The Lord’s Day Morning
June 17, 2012
“Living Life in Light of Jesus’
Return: A Good Report of Faith and
1 Thessalonians 3:6-13
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles I’d invite you to turn with me to 1 Thessalonians
chapter 3 as we continue our way through this the first letter of the apostle
Paul. As you’re turning there to 1
Thessalonians chapter 3 we’re going to pick up in verse 6.
I want to say happy Father’s Day to our
fathers and say I may have a few words for you from this passage because even
though we’re working straight through a book of the Bible, Paul has some things
that are particularly relevant to us as Christian fathers as we consider this
I want you to be on the lookout for three things as we read.
First of all, outlining this portion of God’s Word is pretty simple.
In verses 6 to 10, Paul is giving thanks.
He’s giving thanks for a good report that he’s received from Timothy
about how the Thessalonians are doing.
You remember the last several weeks we’ve said there are people in
Thessalonica who are slandering Paul and trying to make him look bad to the
Thessalonian Christians. There are
people who are persecuting the Thessalonians and Paul is deeply worried about
how the Thessalonians are doing spiritually.
And in verses 6 to 10 he reports the report he got about the
Thessalonians from Timothy and his response to it.
And the whole section is characterized by rejoicing.
Paul is relieved and he is joyful and he is thankful and he thanks God
for the Thessalonians and he tells the Thessalonians that he’s thanking God for
Then, in verses 11 to 13 we see a prayer.
Paul tells the Thessalonians what he’s praying for them.
Now, in that thanksgiving and in that prayer I want you to be on the
lookout for three things. First, in
verse 6 and you’ll see it again in verse 8, Paul describes for us how it is that
you go about standing fast in the Christian life.
Have you ever wondered, “Okay, if I’m going to stand fast, what is it I
have to do in the Christian life?”
He actually tells you in verse 6 and verse 8 what is involved in standing fast
in the Christian life. Look out for
the words “faith” and “love.”
Then second, you’ll see this if you look at verses 9 and 10.
Paul tells us that he wants us to grow in faith.
You will see in verse 10 particularly he’ll talk about what’s lacking in
the Thessalonians’ faith and that he wants to come to them in order to supply
what is lacking in their faith. And
of course, Paul means especially by that teaching them the Word of God because
it’s the truth that supplies what is lacking in our faith.
And so Paul wants to instruct them in the Word of God so that their faith
Third, if you look at verses 11 to 13 Paul will talk about growing in our love
in order that we can be established in holiness.
Now that’s interesting. If
love grows out of being grounded in God’s Word, how is it that we need to grow
in love in order to be grounded in holiness?
That’s an interesting thing, isn’t it?
I want to consider that with you today so be on the lookout for those
three things as we read God’s Word.
Before we read it let’s look to Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.
Heavenly Father, this is Your inspired Word.
Every word of it is profitable.
Every word of it equips us as men and women who are believers in the Lord
Jesus Christ, as men and women who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as He is
offered in the Gospel. It equips us
for every good work and it is profitable for our reproof and correction and for
our training in righteousness so make this Word profitable for us and in us
today. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it in
1 Thessalonians chapter 3 beginning in verse 6:
“But now that Timothy
has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love
and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long
to see you – for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we
have been comforted about you through your faith.
For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.
For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that
we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day
that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
Now may our God and
Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make
you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,
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.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
It’s been twenty years this year since my father died and I think about him
almost every day.
And one of the things that my family enjoyed most, I think, about conversation
with my dad was the superlatives that he would use often associated with good
food. If we had a particularly good
meal we were likely going to hear superlatives from my dad.
If we were at The Trawler in
South Carolina we were likely to
hear these words, “I believe that that was the best she-crab soup I have ever
had in my entire life!” Or if we
were in Kelly’s in Blacksburg
and we had just had a delicious steak we were likely to hear, “I don’t believe I
have ever put a better piece of meat in my mouth in my entire life!”
