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Sermons

Passion For People In Prayer

July 12, 2020 Speaker: Chris Jessee Series: Teach Us To Pray

Passage: 1 Thessalonians 3:9–3:13

Passion for People in Prayer

 

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

 

It’s easy to think about our first Sunday in quarantine, that was March 15th but that weekend actually has a different distinct memory for me personally.  Things were obviously moving very fast and we made the decision to not meet in-person but try something radically (at the time) new for us: online services.  

 

The distinct memory for me personally came on Friday night after we made the decision and Danny encouraged me to take my notes written to the church and record them as a video instead.  So, around 8p I called Cristian to see if he was available to meet me here at the building and we’d record a video which he was able to do so I started thinking about getting ready for my ‘close up’.

 

I went and changed, and while I was freshening up I washed my face, looked up in the mirror and I thought: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

 

I paused for that moment and couldn’t believe what was happening, things had moved so fast I hadn’t even really had time to process for myself what was going on and more importantly; what I was about to record and prepare to send out to the church.

 

Here’s why that Friday night face-washing was a poignant moment for me: I’ve never felt called to be a pastor at Metro Life Church because I want to be here to shut things down, soften the blow of what we had been experiencing in declining attendance or giving (not currently what we’re seeing happen - local ministry partner update) or just to manage things so they move forward on some sort of auto-pilot or maintaining of the status-quo.  

 

I feel called to minister here because I have faith for what God has for us in the future, I believe in the days ahead that God has a tremendous call on us as a local expression of HIS CHURCH, I have faith for a day soon when this facility won’t even be large enough to contain the ways He’s calling us to minister to this local community, help train others, plant churches.  There are still gifts in people, put there by God Himself to benefit the church and empowered by the Holy Spirit that we want to help people discover and use, there are leaders in our midst we want to see raised up and equipped to serve.  We want to reach more and more into the community that we’re planted in and see people called from darkness to light and equipped for the purses they were created for!  It’s a huge mission!  

 

It’s a huge vision but not because it’s the vision of any one man, it’s God’s vision for his church! It’s what we see ‘the church’ pursuing throughout the New Testament and it’s still our call as a church today...

 

So, when I read 1 Thess. 3 I believe I can somewhat understand what Paul was writing and working through as it relates to the church in Thessalonica - let’s read together:

 

1 Thessalonians 3:9–13

 

[9] For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, [10] as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?

 

[11] Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, [12] and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, [13] so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

 

When I say that I think I can relate with what Paul was going through, the circumstances aren’t exactly the same but some of the sentiments and lessons are, here’s what I mean:

 

[9] For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 

 

Paul is at the close of a section of his letter where he’s recalling something that’s captured for us in Acts 17, in the midst of his second missionary journey he’s gotta get out of Thessalonica so that the church can continue to minister to their people without him being there putting himself, or those in the church in danger. 

 

He’s transitioning to prayer with a rhetorical question, using it for effect and doubling down on thanksgiving he’s already expressed for the people in the church 

 

In this letter he hasn’t been able to return, but he has sacrificially sent his right hand man: Timothy and here’s Paul’s rejoicing in the news that the church there in Thessalonica is doing well, holding fast to the faith and thriving even in the midst of great suffering.  

 

He recognizes that he’s not there, BUT THE HOLY SPIRIT IS! (1:5)

 

Paul’s not glad they’re suffering but when he hears the news of their faith his response is Thanksgiving and Joy for the people there.  Why was this? Verse 10 gives us a glimpse

 

[10] as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?

 

Paul isn’t saying that their faith isn’t true, or that they needed more to really be believers / followers of Jesus.  Just that their understanding was lacking (he hadn’t covered ‘everything’ with them in their time together) and he was concerned that false teachers would come in and lead them astray.  

 

Paul spent time with them relationally before he tried to tell them everything about their faith, he put relationships first.  But that led to pain for him in being torn away which led to earnest prayers for those believers...

