Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, October 17, 2010.
1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13, “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire. Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy. Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know. For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain. But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you— therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God, night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.”
I know you're going to find it hard to believe, when you look at this slender preacher of yours, but not so many years ago, as a young high school athlete I tried my hand at high school football. Yes, I weighed in at a massive 140 pounds, shoulder pads, cleats and all, and stepped out onto the gridiron to hit and be hit by guys 20, 40 and even 60 pounds bigger than I was. Yeah, I know, like a Japanese kami-kaze pilot, surely I must have been crazy to do it. But still I did it anyway. High school football, I have a lot of memories from those days. But, perhaps among my fondest of memories from my pigskin exploits would be the brief moments our team would spend in the huddle, before walking up to the line of scrimmage for the next play.
“Come on, Pete – you've got to hit that guy a little lower, to move him out of Eubank's way. Good hand of, Mitchell – right where I need you to tuck the ball in. Great catch, Eric. I though I might have over thrown, but you ran under it and got it... Way to go!” The huddle. If you've never played football before, you might not realize how important a part of the game it really is. But, if you have put on the pads and helmet and cleats before, to run and block and tackle, you've been there, you know how important that 'huddle-time' can be before you face the other team at the next snap of the ball.
High school football team huddles, and the church, this gathering today of brothers and sisters in Christ, I don't know if you've ever thought about it this way before or not, but this morning I'd like to suggest to you that they are quite a bit alike. Like with my old high school team, we gather to celebrate victories, large and small, to sort of 'high 5' each other and say, “Wow! You scored a touch down!” And, we circle up to hear instructions about the next 'play' (from the Bible), “32 dive, wingback right on 3, break”. And, we even huddle up to see if we need to let our Coach know about anything so we can do better on the next play (prayer).
But, to me, perhaps one of the greatest, most significant similarities between football team huddles, and this time we spend here each Lord's Day is that which pertains to the subject of today's Bible text. I'm talking now about the subject of encouragement. While you are processing the meaning and implications of my comparison between football team huddles and the church, allow me to ask you a question. Encouragement, like the pat on the back the running back gives to the guard and tackle who opened the hole for him, like the hugs and high-fives the quarterback gives to the split end who just caught the long bomb in the end zone. Encouragement, “how is it that you and I are so starved for it?” “What is it about encouragement that we need, and I believe, need desperately?” And, one more question to ponder. What is it about who we are, what is it about our circumstances, our life situations, that daily reminds us of this need for encouragement?
While you are considering those questions, and what I've said about football huddles and the church, allow me to remind you that this Book of books, given to us by the God of Encouragement, it is a Book of Encouragement. It is full of encouraging words, you know that, don't you? “I will never leave you or forsake you...” (Hebrews 13:5-6) “Be of good cheer; it is I; don't be afraid...” (Matthew 14:27) “I will e with you always...” (Matthew 28:20) and “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even though he dies; and he who lives and believes in Me will never die...” (John 11:25-26)
The God of Encouragement has given us this Book, full of encouraging words and promises! Furthermore, through this Book, and in and for our lives, God has provided us with numerous examples of encouragement given and received. For instance, God gave lonely Adam a woman, a wife, Eve, to be his help-meet – what a blessing men, right? Then there's Moses; God called him to lead His people out of Egypt. But Moses said, “I can't, I can't, I can't.” So, what did God do? He sent Moses some encouragement, in the form of his brother Aaron. Then there's David, waging war for King Saul. God knew he couldn't do it alone, so God sent David a friend, an instrument of encouragement: Jonathan! Think about Jesus, He had the 12 to encourage Him. Paul had Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Titus and John Mark. And what about you and me? Not only has God brought us together, for the sake of encouraging one another. But, guess what? God has also given us His Spirit, yes, His Holy Spirit, the Counselor, the Comforter, the Encourager, to guide us, to help us, to LIFT US!
Encouragement, from this Book, from God's Spirit living and abiding in our hearts, from 'huddles' like this, why ARE we so starved for encouragement?
Well, perhaps, a part of it has to do with the way God made us. He made us to relate to one another, to weep with those who weep, to celebrate with those who celebrate! He made us with a huge, God-shaped hole that only He, by His Holy Spirit, can fill. Yes, perhaps, a part of the reason we crave encouragement has to do with the way we are made.
