Living in Light of Jesus' Return: Living in Light of Jesus’ Return: A Pastor Who Loves His People

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on June 10, 2012

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5

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The Lord’s Day Morning


June 10, 2012



“Living Life in Light of Jesus’
Return: A Pastor Who Loves His
People”


1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5


The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to 1 Thessalonians
chapter 2. We’re going to read to
the end of that chapter and then into the first few verses of 1 Thessalonians
chapter 3. You remember the last
time we were together in this passage we were saying that Paul has detractors in
Thessalonica who are slandering him.
They’re saying things to the Thessalonians Christians like, “Paul only cares
about your money. What he’s really
after is money,” or, “He only cares about building up a group of followers.
He’s looking for position.
He’s looking for respect. He’s
looking for importance. You are
simply chattel to him. He’s using
you for what he can get out of you and as evidence of this, look at him — he’s
left and you haven’t heard from him since.”
And there’s a real sense in which the passage that we’re reading today,
and it will actually go on to verse 13 — we’ll look at chapter 2 verse 17 down
to verse 5 today. Paul is saying to
the Thessalonians, “What those people are saying about me is not true.
I deeply love you, I wish that I could be with you, there are specific
reasons why I can’t be with you right now even though I want to be with you
right now, but I want to express to you the intensity of my love for you, my
affection for you, my concern for you.
I want you to understand what my motivations really are in ministry.
They’re not what these other people are saying about me.
I have very definite motives for ministry and I’m going to tell you what
those are.” That’s what Paul is
doing in this passage. He’s showing
his love for these Christians. And
in fact, we kind of get a picture of how a pastor loves his people in this
passage as Paul talks about how he loves the Thessalonians.

But along the way, Paul manages to tell us four things that are very important
for the living of the Christian life. If
we’re going to live our lives in light of the return of Jesus Christ, and we
said that’s one of the great themes of this letter of 1 Thessalonians, then we
need to understand these four things.
I want you to be on the lookout for them as we read this passage.
The first one you’ll see in verse 18.
There’s this little phrase, “Satan hindered us.”
You’ll see it crop up again in the fifth verse of chapter 3 where Paul
speaks about worrying that the tempter may have tempted the Thessalonians.
Paul is conscious of Satan attempting to undermine and oppose God’s
people. That’s the first thing I
want you to keep your eye on in this passage.

The second thing you’ll see in verse 20.
Paul, when describing what his real motivation is for ministry, says
this, “You are our glory and joy.”
Now we need to figure out what in the world Paul means by that.
What is Paul saying when he says, “You are our glory and joy”?
That’s where he expresses what his ultimate reward is for Gospel
ministry.

Then, in chapter 3, if you look especially at verse 2, you’ll see him use this
phrase, “to establish and exhort you in the faith.”
When he sends Timothy to go be with the Thessalonians and to minister to
him he explicitly says to the Thessalonians, “The reason that I sent Timothy was
to establish and to exhort you in the faith.”
We need to understand that because Paul is there explaining the purpose
of pastoral ministry. So he’s given
a warning about Satan, he’s explained something about what the ultimate reward
of his ministry is, and now he’s explaining the purpose of pastoral ministry.

And then if you look in verse 3 he says, “We are destined for this.”
Now what is “this”? You have
to look back up to the previous sentence which ends with the words, “these
afflictions.” So he says in verse 3,
“We are destined for affliction.” So
he’s preparing them for the trials of life.
I want to think about those four things with you today and I want you to
be on the lookout for those as we read God’s Word.
Let’s pray before we read it.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word.
Open our eyes that we might behold wonderful things in it.
Give us ears to hear and to respond in belief to the truth that You teach
us. We ask this in Jesus’ name,
amen.

This is the Word of God. Hear it:

“But since we were
torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we
endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face,
because we wanted to come to you — I, Paul, again and again — but Satan hindered
us. For what is our hope or joy or
crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at His coming?
Is it not you? For you are
our glory and joy.

