Affliction is Certain
Copyright © Indian Hills Community Church, Lincoln, Nebraska
In our last study we examined 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20. In verses 13 and 14, Paul addressed the response of the Thessalonians to his ministry. He said, "And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you. For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same suffering at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews." Paul's point was that the Thessalonians received his message as the "word of God," not "the word of men." The word of God transforms the life of anyone who, by faith, believes it. And it is effective in accomplishing God's purposes in the life of those who have "accepted" it and submit to it.
This was demonstrated in the church at Thessalonica, who "became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea," even though they endured great "suffering at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews." Although the Thessalonians were persecuted for their faith, Paul encouraged them by reminding them that other believers in "Judea" had gone through the same things.
The focus of verse 14 was that the opposition encountered by the Thessalonians had been orchestrated by the Jews. Paul stressed the point that, just as in Judea, the Jews were responsible for the suffering and persecution endured by believers. In verses 15 and 16, Paul denounced the Jews. He said that they are a nation "who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost." The Jews are not worse sinners than you and me. However, that does not negate the fact that they are responsible for the death of the "Lord Jesus," the Son of God.
Not only did the Jews kill Jesus Christ, they also killed the "prophets." It had been the pattern of Israel to persecute, reject, and kill the prophets that God had given to them. In these actions we see the hypocrisy of Israel. On one hand, they claim to be a people who belong to God. But on the other hand, they killed those who came to them with the Word of God.
The Jews had a "zeal for God," but "not according to knowledge." They reveled in religious, man-made rituals, but rejected the truth and righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Because of their persecution of believers, Paul said the Jews were "hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost." The Jews hated the fact that Paul was telling the Gentiles that they too could experience salvation. The result of this hostility was that God's wrath is being poured out on them. The Jews will realize the fullness of this wrath during the great tribulation.
Beginning in verse 17, Paul focused his attention on his great love of the Thessalonians. He said, "But we, brethren, having been bereft of you for a short while-in person, not in spirit-were all the more eager with great desire to see your face." Paul loved the Thessalonians so much that he felt "bereft" or "like an orphan" when he wasn't with them.
Paul reminded them that although he wasn't there in person, he was there in "spirit." He thought about them, and prayed for them often. In fact, he was "eager with great desire" to see them again.
However, Paul wasn't able to see them because "Satan thwarted us" (vs.18). This verse indicated the truth that Satan can hinder and frustrate the work of God's servants, when God allows.
Paul closed out chapter 2 saying, "For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy." Our "glory and joy" in the presence of Christ is going to be based on the maturity of those believers to whom we ministered. Paul said that he was confident that the Thessalonians were mature, therefore they would be his "crown of exultation."
1 Thessalonians 3:1-13
Therefore when we could endure (it) no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone; and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith, so that no man may be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we (kept) telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know. For this reason, when I could endure (it) no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor should be in vain. But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we (really) live, if you stand firm in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also (do), for you; so that He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lard Jesus with all His saints.
Paul continues in chapter 3, showing them how much he does care. He couldn't come to visit them, but he did the next best thing-he sent them Timothy. This was a great sacrifice for Paul. He begins, "Therefore." Paul is saying "Therefore," in light of this mental anguish we have endured, in light of the love we have for you, we sent you Timothy.
He says, "...when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone." Paul was at Athens, and he could no longer stand not knowing what was going on at Thessalonica. He wanted to know how these new believers were holding up under the pressure. Were they going to be a source of pride for Paul at the Bema Seat Judgment?
The term "left behind" is a strong word. It literally means, "to be forsaken." It carries with it the concept of loneliness and desolation that Paul felt when Timothy left him to return to Thessalonica. He wants to stress the fact that he felt isolated and alone. But he cared enough for the Thessalonians that he was willing to remain alone in a hostile city, and undergo this kind of loneliness because it was so important for him know how they were doing.