But, perhaps a part of it has to do with, is a symptom of our fallen, sinful condition. You don't have to read very far in the Bible, do you, to realize how the blissful joy of Eden, before sin, became tears, sorrow and anguish, thorns, thistles and sweat, AFTER sin! We crave encouragement, almost can't get enough of it – why? Because of the way God 'wired' us, yes. But also because of the way sin has 'short-circuited' that 'wiring'. And, yet, my friends. I think life, living in this world so scarred by sin, what happens to us? Well, to put it simply our circumstances, our life situations, they tend to almost DRAIN the courage out of us, don't they? Listen again to the text. 1 Thessalonians 3, Verses 3, 4 & 5, and Paul talks about afflictions, tribulations and temptations. And Satan's plan – who is Satan? Our biggest fan? Our greatest encourager? No! He's our enemy, our worst enemy! His scheme, Satan's wicked game-plan is to use afflictions, tribulations and ultimately, temptations to discourage us, disable us, and in the end to destroy us and our faith in Christ! To use the football analogy once again, the Devil, the 'Head coach' of the 'opposing team', what's he up to? His strategy is simple, but oh so clever. Listen, first he wants to move us from the line of scrimmage to the sidelines! Then after accomplishing that, he says, “my next step is to get them off the field and into the locker room. And, finally, once I've got that accomplished,' he says, 'I'm going to do all I can to get them out of the stadium!”
Encouragement – to encourage and to BE encouraged. Take a look at this passage with me, for just a few moments, and let's learn what it means to encourage and to BE encouraged!
To encourage, three quick insights – mark these down, would you? To encourage someone, to put courage back into each other, number one, we must truly CARE about each other! To put strength and stability into others, we must first care about others! The apostle Paul, what an example of an encourager he is, the apostle Paul, the writer of this Holy Spirit-directed letter, what drove him to write it? What prompted him to send Timothy to the congregation at Thessalonica, while he was left all alone at Athens?
Verse 5, “I sent (Timothy) to know to find out about your faith...” Verse 3 – I sent him to help you not to be shaken by your afflictions. Verse 2 – I sent Timothy, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith! Why did Paul do all of that? He did it because he cared! He encouraged the Baby Christians at Thessalonica because, like a good father, he cared about his spiritual children! To encourage, we must care about someone other than ourselves!
Secondly, Paul shows us, through his unselfish willingness to send his co-worker, Timothy, to assist the Thessalonians, that to encourage, to build up others, we must be willing to give, yes, I said, give, of our selves! Verse 10 tells us that he prayed night and day for these people - why would he do that? Because they were his brothers and his sisters! And, to them, to those he held dear in his heart, he gave, through his constant, fervent prayers, and his sending of emissaries of encouragement like Timothy. Paul gave of himself!
Which leads us, then, to the third thing we need to know and act upon, if we wish to encourage each other. I mentioned Paul's day and night PRAYERS for the Thessalonian Church, and their part in Paul's ministry of encouragement toward them. Now, watch this, take not of this. To encourage, as important as genuine care and unselfish giving may be to this process, without the hand of God, without the mercy and power of the GOD of encouragement, in the end, there IS no real encouragement given or received! Notice Paul's written prayers, both here, in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, and 2 Thessalonians 2:16 & 17. Paul says, through these prayers, I care, and I've given of myself, yes! But, unless our God and Father who loved us and our Lord Jesus Christ who gave Himself for us, are involved, there will be no such thing as “everlasting consolation, eternal encouragement, and good hope” - why is that? Because these gifts, these precious gifts for which our hearts crave, what are they? They are gifts, supplied by God's grace! His amazing grace!
To encourage, to put courage into someone else, we must care, and we must give. But, in the end, we must let God work through us, because He is the Source and Supplier of Encouragement!
So, what then? What happens in and to someone who is encouraged? Before we close, let me quickly help you see the marvel of the effects of the encouragement that the Lord gives through us, in the lives of those we love and care about.
Number one, when someone is encouraged, he is strengthened to stand, to be stable, when otherwise he might fall or be moved.
1 Thessalonians 3:1-3, “Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.”
When someone is encouraged, I mean, truly encouraged by God, he has renewed strength to stand! Second, when someone is encouraged, 'man, that was a great block!' 'Man, that was a superb hole you opened up for me to run and to score!' When someone is encouraged God makes a way for him or her to be further instructed and perfected in his or her faith in Christ.
1 Thessalonians 3:10-13, night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.
When someone is encouraged, God makes a way for him to be further instructed and perfected in his faith.
Thirdly, when someone is encouraged, when God uses us to build up someone else in Christ, think of it! Think of the joy it brings our way, and, think of the witness, the testimony of God's power it is to others!
1 Thessalonians 3:6-9, “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you— therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God.”
Finally, to be encouraged, in this 'huddle' time we have with God and each other before we go back to the 'scrimmage line' out there – what happens, what does God do when we build up each other? 1 Thessalonians 3:10 – God manifests His prayer-answering power and ability, to the glory of His name!
Encouragement. One of the keys things our God is looking for today, right now, from all of us who claim to be His people, is what? Commitment, God is looking to see if we really do have a commitment to Christ and to live for Christ, in this world! Now, here's the conclusion of the matter. How is that all going to happen? How is it that God, when He looks at us, is going to see that genuine and fervent commitment to Him? Anybody here ever played high school football before? We've 'huddled up' this morning, why? To encourage each other. And, through that encouragement, guess what God has done? He has worked to strengthen and sustain the very commitment to Christ He's looking for! Praise God!