Flourish in Gathering | 1Thessalonians 2:17-3:13
Topic: New Testament Passage: 1 Thessalonians 2:17–3:13
Christopher Rich – October 2, 2016
FLOURISH | Hope and Holiness amid Hostility
Wk5: Flourish in Gathering and Growing |1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13
Introduction | Flourish in Gathering
Good Morning! We are continuing our series on the New Testament book of 1 Thessalonians. The series is titled Flourish: Hope and Holiness amid Hostility. Where do you find hope? How do you handle hostility? What does the word “holiness” mean and do we pursue it? How are hope and holiness related? Can you more than simply survive or endure hostility, but can you actually flourish in the midst of it? This letter is from Paul a pastor/church planter, to one of the churches he was involved in planting. This church is an example of a flourishing Gospel Community with people whose faith is evident and their relationships with one another and leadership is familial.
They are a people of the word of God, grounded firmly in Gospel Truth. We have to ask ourselves; why do we gather? Why when you meet someone you have an affection for them to eventually make plans to gather for dinner? Why are we compelled to gather with other people? Why do we miss people when they are gone or we are distant? We are created for connection and relationship and when those are severed or separated, we are left with longing and loneliness. This is not God’s design for the flourishing of His people. He knows they will Flourish in Gathering and Growing.
PART I | 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 |Flourish in Separation
1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 |17 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, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.
Flourishing Gospel Communities are those defined by a deep desire, love, and affection for one another that compels them to gather. Where is their physical presence? Separated. This torn away means to be “made orphans” That there is an unnatural separation similar to a family being torn apart. Brother and Sisters, while it’s only been a short time the physical distance has created a great gap. This gap has not created apathy because their relationship isn’t one of convenience, or similar interests or demographics. There relationship was one of affectionate family. While physically separate, where is there heart? United. When you are apart from a loving family there is a tension to be resolved, not a relationship to be renounced. When there is separation there is a revelation that something is missed. What is the answer for this tension?
What did this longing lead to? An eager endeavor from this disconnected leader to see the church face-to-face. Depth of displayed commitment to gospel communities has decline dramatically in our lifetimes. We are quick to church hop, looking for better programs, teaching, etc. We consider ourselves all in when we gather twice a month or less. Blogger regular wax poetic about Jesus but bemoan the church. So with Paul begins to address his absence from the church and their separation, he doesn’t say I didn’t want to be with you because I found some other people to be with. (He’s been in Berea, where all they do is study; and Corinth where all they do is party he misses them) He doesn’t say well, I am glad to have gathered with you and now I also gather here, and here, but never very deeply. And is isn’t that he says I’ve enjoyed gathering but I am now reimagining church and theology and just spending most of my time with me and God. It also isn’t that he has found something better and more compelling to spend his time on, or with. It is simply this; he has a good and right desire to be face-to-face with the people of God. To flourish as a disciple in your relationship with God is nothing LESS THAN having a flourishing relationship with God people.
This is why we gather. You can get great teaching online. You can hear better music (well not on Christian radio) and sing in your car. Don’t “Like” your church gather with it. Your church may exist online and it may be a tool to help bridge gaps when teaching is missed or you want to go back and reference teaching you’ve had before but it is just a supplement not a meal. Oh I just had 5 vitamin C’s for dinner. No! There is a reason watching a game on TV is fun and exciting but going to a game in person is special. It is the power of gathering in community. There is a deep desire which leads to intentional action.
Many attempts are made for them to re-engage with the church, but great obstacles are in place, there is the legal pledge that Paul wouldn’t return to the city, there is the new mission Paul is on, there are heath issues, etc. Paul could have made tons of excuses. Pastors get all the lame excuses on the planet, for not gathering. Some are legit, most are not. Most are people making a conscious or unconscious choice to prioritize something else OVER and ABOVE the gathering of God’s people. For some reason people seem to believe it necessary to give their excuse to us as if we’re the ones who it matters. We hold accountable, not grant approval. The reality is God knows your schedule, your responsibilities, and your desires, he has prescribed regular gathering with God’s people as essential for the Gospel community to flourish.