In verse 2 we are told the reason for Timothy being sent. Paul says, "and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow-worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith." In order for the Thessalonians to appreciate this event, Paul identifies Timothy by a couple of titles. He calls him "brother" because he was a person who was close to Paul, and one who had ministered at Thessalonica. Therefore, he was also "God's fellow-worker."
The point is, Paul had not sent some ordinary messenger. He sent "Timothy...God's fellow-worker." The Thessalonians were not getting the second team. This same phrase is used in 1 Corinthians 3:9, "For we are God's fellow-workers; you are God's field, God's building." What a concept! We are joined in ministry with God, Himself. This is the only reason our ministry is effective, and Timothy is a part of that. He joined with God in proclaiming the truth of the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is how God works. He takes human beings and through them, He ministers the truth concerning His Son, to others. He is the power, and we are the communication tool.
The word "strengthen" means "to fix, make firm or solid." The idea is to strengthen something, or make it solid, we buttress it-give it necessary support. Timothy is the buttress that is to provide the necessary mental and spiritual support for the Thessalonians. Paul could not come and do it, but Timothy is a "fellow-worker" of God, so he has the power of God working through him, just like Paul. He is sent to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonians throughout their spiritual conflict.
It is interesting to note how much of Paul's ministry was given to strengthening and encouraging people. In Acts 14:21-22 he says, "After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, 'Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.' " This is going to be the theme coming up in the next few verses in 1 Thessalonians-the concept of suffering before the glory. This is the reason Paul's ministry was to edify, or build up people. He had to help them prepare for the suffering they would endure before they experienced the glory of God.
Acts 15:32 addresses this truth as well. Paul says, "And Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message." This was the ministry that was going on. You see, God is not done when we come to know Christ. We must be built up and strengthened in our walk with the Lord.
See also Acts 15:41, 18:23
We need to be strengthened and built up in our walk with the Lord "so that no man may be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer afflictions; and so it came to pass, as you know." Paul didn't want them to be shaken by their trials and difficulties, and he encourages them with the phrase "no man may be disturbed by these afflictions." The word " afflictions" means to "press upon or to press together." It is a phrase used to describe the type of pressure that a Christian experiences. We have discussed this before. As believers, we are pressured at our jobs, by our unbelieving family members, and by our friends. They try to shake us in our faith.
But Paul says, "...we have been destined for this." This is a strong verb indicating that this is God's settled purpose in appointing us for suffering. This a reminder that this is part of God's plan for us. We will undergo pressure and suffering for the sake of Jesus Christ. It is only when we experience this pressure that we learn to trust the Lord for everything. This is His way of teaching us to have full confidence, and to completely trust in Him and Him alone.
This truth is emphasized in several other passages in Scripture. Consider what Jesus says in the book of John; "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."
John uses the same word for "tribulation" that is used for "affliction" in 1 Thessalonians. Again, the point is stressed that we find our peace in Christ, not in the circumstances around us. It is the knowledge that we belong to Him which gives us confidence in the midst of turmoil and pressure. The more pressure we experience, the closer we are driven to trust the Lord, and realize His sufficiency.
When I was young, I worked at a steel plant. My responsibility was to check the temperatures on these engines that would come in these big blocks of steel. They would have to be heated so that they could be rolled out into what were called "slabs," in preparation for rolling them out into metal that would be used in automobiles. We had to watch the temperature closely because if it got too hot it would melt, but if the steel remained too cool it would ruin the roller when we tried to roll it through the mill. There was a balance that needed to be kept. This is similar to how God applies pressure to us. We need enough pressure (heat) to make us pliable, but if there is not enough, we remain hard and brittle. But God is in control. He knows where to set the pressure gages for each of us. Sometimes we may think that we are melting, but then we are reminded that He is in total control, and He knows how much pressure we need.
In like manner, 1 Peter 4: 12 says, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you." Peter says we are not to be surprised at our "fiery ordeal." This testing is making us pliable. It isn't something strange that is happening to us. It seems that sometimes believers think they are being punished if they are experiencing trials in their life. But that is not necessarily the case. God has a plan that is preparing us for glory, and that includes " afflictions." Not only that, but Paul said he had warned them "in advance."
