First Thessalonians 010 – Destined for Suffering

First Thessalonians 010 – Destined for Suffering
1 Thessalonians 2:17‒3:3 • Dr. Andy Woods • December 18, 2022 • First Thessalonians



First Thessalonians 010

Destined for Suffering

1 Thessalonians 2:17 – 3:3

December 18, 2022

Dr. Andy Woods

Let’s have a word of prayer, if we could. Let’s pray. Father, we’re grateful for today and grateful for an opportunity to gather in Your name, worship You in spirit and truth, study from your word. We’re particularly grateful this time of the year as we’re sort of looking backward to Thanksgiving and the blessings that You’ve given to us and also forward to this week as we celebrate the birth of Your son and His entrance into our world. I just ask during this very hectic time of the year when we’re distracted with so many things that we might keep our focus on the reason for the season which is the birth of Jesus. I do pray, Lord, for the illuminating Ministry of the Spirit of God that we can understand the deeper things of God. I pray for that Ministry of Illumination, both in the Sunday School hour and then the main service that follows. We do understand, Lord, that as your people, we often do things in daily life that can frustrate, not so much our position with You, but our moment-by-moment fellowship with you, which can inhibit us from really receiving all that you have for us. So, as is our custom, we’re going to just take a few moments of silence to do personal business with you so that we might be in right fellowship with you so that we can receive freely from you today Your truth. We’re thankful, Lord, for the promise of First John chapter 1:9 and the provision You’ve made for us there. I do pray that You would be with everything that happens at Sugar Land Bible Church today from beginning to end in all of the different activities, all the different classrooms. And we’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name and God’s people said [amen]. Let’s take our Bibles this morning. And open them to the book of First Thessalonians 2:17. As you know, during Sundays at the Sunday school hour, we’ve been doing a verse-by-verse teaching through the Thessalonian letters. And we laid the foundation down of the book in the first couple of lessons and we’ve also tried to explain that in chapters 1 through 3, Paul is largely looking backward to personal experiences that he had with the Thessalonians when he planted the church at Thessalonica. And was used so strategically on that second missionary journey to bring so many of these predominantly Gentile Thessalonians to Christ. The church was planted. Paul was forced out of Thessalonica down into Athens and then Corinth because the unbelieving Jews were jealous of Paul’s success amongst the Gentiles. So they forced Paul out and they tried to convince, I believe, Paul’s Thessalonians audience into dismissing Paul. Paul is dealing with an audience where the unbelieving Jews are trying to sort of drive a wedge between Paul’s audience and Paul so that the unbelieving Jews could get their sphere of influence back.

And so I believe if you kind of look behind the scenes, I think what’s happening here is Paul, in chapters 1 through 3, is trying to rehabilitate his reputation. And he does that for three chapters because beginning in chapters 4 and 5, he’s going to move looking forward into practical exhortation. Answering a lot of the questions they had and answering a lot of the confusion that he knew they had. And you can’t really be an effective spiritual leader when your reputation has been dragged through the mud. In fact, as a spiritual leader, the most important asset that you have is your integrity and really your reputation. Once those things go away, it’s really hard to stand up in front of people and apply spiritual correction. So the unbelieving Jews had literally trashed his reputation and Paul is seeking to rehabilitate it in the first three chapters before he begins to practically exhort them in chapters 4 and 5. So what I think is happening is Paul is explaining to them in chapter 1 that their conversion is real. And I think the lie that was spoken is, Nothing to see here, folks. Move right along. Just heard a motivational talk from somebody. Nothing real happened in your lives. And Paul explains them in chapter 1 that, No, you’re conversion is very real and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to explain the things happening in your lives as Thessalonians Christians absent the Holy Spirit.

So that’s kind of a nice way of summarizing chapter 1. The second, I think, mistruth that was spoken about Paul is they circulated this lie that his motives were impure. So in chapter 2 verses 1 through 16, he’s defending the purity of his motives. He defends the purity of his motives, he defends the purity of his method, and he defends the purity of his message. Dialing back to trying to get them to remember what it was like when he was with them six months to a year earlier. And this morning we move into chapter 2 verse 17, and this goes, I think, through the end of the chapter where he’s defending himself against lie number three. And that’s the lie that, Paul, you really don’t care. You know, Paul, you left us so obviously you’re not concerned about us. Obviously, you don’t care about us. And Paul is saying, hold the phone here. I do care about you. And I am concerned. And I was actually forced out of Thessalonica by circumstances that were beyond my control. So that’s kind of the big idea beginning in chapter 2 verse 17 through chapter 3 verse 13. So that third section has these five parts to it. And I think we’re only going to be able to get through the first two or three this morning. So how does Paul defend himself against a lie that: Paul, you don’t care? You’re not loving. How do you know I’m not loving, Paul says.