Or if we were at Jack O’Dell’s Midway BBQ and yes, Midway was midway
between Union and Santuck,
Santuck named because the sand almost tucked it away before the kudzu was
planted. And Jack O’Dell’s Midway
BBQ had sawdust on the floors and those white and red checked tablecloths that
were kind of plasticy on the top because of all the spilled barbeque sauce and
man, it had some great Union County hash there and if we were at Jack O’Dell’s
Midway BBQ we were likely to hear, “You know, I don’t believe I have ever had
better hash in my entire life!” We
loved hearing Daddy’s superlatives when we had a good meal.
Well, the apostle Paul is using some overpowering superlatives in this
passage. Did you catch it?
STANDING FAST IN THE CHRISTIAN
Verse 6 – look at the first line — reads almost like, you know, he’s been
writing you from chapter 2 verse 17 all the way to chapter 3 verse 5 about how
worried he is about the Thessalonians.
He’s worried that the slanderers are getting to them.
He’s worried that the persecution is getting to them.
He’s worried that they may be wavering in the faith.
He’s anxious to be with them so that he can encourage them and suddenly
it’s almost like Timothy comes in the door in the middle of him writing verse 5
and getting to verse 6 and says, “Paul, good news.
They’re all trusting in Christ.
They’re standing firm in the Word.
They’re walking in the faith.”
And there’s this gigantic sigh of relief that you can hear all across two
thousand years and how ever many miles that it is from Thessalonica to
can almost hear it in verse 6 — “But now that Timothy has come to us from you,
and has brought us the good news of your faith and love” – and can I just pause
right there and say, “Did you hear what Paul just said?”
Paul called Timothy’s report to him from the Thessalonians saying that
they were doing well spiritually, saying that they were continuing on with the
Lord, saying that they were established in faith and love, he calls it good
Now I think I’m right in saying this is the only time that Paul calls anything
that is not the announcement of God’s Gospel “the good news.”
Do you see the kind of extravagant language that Paul is using?
He is so concerned about the Thessalonians that when he gets a good
report that they’re doing well spiritually he calls it gospel.
He says, “Timothy brought me gospel.
He brought me good news about your faith and love.
Now he’s not saying that Timothy came and preached him a good Gospel
sermon; he’s saying that Timothy came and gave a good spiritual report about the
Thessalonians that he uses the word that he uses everywhere else to talk about
the Gospel. It’s superlative
language. You can see here that Paul
has been so deeply concerned about the Thessalonians that he is incredibly
relieved. In fact, he’ll use the
language in verse 9 -“of joy, we feel joy for your sake before our God.”
So Paul is relieved and he’s thankful and he’s joyful and he’s using
So he goes on and he says this, “When we heard that report,” verse 6, “that good
news from Timothy about how well you’re doing, even though we were in distress
and affliction, we were comforted about you through your faith.”
You know how sometimes somebody else’s faith encourages you.
Have you ever had a Christian friend who was going through an incredibly
hard time, a situation that makes you think, “I’m not sure how well I would
handle that,” and that Christian friend goes through that hard time trusting in
the Lord, not becoming bitter, believing God’s promises, absolutely determined
that the light at the end of the tunnel is going to come and you think, “Boy,
you’re faith has really encouraged me.”
Well, Paul’s saying even more than that here.
Look at the next sentence that he utters.
Look at verse 8. “For now we
live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.”
Now that “if” isn’t meant to put any question mark on how the
Thessalonians are doing. It’s meant
to emphasize that what makes Paul be able to say, “I can live again,” is the
report that the Thessalonians are standing firm in the faith.
Now that’s extravagant language.
Men, you know that kind of language.
You used it when you met some girl who rocked your right brain hard
however many years ago. Yeah, you
remember? Remember writing her notes
and saying, “You make me live. I’m alive
for the first time in my life.”
That’s the kind of language, but Paul’s not using this about a girlfriend or a
wife. This isn’t even the language
of a pastor saying, “Boy, I kind of feel like my ministry’s not a failure now
because you’re doing well in the Lord.”
It’s not even that kind of relief.
There’s no indication here that Paul worries about the success of his
ministry. This language is much more
like a father talking about his children doing spiritually well.
John Stott commenting on this passage says, “Pastoral love is parental in
quality.” That is, Paul has a love
for these Christians like a father and a mother have for their children.
