preached Christ to them and they accepted Christ despite persecution that they faced from those around them. Paul had to leave and he sent Timothy back to encourage them in their faith. Timothy sends back to Paul an encouraging report of how the Thessalonians are continuing and growing in Christ. Paul was this external influence that created an internal change in their lives and now Paul seeing them grow in Christ is being blessed. You see there is blessing when you invest in others’ lives, it may cost you something to invest in their lives, but there is blessing and there can even be disappointment can’t there, in this case Paul was encouraged by the Thessalonians. In 2:19,20 “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” Paul is excited and encouraged by this change in their lives – that they accepted Christ and are living for the Lord. After Paul received the report back from Timothy he says in 3:7-9, “Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?” there is great joy for Paul, because he was faithful to share Christ with these people, he was faithful to get involved in their lives. You may have experienced this before in your life, when you have been used by God to impact someone else, to see them mature and grow in Christ is so encouraging – it is a blessing to have been used by God. Paul is so encouraged by their faith, but in this letter to them he does have to correct a few concepts that were misunderstood and finally we get to our passage. Paul in these verses says I have just a few more tidbits of advice for you. Paul says in 5:11, “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact your are doing.” So they were good at encouraging one another and building each other up, but Paul says I’ve got just a few more instructions for you to help you mature in Christ.
Let’s look at v.12-13. I must credit John MacArthur for the headings for the different types of relationships like Shepherd/Sheep etc. So let’s look at v.12-13. 12Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish (instruct or warn) you. 13Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.
The Shepherd’s responsibility – Work hard among the sheep. Christian leaders need to be hard at work doing the ministry of the Lord. The leaders need to be leading by example – there are no shortcuts. Shepherds your encouragement to the sheep is that you are working hard. The sheep need to see their leaders getting their hands dirty and out there in the battle. Leaders are not lazy and not just sitting back enjoying a title/position or the prestige that comes from some leadership positions; rather shepherds are leading by example – the example of hard work. Now I want to challenge you leaders or those who aspire to be Christian leaders. In the book Biblical Eldership – Alexander Strauch quotes R. Paul Stevens and he says about elders something that is very challenging, “And for tentmakers to survive three full-time jobs (work, family, and ministry), they must also adopt a sacrificial lifestyle. Tentmakers must live a pruned life and literally find leisure and rest in the rhythm of serving Christ. They must be willing to forego a measure of career achievement and private leisure for the privilege of gaining the prize. Many would like to be tentmakers if they could be wealthy and live a leisurely and cultured lifestyle. But the truth is that a significant ministry in the church and community can only come by sacrifice.” If Christian leaders want to be most effective for the Lord then they must sacrifice some areas of leisure/recreation or maybe a promotion at work. Maybe to serve the Lord we will have to give up extra money that could be made by working overtime shifts. You see we are all busy – aren’t we. Let’s just evaluate what we are busy at? Are we busy serving the Lord? If you have been reading the summer book read, “Walking with Arthur” you will have come across similar thoughts on p.64 – James O’Donnell says, “As long as we consciously or unconsciously, put ourselves ahead of others, sin will flourish like the grass in May. I realized, then, that I knew far more about the right things to do than having the will to do them. “Talking about doing the right thing is the easy part, doing them is a lot harder”. For “the doing” is a whole different kettle of fish. It often involves denying our wills. And like many, I was wrestling with “why do that – what’s the need?” But Arthur felt that the “good life” I now sought lay along a path strewn with discipline, humility, and courage, a path that would demand wisdom and yikes! - something he called obedience.” We could add to that list sacrifice. It is not good enough to just know the good we ought to do; rather we need to do those things. James 4:17 says, “Anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” That’s pretty clear. Leaders evaluate what you are doing with your time, are you working hard for the Lord? Are there signs of sacrifice in your schedule? Do you need to prune some areas in your life to better serve Christ – to put others ahead of yourself?
Now let’s look at the sheep. The Sheep’s responsibility – respect/hold in high regard the shepherd. The sheep are to respect or esteem their leaders who work hard. The sheep can encourage their leaders by obedience. Hebrews 13:17 says, “17Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” So that their work will be a joy. It was mentioned earlier about the joy that Paul had because of the Thessalonians, think of how you can tangibly respect/encourage our leaders. Just like the Thessalonians, grow in Christ under their leadership, tell them what you appreciate about their ministry, serve them, submit to them. Speak positively about them and defend them when people try to criticize or slander them – those are ways to hold them in high regard. Obey the leaders so that there will be peace, the church will be moving together in one direction. Let’s encourage our leaders who work hard among us – that is our responsibility. When was the last time you encouraged one of our elders?
