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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 1045am Service 2014-07-20

Text: 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13

 

One of the most wonderful joys in life is the birth of a child. The child’s parents look forward its arrival, going for regular check-ups with the doctor where they rejoice to listen to their child’s heartbeat. With much excitement they get things ready at home and start thinking of a good name for their baby. And then the long-awaited day arrives. The contractions start. The delivery goes well and the baby is born. Family and friends come to the hospital to congratulate the new dad and mum, admiring their new-born child, and saying how cute and cuddly it is. And finally, when all things are settled, the proud parents bring their little bundle of joy home!

But that’s not the end. It’s only the beginning of a long and tedious process, as the infant needs much care in order to grow and develop physically. This involves regular feeding, diaper-changing, bathing, and keeping it safe from all harm and danger. When the new-born cries, it needs comfort. When it is tired, it needs to be rocked to sleep. When it has a fever, it needs medicine. When it develops rashes, it needs special cream. Such great care and attention usually puts great demands on the parents who may not have much rest and sleep for many days. I am sure that those of us who have gone through all this before will agree that it is not easy to provide all the after-care that a new-born infant needs.

Well, in the same way, it is not easy to provide all the spiritual after-care that a new Christian needs. It is one thing to rejoice when after much evangelistic efforts and prayer by others, a person finally repents of his sins and truly believes in Jesus Christ for salvation. All the angels of heaven rejoice with us over his salvation. But it is another thing altogether to provide the spiritual care he needs after that in order to grow into full Christian maturity. He is like a new-born infant, needing to drink the pure spiritual milk of the Word regularly (1 Peter 2:2). His faith and relationship with God are still weak. And as he progresses from living for himself to living for the Lord Jesus Christ, he will face various trials and temptations. He will struggle with sin and sometimes he may fail and fall. He needs plenty of loving encouragement, instruction, guidance and help from other Christians.

All this was what the new Christians at Thessalonica needed after they were saved. When Paul and his missionary co-workers came and brought the Gospel of Christ to them, they were convicted of their sins and they turned to Christ for salvation. They gladly abandoned their idol-worship to serve the living and true God (1:9). And so Paul, together with his co-workers, began their spiritual after-care.

But soon after this the unconverted Jews who were unhappy about these conversions created so much trouble for them that Paul and his co-workers were forced to leave Thessalonica, and Paul was barred from returning to the city after that. This naturally made Paul very worried about the new Christians there – How could they possibly survive and grow with no one to provide any spiritual after-care for them?

1 Thessalonians 3 shows that the Thessalonian Christians did not capitulate under all the intense pressures and trials they faced. When Timothy was sent back to Thessalonica to strengthen their faith, he found them still standing firm in Christ and eager to receive more of God’s Word. By God’s grace, the new Christians had responded very well to the loving care of Paul and his co-workers. This was truly the best outcome they could ever hope for under such hostile circumstances, and so Paul gave thanks to God for keeping the Thessalonians well.

This now helps us to answer the question: How can we have the best outcome of spiritual after-care? The answer is that this results from a combination of three factors:

1. The Care-Givers’ Selfless Love (vv.1-5,10)

This selfless love will be seen in at least three ways: It will be seen in their presence, in their passion, and in their prayers. Firstly, spiritual care-givers must be willing to be present with those whom they care for. They must be ready and willing to help, comfort and encourage them. Genuine care and concern for others will make us desire to be with them when they need us, as it is immensely difficult to give quality care to them from a distance.

In our passage, Paul expressed his great desire to be with those he cared for. In 1 Thessalonians 2:17, he says that he “endeavoured the more abundantly to see their face with great desire.” But according to next verse he could not do this because Satan hindered him. So since he could not see them, he did the next best thing: He sent Timothy to them. When Timothy returned, Paul was greatly comforted to find out that they also desired to see him! There was a very close bond between Paul and the Thessalonians.

