Message Lives That Glorify 2 Thessalonians 1:3-5,10-12
Standup comedian Brian Regan talks about when Captain Sullenberger safely landing a plane on the Hudson River. He was a hero, but he’s not allowed to think that he is a hero. That is one of the rules about heroes. They have to ask you if you think you are a hero, and you have to say, “No, I don’t think I’m a hero.” Then that makes him a hero!” But if you think you are, then you are disqualified for some reason. I think, Regan says, it would be okay if he admitted it. Do you know how hard that was – to keep the wings level the nose up slow survival speed? Hero! He should get a cape – Sullyman!” … There was news footage showing the plane on the water and passengers standing on the wings. They cut back to the newsroom and one of the anchors asked the other, “Can you imagine a better outcome to that story?” Ummm, Regan ponders, How about landing in Charlotte with luggage and dry socks? We do tend to take the blessing of a non-event for granted, don’t we?
But I digress. There is a sense in which truly good people don’t recognize it in themselves because it is just such a natural part of who and what they are that they don’t see anything special about it. And if you try to tell them how special their actions are and how great an example they are, they look at you like a deer in headlights -- they have no idea what you are talking about. Then you just conclude, that is just what makes them all that more special.
Well that is kind of what is going on in the church in Thessalonica. Paul wrote an affectionate letter to them that included some warm comp-liments and high praise, with a bit of honest concern. For example, he writes in 1 Thessalonians 3:6ff,
- But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love…Therefore, we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord… Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless (From 1 Th 3:6-13 (NIV)).
Therefore, they took Paul’s words with a grain of salt, an exaggerated positivity pep talk, hoping they would be become what he said they were. And in fact, if we believe Paul in this second letter, they thrive in amazing leaps and bounds. Some lift this as a lesson of how much more effective is judicious praise than indiscriminate, nit-picking criticism. But I don’t have time to flesh that out today.
Nevertheless, by messenger or letter, the church expressed that they were not worthy of such praise. Paul now writes a second letter to Thessalonians. After a greeting, he writes
- We feel a personal responsibility to continually be thanking God for you, our spiritual family, every time we pray. And we have every reason to do so because your faith is growing marvelously beyond measure. The unselfish love each of you share for one another is increasing and overflowing! We [lit. we ourselves] point to you as an example of unwavering faith for all the churches of God. We boast about how you continue to demonstrate unflinching endurance through all the persecutions and painful trials you are experiencing… and is intended to make you worthy of inheriting the kingdom of God, (2 Th 1:3-4,5b (TPT))
The sense is that their spiritual strengthening (and in their areas of weakness no less) has brought so much relief and joy to Paul that he can’t help but praise them and thank God – and it is fitting and proper for him to do so because he was not looking at them through rose colored glasses, their progress and good example are real.
Growing Faith and Spreading Love
They are growing (the verbs are in continuous present tense and in a hyper form) -- it wasn’t just growth in faith, it was an ongoing very vigorous growth like an extremely healthy plant or tree (thus the bulletin cover going from stump to tree), and it wasn’t just love, it was an overflowing abundance of love (dispensing love like water’s wide dispersal pattern of a flood irrigating the land.)
To Paul, these were two signs of a healthy, maturing Christian life. His prayers of the first letter were answered beyond his expectations and imagination. It would be wrong for him not to thank God and praise them for their lives. And because of their exemplary lives, he says “we ourselves” lift you up to every church we visit. “We ourselves” is a phrase emphasizing a contrast, (in modern phraseology – Yes, that is something WE would do, (implying others would not). Paul is saying his team has confidence in them even if they did not.
Enduring trust in trials
There is a third boast. Their present on-going flourishing growth and overflowing love is due to an enduring trust in God and reliance upon him for all things even in the midst of present ongoing persecutions (personal attacks because they were Christian) and in ongoing trials (more general types of challenges and struggles),
God (doesn’t cause) these, but (if we are willing to cooperate) he will use them to mature us so that we may be considered worthy to receive the kingdom of God in the end. Paul is clear that worthiness is based not on our work for God, but upon God’s work in us.