Therefore when we
could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother
and God’s coworker in the Gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your
faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions.
For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.
For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to
suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.
For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about
your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor
would be in vain.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Here is Paul, writing to the Thessalonians to tell them that he loves them, that
he wants to be with them, that even while he’s been away he’s tried to get back
to be with them, and that when he couldn’t get back to be with them, he thought
about them, he prayed for them, he was concerned for their wellbeing, and
ultimately he sent his most faithful colleague in ministry back to be with them
even though he missed having him in Athens.
And in the course of telling the Thessalonians that he loves them, Paul
tells us four things that are very important about living life in light of
Jesus’ return. He gives us a
warning, he expresses to us what the ultimate reward of a minister of the Gospel
is for ministry, he explains the purpose of Gospel ministry — these things are
important for us to understand — and he talks about preparing us to suffer
trials and afflictions. And I want
to look at those four things with you.


A PASTOR’S WARNING

And the first thing you see is the warning.
It comes incidentally. It’s
Paul in the context of explaining why he hasn’t come back to Thessalonica.
“I’ve wanted to come back,” he says.
“In fact, I’ve tried. Over
and over again I’ve wanted to come back but – end of verse 2 or end of verse 18,
1 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 18, “but Satan hindered us.”
Paul is saying he wanted to come back to see the Thessalonians but Satan
hindered him. Now you need to be
asking the question, “How exactly did Satan do that?”
The commentators have a number of interesting suggestions.
Some think that Paul is indicating that the Jewish opposition to his
ministry in Thessalonica or maybe where he is now is keeping him from being able
to come back to the Thessalonians.
That’s a possibility. It’s also a
possibility that Paul’s thorn in the flesh is keeping him from being able to
come back to them. Do you remember
in his letter to the Corinthians Paul calls his thorn in the flesh a what?
“A messenger from Satan.”Heavenly HHHIHHeaven
And commentators for two thousand years have speculated on what that
thorn in the flesh was. Was it a
physical malady that he had that had flared up and was keeping him from coming
back to the Thessalonians? I don’t
know.

Some have said maybe the leaders in Thessalonica had actually put in place legal
restrictions against Paul and his team from coming back.
You know Paul and his team had kicked up a little fuss in Thessalonica
and so maybe the civil leaders had actually passed legal restrictions on Paul
coming back into the city. Or maybe,
maybe the reason that Paul has not been able to come back is because of sin and
scandal in Corinth
and he’s having to deal with that even from Athens
and it’s keeping him from coming back to Thessalonica.
In the end, my answer is, “I don’t know how it was that Satan hindered
Paul from coming to the Thessalonians, but Paul is actually aware of the fact
that Satan is behind his inability to get back to the Thessalonians.”
That is huge. You need to think about that.
Now he doesn’t drop that idea because if you look down to chapter 3 verse
5 he tells us that one of his worries while he’s away from the Thessalonians is
that the tempter had come and tempted them.
In other words, Paul is concerned that a real, personal evil is not only
opposing his ability to come back and minister to the Thessalonians but may be
attempting to undermine the Thessalonians themselves.
This is huge; we need to understand this.

In this world, we not only have to deal with the allurement of the world and the
culture with the enticement to sin that comes from the flesh, our own
inclination to sin, we have to deal with the devil.
There is a being in this world that is older than humanity that has a
design to destroy you forever. And
the apostle Paul believes that with all his heart and so he writes about it
here. Do you believe it?
I do. I’ve seen it at work.
When people who know better look you in the eye and act against their own best
interest here and hereafter, I smell that angel from the pit that Billy read
about – Abaddon, Apollyon, Satan.
Paul will call him “the evil one.”
He’ll call him, “the tempter” in this passage.
There is a real, personal evil in this world who wants to sift you like
wheat. We’ve got to factor that into
our thinking. No, that’s not an
excuse for us to say, “The devil made us do it.
I don’t have any personal responsibility.”
The Bible never undermines our personal responsibility by appeal to
Satan. We always have to look at our
own hearts. We always have to
consider all of the total context of sin and situation in our lives, but we must
also remember that there is a person that wants to destroy us, Satan, the devil.
And that means that we cannot fight him with flesh and blood.