Paul continues in verse five; "For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor should be in vain." One can see in Paul a lack of patience. He says, "...when I could endure it no longer... ," repeating what he said in verses 1 and 2. It is not wrong for us as believers to come to this point. Sometimes we feel that we have to do something, NOW! We are not to be like vegetables, just lying around. Paul's conduct proves this point. When he could no longer endure waiting, he sent Timothy to Thessalonica to "find out about your faith." He wanted to know how they were doing.
Why was he so concerned? Paul had a "fear that the tempter might have tempted you." He has a godly concern that Satan ("the tempter"-same word used in Matthew 4:3), may have tempted them and lured them away from the faith. As one will recall, Satan had already prevented Paul from coming in person to Thessalonica, and also the Thessalonians could very well be under attack as well. This is no secret to Paul. He expected this type of battle would occur, and his concern is that "our labor should be in vain." You see, Paul was concerned that his labor was "vain," or "to no profit."
In one sense, it would be easy to say Paul was being selfish. It is as if he is saying, "I'm afraid I worked and worked, and what did I get? Nothing." In fact, the word "labor" literally means "toiled to exhaustion." This is the same word we saw in 2:9, when Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he showed his care for them by how hard he had worked for them.
But Paul is not being self-serving. He is concerned that his ministry is effective and that it result in transformed lives. He is saying, "I don't want to work so hard for no reason, but I had to know how you were coming along and encourage you to stand firm and be true to the Word of God."
This is a wake up call for believers today. We need to be willing to do whatever is necessary-working, strengthening, encouraging, and whatever else is needed, to help other believers become the kind of people God wants them to be.
In verse 6, Paul reveals that Timothy brought him great news. He says, "But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you." Timothy has returned to Paul. The idea from these verses is that Paul sat down immediately after talking with Timothy and wrote this letter. He wants them to know, as soon as possible, how their attitude and firmness in the gospel has affected him. The report that Timothy has given Paul is glowing.
Paul is so pleased with Timothy's report that he calls it "good news." This is the only time Paul ever uses this term in addressing the churches in all of his writings. It is a phrase so special, that Paul reserves it for the proclamation of the gospel of Christ-the "good news." But on this occasion, the news from Thessalonica was so reassuring, that he says it is "good news."
Remember, Paul had been concerned about their faith. In 3:5, he said, "For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith...." The question was, had they remained firm in their faith? Or were they like the seed, in the parable of Matthew 13, that is sowed in shallow ground and springs up quickly, but dies because it has no roots? Paul had sown the seed at Thessalonica, and they responded quickly, and positively, but he had to leave and could not remain to see if their faith had been genuine.
Timothy brought Paul news of the Thessalonians "faith and love." "Faith" has its focal point toward God, while "love" has its focal point toward man. Really, these two words summarize our entire Christian responsibility. Our faith is demonstrated in our trust in God's provision in Christ, while our love (Agapao--self-sacrificing love) is demonstrated toward other believers.
The third thing that encourages Paul is their attitude toward him. This was a test of the reality of their faith. If they would have claimed to have a strong faith in Christ and a love for the brethren, but considered Paul a con-artist, that would have indicated something was wrong. But Timothy encouraged Paul with his news. Paul says, "...you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you." The Thessalonians had the same desire to see Paul as he had to see them. Paul is greatly encouraged by the attitude of the Thessalonians.
Paul continues in verse 7. He says, "for this reason (the reason just mentioned in verse 6), brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith." It is interesting how much God used the ministry of other believers to give Paul strength and courage in his own ministry. The Thessalonians "comforted" Paul with their "faith." And the emphasis is that Paul was encouraged and strengthened because of this comfort. What a reminder this truth is for us as believers ! God used the ministry of other believers to give Paul encouragement as he underwent affliction and persecution. Everywhere he went he had opposition and resistance, and it was incredibly encouraging for him to have this type of testimony come back to him.