 

There’s a lesson for us here church; do we rightly understand, live in the good and blessing of relationships with those who are here in the church?  

 

Perhaps this season is teaching us something about this, I know that I’m learning about my need for others over the past several months, solid relationships that aren’t just hammering truth in my head (believe me, I need that TOO!)  but care for me as an individual simply walking through life.  

 

Paul models that for us here, he included truth but it was expressed through the care that comes through relationship with others.  

 

That’s still our call today, we’re not called to walk through life alone, that’s why our community groups are so important and a vital part of our church culture.  We had a great time with our leaders last night even talking through some of these things… we’ll share more about this in the weeks ahead at a family meeting we’re planning for Tuesday, August 11th but we need community and relationships, Paul saw this and felt the pain of this being interrupted by what was distracting from the church’s primary mission: the outside suffering they were walking through.

 

If we think back to the encouragement being offered to the church here we realize that Paul is doing this in contrast with what we can often experience in life, two different extremes:

 

First, the backslapping flatterer constantly compliments everyone. Regardless of the quality of the work, this extrovert comes alongside and bellows, “Terrific job! - no matter the quality or excellence of work, in trying to encourage everyone they leave some scratching their heads thinking that perhaps ‘terrific’ is the starting point for everything to this person.

 

Second, we all know the sober, theologically precise types who are deeply committed to the truth that all praise finally belongs to God alone, so they rarely thank you for anything—and then only very grudgingly.

 

“Although the thanksgiving is addressed not to the Thessalonians but rather to God for the Thessalonians, nevertheless it is cast in such a way as to encourage them.”

 

Carson, D. A.. Praying with Paul

 

We know those who don’t encourage or applaud and those who encourage or applaud everything… 

 

Applause is a fickle thing though when we think of it in this way… it’s not as encouraging as it seems - especially if we consider the source of that applause.

 

Paul had amen in mind more than applause of the world - even to the point of the pain of leaving the church so they could continue in their mission.  Perhaps this can help us understand what I mean:

 

ILLUSTRATION: 

 

I was reading an article a while back on the change that’s happened in comedy over the past few years where comedians aren’t looking as much for laughter as they are applause.  This has been exaggerated recently as more and more satire, comedy have been used more and more to try to normalize sinful behaviour or things that would directly oppose our faith, even holding up a satirical mirror to the world causing people to be uncomfortable until they ‘virtue signal’ their support through applause rather than the true form of entertainment that can come through comedy and laughter.  Applause has been reduced to affirmation of what someone already thinks, simply said in a more sharp, witty or even cutting down someone way that ‘wins the discussion…”

 

Comedy’s not the only thing that’s subject to this though… many pastors have faced, for years, the temptation to lead more for applause than a hearty ‘amen’.  I personally know this temptation, even now.  

 

An amen is something distinct and different than applause that says; keep going, what you’re saying points my thoughts and affections Godward, causes my heart and mind to soar to truth that’s eternal, heavenly and right within God’s creation.  Paul, throughout his ministry, faces that same temptation, even to the point of having to leave so the local leaders could continue to lead the church to amen rather than applause.  In other journeys he’s imprisoned rather than applauded yet there’s an eternal AMEN over his ministry because he wasn’t seeking the applause of the world.  

 

What Paul is rejoicing in is that the church is saying AMEN to the things of God, both in their gatherings and through their actions - even while he’s away.  This brings him much joy and causes him to be thankful for people.

 

So we’re faced with this question: are we living our lives for the applause of others or for the amen affirmed in God’s Word for what we’re called to in life?

 

I know the temptation, even the ease that applause brings… it’s addicting and at the moment can seem so fulfilling but it’s o-so-hollow, a facade that crumbles so quickly leaving you feeling empty and weak like an addict wanting another hit.  I’d rather have my heart and emotions fueled by the things of God that will last, true from one generation to the next, a firm foundation that we can build our life on.

 

In Paul’s case this is love that he is expressing to these fellow believers, love for them because of the Love that God has shown him so freely and generously.