And so we ask: What made Paul long so much to be with them? The only reason we can find is that Paul loved them (3:12 – “And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men,even as we do toward you.”). During the three weeks that he spent with them, his own love for them had increased and abounded. It was this love that made him desire to be with them.

It was also this love that made Paul seek to know their condition. As he wrote in v.5 of our passage, “For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith…” The words “could no longer forbear”which he also used in v.1 reveal how desperate he was to find out how the Thessalonians were doing. Here Paul was just like an anxious father who cannot sleep because his child has not returned home yet, although it is already pastmidnight. He cannot rest until he has tried every possible way to find out exactly where his child is and how to get him to come home quickly.

Love makes us desire to be close to those whom we care for. We need to be concerned enough to find out how well they are doing. And we must care enough about their welfare to be present with them when they need someone to guide them and support them.

The second way in which selfless love can be seen, is in our passion to build up the faith of those whom we care for. Paul clearly had a great passion to build up the Thessalonians’ faith. According to v.2 this was the main reason why he had sent Timothy when he himself could not go to them. Timothy was sent for the specific purpose of strengthening their faith. They had faced difficult challenges since their conversion. Their faith was just like a building that has been blasted by a super typhoon. It needs to be reinforced, it needs to be buttressed to face even stronger winds that may come soon. If not, it will be blown down.

Effective spiritual after-care becomes impossible if there is no passion to strengthen the faith of those who we care for. Many new Christians simply do not know enough of God’s Word to keep them from being tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine and by the deceit of false teachers (e.g. There are some today who teach that since all our sins are already forgiven, we don’t need to confess our sins to God at all.). New Christians will be easily influenced and misled by such unsound teachings, unless they are strengthened through sound biblical instruction.

Besides that, every new Christian needs to learn biblical principles that will enable them to live victoriously for Christ, e.g. to give thanks to God in every situation (5:18), to be led by the Holy Spirit (5:19) and to exercise spiritual discernment (5:21). The Thessalonian Christians needed all these too, and that is why Paul told them in v.10 that he longs to perfect or supply that which is lacking in their faith. In fact, he actually went on to do this in the rest of this epistle that he wrote to them. Only a selfless love can give us the passion to strengthen the faith of those whom we care for, and to supply whatever is lacking in their faith.

Love will also move us to pray for them. And the kind of praying required in spiritual care-giving is nothing less than frequent and fervent praying. This was the way that Paul prayed for the new Christians at Thessalonica, as he said in v.10 – “Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?” Right at the beginning of this epistle, Paul had already said that he gave thanks to God alwaysfor them, making mention of them in his prayers (1:2).

Such intense praying for them shows that he regarded their needs as his own personal burden. He could not help but to keep pleading with God for the Thessalonians, and even as he wrote v.10 he was moved to pray for them on the spot, since verses 11-13 is really a written prayer for them!

Thus we have seen that giving spiritual after-care requires selfless love from us. If we really want to help others grow spiritually, let us love them with our presence, with our passion and with our prayers. This is God’s standard for care-giving, and it is required of everyone who would provide spiritual after-care for new Christians (e.g. in discipleship and follow up work). And this also applies to other caring relationships. E.g. Since I am your pastor, I must love you with my presence, with my passion and with my prayers. If you are a Sunday school teacher, then this should be used to measure your love for your students. If you are leading a fellowship or Bible study group, use this standard to evaluate your care for your group members. Those of us who are parents, let us never forget that the responsibility for our children’s spiritual nurture belongs to us. If we have genuine care for them, then let us do all that we can to help them grow into strong, mature Christians. This does not mean that the care-giver’s selfless love is all that is needed. Other factors besides this one are needed in order to produce the best outcome. To have the best outcome of spiritual after-care, there must also be….

2. The Care-Receivers’ Sound Response (vv.6-9)

Such a response can be seen in the Thessalonian Christians, as mentioned in v.6 – “But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you.”