Sometimes we, as believers, get the wrong idea of our independence in Christ. We say, "All we need to know is that God's will is being done, and Christ is being proclaimed. Isn't that all there is?" Well, God ordains the "means" as well as the ends. The "means" for us, standing strong in persecution and opposition, is often the ministry of other believers.
Notice at the end of verse 7. Paul says, "through your faith." This is the fourth time in chapter 3 that Paul has talked about their faith (3:2, 3:5, 3:6, 3:7). He says that their faith gives him strength. We experience this on a limited scale. For example, perhaps you have felt affliction and persecution in the way friends and family have reacted to your faith in Christ. It is encouraging to see other Christians who have endured persecution and stood strong in their faith. God uses these other believers to give us strength and courage.
Paul summarizes his point in verse 8. He says, "for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord." Paul is saying that firmness and stability in Christ is what life is all about. Paul refers to this truth in Philippians 1:21 "For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain." What does Paul mean when he says, "to live is Christ?" Paul saw his life in Christ as an investment in serving Him by ministering to others. His life was centered on Christ, even through persecution and affliction. This is what is meant when he says we really live, "...if you stand firm in the Lord."
In 1 Corinthians 9:22, Paul says that we have become "all things to all men" in order that we may save some. We are to do whatever is necessary to bring people to maturity in Christ, and help them stand firm in their faith. Paul invested his life in this truth. This is the true measuring stick of our success as a Christian. Are we paying more attention to the world's criteria of success--power, money, and material possessions than we are to God's criteria? The determining factor in our success as Christians, is being used by God in the lives of other believers. It is a privilege given to us by God to be part of the growth in the life of another believer. This is truly living in Christ.
Lest we think that Paul is beginning to gloat in his thinking, he puts it all in perspective in verse 9. He says, "For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account." The cause for rejoicing is not Paul's own ministry, but what God has accomplished through the Thessalonians. Paul knows that he did not accomplish anything through his own ministry, but that it was God who accomplished everything. God enabled Paul to have an effective ministry because He was working in Paul's life.
He says, "For what thanks can we render to God?" In other words, Paul is saying, "How can we thank God enough for what has been accomplished?" Again, we see that Paul is excited to be part of the supernatural work that God is doing in the lives of the Thessalonians. Perhaps you know Christians who are negative and distance themselves from other believers. Part of the problem is that they haven't invested their lives in other believers and become part of the supernatural work of God. Paul put his whole life into the lives of the Thessalonians, and the result was that God used (the lives of the Thessalonians) to give him joy in his own life. You may say, "Well, I get joy just by having a relationship with God." But the fact is, God gives joy the way He has outlined in His Word. And The Word says that we receive joy when we invest our lives in the lives of other believers.
It is interesting to note that while Paul gives thanks to God, his thanks is also centered on the Thessalonians. He uses the pronoun "you" or "your" 11 times in verses 6-10. He is stressing the fact that it is what God has done through "you" through "your" faith that he is thankful for. One can see the link. It is God who is using the Thessalonians, and Paul is thankful for what God has accomplished through them.
Paul continues in verse 10; "As we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?" Paul continued in fervent prayer for them even though he was no longer physically with them. By doing so, he remained involved in their lives. This is a lesson we need to learn today. The more we pray for somebody, the more we will identify with them. I dare say that we don't criticize those for whom we earnestly pray, because we develop a burden for them, and we begin to look for ways to be involved in their lives. We also, can thank God more when we see these lives spiritually progress.
Paul says he prays for the Thessalonians "earnestly." This word means "abundantly, beyond all measure, exceedingly, and overflowing all bounds." It is an adverb that describes something that goes beyond all measure. So when Paul says that he is praying "earnestly," he is indicating the intensity with which he prays. This word is used only two other times in the New Testament, both times by Paul. In Ephesians 3:20, Paul says, "Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us." We cannot grasp, with our finite minds, all that God can do. It is "exceeding abundantly" all that we can comprehend. This is the same concept used in 1 Thessalonians 3:10. Paul is praying for them more than they could comprehend. His prayers for them are "overflowing." Do you have anyone in your life that you are praying for "earnestly?" Is it any wonder that Paul's ministry was effective?