The response is Because you left. What he does there in chapter 2 verses 17 and 18, he says, Yes, I did leave because of circumstances beyond my control, but it is within my heart, my heart of hearts to come back and visit you. So notice what he says here in chapter 2 verse 17. “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while- in person, not in spirit- were all the more eager with great desire to see your face.” Now you’ll notice the expression, Brethren. That’s actually going to become a big deal because when we get to chapter 3 verse 5, Paul is going to explain to the Thessalonians that their faith is not in vain. And unless you understand the fact that Paul, as he deals with the Thessalonians, is writing to Christians, you will rapidly misconstrue what he means when he says your faith is in vain. So understanding this expression, brethren, is going to pay dividends when we get to chapter 3 verse 5. But the expression Brethren clearly means he’s speaking to believers. Fellow Christians. You know, one regenerated person speaking to another. And he’s using the same definition of brethren I believe that you find in Matthew 12:46 through 50. Where it says of Jesus while he was speaking to the crowds. ‘…behold, His mother and his brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to him, “Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside to speak to You.’

But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him, and said, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out His hand towards His disciples, He said, ‘Behold my mother and my brothers! For whoever wishes to do the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.'” So Jesus there was speaking of a family, spiritual family that transcends physical families. Paul obviously was using the word brethren that way, because a lot of people say, well, you know, he was just speaking to fellow Jews as they’re his brethren. But the truth of the matter is his primary audience, as we have seen in Thessalonica, was not the Jews. The Jews rejected him in the synagogue. He was in the synagogue for about three weeks and they rejected his message. In Act 17, he went into the synagogue, as was his custom, and he sought to explain from Hebrew Bible the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. He was there trying to persuade them for three Sabbaths. They basically said, Thanks, no thanks. And so he went out of the synagogue. He went to the Gentile population in Thessalonica and bore a great harvest. And that’s why his detractors are circulating lies about him. Because they’re jealous of his success. So when he uses this word, brethren, he’s not using it in the sense of one Jew speaking to another Jew.

The word can be used that way. I think it’s used that way in Romans 9 around verse 2, if memory serves. But he’s not using the word that way. He’s using the word the way Jesus used it, which is a fellow member of the church of Jesus Christ. So he says here, “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while- in person, not in spirit- we’re are all the more eager with great desire to see your face.” So he calls them brethren, and he kind of explains the fact that he was orphaned from them or they were orphaned from him only in body, but not in spirit. In other words, my spirit was with you. The deepest longing of my heart was to be with you. But I was separated from you not in a spiritual sense, but in a physical sense. And this is where the imagery of them being orphaned is used throughout this letter. After all, he did refer to them as their spiritual mother, Second Thessalonians 2:7. He did refer to them as their spiritual father, Second Thessalonians 2:11. So obviously the separation that has happened is not something I wanted. It’s something that is beyond my control. And I was really only separated from you bodily and not spiritually. And because of that, you’ll notice the word desire there in verse 17, my great desire has always been to return to you, to see you face to face.

So that would be useful in mitigating against a lie that Paul, you left because you don’t care. And he continues the thought on this in verse 18. He says, “For we wanted to come to you- I, Paul, more than once- and yet Satan hindered us.” Why did I leave? The unbelieving Jews drove me out. I left and went to Athens and then later Corinth because of circumstances beyond my control. And in fact, I tried to return to you. He uses this expression again and again. I tried to come back to you more than once. But something was stopping me. And here you start to see the activity of Satan- the obstacles that Satan throws into people that are seeking to do something for God. Now, if you’ve never experienced that opposition before- and anybody in this room that’s tried to step out and do anything for God knows exactly what I’m talking about. If you’ve never experienced that opposition before, maybe you should take a little bit of- we should take a little bit of spiritual inventory. Maybe we’re not stepping forward and allowing God to use us the way He wants. Because any time you step forward seeking to be used by God with pure motives under his guidance and under his direction, Satan and his forces will start to throw a monkey wrench in what you’re trying to do. Can I get an amen on that from somebody? I mean, sometimes the biggest battle in my life is just getting to church on time and I’m the pastor.