 

So Paul, not earnestly desiring applause, longs to be with them because he loves them.  He wants to add his loud, godward AMEN to what is happening there in and through the church.

 

He goes on to anchor that love not in his own ability to conjure up affection for people who are affectionate toward him, but in Christ Himself.

 

[11] Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, [12] and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, [13] so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

 

Paul takes these thoughts towards others and turns them to a heartfelt prayer to God on their behalf.

 

Paul wants to be with them, he wants their faith to be firmly established, he wants to see them grow in holiness (being set apart from the world for the things of God, in the ways that He directs through His Word and intended from creation) but he recognizes that people are not called to be “Paul-like” in their faith and walk… we are called to be Christ-like in our character so he anchors his prayer in Christ Himself.

 

What does he do when he can’t ‘accomplish’ these things?  He prays.  He turns to God on behalf of others.

 

He doesn’t bemoan his circumstances, he’s not belittling their faith (although he knows it needs to be shored up), he doesn’t put them down here on earth… he puts them down on his list titled: ‘bring them before the throne of grace!” with joy and thanksgiving!

 

This prayer starts with the desire to be ‘directed’ to them… what that really meant was for obstacles to be moved, taken out of the way, no curves to the left or right, no speed bumps, PATH. MADE. STRAIGHT.

 

If I were putting this in today’s terms it would be that God moves the Covid out of the way, that restrictions on gatherings would be lifted, that executive orders would be clear and in alignment with each other (if they even had to exist at all…)

 

If we look closely at the structure of Paul’s prayer we realize; His prayer for them is:

… directed to God through Jesus

… for fruitfulness

… relational

… for an increase of fruit of the spirit

… for faithfulness and endurance in their sufferings

… for change 

… for understanding Christ’s work on their behalf

… for holiness

… urgent (because time is running short)

 

I want to focus, in closing, on these last two, not that any of the other things aren’t important but here’s where I believe that God wants to speak to us today as a church: holiness and urgency.

 

Holiness 

 

Lest we forget, the church in thessalonica was in a real culture that was opposed to them and the ways that God called them to live, violently so.  It was cancel culture to the dealy extreme and there was real trial, suffering and temptations all around them to draw them away from the truth.  Especially in the area of sexual purity (which Paul explicitly addresses in C.4) and work - this holiness, being set apart for the purposes of God was going to be comprehensive in their lives, not segmented to this place or time and then walked away from for the rest of their ‘normal lives’.

 

This is the same holiness we’re called to as followers of Christ in our lives today.  

Writing in his Book “The Hole in Our Holiness”, Kevin DeYoung helps us understand where the temptations the Thessolincans faced still exist for us today when he says:

 

“My fear is that as we rightly celebrate, and in some quarters rediscover, all that Christ has saved us from, we are giving little thought and making little effort concerning all that Christ has saved us to. Shouldn’t those most passionate about the gospel and God’s glory also be those most dedicated to the pursuit of godliness? I worry that there is an enthusiasm gap and no one seems to mind.”

 

DeYoung, Kevin. The Hole in Our Holiness (p. 11). Crossway

 

We may find it easy to embrace Christian freedom but without an equal pursuit of Christian behaviours in line with who we are called to be.

 

Perhaps we’re away of gaps between our love for the gospel and our love for godliness. Yet we’re called to grow into this, even as Cristian said last week that we are growing into the life that God has called us to.  He even gives us HIS OWN POWER through the Holy Spirit to grow in this aspect of the Chrstian Life!

 

I’ve been struck in thinking about this through the weeks in preparing for today’s message: we have the same Holy Spirit that Paul was praying to (1:5) who is still empowering us.  Here’s the amazing thing, this Holy Spirit has the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, He has the same power that sustained the people there in the early church, gave the disciples grace and power for witness, was involved all through the book of Acts and the New Testament.  

