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You, Our Glory and Joy

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

Sunday, May 10, 2020  Brad Barrett

1 Thessalonians 2:13-20

You, Our Glory and Joy

 In 2002 I went to Honduras on a mission trip with others from Stonebrook. One day we hiked up a small mountain to a very remote village.  We went with the gospel….to share with them about Jesus Christ and eternal life.  In this village, survival was a significant challenge for the residents.  Life was hard.  Their source of income was primarily growing coffee on the steep mountain slopes.  Each person needed vigorous health to survive. 

At one point, two of us pastors were called into the house of a family with several children. The oldest child, a daughter—about 10 or 12 years old—had a severely crippled foot. And in that harsh and impoverished mountainous area, her health would have made survival as an adult very, very difficult.  But the medical solutions were expensive and unavailable in that area.

So the parents were very desperate for their daughter…desperate in ways I’ve never experienced.  So one of their options was to give her up for adoption to one of us from the U.S. simply so that she could get medical help and survive.  They loved her so much they actually considered this desperate measure that she might survive. 

I was stunned.  My oldest daughter was with me that day, and though I am not a big crier, I wept and wept as I thought about life being so on the edge of survival that I would actually consider giving away my daughter to adoption for the sake of her survival.  It would have crushed me. 

For you teenagers and young children listening today, imagine being that girl, being torn away from her parents who were tortured by their options as they considered how to keep their precious daughter alive into adulthood.    

We are in the middle of  a sermon series going through a letter written by the Apostle Paul.   He wrote this letter to a church in ancient Greece.  A city called Thessalonica.  If you have a Bible, turn to 1 Thessalonians.  Chapter 2.  The background to this letter is similar to  my story…but in reverse.   Paul— in the parents’ role—was torn away from his children in the faith.  This young church.  He was forced out of the city because of violent persecution.  He loved them like I love my daughters, and he was in agony not being there, unsure how they were holding up in a city violently opposed to Jesus and his church.

Today’s short passage is quite a tender insight into Paul’s love for these people and how proud he is of them in their love and faith. 

1 Thessalonians 2

So let’s read in 1 Thessalonians, chapter 2. 

Our passage this morning is quite brief.  We’ll read it in two segments

Vs. 13-16

13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews,

15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind

16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!

Last week Pastor Dave looked at vs. 1-12 where Paul shares his deep love for them, with the heart of a mother and a father with their children. 

Now in this section,   Paul worships the Lord for his work in the Thessalonians’ lives. 

Read vs. 13 again:

Vs. 13

13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

They heard God’s word and believed it.   Such simple, childlike faith.  Sometimes we can make Christian faith so complicated.  And while it’s deep and rich, it is also simple.  They believed God’s Word.  This is such a beautiful work of God in their hearts, so it is right for Paul to thank God. 

This reminds me of what Paul said to the church in Philippi in his letter to them 10 years later:

Philippians 2:13 CSB  It is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose.

God is at work in the lives of the Thessalonian believers.  And it is right for Paul to worship God for it. 

Something for each of us to consider:    Do I believe that this Bible contains God’s own words?  Am I  convinced that God inspired this man named Paul to communicate words from heaven that are to endure the test of time?  Do I act like this is from God?  Do I listen, pay close attention?  Does it bother me—am I grieved—when I don’t follow it or when others don’t?   The Thessalonians simple but genuine faith is exemplary. 

Vs. 14-16

14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews,

15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind

16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!

Two  observations I will offer here:

FIRST, suffering is a key part of Christian theology.

We have to study the Scriptures to see that in this fallen world, suffering is part of life itself.  And more so, it’s  part of a Christian’s calling.  If we don’t have sound theology on suffering, we are going to get very confused and perhaps even bitter and despairing when hard things happen to us. 

One author said, “We need a robust theology on suffering.”  We have to begin in Genesis 3 with the Fall and Judgment on mankind. Then we work our way from there. 

So the FIRST observation is that suffering is a key part of Christian theology. 

SECOND, God’s justice– his wrath– will be exacted on all who oppose Christ and his people.

Future events is a major theme of this letter.  Future glory and salvation for all who believe in Jesus Christ.  Future wrath from God for all who have rejected the Son of God as their Deliverer from sin and judgment. 

This serves as an encouragement and hope for the believer.  You are at peace with God.

This serves as a terrifying warning to all who don’t believe.  If you have never believed in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are warned.  God’s wrath is coming on all who reject his Son.  What you do with Jesus is key. 

In Jesus’ own words,

John 3:36 CSB The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who rejects the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him.

Be warned:  God’s wrath will pour out on all who reject the Son.

Vs. 17-18

17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face,

18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us.

The Greek word Paul uses here for “torn away” as the root word for “ORPHAN.”  From the perspective of a parent, Paul was forced to “ORPHAN” this church, like a parent being torn away from his children. 

It reminds me of  my story from the mission trip in Honduras.  This is what Paul faced.  The story is told in Acts 17.  You can read that later.  Paul was forced to leave the city because of violent persecution.  And what is worse, he was forced to leave this group of brand new Christians.  Only a few months old in their new faith in Jesus. 

Though Paul tried desperately to return to Thessalonica, he was hindered by Satan.   Paul doesn’t tell how Satan worked.  Through illness, through persecution elsewhere, or some other reason.  We can only speculate.  Paul’s point is to this church:  “Have no doubt that I have tried and tried to come back to visit you, but I couldn’t.”  He was not some derelict parent who willingly abandons their children.  He was “torn away” from them. 