I get paid to be good, as they say. Everyone else is good for nothing as the saying goes. But, you know, you step out, you try to do something for God, and all of a sudden you have all of these problems that other people don’t seem to have. There’s an invisible war that we’re in orchestrated by Satan himself. And Paul is saying that’s what caused the holdup. It wasn’t me. It was unbelieving Jews coming against me. And ultimately, it’s Satan himself. So don’t blame my reappearance to you as somehow a lack of love or a lack of concern. We all know Ephesians 6:12, right? “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Satan, the troublemaker. I really enjoy, of course, all of the Bible, but the parable of the Sower is always one of those parables that stands out in my mind. And I’m sure it stands out in your mind. Jesus talking about the seed that’s planted in different batches of soil representing different conditions of the heart. And for one of those batches of soil, it says, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one…” Who’s the evil one? That’s the devil.”

“…the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road.” So whenever the word of God is proclaimed, Satan understands the power of the Word of God. A, To save because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. And the power of the word of God to help us grow. It is just amazing the distraction Satan will throw up just to prevent you from hearing what’s being sown that particular Sunday morning, Wednesday night, whatever. It is very interesting to me that I can sit in front of a movie for 2 hours with unbroken concentration and yet it’s so difficult to hear a Bible teacher for 45 minutes to an hour. And it’s so easy for me to drift into all the interesting things happening on social media. Read this post, read that post, read this article or read that article. And I’m so easily distracted and it’s so difficult to consistently get into this book. Why is that? It has to do with an invisible spiritual force coming against us that Jesus spoke very clearly about in the parable of the Sower. The evil one comes and wants to snatch away what was sown lest it grow to fruition in our hearts and lives. So this is the reason I didn’t come to you. It had nothing to do with a lack of love or a lack of concern.

And you’ll notice there in verse 18 that Paul actually inserts his name. Did you catch that? “For we wanted to come to you- I, Paul, more than once.” So Paul does something uncustomary here. Typically, Paul will give his name at the beginning of a book and doesn’t mention his name anywhere else. But here he actually does something out of the norm for him he reasserts his name. And I think he does that because he’s trying to show them how personal this was to him. I wanted to come. I never lost my love for you. I never lost my concern for you. So how do you refute the lie that, Paul, you just don’t care? Well, you talk about your plan to visit. And then he moves on in verses 19 and 20, and he begins to talk about his concern for their glorification. Look at what he says at the end of the chapter. “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” How did he actually look at the Thessalonians? He didn’t look at them as a number. You know, so many churches, they look at people as numbers. Because we’ve got the three B’s in ministry today, right? Bodies, buildings, and bucks. Or the ABC is attendance, buildings, and cash.

That’s very sadly what governs a lot of spiritual leaders in their thought process about people. Paul, you notice, didn’t look at people that way, particularly in Thessalonians. He looked at them as his very hope, his very joy, his very glory, and his very crown. He looked at them as a crown that actually was to be bestowed upon him at the Bema Seat judgment of Christ. Because following the rapture of the church- and I hope it happens in the next split second, although I can’t guarantee that. But it could, right? Following the rapture of the church, I mean, what is the first order of business once we’re caught up to heaven? We stand before the Lord at the Bema Seat judgment. That is a judgment not to determine salvation. That issue was resolved the moment we put personal faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. But we stand before the Lord in order to be rewarded or not rewarded. Some Christians are rewarded, some are not. It’s not so much a time of retribution, as some, unfortunately, teach it, but it’s just a reality that all Christians are in heaven but not all Christians are equally rewarded once they get into heaven. And what will be bestowed at this Bema Seat judgment of Christ by my count- and people might differ on this, but by my count, there are five crowns. Either given or not given to individual Christians, based on what? Based on how they allowed the Lord to express Himself through them during their earthly sojourn before death or before the rapture or whichever comes first.