Just imagine for a while how different it would have been, if Timothy had returned to Paul saying, “O brother Paul, I have the most terrible news for you. Shortly after we left Thessalonica, the persecution of Christians there became so bad that every one of them renounced their faith in Christ and went back to their old heathen beliefs. None of them wanted to see me anymore, much less to be instructed with God’s Word by me. They all want to forget that they ever knew us. I hate to say this, but the awful reality is that all that we have done for them has been in vain! We have cared so much and have laboured so hard for nothing.”

This is the kind of news that Paul dreaded most to hear from Timothy, and his fears were not unfounded, because there were at least three things working to realise them. The first was the tribulations they faced from the world they lived in. Paul had seen first-hand how the whole city had been stirred up against the Christians in Thessalonica. He had heard how they had cruelly attacked and dragged Jason through the streets because he had lodged Paul and his co-workers in his house. These and more tribulations from the world after that were so overwhelming that Paul was afraid that the new Christians there might waver and abandon their faith.

But what made things even worse for them is that there were also evil spiritual forces at work against them. In ancient times, Thessalonica was a centre of idolatry with temples and shrines everywhere – a place filled with spiritual darkness! Paul was fully aware of the power that Satan wielded over Thessalonica. In 2:18 he specifically mentioned that Satan had hindered him from returning there. He knew that he was wrestling not against flesh and blood but against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. And then in 3:5 Paul expressed his fear that Satan might tempt the Thessalonian believers to return to idol-worship.

And as if all these were not enough, there was a third thing that was working against the Thessalonians. It was their prolonged separation from their main source of spiritual nurture: Paul and his co-workers. If they stayed away from the new Christians for too long, the impact of their visit would fade, the relationship they had built with them would suffer and might one day become so strained that it is beyond repair. This would cut off their source of spiritual nurture, and their faith would then die a natural death.

Now, with all these things working against the Thessalonians, it would seem almost impossible for Timothy to bring back any good news about their response to Paul. But that was exactly what happened. The good news he brought was that the Christians there were standing firm with unwavering faith in Christ, despite all the tribulations from the world and despite all the temptations from the Devil.

And that’s not all. Their love for Paul and his co-workers had surprisingly remained unchanged. The end of v.6 says that they warmly remembered the blessed time of fellowship and instruction they had with them, and they were hoping earnestly for their return to Thessalonica. They longed to sit at Paul’s feet and learn God’s Word from him again. This shows how much they valued the spiritual care they had received.

Now, as we look at the unwavering faith and unchanged love of these Christians it would be good for us to reflect on our own response to all the spiritual care we have received. I think we should count ourselves most blessed that we do not have to face the awful kind of tribulations from the world that they faced. How good it is that we can worship God here every Sunday without any fear. We can also be thankful that we are not tempted by the Devil as severely as those first-century believers were tempted to give up their faith. Being Christians today does not make us less advantaged than anyone else in society. And unlike those Thessalonians, we are so blessed with ready access to many sources of spiritual care and instruction. They had to rely on occasional visits by missionaries like Paul, Timothy and Silas to receive God’s Word, but we get to receive it every week, and even more if we come for other church activities during the week.

If those who received spiritual care at Thessalonica were able to give such a sound response to it, how much more then should we who live in more blessed circumstances give a sound response to the spiritual care we receive! Many of us here have grown up in Christian homes where much spiritual care has been given to us. We have godly parents who had faithfully brought us up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They had taught us from an early age how to pray and read God’s Word. They had prayed for us and ensured that we had every opportunity to be fed with a good spiritual diet. But how have we responded to this?

I know of some parents here who are still praying and waiting for the day when their child will respond to all the spiritual care they have given to him. Their heart aches whenever their child expresses little or no interest in the things of God. They worry that despite all they have done, their child may never turn to Christ for salvation. If you are that child, I would ask you now to please listen to this: Respond well to the spiritual care you have received from your parents, and you will bring them the greatest comfort and joy they can ever have in this world! They will say like Paul said in v.9 – “For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God.” No words can ever describe this joy which you can bring to them by responding well to their spiritual care.