When I was a young immature disciple I would gather only when I “felt” like and only if the lead pastor of the mega church was preaching. I didn’t want to be part of a church, I only wanted to be theologically entertained. I would be the last in and the first out. My relationship with God’s people was limited to fan of the preacher when it should have been family with the church. When Tara and I went to Texas we were part of a church where we were actually known by people. When we missed a Sunday once I got a phone call from my pastor, it freaked me out, until I realized it wasn’t for control, but because he cared. (I wanted to be with you but there was a 10am Seahawks game.) Paul made great efforts to gather with these people he had such affection for. Sure Paul skipped church, but his excuse is satan. What’s yours?
There is a real enemy. He hinders… This has been the enemies ploy from the beginning. Where God has created people to have a flourishing life giving connection to Him and joyful fruitful connections with each other; the enemy comes in not only questioning God’s word, but the goodness of his character and necessity of relationship with Him and His people. The enemy is still on a mission not of reconciliation but of separation. I know there are real struggles. Here is what it looks like in my family. Friday’s we get up and Tara takes the kids to co-op with near scant resistance and usual harmony. Sunday it feels like every step from the time we get up, until (and even after) walking in the doors is a literal battle. I believe it is a spiritual battle. More fights on the way to church than on a date night. I know he is active in “hindering” gathering, but he can be overcome He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world 1 John 4:4.
We flourish in anticipation of celebration. We gather in anticipation of the great gathering of Jesus return. So these verses talk about separation but they also anticipation. We know the Gospel of Jesus creates and unifies a new community. Finally there is a hope declared that Jesus will return. There is accountability implied in that truth. When Jesus comes back what does Paul say will be celebrated in his ministry? It’s not sermon series nailed, books written (heck even books of the BIBLE!), graphics made, events thrown, or even social justice engaged in. At the end of a pastor’s ministry before Jesus what will be celebrated is people!! Ministry and mission is about people. This is a real pastor talking about a real church made up of real people.
He cares deeply about these individuals. Paul knows the measure of his mission and ministry will be based solely on the condition of souls of the people in their care. (Heb 13:17) Paul boasts in this church because they have been Saved by Jesus’ work, Changed by Jesus’s grace, Living on Jesus’ mission.
PART II | 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 |Flourish in Growing Leaders
Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 3 that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 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. 5 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.
Flourishing churches train, platform, and deploy leaders, generation after generation. This is key. They are not defined by the lead pastor, or founding pastor, but they do have clear leadership.
The church had faithful people who loved Jesus, His word, and His people. However, with leadership lacking, opportunities to flourish are hindered. Paul is ready to send back one of his key members of his ministry team to the Thessalonian Church. Timothy is first a brother (Gospel Identity) He is a demonstrated and experienced “coworker” in the Gospel, has a specific role and mission. He is to work in establishing (build up, fortify) the church, building on a foundation that is already present. He is to challenge and charge people to grow in their faith for the purpose of gospel endurance. This spoke to me greatly and the life of our church over the past few years. I am not the founding, planting pastor like Paul, I am more like Timothy, called/sent to love serve, strengthen this church who had the leader continue the mission another town over for the purpose of continued growth in the people present and ongoing gospel mission. Lord willing I won’t be the last pastor of Damascus Road. In the training and deploying of leaders there is a realism that recognizes trials and afflictions are expected but through establishing, equipping, and encouraging they can endure. Good leaders are transparent and realistic about the challenges that will be faced on the road ahead.