And if I’m understanding this correctly, Paul actually looked at the Thessalonians as one of the reasons that the Lord Jesus Christ would give him this crown. And by the way, what do we do with our crowns according to Revelation four? We strut our stuff, right? No. Whenever Jesus is worshiped- and by the way, how frequently is Jesus going to be worshiped in the next life? I think that would be something that would be ongoing. I used to see this as a one-time thing, but sort of in hindsight, when you look at the perpetual worship of Jesus that will go on in the next life, Revelation 4 says whenever He is worshiped, we take our crowns and cast them at His feet. To. For what purpose? To buy something from Him? No. You can’t buy salvation. To pay Him back? No, you can’t pay Him back for salvation. The price is too big. Then what’s it for? It’s a capacity of some sort to glorify Christ throughout eternity. That’s why crowns are a big deal. And it would be somewhat embarrassing, wouldn’t it, if everybody is throwing their crown or crowns at His feet. And your hands and my hands are empty. That’s why we ought to be concerned about this doctrine of rewards and this doctrine of crowns. Paul looked at the Thessalonians as actually a crown that he would receive at the Bema Seat judgment.

So by my understanding, there are five crowns either given or not given. And this is where people like to ask questions that I can’t answer. Or can you get more than one and all these kinds of questions? I don’t know. I just know that these are the five given or not given. There is, number one, the incorruptible crown for the believer who gains mastery over the flesh. Because when you got saved, the flesh did not take a vacation. Amen. What we teach here is the dual-natured reality of the Christian. Yes, you have a new nature. Yes, you have the Holy Spirit inside of you but the flesh, whatever you want to call it, the old nature, the sin nature is alive and well. It’s just been disabled through your resources and Christ. You have the power to tell that nature, no. Before I was saved I was a slave to it. But after I get saved, I have the ability, under Christ’s resources to tell it no even though it’s still there to tempt me and always draw me back. Paul talks about this crown in First Corinthians 9:24 through 27. Just focusing on verse 27 of First Corinthians 9, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I will not be disqualified.” Some versions say disqualified for the prize. Now, that’s not talking about salvation or justification.

If that’s justification, then he just contradicted everything he said elsewhere. That justification is a free gift. The prize here that he’s worried about being disqualified from is not eternal life, but this crown. And that’s why he’s worried in a healthy sense that if I preach to others and yet I keep going back to my sin nature, I myself will be disqualified from the very prize I’ve been telling other people about. So the first crown is the incorruptible crown for the believer that gains mastery over the flesh. I don’t think it’s a crown given to the sinless believer, but the believer that’s sinning less. And that’s a pretty good spiritual inventory as we move into the next year. 2022, I’m sure glad I’m not the man I used to be, but at the same time, I’m still not the man I need to be. And by God’s grace, 2023 could be different. There could be spiritual progress. Then secondly, there’s the crown of rejoicing. I think this is the one he’s referencing here for the soul-winner. You know, the evangelist. Even someone that is sort of contending for the things of God and changing the minds of people, whether they be unbelievers or even believers. And then the third crown is the crown of life for the believer that endures trials. You’ll see that referenced in James 1:12.

And you’ll also find it in Revelation 2:10, as Jesus is speaking to the church at Smyrna who was about to go through intense suffering for ten days. And He says, Do not fear what you’re about to suffer. Be faithful even to the point of death. Satan will throw some of you into prison. But hold fast and I will give you the crown of life. And then you have the fourth crown. I think it’s found in First Peter 5, 2 through 4. That’s the crown of glory. And that’s given for the believer that faithfully shepherds God’s people. I don’t think that is something that just applies to a pastor or elders, but any type of shepherding role that you’re involved in, where you’re sort of guiding other people in a mentoring type of situation or maybe shepherding a church, whatever. The Lord sees you doing that, and the Lord wants to reward you for it. And then Second Timothy 4:8 is the crown of righteousness for the believer that longs for Christ’s appearing. Because a couple of verses later he mentions a man named Demas who was a Christian. We know Demas was a Christian because Demas is in Paul’s missionary team. And to me, it’s unthinkable that Paul would put someone on his team whose salvation was in doubt. But Second Timothy 4:10 says, “Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me.” Demas didn’t lose his salvation, he just lost the opportunity to receive the crown of righteousness at the Bema Seat judgment of Christ because the intoxication of the world.

And we are living in Satan’s world right now. Amen. The intoxication of the world was just too strong and he didn’t resist it and he fell away. And he lost the opportunity for that crown of righteousness. So rather than, you know, capitulating to this argument that, you don’t care, Paul, because you left. Well, obviously I do care because I look at you as my very crown joy, hope, reward to be bestowed upon me at the Bema Seat judgment of Christ. Now, if you look at verse 19, what is there a reference to? The coming of Jesus? “Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” And when we started the Thessalonian books, First Thessalonians, one of the things you want to look at when you look at a book of the Bible is what makes this book unique. What makes it stand out? What characteristics does it have that you don’t find anywhere else? And one of the characteristics of the Thessalonian books is there’s a small distance of time between Paul’s planting of the church at Thessalonica and his writing to that same church. There’s probably no more than six months to a year between those. It’s completely different than Philippians, where there’s actually a decade or so between Paul planning the church at Philippi, Acts 16 and when he finally wrote to them from Rome. Not so the Thessalonians. It was the plan of the church.