But please don’t misunderstand me. I am not at all saying that you should turn to Christ or grow spiritually just to please your parents and make them feel good. You should seek Christ only because you have truly seen your own need to be saved from your sins, and to grow into His image. But God uses various means to draw you to Christ, and your parents’ loving efforts to nurture you in the Christian faith is one of them. God has been so good and kind to have placed you under their care so that you may receive much spiritual care from them. Therefore, by responding well to their spiritual care you are actually responding to God’s care for you.

This brings us now to the third and most important factor that is needed for the best outcome in spiritual after-care:

3. The Caring Lord’s Sanctifying Work (vv.11-13)

Ultimately all the spiritual after-care that we give or receive is a function of the Lord’s care. Without His loving care for us, we would not have the ability nor the opportunity to give or receive any spiritual care. This was true of Paul and the Thessalonians. If the Lord had not brought Paul to Thessalonica, they would never have received the Gospel or any spiritual after-care from him. And if the Lord had not given His Word success, they would not have responded to the Gospel nor make any progress in sanctification after that. As we look now at vv.11-13 we will realise that there are at least three things that our Caring Lord does in His work of sanctifying us.

Firstly, He directs our paths. Paul’s prayer in v.11 was “Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.” Despite all the hindrances he had encountered, Paul was very confident that the Lord will bring him back to the city. His prayer was answered. Four years later Paul visited the Christians at Thessalonica during his third missionary journey (Acts 20:1-4). As the Lord brought Paul into the lives of the Thessalonians at the right time, He still does the same for us today. He brings the right people into our lives at the right time.

That’s how my own father was saved – While we were in Malaysia many years ago, my father came across a book on the life of the apostle Paul which my sister had borrowed from her school library. After reading it he told my mum, “If there really is a God who did all the things written in this book, I would like to know Him.” A Christian relative happen to visit us then, and when she heard about my father’s interest, she got in touch with a Canadian missionary who had just started a new church nearby. After hearing the Gospel from him, my father was saved, and that eventually led to my salvation as well. Nothing ever happens by chance.

The Lord also opens ways for His Word to reach us. Although Paul was not able to reach the Thessalonians, Timothy was able to visit them and minister to them. But what if Paul did not have someone like Timothy to send to them? – Someone who could do all that was needful for them, since he is described in v.2 as “our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ.” The Lord provided Timothy for such a contingency. And thus we can trust Him to make a way for His Word to reach people today, even those who are very hard to reach.

Besides directing our paths, the Lord also develops our love. We see this in v.12 where Paul prayed that the Lord would make the Thessalonians “increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men.” We have already seen in our first point that spiritual care-giving requires much selfless love. But this kind of love is far beyond our capability. How can we have it? The Good News is that what we cannot do, God empowers us to do through the Holy Spirit. Romans 5:5 says, “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”

And the Lord not only enables us to love, He also provides opportunities for us to manifest His love to others. Paul testified of this by including the words “…as we do toward you” at the end of v.12. Looking back on all that had happened – Paul’s forced departure from them, his burden to send Timothy back to Thessalonica, and even the writing of this epistle, we are able to see how Paul’s selfless love for the new Christians was manifested through them, and learn what it means to care for others.

And finally from v.13 we see the Lord’s care for us in determining our future: Pray prayed, “To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.” From this we learn that the Lord will preserve us until the second coming of Christ, and He will then present us pure and holy in His presence. This is His ultimate purpose for all of us who are saved, and all the care that we receive from Him whether directly or through our spiritual care-givers is designed to lead toward its fulfilment. What a glorious future this is! And doesn’t it reveal what a wonderful and caring Lord we all have?

Well, we end with this thought: Our greatest motivation to care for others comes from the caring example of the Lord Jesus. Giving spiritual after-care enables us to become more like Him. Let us therefore make every effort to do our best in spiritual after-care. With God’s help let us seek to be good spiritual care-receivers and care-givers, so that we may build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through salvation, sanctification and service to the glory of God.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25