 

His power didn’t diminish in any way through all of that, it’s not like today we have some centuries old Holy Spirit who’s just giving those who believe the leftovers that remain after inspiring the Word of God for generations and then making all these miraculous things happen in the early church… that same power is available and at work, right now, today.  Church, let’s WALK IN IT! And pray that God increases our awareness of this power available to us along with the gifts He freely distributes to us.

 

Why does this matter, why am I so passionately bringing up the Holy Spirit’s work in our new life as followers of Jesus?  Because...

 

Standing opposed to the Holiness we are called to is the very real temptation to pursue Worldliness.  Perhaps a way to rightly understand worldliness would be to define it as: whatever makes sin look normal and righteousness look strange.  

 

Doesn’t that so aptly describe the world we live in today?  It’s hard to miss, no matter where you look.

 

Prayer: Lord, help us in learning to distinguish that it’s not pietism, legalism, or fundamentalism to take holiness seriously.  Understanding that “This is the way” of all those who have been called to a holy calling by a holy God.  Holy Spirit, open our eyes to the ability to walk in the power you so readily supply to us.

 

Lastly, Paul prayed with Urgency 

 

Urgency

 

Like many of you, this past week my TV has been tuned to the musical Hamilton (more than once to be sure!).  

 

On Wednesday night we were watching with some friends and it was brought to my attention that Aaron Burr is the great grandson of Jonathan Edwards who, in one of the songs was referred to as a ‘fire-and-brimstone’ preacher.  

 

What’s interesting though, is that the central theme of Edward’s life, as Dane Ortlund says was Beauty, he goes on to state:

 

“Sinners are beautified as they behold the beauty of God in Jesus Christ. That is Edwards’s theology of the Christian life in a single sentence”

 

Hear it again: Sinners are beautified as they behold the beauty of God in Jesus Christ

 

Hmm… sounds a lot like Edward’s theology of life actually lined up with Paul and more importantly… the theology of life we learn through God’s Word!

 

Edwards certainly had a few other doozies, like:

 

Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.

 

Or: Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

 

How about this one: The way to Heaven is ascending; we must be content to travel uphill, though it be hard and tiresome, and contrary to the natural bias of our flesh.

 

Doesn’t this last Edwards quote capture what Paul is praying for the church in Thessalonica and thus, teaching us to pray for others?  

 

The way is uphill while we wait, tiresome and contrary… but there’s a day coming and Paul acknowledged this as well…

 

He ends his prayer acknowledging the day to come, here Paul seems to reference Zechariah 14, for time’s sake I’ll read this summary from The Gospel Transformation Bible (although I’d encourage you to go and study this for yourself):

 

“The prophet warns people already struggling to remain faithful in difficult circumstances that there were far greater trials yet to come. And yet, even trials as horrific as those he describes in this chapter cannot destroy the Lord’s people, for God will certainly deliver them in the end. The persecutors of God’s people are more to be pitied than the martyrs whom they slaughter, for they will be victims of divine judgment of truly terrible proportions. On the last day, every knee will bow before the Lord and his Anointed, either willingly or unwillingly. How much better to bow willingly, no matter the cost, than to be found holding out against the Lord when time finally runs out.”

 

Each of us who have put our faith in Jesus as THE WAY to life (and that more abundantly), let us hold fast and not hold out but let us also pray for one another to hold fast, not hold out.  

 

Unbeliever: (Truth Quest) Christ Connection: Jesus taught that following Him is not easy. It requires commitment and sacrifice. When we trust in Jesus, we give Him complete control of our lives. True life is found in Jesus, who gave up His life to rescue us from sin and death. He is worth it.

 

Interesting to note that our message started talking about Paul and yet what we’re really seeing in this prayer is not simply Paul’s heart for people but God’s heart for us.  He wants to be in this relationship with us, wants to provide the power to change that’s why He not only set out these Holy Laws but sent His Son

 

For all of us, let us pray that we live our lives with abandon for The One who made us, through The One who saved us, with the power of The One who’s in us!

Benediction: 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24

 

[23] Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. [24] He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

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