Paul was forced out. His enemies started to circulate lies about him, and Paul gives an immediate response. And then the other thing that’s unique about the Thessalonian book, particularly First Thessalonians, is every single chapter ends with a reference to the Second Coming. Now, is it the Rapture or the second coming? I mean, we can try to ferret that out as we look at these individually. But obviously, the dominant topic on Paul’s mind in First Thessalonians is the return of Jesus. And in fact, the greatest treatment that you get on the rapture of the church is found in chapter 4 verses 13 through 18, which again is at the end of a chapter. And you will recall how Chapter 1 ended. Chapter 1 verse 10. “To wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” So there’s a pattern here and here we’re at the end of a chapter. And so obviously it’s going to end the way the others have ended with a reference to the coming of Christ. If you can tuck that little nuance away into your mind for a few weeks or a few months or a few years, whenever we get to Second Thessalonians chapter 2, that’s going to pay dividends because I’m going to give you an interpretation of the apostasia, the departure that you’ve never heard before. I think the apostasia or the departure of the church or-the apostasia or the departure in second Thessalonians 2:3 is a synonym for the rapture. And everybody wants to come in and say no, you can’t do that. That’s the doctrinal departure of the church. And the doctrinal departure of the church is a topic on Paul’s mind late in his ministry. It becomes very dominant in First Timothy, a little bit in Titus, and second Timothy. And the Apostle Peter will really pick up the subject in Second Peter at the very end of his life. But you see, Thessalonians is an early book. And when Paul was ministering early in his ministry, his focus was not on the doctrinal departure of the church. He is going to focus on it at the end of his third missionary journey when he meets with the elders at Ephesus, a port city called Miletus. There, he’s going to start warning about the doctrinal departure of the church. But you see, these are early letters. This is early on. Everybody that wants the apostasia to mean something about the doctrinal departure of the church, they typically do not put Paul’s letters in proper order. We’re very early in Paul’s ministry. This is probably the second book that he has written. The only other book on record is the book of Galatians, and he’s focused on the return of Christ. So therefore, when I interpret Second Thessalonians 2:3 as the rapture, I’m justified in doing that because that’s Paul subject here.

So more on that a little bit later. So of course, I care about you. Of course, I’m concerned about you. I plan to visit you. I’m concerned for your very glorification. You know, I look at you as my own crown. And then he moves to his third point here as to why he cares. And that has to do with Timothy’s visit. And what he’s saying here is I already sent you the best I had. I couldn’t get to you because Satan thwarted me, but in my place as my substitute I sent you the absolute best thing I had, which was Timothy. So that’s a subject he gets into in chapter 3 in verses 1 through 5. And so notice, if you will, First Thessalonians 3:1. “Therefore when we could endure it no longer…” Does that sound like a guy that doesn’t care? “Therefore, when we can endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens.” So basically, Paul’s trajectory was he moved from Philippi to Thessalonica. He ministered three weeks in the synagogue in Thessalonica. He bore no fruit there. They threw him out. He bore a great fruit amongst the Gentiles. The unbelieving Jews were very jealous of that, and they forced Paul out. And he actually went down ultimately into Corinth. But before he went to Corinth, he went to a place called Athens. And if your eyes are real good, you know, maybe you can see Athens there on that map.

And so there he was in Athens. And basically, he’s saying we couldn’t stand being away from you. Because I’m your spiritual father and I’m your spiritual mother. It’s like Mama separated from her cubs. And Satan kept hindering me and preventing me from going back. So what I did in lieu of me is I when I was in Athens before I got to Corinth, I sent my very best back to you, a man named Timothy. So it’s better off that I’d be left without Timothy in Athens than you Thessalonians being left without spiritual guidance. You move down to verse 2 and he says, We sent Timothy. We sent Timothy back to them, to minister to their afflictions. Now, who was Timothy DePaul? He was extremely valuable. And you see his value spoken of in verse 2, “We sent Timothy, our brother, and God’s fellow worker in the Gospel of Christ.” I mean, who was Timothy to Paul? Number one, he was our brother- is our brother. Number two, he is a fellow worker in the ministry. I mean, this is a guy that stood toe to toe with me through problem after problem after problem that I faced. And when you find someone like that as a companion in ministry, that’s someone that’s very special because as Jesus himself said, in Matthew 9:37, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” That’s just the truth- that’s just the reality.