The prayer that Paul was offering up on behalf of the Thessalonians was not one of devotion. Rather, the "praying" that Paul was doing was done out of a lack or want of something. He felt like he needed the Thessalonians, and wanted to be with them. He is praying that he will see their "face." And when he sees their "face," he will see their "faith" in action. Sometimes we think we are being selfish when we pray because we really feel we are lacking something. But this verse proves that God brings that sense of need into our lives because it motivates us to pray with intensity.
Paul does not want to see the Thessalonians for his own benefit. Rather, he wants to do something for them. He wants to come so that he may "complete what is lacking in your faith?" After all the good things that have been said about the them, this may be surprising. But Paul knows they are not yet fully mature. Remember, this is a relatively new church. Their faith is strong for new, immature believers, but there is much to do to bring them to full maturity and perfection in Christ. In fact, Paul told the Philippians that he had not laid hold of perfection yet because he was still reaching forward toward the goal (Philippians 3:12-14).
The word "complete" is used several times in the New Testament. For example, it is used in Matthew to describe the process of mending fishing nets so that they were fit to use (4:21). It is used in Galatians 6:1 to describe the restoration of a brother who is in sin. And it is used in Ephesians 4:12 to illustrate the use of Spiritual gifts, particularly the gift of teaching. Paul says these gifts are used "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ." The word "equipping" is the same word used for "complete" in 1 Thessalonians. It is the process of bringing saints to maturity in Christ so that they may serve Him as they should.
This is what Paul is referring to in verse 10. He wants to bring them to a maturity they have not yet achieved. He wants to supply that teaching so that they will be more effective in their service for the living God. Of course, there is a mutual benefit. As we have seen, Paul receives tremendous encouragement from them. So, he wants to see them, and receive encouragement, but his main focus is to minister to them so that they will come into greater maturity. This is the same type of balance that we should have in our Christian lives. We should want to help other believers come to maturity in Christ, while at the same time, experiencing the joy that ministry to others brings to our own lives.
Paul describes his prayer in verse 11. He says, "Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you." Paul prays for the Thessalonians in a brief way, but this verse is more a description of the prayer than the actual prayer itself.
One will note that Jesus Christ is placed on the same level as God the Father in verse 11. Paul says, "...may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord... ." Christ has the power along with His Father to "direct our way to you." The example Paul is referring to is smoothing a path or road for him to use to get back to the Thessalonians. Paul is asking God to remove any obstacles that may interfere with him going back to Thessalonica.
It is interesting that Paul makes such a request in his prayer. As one will remember, in 2:18, he acknowledged the fact that Satan had prevented him from returning to Thessalonica. However, Paul also knows that if He wills, God can remove those obstacles that Satan has placed in his way. This is why he asks God to let him return.
In verse 12, we see that Paul wants the love of the Thessalonians to continue to grow. He says, "and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you." The love they have for one another is genuine. This type of love (Agape Love) is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). The first fruit mentioned in Galatians is "love." This is a type of love that is not dependent on the worthiness of the object that is loved. It is a self sacrificing love that is produced only by the Spirit of God. In the life of a believer, this "love" is to grow and multiply.
Notice that Paul says the Thessalonians are to "abound in love...for all men." The Thessalonians are not to limit their love to believers only. Remember, this letter was written in the context of the Thessalonians experiencing persecution. So the command is that they are to grow in their love, not only for each other, but for those who are persecuting them as well. This is an opportunity for them to demonstrate that kind of love to those who have rejected them, persecuted them, and caused them great suffering.