This is important because we are not an enduring, patient, and steadfast people. We easily have our attention and affections redirected in any number of ways. We have traded things even good things for the gathering of God’s people because we have been lured away and enticed by other things we have found more temporarily compelling. Don’t hear me wrongly; I’m for vacations, sporting events, projects, etc. Sometime big events happen on a Sunday, but ask yourself this: If someone was to describe your gathering with God’s people in your specific church for the purpose of strengthening relationships, growing in hope, holiness, and preparing to endure difficult seasons how would you be described? Gatherer? Or scattered? Again we are disciplined disciples about our passions so when we want to get healthy and work out we embrace advice like #nevermissamonday and rarely see #nevermissasunday trending. This is not a drive by guilting, this is my heart (the elders heart) for the people God has given us to shepherd. The greatest hurt and frustrating in the heart of a pastor is when people we loved, served, led, trained, engaged with leave. Not for other churches to be redeployed for the kingdom (although there can be some sadness) It hurts the most when they leave the church all together, fall away from gathering, stop using their gifts for the community and the mission, stop experiencing the awkward joy of Gospel Community they previously knew.
Even the most flourishing leaders fear. We fear. We fear our labor is in vain. I am so deeply encouraged to know that Paul who’s rock solid theologically, a true belief and understanding of a big and powerful God, still had moments of fear and doubt about fruitfulness or failure of his specific ministry. That is encouraging! I just had time this past week to spend time with a pastor who came to the realization that last Sunday the church he had planted, the church he had led, the church he loved, was not going to exist in its current form any longer. He is Godly guy, has forgotten more bible and theology then I’ll ever know. Has lead well but through circumstances trials and even events they were prepared for the church is going to not be handed off, but handed over to another church. I know his great hope is they would be established and grow.
PART III | 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 |Flourishing in Good News!
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— 7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.9 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
Gospel Community also misses with people don’t gather. The leader, the separated, misses the body AND the body misses those who are separated. Because the church is described as a body when a true member is missing, it is missed. When a member is missing the body suffers. Those with missing limbs or organs are incredibly resilient, they can still function, they can even still thrive and have joy for sure, but not as effective and enjoyable as if they had all members connected and functioning properly. The strength and effectiveness of our community will not rise and fall based solely on the faithfulness of our members; but from the faithfulness of our God! What is the report for this church? No pastor for a season, no problem! Good News! The Thessalonians have flourished during this season, and Paul is OVERJOYED! Like Jesus, he has so identified himself with these people he morns and endures their trials AND he celebrates with their victories! Proverbs 25:25 Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.
What is lacking in their faith? This isn’t a lack of saving faith. This is a filling in the gaps of doctrine (what is true about God) and morality (How do we live in light of who God is) there is room to grow. You don’t have to be sick to get better. – Russell Wilson. Discipleship is not a one-time event or even a season of life, it is all of life. It takes more than a letter, or sermon, or a book, Jesus calls His disciples to make Disciples and that means His disciples, family on mission together, need to gather with each other face to face. Paul doesn’t settle for sending a letter or getting a report and neither does the church, there will be a reunion.
PART IV | 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 | Flourish in Prayer
11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Where there is a real enemy, a real mission, a real fear, there is also a real hope! There is hope for reunion. We know at times the separation we feel from those who are physically distant many not ever be resolved in this life. But we are confident our God is a God who takes separation and brings reunion. So we pray for God to continue to do the work of reconciliation and for us to be directed properly on His mission.
There is hope for His church that it would increase, in numbers/in love, this is a group that is defined by their love for one another, let it be so more and more. A loving family. Let it be known as a family on mission together so they are known outside there gatherings as they scatter by their love for all, because they have first been loved by Jesus.
Let our prayers be we are known by Gospel Living, where the mission of God’s redemption and restoration begins in our own lives, increasing in holiness more and more. We eagerly gather and we expect to grow as we come closer to the return of our Lord Jesus when our great hope is realized and we can rest blameless with all the saints before our God. Until that day we will flourish in gathering as family, going on mission together calling all who will listen to Trust Jesus.