I mean, there are so many opportunities to do great exploits for God. But the problem is it requires some sweat, it requires some energy, it requires some effort. It requires self-discipline. And once people figure out, well, that’s part of the package, they have a tendency to say, well, let me just go to the church down the street and see what they’re doing over there. Because it’s hard to serve the Lord. Of course, God provides His grace. We serve Him by His grace. But when you step out and serve the Lord, nobody ever said it’s going to be easy. So he had a guy that was standing toe to toe with him. A guy that to me looks indispensable and irreplaceable. Particularly when Paul is forced out of a city and goes to Athens. I mean, he could have used Timothy. But because of Paul’s overwhelming love for the Thessalonians, he sent Timothy at Paul’s own expense of being alone in Athens back to minister to the Thessalonians. A lot of the commentators think that because of Timothy’s youth, Paul had to sort of re-emphasize his character and qualifications because the Thessalonians would receive this guy and they would say, he’s so young. In fact, in First Timothy 4:12, a book that he would write to Timothy later, a pastoral letter, he will say to Timothy, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”

So Timothy was young. He probably- they looked at him as he didn’t have the wherewithal as someone more qualified. And that may be a reason that Paul is explaining to the Thessalonians, I’m sending back to you our brother. And I’m sending back to you our fellow worker in the Gospel. And then at the end of verse 2, he explains why he sent Timothy back. “To strengthen and encourage you as to your faith.” So Timothy was involved here in a ministry not of evangelism, in this case, but he was involved in a ministry of edification. And so a lot of the things that Paul is doing is he’s not simply trying to check a box. You know, let’s get people one to Christ and move on. Paul thinks completely different about ministry than most of today’s 21st-century ministries. It’s all about conversions. And let’s get the conversion and let’s give our good status report to our donors and let’s move on to the next group of people. You’ll notice that Paul doesn’t think that way. Paul is interested in not just conversions, but he’s interested in seeing people develop into full Christ likeness. You don’t bring an infant home on the day the infant is born from the hospital. And you don’t plop the infant in the middle of the room and say, help yourself to a ham sandwich when you get hungry. There’s birth and then there’s the process of growth. Paul as the mother and father of the Thessalonians church wanted them to mature.

He wanted them to develop. He wanted them to grow. So I sent Timothy back to strengthen you. And to encourage you as to your faith. That, by the way, is the purpose of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Every single child of God by birthright has at least one spiritual gift. Spiritual gifts are spirit-empowered abilities to serve God. In sort of a special way in sort of a unique way. And when you look at the gifts and you can find them easily in your Bible, just remember 12,12, 4, 4. First Corinthians 12, Romans 12, First Peter 4, Ephesians 4. You read those four chapters this afternoon and you’ll just drown in information about spiritual gifts. But what you’ll notice about spiritual gifts is spiritual gifts are not for the person that possesses the gift. There is a great sense of satisfaction that a human being, a Christian receives when they use their gifts. It’s very fulfilling. But at the same time, that’s not why God gave the gift. The whole purpose of the gifts is for God’s resources to flow through you. So you can benefit somebody else. And you’ll notice that every single gift is set up that way. Gift of leadership, gift of administration, mercy, compassion, giving, knowledge. Why are those gifts given? They’re not given to put people on pedestals. They’re given so people can become an instrument of blessing to somebody else.

And that is why God blesses people with all kinds of things, including spiritual gifts. I mean, when you got saved and God supernaturally gave you at least one spiritual gift because first Corinthians 12:7 says, Let each use his gift. Each means everyone has one. I’m convinced most people have more than one. I’m also convinced that a lot of people are sitting on gifts they don’t even know they have. But we sure need you to exercise them because we’re needy people. Amen. But when God gave you that gift, He thought of all of the people that you would bless through that gift. So he didn’t just say, Hey, this is a neat present for so-and-so. What he saw was a sphere of influence that you would have, and all of the people that could be, as it says here, strengthened, encouraged, edified. And God says, I want all of these people strengthened, edified, encouraged. And so I’m going to give you a gift for that purpose. This is why Paul desired to get to Rome. A lot of people think that Paul wanted to get to Rome so the gospel could get to Rome. But the truth of the matter is, the gospel already was in Rome. How do I know that? Because Acts 2 tells me that there were Roman Hebrews there that heard Peter preach on Pentecost. They heard what Peter said. And so they went back to Rome and they started the church in Rome.