Martin Luther, in his great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” where he sort
of gives a Christian paraphrase of Psalm 46, has us sing early on in that great
hymn, “For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe.
His craft and power are great and armed
with cruel hate; on earth is not his equal.”
Martin Luther believed in Satan just like Paul and he knew that you and I
do not have the power within us natively, naturally to withstand him.
So what, later on in the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” does Martin Luther
say that we do have? We have “the
right Man on our side” and we have the Spirit and the gifts.
We have the Lord Jesus Christ who died to liberate us from the bondage
and power of sin and Satan and we have the third person on the Trinity
indwelling us, uniting us to Christ, and gifting us to live the Christian life.
How do we fight Satan? By the
right Man who is on our side and by the Spirit and the gifts.
Flesh and blood will not avail against him.
It is so important for us to remember that in our marriages, in our
families. It’s not just our
interpersonal tensions that threaten to destroy us.
There is a being older than humanity that wants to destroy us and he
cannot be fought with flesh and blood.
Paul is so kind, even in the midst of reminding these Christians that he
loves them, to remind them that Satan sought to hinder him and Satan sought to
tempt them. Satan works to hinder,
to oppose, to accuse, and to tempt us, and we must rely on spiritual weapons to
respond. That’s the first thing I want you to see here — a warning from Paul
even while he tells us that he loves the Thessalonians.


A PASTOR’S HOPE AND GLORY

The second thing is this. Paul
explains what’s in it for him. You
know, if you walked up to Paul and you said, “Okay, so Paul, you’ve been beaten,
you’ve been left for dead, you’ve been shipwrecked, you’ve been stranded, you’ve
been slandered, you’ve been falsely accused, you’re in chains on your way to
Rome, what’s in it for you? Why do
you do this?” He tells you his
answer right here. It’s in verse 19
and 20. “For what is our hope or joy
or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at His coming?
Is it not you? For you are
our glory and joy.” Now Paul had
people in Thessalonica who were saying, “Paul’s in it for money. Paul’s in it
for ambition. Paul’s in it for
praise and fame.” Paul says, “You
want to know what I’m in it for? I’m
in it for you.” And he pictures a
scene. What’s the scene?
The Lord Jesus Christ has come and what is Paul doing?
His boast, his reward, his crown — what’s he going to get from the Lord?
You, before the Lord Jesus.
You, with the Lord Jesus. You, safe
home with the Lord Jesus on the day of His return.
Paul says, “That’s what makes me do this.
That’s what makes me work night and day.
That’s what enables me to bear the anxiety and the pressure and the
persecution is to get to that day when you’re safe home with Jesus and His
return. That’s what I’m in it for.
You are my reward, safe home with Jesus.”

I was a youth director in my previous life and one of the great fears and
terrors that I had was that I would go off on a retreat with fifty kids and come
back with forty-nine. I kid you not,
the whole time I was away — massive amusement parks, big cities, beach retreats,
and foreign mission trips – the whole time I was thinking, “Lord, just get me
back with all fifty of those kids.”
And when we pulled into the parking lot of the church and all of them were
distributed to their parents and they were happily on the way home, I was the
most relieved human being on the planet.

And here’s the apostle Paul saying, “You want to know what I’m in it for?
I’m in it for the day when I hand you over to Jesus and you’re safe home
for eternity and I’m going to take a billion year nap because I’ve spent my life
making sure that you weren’t temporarily happy but that you were everlastingly
happy. And that meant I had to fight
when you were tempted to swap cheap, temporary happiness for eternal happiness.
I had to fight your sin. I
had to fight the world. I had to
fight the flesh. I had to fight the
evil. But I do it all because I want
to be there on the day when you’re safe home with the Lord Jesus Christ.
And I can say, ‘There they are, Jesus.
They’re safe with you now.
That’s all the reward I want. I just
want them safe home.’ That’s what
I’m in it for.” That’s huge for us
to understand. There are people
ready to pour their lives out for us just to get us there.
They’re ready to put blinders on us so we won’t be pulled off the pathway
– keep going, keep going, cross the finish line — because they want us to be
there. That’s what Paul’s saying to
the Thessalonians. “That’s my hope.
That’s my crown. That’s my
glory. That’s my joy — to get you
safe home with Jesus.”