Vs. 19-20

19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?

20 For you are our glory and joy.

Here we see again what really mattered to Paul:  people.  The salvation and growth of people, all for the sake of Jesus.  He loves them dearly.   And he is proud of them.  Their fruitful lives is a testimony that Paul’s labor is not in vain. 

Now, this word “boasting” may bother us.  First, it literally means, “to glory in.”  We know that we are not to boast or GLORY in our own works, particularly when our hope is to gain righteousness on our own  before God. 

This kind of boasting declares how amazing we are (or better, how amazing we think we are).  This kind of boasting is in stark contrast to grace.  Ephesians 2:8-9 makes it clear we are saved by grace, not by our boasting or glorying in our works. 

But Paul’s boasting here is different.  This boasting is in the work of God through him and in others.  Work that God was at the core of, but that Paul was enabled by grace to participate in.  It’s a good kind of boasting.  And actually in the NT, this positive sense of boasting is more common than the negative sense.   Like when I tell you at Stonebrook who are walking with Jesus and love him, “I am proud of you.”  And I am, by the way. 

So here in vs. 19-20, when Jesus Christ comes to earth for the Second Time, Paul is thrilled and proud to present these dear Christians to Jesus.  He simply wants to please the Lord  with fruitful work. 

So the faith, love, and hope of this young church in the face of persecution is a glory to God. 

There is one more thing.  It’s an implied message here.  Here Paul implicitly reveals a glorious purpose for the church.  They are no ragtag group of people  simply thrown together as followers of some itinerant preacher/tentmaker named Paul.   They aren’t simple fans of some silly game called football.  No, they are the church, the people of God called to a glorious, eternal  purpose.  Someday, Paul will actually present them to Jesus when he returns.  Jesus Christ, the King of kings and  the Lord of lords.  What a glorious calling for the church.  

Think about that for Stonebrook.  We’re simply a band of very ordinary or even under-ordinary people.  But our work to help one another grow in our faith is a glorious, eternal work.  Every act of faith that we live out—from the smallest deed to the greatest—everything we do to point others to Jesus matters eternally.  When we stand before the Lord, I hope to give Jesus Christ  pleasure with my small part by his grace in helping point others to Jesus.   That should be your hope, too. 

So I am so challenged by Paul’s love for and confidence in this young church.  He is ecstatic.  He is joyful beyond words.

I am challenged because I wonder, “Do I love you all like he loves them?  Do I think in familial terms like he does…. Like a mother with tenderness, like a father with strong care, like a brother who loves?”  Do I love you like that?  Do you all love one another like that?  Am I consumed with your spiritual well-being, seeking after your growth, striving to help you love the Lord with all your heart, praying for your perseverance in faith, love, and hope??

It’s a bit daunting, yet it is motivating.  It makes me pray, “Lord, help me to see the believers in Jesus the way Paul does.  Help me to love as he loved them.”

So I am challenged by Paul. 

But Monday as I was reading this, I was struck by something even richer.  Paul’s love is merely an outworking of God’s love for Paul and his fellow believers.

Do we ever consider that God loves us like Paul loved the Thessalonians, yet far, far more?

Do we ever consider that as followers of God’s Son, Jesus, God finds great pleasure in us?  In our simple faith, our gracious love, our confident hope?

I then began thinking of what may be the most magnificent chapter in the whole Bible:  Romans 8. 

Romans 8 declares God’s deep love in glorious ways:

Vs. 15  “You received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”

Vs. 31  “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Vs. 35   “Who shall separate us from the love of God?”

Vs. 38-39  “I am convinced that nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If you want something glorious to read at lunch with your family or roommates, open up to Romans 8.  Pray that the remarkable, amazing love of God would sink into our hearts deeper and deeper.

A song we have sung at Stonebrook strikes this same chord:

“How deep the Father’s love toward us;

how vast beyond all measure

that he should give his only Son

to make a wretch his treasure.”

Application

So let me finish up by answering the question, “So what do I do with this?”

Here is it is:  That we would seek with all our heart to know God’s indescribably great love for us.  And in response,  we would love him more than we love anyone or anything else in the world.

What will it take?

  1. Seeking him in the Word of God, in  prayer, and in worship with God’s people.
  2. Humbling ourselves before God.  Letting go of our boasting in ourselves and our own merits.
  3. Simply, like a child, believing that God’s word is true.  He truly does love us, enough to give the Holy Son of God who was slaughtered in our place that we might live.

Then as we more and more know his great love for us,  in turn we would go and love other people with a love like Paul had for the Thessalonians.  A family-kind of love.  Like a mother caring for her young children.  Like a good father, encouraging and urging his children on to know the Lord.  Like a brother who defends and supports and loves his siblings.

And that in that love, that we would be driven like Paul to care for one thing above all other things:  How we can help others look unto Jesus.  To believe in him.  To be saved by him.  To know him in intimacy.  To walk like Jesus. 

So to summarize it, I pray that Paul’s passion would be our passion:  to love God and then love people with a great tenderness and care for the welfare of their souls.

I pray that we would love so much that when Jesus Christ comes to earth the Second Time, we would know our labor in his name was not in vain but had a glorious, eternal purpose.