The church at Rome was already up and running. Without any, as far as I can tell, apostolic authority bringing that church into existence. So Paul wanted to get to Rome, not so the gospel could get to Rome- the Gospel was already there. Well, why did Paul keep saying I want to get to Rome? He wanted to get to Rome because he wanted to edify the Roman Christians. That’s what he says in Romans 1:11. “For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established.” He doesn’t say, I long to see you so that I can impart some spiritual gift to you that you could be saved, that you could be justified. It doesn’t say that. He says, I want the same people to be established. I don’t want to just do the work of an obstetrician. The birthing process. I want to do the work of a pediatrician. To bring the newborn child into a state of maturity. So that’s why he sent Timothy. So obviously, a man like that cannot be charged with, Oh, you left because you don’t care. And he continues his thoughts there in verse 3. “so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this.” Now`, first of all, you notice this word, disturbed. I think in the Greek it’s sainó. And it’s used of a- in some extra biblical Greek literature- of a dog wagging its tail.

And when he says disturbed, he’s concerned that the Thessalonians, just like a dog wagging its tail, were sort of being thrown to and fro as new Christians. Why were they being thrown to and fro? Because of- because of instability. And what was making them unstable? Their trials. Because the crowd that kicked Paul out of Thessalonica- unbelieving Jews- were now turning on his flock and they were causing them as much trouble as they caused Paul. So here they are, kind of like a tail wagging its dog, disturbed, they’re being thrown to and fro. Gee, if God loves me, why are all these bad things happening to me? Which is one of the most masterful lies of Satan. That’s when a new Christian who does not understand the doctrine of suffering, which Paul lays out here in verse 3. If you’re not taught right, that’s where Satan has an inroad with the new Christian, convincing them they’re not Christians, because I thought Christianity was your best life now. Well, things don’t seem so great. I’m being- I’m being persecuted. And so you start thinking, well, maybe I’m not saved or maybe I missed God, or maybe I missed God’s call. So like a tail wagging its dog, you’re just thrown, you know, back and forth. So he’s concerned that they are being disturbed by these trials. But look at the rest of this verse.

Verse 3, “so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we,” that’s me, Paul says, and you being persecuted by the same people. “for we know that we have been-” and it’s not, I think this is what’s happening, he says, I know this is what’s happening. “we have been destined for [this].” Completely different way of looking at trials. It shouldn’t disturb you because this is God’s plan for you. They shouldn’t disturb you because you’re actually destined for these trials. So all of the suffering that happens to us as Christians, that comes into our lives that we didn’t cause, unfair treatment, we get very disturbed by it. But God says this is actually a part of your calling. I mean, this is what you signed up for. Trials are a normal and natural part of the Christian experience. Paul, in the first missionary journey in southern Galatia, kind of, planted some churches and he made a round trip back to see how those churches were doing. And this is what it says Paul said to them as he was making the trip back. Acts 14:22, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, [and] saying, “Through many tribulations,” through thlipsis, tribulations. “‘Through many tribulations, we must enter the kingdom of God.'” So notice Paul says we’re not in the kingdom now. That’s why you’re having these tribulations. But we’re going to enter the kingdom one day.

And until we enter the kingdom, God’s program is, before we enter, we go through tribulations. Many tribulations. Back to the Parable of the Sower. Matthew 13:21. One of those batches of soil, it says. “yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when-” not if- “when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, he immediately falls away.” The word is sown in the heart and persecution arises. It doesn’t say if it arises, it says it’s a matter of when. Jesus, in Matthew 10, when he was sending out the disciples to offer the kingdom to Israel, made this statement in Matthew 10:22. Everyone shall hate you because you belong to me. And then he says in verse 24, A student is not greater than his teacher. A servant is not above his master. The student shares his teacher’s fate. The servant shares his master’s fate. And since I, the master of the household, have been called Satan. How much more will you? So, student is not above his master. How exactly did they treat Jesus? I mean, there isn’t a man that lived that’s been treated worse than Jesus Christ in terms of injustice. And so when these trials come against us and if a student is not greater than his master, why are we so shocked that they’re happening? That’s why the apostle Peter in First Peter 4:12 talks about fiery ordeals that are happening to us where we think some strange thing is happening.