A PASTOR’S PURPOSE

Third, Paul explains the purpose of his ministry to the Thessalonians.
And Paul says, “You know, after I had tried and tried to come back to you
and I couldn’t, first I sent word to hear how you were doing and then finally I
sent Timothy to be with you.” And
what did he send Timothy to do? Look
at chapter 3 verse 2. “We sent
Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the Gospel of Christ, to establish
and exhort you in your faith.” What
does that mean? To strengthen and
encourage you in the Gospel. Paul
wanted them to be rooted and grounded in the faith, in the truth, in the Gospel,
and he wanted them to be encouraged in the faith, in the truth, in the Gospel,
and so he sent Timothy for ministry.
That’s what pastors want their ministry to result in — you being strengthened,
grounded, established; you being encouraged, exhorted, comforted in the faith,
in the truth, in the Gospel, so that what?
It’s the end of the sentence.
“So that no one would be moved by these afflictions.”


A PASTOR’S PREPARATION

That takes us to the fourth thing that Paul says in passing here.
Look at verse 3. “For you
yourselves know that we are destined for this.”
For what? For these
afflictions. “We are destined for
afflictions,” Paul says. He
elaborates on that in verse 4. “For
when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer
affliction, just as it has come to pass and just as you know.”
Paul is saying suffering, affliction, trials in the Christian life are
not a surprise. We are destined for
them. They are certain to come. They
won’t maybe come, they won’t might come, they won’t might could come; they will
come, they are destined to come, and it’s our job to prepare you for them.
How do we prepare you for them?
By rooting and grounding you, by exhorting and encouraging you, by
establishing and strengthening you in the truth, in the faith, in the Gospel.
That’s how we prepare you to endure those trials, those afflictions,
those sufferings. They are coming.

A few years ago Matt Chandler, the pastor of The Village Church in Fort Worth,
Texas, was burdened pastorally that part of his job was to prepare his
congregation to suffer. Now you
understand his congregation is very young.
If you’re over thirty-five at The Village Church you’re an old timer.
And he had not done many funerals at The Village Church to that point,
but he felt convicted that he needed to prepare his people for suffering.
One of the first things that happened was that he was diagnosed with a
brain tumor. He was in his home
playing with his children, he fell over with a seizure, and he found out that he
had a brain cancer. Since then there
have been numerous trials that proved out the importance of him as a pastor
preparing his people to suffer. He,
in preparing them to suffer, was preparing himself to suffer and then preparing
them to experience the afflictions of life.

Paul’s saying that to the Thessalonians.
“I want to prepare you for those afflictions so that you can” — do what?
Remember I told you to look at the second to last line in the first hymn
that we sang. Turn back to hymn
number 4, second to last line, it’s all the way in the sixth stanza, and what
does Johann Schuetz have us sing? He
has us sing, “Though great distress my soul befell, the Lord my God did all
things well.” Paul wants the
Thessalonians and you and me, in affliction, to be able to say, “Though great
distress my soul befell, the Lord my God did all things well.”
In other words, we want you to come through affliction, we want you to
come through suffering — how? By
faith in Christ, being grounded, being established, being strengthened in faith,
in the truth, in the Gospel, so that you can resist Satan in his opposition, in
his accusation, and his temptation, so that you can withstand trials and
tribulations and afflictions.

See, in the midst of just saying to this congregation, “I love you.
I care about you,” Paul has told us four things that we really need to
understand if we’re going to live life in light of Jesus’ return.
May God bring those truths home to our hearts.
Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we need experientially to understand these truths in our lives
so come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove, with all Your quickening powers, and wake
us up and make us see and believe and embrace the Gospel and depend upon the
right Man who is on our side and the Holy Spirit and His gifts at work in our
lives that we might not succumb to the world, the flesh, or the devil, or trial.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

Now let’s take our hymnals and turn to number 332 and sing it as a prayer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen.

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