So it’s the reaction is not, “Oh, I’m not a failure, thank heavens,
because you’re doing well.” The
reaction is as a parent, “My children are doing well in the Lord.
My children are standing firm in the faith.
Thank God, I rejoice. My
heart is filled with thanksgiving to the Lord.”
I was on a panel a couple of years ago at a conference in Chicago with Tim
Keller and the moderator was asking Tim about how young men could be better
appliers of Scripture. How can you
get better at applying Scripture in your sermons?
And one of the things that Tim said in response to this fellow is, “Well,
one thing you have to do is you have to experience a little bit of life.
You know, you have to have some pain and some loss and you have to live
life with fellow believers that experience pain and loss and you live bit of
life and you get to be a better applier of God’s Word.”
But in the course of that answer he said something in passing.
He said, “You know when you’re parents, when you’re parents of children
that were out of the home, you are never more happy than your least happy
child.” What he was saying was
parents care about the children’s happiness and their wellbeing and if you have
four kids and three of them are doing great, but one of them is not doing so
well, it weighs on you as a parent.
You think about it all the time. It
burdens you. You want them to be
happy. You want them to be doing well and Paul’s using that kind of language
here. “I can live again because
you’re doing well! You’re standing
firm in the faith. You’re growing in
faith and love. I can live!”
It’s the language of a parent.
One of the things I love about John Stott’s commentary on this passage is that
John Stott almost speaks in the first person about this.
He says, “You know, we parents are so concerned for our children’s
wellbeing that when we see them doing well we’re relieved and we rejoice and we
give thanks to God.” The interesting
thing about that is John Stott was never married.
He’s a single man. How does
he know about this? Because he has
spiritual children all over the world.
And that’s exactly how Paul is speaking about the Thessalonians.
When he sees them doing well, standing firm in the faith, growing in
faith and love he says, “I can live again.
I was dying inside when I thought that you weren’t doing well.”
Parents, do you understand that?
Those of you who have kids who are out of the home now, you ever seen your adult
children and their making some decisions that are not good and you’re at that
relationship now where there’s only so much you can say and do and you just hold
your breath and you say, “Lord, all those prayers that I prayed, all that
teaching that I did, all preaching they heard, all the example that I shared,
Lord, just use that.” And when they come through those trying times you go,
“Yes, I can live again. My children
are standing firm in Christ. They’re
growing in faith and love. That’s
exactly the experience that Paul is having and that’s why you get all these
superlatives in this passage. In
other words, Paul is saying that he can live again because he has heard of the
Thessalonians faith and love.
Look specifically at verse 6 again.
“Timothy has brought us the good news of your faith and love.”
Then verse 8 – “Now we live for you are standing fast in the Lord.”
That superlative language is that Paul is so thankful that the most
important things are in place in their life.
Notice it’s not that the Thessalonians aren’t experiencing hard times because,
in fact, they’re being persecuted.
He’s not, “Whew! Now I can live
again because you’re not going through hard times.”
It’s that, “Now I can live again because you’re standing firm in Christ.
You’re growing in faith and love.”
And now here’s an application, fathers.
You know, as fathers and mothers you want your children to marry a nice
person, be a good husband and wife, have a nice life, no major illnesses, no big
problems, have a good job, be respected in the community.
All of those things are good things, but far more important than that is
that they stand firm in Christ and that they grow in faith and love.
At the door after the early service a young man came and met me.
He’s a PhD student in engineering.
He’s been married for ten years.
Three years into his marriage he and his wife were just not, they were
not going to make it and he was reading a book by John McArthur and he came to
faith in Christ. Their marriage was
hanging by a thread and God turned it all around by bringing him to faith in
Christ and then leading them into a Bible believing church where they heard the
Gospel preached every week and the Bible faithfully taught and they began to
work through their issues in marriage and then they had a child who was just
diagnosed with autism. Now, no
parent would say, “Okay, it will be good for you to struggle in your marriage
and have a child with autism. You
just – that’s not what you’d be wishing for your child.
But you know what? That young
man is preaching the Gospel at a rescue mission in downtown Birmingham every
week and he wants to be a church planter and he wants to be involved in the work
of the kingdom. He’s standing firm
in the faith. He’s growing in faith
and love through all of those circumstances.