It’s not strange at all. Now, if you’re not under this type of doctrine and under this type of teaching and you’re a brand-new Christian and you don’t even have a New Testament yet- because the New Testament is just been compiled as Paul is writing this. As I said earlier, this is one of his early letters. And your apostle, the guy that led you to Christ, is now driven out of town, you’re going to think to yourself, I must have missed the calling of God. Christianity must work for everybody, but it doesn’t work for me. Paul says it’s actually working really well for you. You don’t have to be disturbed by these things that you’re experiencing. In fact, you are destined for them. I’ll tell you something, folks. I don’t mean to be a harbinger of bad news. But things in the United States are changing. I wish it weren’t true. But it’s true. Christians in the United States are under- have been under for some time- What I would call sort of a soft form of persecution. Meaning maligned on sitcoms for being a Christian, meaning being canceled on social media for being a Christian. That is soft persecution. What is about to change, I believe, particularly this year, is we’re about to move into hard persecution. The reason I say that is they just passed the demonically mislabeled law. Respect for Marriage Act is now the law of the land.

Where basically what it does, and of course, they did it after an election where there was no accountability. They did it before the next party could come in and take leadership in the House of Representatives. I mean, what they just unleashed and it just got signed into law by the man that supposedly is our president. And what it just did is it took and put it into law the idea that any type of Christian organization that stands on traditional marriage is now subject to litigation. And it opens up the Department of Justice to literally wage a legal war against any organization that happens to stand for traditional marriage. If you look at the law in particular, it allows for one American to tell on another American, to report them to the Department of Justice. Oh, so-and-so church, so-and-so bakery, they stand for a traditional marriage. So therefore, we need to sue them. And what you have to understand about these things is the punishment is the process. The punishment is the process because you might successfully get to the very end of the litigation process and be declared a victor. But look at all of the time and effort and energy and money that has been spent. And look at what Satan has done to the church to get the church off its mission. Instead of using its very slim resources to do God’s work now it all goes to litigation fees, attorney’s fees. All you have to do is Google Jack Phillips in Colorado.

A Colorado baker where some homosexuals came into his place of business and said, We want you to make a same sex wedding cake. And he said, I can’t do that because of my Christian convictions. But here’s all the other bakers in town that are willing to make a cake. Well, it doesn’t matter, because we’re coming after you. It’s like something out of Genesis 19 where the mob surrounds Lot’s house and Lot says take my daughters and the homosexual mob says, We’re going to treat you worse than we were going to treat them. It’s a mindset- I call it the second coming of Sodom- where we are going to force into compliance any Christian, any traditional organization, any church that thinks differently. Now, as that is unleashed in the New Year, we’re not dealing anymore with soft persecution. That’s now I would put that- you’re talking about lawyers, attorneys, fees, penalties. You’re dealing now with hard persecution. I don’t know if the American Christian Church is up to it. I really don’t. Because we have emphasized so long what Jesus can do for me. And we haven’t talked about the doctrine of suffering. The doctrine of persecution. How being a persecuted Christian is a normal, natural part of the Christian experience. And I hope we remember, as this insanity starts to engulf our once free country, I hope we remember verse 3. “so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this.”

This is the design of God. This is the plan of God. This is something that God will use to separate the wheat from the chaff. This is something that God will use to separate the spiritual believer from the carnal believer. This is something that God will use to separate a biblically faithful ministry compared to a woke church. I guarantee you, as this litigation comes, they’re not going to target Joel Osteen and his crowd. This is something that is designed to come against what I would call the Remnant Church. This is real. This is happening in your once free country. But be encouraged because God is going to use this to mature, to perfect, to edify and I believe, increase the numbers of American Christianity. No, I’m not going to give you a Patrick Henry speech. I’m going to close in prayer. Father, are grateful for Your word, grateful for Your truth, grateful for the reality that it speaks into our lives. Help us to make a decision now because as the fires hit, it’s- you can’t make a decision under pressure. Help us to make a decision right now who we’re going to stand with- what side of the fence we’re going to be on. Help us to see these things as our lot and something that You will use to glorify yourself. We’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, God’s people said [amen]. Happy intermission.