In modern America, suffering is generally seen as inherently evil and to be avoided at all costs. The Bible doesn’t dismiss that evil may be involved, nor does it minimize suffering. It does not see suffering as avoidable -- but inevitable, and if responded to properly, they can be a lesson teachers and character builders. Only God can take something bad and turn it to good purposes for those who love and trust him, allowing him to shape them into what he wants them to become.
Paul sees these three strengths as evidence that God is indeed working in them. Faith is not meant to be a beautiful but fragile thing like a Faberge egg; carefully kept in a padded, velvet lined box -- or in a carefully guarded display case. It seeks to master its circumstances, appropriating God's blessings and using God's power for God's service -- continuing to exercise Christian love in a world that is dominated by non-Christian hate; allowing God to transform the challenges into steppingstones to new spiritual achievements until Jesus comes again.
On that day when He comes, (Paul says in verse 10)
- all the saints in heaven and on earth will celebrate the glory of His power, and all who believe will stand and be amazed--this includes you because you believed us when we testified on His behalf. (1 Thessalonians 1:10 (VOICE))
- With this in mind, we constantly pray that our God will empower you to live worthy of all that he has invited you to experience. And we pray that by his power all the pleasures of goodness and all works inspired by faith would fill you completely. By doing this the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you will be glorified in him, by the marvelous grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:11-12 (TPT))
An Easter Collect (Opening Prayer) from the Anglican Church expresses well what Paul is trying to get across… I’ve paraphrased it into modern language “We humbly implore you (Lord), that your special grace will go before us and put into our minds good desires, so that by your continual help we may bring those good desires to good effect, to fruition. (emphasis added)
And when that happens, Jesus name (his life, his character, his personality) will be honored in us, and we will be honored because of our close association with him, and because of that association, even in the dark times and dark places of life we can learn to become a bright and shining testimony to the reality of our salvation and to how wonderful Jesus is. As Paul reassures the Thessalonians by reminding them of their standing in Christ, the Communion table reminds us of ours….
Prayer The countless saints of history have blazed a trail through time. They’ve done it through the tender touch of loved ones, the example of heroes, the healing words of comforters, the remarkable acts of fearless ones, the loyalty of friends, the kindness of strangers, the joy of children, the sacrifice of parents. It’s been done in response to the supreme love of Jesus, the blessing of his Spirit, the reminder of his words, the sharing of his suffering, the glory of his resurrection: and this character shows itself in the lives of his disciples, young and old, dead and living, in all who desire to receive the reward God promises for being faithful by connect-ing with this great heritage of people and even greater God.
Yet as it was for the Christians in Thessalonica, our journey in this world can, at times, be tough and confusing, but we are still on or way home. Some of the lyrics say,
I won’t be searching for answers that aren’t here to find…. when the walls come falling down on me, and when I’m lost in the current of a raging sea, I have this blessed assurance holding me: All I know is I’m not home yet, this is not where I belong, take this world and give me Jesus, this is not where I belong. When the earth shakes, I wanna be found in you, when the lights fade, I wanna be found in you… All I know is I’m not home yet, this is not where I belong…
Music Where I Belong
Confession and Assurance
Lord, as we read of the saints we realize that none were perfect, but, in the long run, they were all eager to be faithful in their belief in you. Your dealings with them teach us that as we too sometimes fail to live as you call us, but you still invite us receive your forgiveness, make right what we can, and to boldly move on, trusting and following you into our future.
So that as the earth turns and leaves fall, we reach back to renew the bonds between us. With hearts and hands open, we hold onto love, ever-stronger than death. Without fear, but in thanksgiving and hope for all that awaits, we remember those who have gone before. We honor the circle of life and death, and our place within this sacred thread…. All-Powerful and ever-living God, today we rejoice in the holy men and women of every time and place. Like them, may you breathe on us, that we receive from you the love and grace needed to receive your forgiveness and faith; that we may follow in their footsteps, and the steps of Jesus, being renewed in your image, seeking your will, and devoting all we do to your glory and the service of our neighbors of the Spirit, our lives too can grow to reflect God’s glory as we live by and in the name of Jesus.
Closing Music Breathe on Me…
Closing Blessing Now as we go we remember in every time and place the saints of God who have shown us the Lord, and remembering that, by the power of the Spirit, our lives too can grow to reflect God’s glory as we live by and in the name of Jesus.