Dads, is that what you pray for your sons and for your daughters that they’d
stand firm in Christ, that they’d grow in faith and love, not just that
circumstances would be easy? And you
know, we can all want the circumstances to be the best for you, but that no
matter what the circumstances are, you’re standing firm in Christ and you’re
growing in faith and love. Are those
the kinds of spiritual desires that we have for our children, not just that
they’d be accepted and prominent and have a great job and an easy marriage and
all of those things, that they’d be firm in Christ, growing in faith and love?
Well, here Paul, you see, what’s he relieved about?
He’s relieved, he’s thankful, he’s joyful, he’s overwhelmed that the
Thessalonians are manifesting faith and love.
And I love what John Calvin says about those two words.
“In faith and love,” Calvin says, “Paul gives a brief summary of all
godliness. All godliness can be
summed up in faith and love; believing God’s promises and His Word, trusting in
Jesus as He is offered in the gospel – faith, love, loving God, loving one
another, loving our neighbors.” He
just sums up the whole of the Christian life — faith and love.
They’re living the Christian life.
They’re believing God’s promises; they’re believing His Word; they’re
trusting in Christ as He’s offered in the Gospel; they’re loving God; they’re
loving one another; they’re loving their neighbor; they’re loving all in this
Notice how it says not only are they loving one another, but all.
Look at verse 12. “Abound in
love for one another and for all.”
And Paul says they’re doing well.
And he’s thankful and he uses this extravagant language.
Doesn’t that teach us that one thing we want to aspire to if we want to
stand fast in the Christian life, if we want to live life in light of Jesus’
return the way Christians ought to? How do we do that?
By being established in faith and love; by growing in faith and in love.
That sums it all up, doesn’t it?
CHRISTIANS GROW IN FAITH AND LOVE
BY THE TRUTH
Here’s the second thing I want you to see.
Look at verses 9 and 10.
Paul, having given thanksgiving for their faith and for their love goes on to
say, “What thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we
feel for your sake before God, we pray most earnestly night and day that we may
see you face to face?” Why?
“And supply what is lacking in your faith.”
Now, what’s that about? Well
Paul had only been able to be with them and teach them for a few weeks and then
he had to go away and he wants to come back to supply what is lacking in their
faith. How’s he going to do that?
By teaching them the Word of God.
That’s how he’s going to supply what’s lacking in their faith.
He can’t create faith; he can’t grow faith.
Only the Holy Spirit can do that.
But how does faith grow?
Faith comes by hearing what? The
Word of God.
And Paul tells you that, doesn’t he, in 1 Timothy chapter 1 verse 5.
Take a look at it. Paul says,
“The goal of our instruction,” 1 Timothy chapter 1 verse 5, “The goal of our
instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.”
In other words, his aim, he’s received a charge from Jesus to do Gospel
ministry. His aim in that ministry,
the goal in his teaching and in his instruction is that there would be disciples
who love. They love God, they love
one another, they love their neighbor from a pure heart, a good conscience and a
sincere faith. And so his teaching
is going to be designed to what? To
grow them in love. So when he says
he want to come and supply what is lacking in your faith, what he is saying is
he wants their faith to be grown by truth, the truth of the Word.
He wants to come supply them what is lacking by teaching the truth of the
Now this is hugely important. If we
don’t understand how truth functions we’ll miss the whole point of why we gather
Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, why we teach all week long, why we have seminaries,
why we have schools that teach the Word of God.
God’s just is not in the business of simply information transfer; He’s
not trying to cram your minds full with little facts so that you know more than
the people around you; that truth is designed to transform your life.
You know, we often say to seminary students, “You can learn about the
hypostatic static union of the natures of Jesus Christ and still go home and be
a jerk to your wife.” So the
important thing is to understand that everything that God says in His Word is
designed to change how we live in relation to Him and in relation to one
another. And Paul is saying, “I want
to supply what’s lacking in your faith.”
How’s he going to do that? By
teaching him the Word and then by their lives being conformed to God’s will by
His Word. Isn’t that what he talks
about in Romans chapter 12 verses 1 and 2?
