1 Thessalonians 2:17 – 3:13
Following Jesus Christ is about a life long journey that we pray Franklin is beginning today. It is a journey of growing faithfulness and likeness to Jesus right up to the end of our lives.
We likened it last week to running a marathon. It’s hard, you hit mental and emotional brick walls, temptations to give up. But if you give up you cannot say that you’ve run the marathon. You might have trained, you might have got a place, you might have started, you might have got your face on TV but unless you finish the race…
Following Christ, DISCIPLESHIP, is what life is all about. It’s about the pain and the beauty of becoming more like him, more free, more able to be loved and love for him. And it’s a fight to the end of our lives.
For that to happen we need support and strengthening and for that God brings Christian friends together during our lives, - until reunited together we will meet Jesus face to face.
Discipleship - beginning, running, and helping others run this race of the Christian life to the very end is the greatest adventure of our lives. The highest calling, the deepest necessity and the greatest privilege.
We’re going to see
1. The Goal of Discipleship
2. The Concerns of Discipleship
3. The Rewards of Discipleship –
1. The Goal of Discipleship vv17-20 The glory of jesus
What was going on here?
The history book of Acts chapter 17 tells us that Paul and his friend Silas had been in this Greek city Thessalonica and had preached about Jesus in the synagogue to the Jews and God fearing Greeks. This was a costly thing to do. 2:2 We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.
Do you dare, ever, to tell the gospel?
In Philippi according to Acts 16. Paul and Silas had been stripped, beaten severely and thrown into prison. The cost of preaching Jesus was written in whip marks on their backs and in their bruised and swollen faces. Paul and Silas must have looked like boxers after a fight.
And sure enough in Thessalonica also (Acts 17 tells us) as some began to become Christians, others responded with anger and hostility, dragging the new converts before the courts, forming a mob hunting Paul and Silas, who had to be smuggled out of the city.
We were torn away from you. Paul says 2:17, he’d never have gone unless his very life was at risk. we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.
About 15 years ago i had the privilege of working in a bible college in New Delhi. Delhi bible institute taught 6 month residential boot camps for grass roots rural non english speaking non educated church planters. These were the guys who were being sent back to their hindu villages as the only christian. In their training they were not just taught to explain the gospel of Jesus, They were also taught how to jump from a 2nd storey window and other survival techniques by a dude who had been a freedom fighter before he became a christian. A third of the world church today live with the intimidating threat of imprisonment, torture, even death if they will dare to preach Christ.
For us in the West it is less costly to preach Christ. But there are insults, derision, sidelining and as the law closes in we are entering darker days. How will we fare? Remain faithful or go silent?
A couple of questions beg for an answer:
First: Why is the Christian church above all other groups and institutions persecuted? Because it is more than any other.
I mean if Christians are so weak and deluded, the church of such marginal importance – why persecute them? – why seek to silence them? – why bother?
Maybe the christian church is not marginal after all??
The bible’s answer is of course - Human sinfulness rejecting God’s truth, rejecting God’s rule. Paul reminds the new Thessalonian Christians 3:4 when we were with you we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. Christians should not be surprised to be persecuted we follow the LORD of ALL who himself was crucified. Sometimes i think, in our englishness, we misinterpret peoples’ offence as us doing something wrong by preaching the gospel. Whereas that’s an indication that we’re probably doing something right. You’re going to lose friends if you’re a disciple of Jesus. You’re going to be persecuted. Which brings you to our second question:
why in the face of such strong opposition would you risk all to tell people about Jesus? Well this gets us to the goal of discipleship and right to the heart of the meaning of life.
Paul wasn’t put off by suffering he wanted to get back to the Thessalonians v17 out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you – certainly I Paul did again and again – but Satan stopped us. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed you are our glory and our joy?
Paul risks his life to go on telling people about Jesus because there is a goal we are headed towards. This life is not all there is. We’re about to enter the season of advent where we remenber that One day the Lord Jesus Christ – the creator of the world will come, not in the manner that he came before, hiding his glory, a baby born to die for us on a cross. No look over the page 4v16 The Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the Archangel and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
It’s very difficult to conceive of this. But Jesus will be come and the dead reconsitiuted raised to meet him and welcome him to his new creation.
This life as we know it is not all there is. This life is just the title page for an eternal story that only begins when Jesus comes to be with us FOREVER. a title page with one exhortation live this life now for Jesus Christ - forgiven and loved and empowered to change and love others.
The promotion of the saving gospel is violently opposed. So if we seek to share the gospel we will suffer. But if we understand that this world is not all there is, if we have seen that Jesus is coming, and that that is going to be wonderful that we will glory together with indescribable joy in his loving presence. If that fills our vision for each other as it filled Paul’s, then we will be in an adventure, we will labour and dare to tell this message whatever is thrown at us. The goal of discipleship - the glory of Jesus..
The second thing we see in the great adventure of discipleship.
The concern of discipleship – Faith is fragile
Many people had become Christians in Thessalonica in a short space of time. A church had been established of keen new believers so You might have thought that Paul and Silas had joyfully skipped away from Thessalonica, chuffed to bits. Job well done..