v.14-15 14And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. The key here is that Paul says brothers – this ministry is between sheep to sheep, brother to brother, now that includes that leadership because they are part of the body – but the primary action to be taken is not directed toward the leadership to deal with. This is you and me carrying out our daily activities and seeing a need and addressing it – we are to direct others to live more like Christ. So let’s break down these verses into manageable parts. Paul says warn the idle. Now the term for idle here is a military term that truly meant to be insubordinate or out of line. Not following rank and structure. So Paul is saying that when we see a brother of sister in the Lord who is idle, unruly, or insubordinate then we need to go to them and warn them. This person could be someone who attends church but is not involved, right they are on the fringes. They are here at church and have an opinion about everything, but they themselves are not involved. They are our arm chair quarterbacks they are not using their spiritual gifts, they are dragging the body down. Their insubordination starts to affect others and therefore we need to go to this person and warn them. We need to warn them that there are consequences for their actions. We need to tell them to get back in line. The insubordinate need to fall in line. This warning initially does not come from the leadership; it comes from those who see it first. Galatians 6:1 says, Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, (and insubordination is a sin) you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Who does it say should go and restore – not the leadership, not the perfect Christian – it says those who are spiritual – the believers. It also warns us to not get sucked in to their sin. But the verses continue and say to “Carry each other’s burdens”. If we are to carry each other’s burdens then we need to be involved. So the question is, when you see someone in sin (whether that is idleness or whatever) do you love them enough to confront them? You see most of us flee from confrontation; in fact we would almost do anything to avoid causing friction. We use all kinds of excuses not to confront and we even try and make them spiritual sounding. Like, who am I to tell them not to sin – because I’m a sinner also. Or we miss quote Scriptures about specks and planks. We are just trying to avoid going and dealing with problems. But as we see here, the Bible in Thes and Galatians and elsewhere instructs us to go to them. We need to care enough about the sinner’s spiritual state before Christ more than our own fears. It is always healthy to remember that God has graciously forgiven you of past sins that you repented from – to humble you when you go and confront someone. So you are going in humility and love for them. But don’t expect that each time you confront someone that they are going to drop to their knees immediately and beg for forgiveness. It takes some time to ponder a rebuke and for the sinner to recognize their errant ways. I’m thankful that there have people in my life who have loved me enough and been courageous enough to point out sin in my life – that I might repent and be conformed more and more to the image of Christ. James 5:20 says, “remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” Remember that your Spirit led intervention into someone’s life could be a life and death event. If you know that you are not good at conflict resolution then you need to take the Exalt Sunday School class called “Making Peace”. Learn the Biblical approach and importance of conflict resolution. Remember we want to be that external influence that creates an internal change that will ultimately allow others to be more like Christ. All that to say that the insubordinate need to fall in line.
We believers need to encourage the timid. The timid are those who are afraid to try new things, they are afraid to allow the Lord to use them in new ways. They may even doubt their own abilities or giftedness. They can appear to be on the outside, almost like the insubordinate because they are not involved, but they are just not involved because they are shy, fearful and reserved – they need encouragement. The timid need to trust the Lord. They need to believe that God will be with them when they venture out to serve Him. The timid may have seen the invitation in the church bulletin to get involved but they lack the courage to just show up and meet new people and a new environment. The timid may need a personal phone call to get involved. They may need you to go with them. We need to encourage the timid to be bold and to trust the Lord.
We are also called to help the weak. The weak would include those who are spiritually and morally weak. We all have weaknesses, we all have certain struggles and Paul is telling us to come along side those who are weak, those who need our help, put your arm under their arm and walk with them. To me it sounds like accountability. The weak need accountability. Since I mentioned earlier that we are all weak, we all need accountability. We all need someone who will keep us in check in the areas that we are vulnerable. Accountability requires that we get involved in each other’s lives. If you are without an accountability partner then you need to find one. Ask someone to help you find someone or call the church office. In accountability the tough questions get asked and your weakness is sometimes exposed, but remember the purpose of this is that we would have the courage to live for Christ each and everyday. There are many distractions in this world that keep us from serving Christ, whether its materialism, sensuality, perversion, self-centredness. Take for example your finances – dealing with materialism. Are you spending God’s money on eternally important things? Do you have someone that holds you accountable to serve the Lord with the money that He blesses you with. The world would tell us that our finances are private and personal – that you don’t show anyone and tell anyone how much you make. Satan does not want us to be accountable to anyone in regard to our finances. He wants us to spend wildly on worldly items and to be stingy toward God. Would you be ashamed to have your T4 matched up to a statement of your tithes and offerings? Are you spending your money on eternally important things? That is where accountability partners can help us – to keep us focused on honouring the Lord in all areas of our life – especially those areas that we know that we are weak in. We need to help the weak by directing them to Christ. The weak need accountability.