That we’re transformed by the renewing of our minds according to the Word
of God. That’s what Paul is saying
here, that we grow in faith and in love by truth.
INCREASE IN CHRISTIAN LOVE IS
NECESSARY FOR GODLINESS
And then third, if you’d look at verses 11 to 13, this is very interesting.
Then Paul says – look at verse 12 – “May the Lord make you increase and
abound in love for one another and for all so that,” verse 13, “so that He may
establish your hearts blameless in holiness.”
Now that’s interesting. “May
the Lord make you increase and abound in love so that He may establish your
hearts blameless in holiness.” That
strike you as interesting? He’s just
said in 1 Timothy 1:5 that he’s going to teach them the truth so that they love.
Now he’s saying that he wants them to increase and abound in love so that
they may be established in holiness.
Hmmm? How’s that work?
I’m not sure that I know the whole answer, but I think that I do know
this. Paul is saying her that it is
impossible for us to grow in holiness apart from the context of really Christian
loving relationships with one another and in attitudes towards all people.
That is, Christian godliness is not just a matter of you sitting down and
saying, “I’m going to cultivate this particular virtue in my life because
virtues” — let’s say you decide you’re going to open up Galatians and you’re
going to work through the fruit of the Spirit and you’ve decided you’re going to
be a more faithful person or you’re going to be a more kind person.
Well, guess what?
You can’t do that by yourself. There
has to be somebody else around before you can be more faithful because you have
to be more faithful to somebody or there has to be somebody else around if
you’re going to be more kind because you have to have somebody else if you’re
going to be kind. And so the virtues
of the Christian life cannot be cultivated in isolation from one another.
We need to be in community and we need to be in accountability in order
to cultivate the virtues of the Christian life.
And so Paul is saying, “I want your love to increase and abound in order that
you might grow in holiness because it’s in the context of those loving
relationships that your godliness will be established.”
Do we realize that? It means
that if we’re going to be established in godliness in our relationships we’re
going to have to learn to forgive one another and forbear with one another.
Love is often going to have to cover a multitude of sins.
Love is going to have to think the best of others when we’re tempted to
think the worst. And all of that’s
going to be necessary to our growing in godliness and our godliness is that
thing that makes the world look at the church and say, “You know what?
They’re not like us. Because
if we’re like that world, the world says, “You don’t have anything to teach us.”
But when our priorities are different, when our behavior is different,
when our aspirations are different the world says, “Well, they’re a little
weird, but there might be something I need to listen to from them.”
But that godliness won’t manifest itself that witnesses to the world that
the Holy Spirit is at work in us if we are not increasing and abounding in love.
And so increase in love is necessary for establishment in godliness.
That’s what Paul is saying here.
It’s a glorious passage and it sets before us aspirations.
Don’t you want to grow in faith and love?
And don’t you want to grow in the truth so that you can grow in faith and
love? And don’t you desire to be
more godly and because you desire to be more godly you realize, “You know, this
is going to require me deliberately committing myself and asking the Holy Spirit
to increase and abound in love and love is going to mean me thinking about other
people before myself. It’s going to
be about me seeking their best interest before my own.
It’s going to entail me overlooking offenses.”
That’s the way that we live life in light of Jesus’ return.
And by the way did you notice how Paul mentions that in verse 13?
“That He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God
and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus.”
He’s still thinking about the coming of our Lord Jesus.
How do you live life in light of Jesus’ return?
You long for godliness, you pursue love, you grow in faith and in love.
That’s how you stand fast in Christ, in faith and in love.
And don’t you love the combination of that?
You know, if you look out in the church today and there are people that
are strong in love and weak in faith, strong in faith and weak in love and
here’s Paul saying, “No. Those
things go together.”
Increasing in faith and love, faith and love are there.
It’s what we want to be.
That’s the kind of congregation we want to be.
May the Lord bless His Word.
Heavenly Father, work Your truth into our lives so that we love from pure
hearts, good consciences and sincere faith.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
Well, in this passage it’s very evident that Paul loves the church.
Let’s sing about that love using number 353, “I Love Thy Kingdom Lord”.
Receive God’s blessing. Grace to you
and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
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