Not at all…
Far from content, Paul was deeply concerned. – he hadn’t wanted to leave - we were torn away from you. He’d wanted to get back to them as soon as danger passed, out of our intense longing, we made every effort to see you. we wanted to come to you…
A rousing success? More like an unfinished task.
Paul, like a parent who has had to leave the baby in the house all on its own. Needs to get back…
When my sister got married she and her husband went away on honeymoon and they didn’t come back for 3 years! Travelling… 90s One time when they were somewhere in SE Asia ..correspondence just stopped - hadn’t heard anything for days and weeks - my parents became worried, then very worried, then frantic – phoning embassies and airlines. Holding out for some news. At times like that the rest of life goes on hold. Until finally when they could stand it no longer, to great relief, news came.
Far from content Paul is like the frantic parent waiting for news. He couldn’t go to Thessalonica - it would put too many lives in danger. But When we could stand it no longer, (he says 3:1 ) We sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage you. We sent v5 to find out about your faith. And Timothy’s return with good news of the Thessalonians, has Paul almost weeping with relief… v8 Now we really live meaning - now we can breathe again - return to living since you are standing firm in the Lord.
Why all the drama, and trauma?
Imagine a parent going away on holiday and leaving her toddler with freedom of the house and a few microwave meals to fend for itself. He would last a matter of days. Without support babies die.
Without support Christians die, and will die forever.
Paul had warned the Thessalonians about the trials and persecutions that are destined for those who take up the adventure of faith – but how would they fare? Paul feared he had had to leave the Thessalonians far too prematurely.
I was afraid v5 that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless.
Here is Satan again, God’s enemy – bending all of his efforts to stop people from finishing the Christian life. Remember the Christian life is all about finishing the journey. Completing the race. Faithful to Jesus when he comes! No wonder Paul is so glad to hear they are standing firm. He’d feared they were lost forever.
This is why Paul was so anxious to get back to the Thessalonians. Why when he could stand it no longer he risks sending his right hand man Timothy to strengthen and encourage you in your faith. The concern of Discipleship – we all need support and encouragement Because Faith is fragile.
And his concern continues.. standing firm doesn’t mean standing still. The only way to avoid sliding back is to keep moving on - there’s always more to learn, more to know, more to experience of God – look at v10 night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith and Paul prays in v13 for their strengthening.
Here’s the concern of discipleship. This is why we have church, why we have splinter groups. Because without support, strengthening and encouraging - without maturing - Christians leave the journey. They wander off into sin. Lost forever. Gritty stuff. The stakes are so high.
How do we support, strengthen and encourage each other?
How does Paul support, strengthen and encourage the Thessalonians?
He told us in 2 v8 that his love laboured to share the gospel – God’s message and to share his life as well. Those two things
God’s word, the gospel is what strengthens us.
When Paul is frantic for the Thessalonians he sends them Bible teacher, in fact his best trained Bible teacher, and beloved friend Timothy our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel.
One of the best things we can do is find training so that we can better teach the gospel – God’s word to ourselves and each other. And as we seek our new leader - oh that God would send us one of his best.
But it’s also relationships that strengthen us. Shared lives. We need to know each other and love each other and pray for each other.
To open up our lives homestly to one another so that the gospel can take root.
This is the concern of discipleship – that we all make it there to forever glory with Jesus together..
The Rewards of Discipleship.
You could say there are two rivals in life. That look quite similar but are very different. There’s glamour and there’s glory.
Glamour looks like happiness, feeling good, achieving things, having things that give you pleasure. A lot of people live for glamour.
Glory is different. Ever Experienced Glory! Pure.. Glory is a great victory usually born out of great struggle, sometimes darkness. It’s the great comeback. It sometimes looks like weakness but the result is joy. Glory!!
The life of Christian discipleship is a life of Glory!!
God is a god of love and community and if you get involved him you’re going to be pushed into relationships, you can changed for deeper relationship and that hurts and It hurts to get involved in people and their problems. It is a labour of love, And yet here’s Paul exhausted after sleepless nights of worry, knees sore after endless prayers. When Timothy tears in with the good news - Christians growing in Thessalonica - gritty faith and earnest love.
And Paul is like punching the air v8 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.
Here’s just some of the payback you see. the rewards of discipleship. Life and Joy. It’s one of the constants of the Christian life that as you give you receive.
Now we really live. See Paul was like one of those extreme sports dudes. Looking for life to the max. Paul had that glint in his eyes. But he didn’t go looking for a mountain to board down or a bridge to bungee jump off. Paul went looking for people to invest God’s grace in them. Paul made and matured disciples people who would live forever. When the city of London, stock exchange, our careers, dream homes and cars and possessions are long gone. We will stand in the presence of Jesus - and Paul says his great joy, the fulfilment of hope, his ultimate crown of glory will be that in the grace and mercy of God those people in whom Paul invested himself will be there with him - and Paul can say these are my trophies - these are who I invested my life in.
what is my hope, my joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed you are our glory and our joy.
What are our priorities? What are we investing in? Paul would say forget your small ambitions. Give up the glamorous and go for the glorious. Really live. Make and Mature disciples.