We need to be patient with everyone. As we go and invest in others’ lives we need to be patient to allow the Lord to work. We need to remember that Lord is patient with us when we are sinning. So be patient with others as the Lord is patient with you. It is easy to encourage some people, those who are friendly, likeable, and good at what they do. It is harder (and requires more patience) to encourage those who are not as friendly or maybe they are often critical. It is hard to overlook some of their not so pleasing attributes, but it is necessary for us to be patient and look for ways and opportunities to encourage these difficult people.
We need to be kind to others and not seek revenge when we are wronged. The Thessalonians accepted Christ under persecution 1:6 “You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” So Paul wanted to encourage them not to seek retribution against those who were persecuting them, but rather to be kind to them. We need to respond in kindness to what we are facing. So whether we are warning others, encouraging others, helping others or maybe we are being warned, encouraged or helped – we need to respond in kindness. The goal is that our kindness may show the love of Christ to those who need to see it.
Hebrews 10:24,25 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Let us spur one another on by warning, encouraging, helping, and being patient and kind. When we see people not living up to their full potential in the Lord we need to lovingly and gently intervene to move them on to God’s agenda for their lives, not our agenda.
Lastly we look at the Sheep/Great Shepherd Relationship. v.16-18 “Be joyful always; 17pray continually; 18give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” Joyfulness, prayer, & thankfulness – the common thread is to focus on Christ. The only way that we can be joyful always is to look to Christ, and when we pray continually we are remembering Christ throughout our days and to give thanks in all circumstances can only occur when we are focused on Christ and what he has done for us. We have good reason to be joyful always, through persecution and suffering and through times of great blessing because in both situations if we have a relationship with Christ we can be joyful, prayerful and thankful. There is an overriding joy and thankfulness that despite our circumstances, we know that this world is temporary and we will eventually reign with Christ forever. So we can be joyful always, pray continually and be thankful in all situations – although through experience it is much easier to say that than it is to live it out. Paul desired that the Thessalonians grow in their relationship with Christ. The beauty is that when we are living for Christ and when we are being faithful to him by being joyful, prayerful, and thankful we can actually encourage others to do likewise as they observe this take place in our lives.
If you were to learn how to be a tight rope walker your instructor would tell you to find a fixed point directly ahead of you to focus on – something that is secure and stable. Then focus on that point and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. So whether you are one foot off the ground or walking over Niagara Falls the concept is the same. Focus on the fixed point. Similarly as Christians we need to focus on that fixed point in our lives – that which is secure and stable, and unchanging – that is Jesus Christ. As we walk the tight rope of life we need to keep our focus on Christ. We may see distractions to the left and we may see turmoil to the right and persecution ahead. In our peripheral vision we can see the turmoil and persecution but our eyes are on Him. We need to be Christian tight rope walkers - whose focus is on the Lord. When we are focused on the Lord we can be joyful, prayerful, and thankful and also an example and an encouragement to others by our faithfulness.
Paul has given us some great advice for relationships. The goal of these relationships is to encourage others to be more and more like Jesus. We are not looking to go and set everyone straight, but in love we are seeking to bring those who are in our area of influence closer to Christ – whether that an affirming word, an uplifting comment or possibly a rebuke – we desire to see them molded to the image of Christ. I want you to think of someone who has invested in your life and made a difference in your life directing you toward Christ – praise the Lord that He has sent these people into our lives so that we could be more like Him. I also want you to think of someone who is in your life right now that you could encourage and think what type of encouragement that they need and bless them.
Let’s get involved and let’s make a difference. There are going to be numerous opportunities to get involved in ministries as the fall approaches – areas where you can encourage others – think about your giftedness and where you could make a difference maybe in youths programs, small group ministry, Sunday School, Junior Church, Nursery, Awana, Quilting, Young Moms or maybe just get involved in mentoring one on one or being an accountability partner. Think of how you can be involved to make a difference in someone’s life, to invest in them, to be that positive external influence that they might be more like Jesus. And just like Paul may we be excited to be used by God to make a difference for the King.
Dear God we praise you this morning for your provision. That you provided your son Jesus Christ as a sacrifice for our sins. That he came to this earth and died on the cross for us. May Christ be our motivation to go and make a difference in this world. To make a difference that lasts for eternity – whereby people’s lives are changed and transformed to be more like Jesus. Each one of us that knows Christ has been blessed by others who have taken the time to share Christ with us and we are truly thankful for willing servants that were faithful. As we strive as a body of believers to grow in Christ may we be faithful to encourage one another and to build each other up. May we encourage our leaders, may we build each other and may our relationship with Christ grow. May we strive to spend our time on eternally important tasks and may we have a passion to make a difference.