Matthew referred to this type of love in his gospel. He says, "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." Love cannot grow in this dimension unless it is being met with resistance and opposition. Here in Matthew, we are told that love does not act out of revenge. Rather, we need to submit to the Spirit of God to allow the quality of Christ Himself to be produced in our own lives. It is hard to manifest this type of love, and that is the reason that only the Spirit of God can enable us to produce agape love.
What is the purpose in all of this? Paul has established the pattern for them "so that He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." The purpose is that God may "establish your hearts unblamable." The term "establish" means "to make solid, or firm." Paul wants them to be "solid" in the inner man. Paul wants the Thessalonians to be characterized by stability. This is the true mark of maturity.
This truth is seen in the immaturity of young believers. They often have a short attention span, they jump from one job to another. The danger is that they never get established in their hearts. They end up jumping around from doctrine to doctrine as well, getting pulled this way and that by all the pressure. Paul knew that the Thessalonians were already experiencing this, and he wants them to be stabilized in the inner man in their relationship with Christ so that they could come to the full maturity they would need to withstand the pressure that was being applied.
Paul says he wants them to become stable so that they would be "unblamable in holiness." The word "unblamable" means just what it says-"no ability to find fault." The Thessalonians were to be without fault, having nothing charged against them.
this behavior is to take place in "holiness." This word does not mean the process of becoming holy, but rather the quality of being holy. They are holy in Jesus Christ, and Paul wants them to be stabilized and "unblamable" in that holiness that is theirs in Christ. The idea of holiness means "to be set apart." And as believers, we are set apart by God for Himself. The holiness of Jesus Christ is to be manifested in our lives so that no charge can be brought against us. This is the message Paul was communicating to the Thessalonians.
Paul was not satisfied with simply converting people to Christianity. Rather than just bringing people to a position in Christ, he wanted people to know that they must live out that position. He wants believers to be characterized by stability in their walk with Christ.
Paul identifies his focal point at the end of verse 13. He says we are to be living out our holiness "before God the Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints." As we know, the ultimate goal of our Christianity is our "crown of exultation" (2:1 9). We are going to stand in the presence of Christ, at the Bema Seat, and our lives will be evaluated. This is when our ministry will be tested by God, and revealed for what it really was. Our holiness in Christ is not in question, but the outworking of that holiness is in question. This is Paul's concern for the Thessalonians. He wants the Thessalonians to live out their holiness so that they may be established "unblamable" at the Bema Seat, in the presence of Christ.
When will we stand in the presence of Christ? Paul says, "...at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints." This phrase refers to the rapture of the church, when we will be caught up in the air to meet Christ and the saints who have already died and gone into the presence of Christ. We will study this event in greater detail in chapter 4.
The Bema Seat judgment takes place at this time. It is after the rapture that we will stand in the presence of Christ, and our lives will be evaluated. Our practices and motives will be laid bare. This is why Paul is so concerned for the Thessalonians. He is saying, "Your lives will be a testimony to my ministry. And the lives of those you minister to will be a testimony to your ministry." This is the true reflection of our Christian life on earth, and this is the reason Paul wants the Thessalonians to continue in their maturity.
We need to have this concern today. God calls us, in a variety of ways, to be involved in the lives of other believers. When we do that we must understand that God is not done with any of us yet. We must take Paul's perspective, and appreciate the good things that God has done in our lives, while at the same time recognize that we must continue to grow and mature in Him. We must get involved with one another and help each other become more stable, so that we may be "unblamable."
This is the challenge of our ministry. God's desire is that every believer may increase and grow in love, so that in and through it all, we may have stability in our inner man. This is to be our desire for one another as well. We shouldn't be living lives that waver up one day and down the next day. That is a sign of immaturity. We need to be stable and established, so that we may show the holiness of Christ in our day to day lives.
Is your ministry focused on helping other believers reach maturity in Christ? If it is, you will see the reward for that ministry at the Bema Seat, when the results of your ministry are laid bare before our Lord. But if it is not, the works of your ministry will be like chaff, and they will burn up because they were useless. What kind of ministry do you have?
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.
INDIAN HILLS COMMUNITY CHURCH
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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.
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