Introduction: We discovered in recent Easter sermons the ultimate joy of the Apostle Paul in Christ’s Second Coming as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Living in the light of that ‘Great Day’ also inspires Paul’s attitude towards the Thessalonians in chapter 3 as he is spurred to “supply whatever is lacking in the Thessalonians’ faith” (3:10). We will therefore apply our concluding lessons from chapter 3 by studying Paul’s preparations for Christ’s return under the following headings: 1) The importance of ‘face-to-face’ fellowship in order to prepare for Heaven and 2) Preparation through the inspired prayers of the Apostle as we await the Second Coming.
Monday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:19 & 3:9-11. Paul’s excitement at the prospect of Christ’s return is no ‘pie-in-the-sky-in-the-sweet-by-and -by’ sentimentality. Knowing that the Thessalonians will indeed be his “hope, joy and crown of rejoicing” on that Day drives Paul’s longing to see them again. Why this desire for such face-to-face fellowship? Paul realizes that the Incarnate and Risen Christ has given him a charge to nurture this young church by his physical presence whenever possible. Because Jesus became forever a real human in order to express God’s love to us in real flesh and presence, Paul also wants to show forth the love of Christ in an incarnate way to the Thessalonians. In Paul’s thinking, merely writing the Thessalonian epistles is not enough. He desires to see them face-to-face.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God that we can love others in the church in concrete ways which demonstrate nothing less than the presence of Christ by His Spirit incarnate in our hearts and lives. Ask the Lord to show you who needs to be loved by you “not in word only, but in deed.” Use hymn #644 from our Trinity Hymnal as your prayer to love others in your church body with the very Incarnate Presence of Jesus Christ:
|May the mind of Christ, my Savior,
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and power controlling
All I do and say.May the Word of God dwell richly
In my heart from hour to hour,
So that all may see I triumph
Only through His power.
|May the peace f God my Father
Rule my life in everything,
That I may be calm to comfort
Sick and sorrowing.May His beauty rest upon me,
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.
Tuesday: read 1 Thessalonians 3:9-12 and 2 Corinthians 11:23-33. Surely one of the most poignant and agonizing facts of Paul’s life was that he was not able to pour out the love of his huge heart by being physically present among the believers he loved so much. He was often “hindered” from realizing his longing to see the faces of his converts. Time and again his way was barred from enjoying the family atmosphere of the churches he had planted: by multiple imprisonments; death-threats and geographical limitations! Why, even a brief survey of all that Paul suffered in 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 shows that many of his trials came upon him while he was travelling from place to place, striving with all his might to return to the churches he had started in order to see how they fared. See his description of his agonizing attempts to be physically present with these churches in 2 Corinthians 11:25-26:
Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.
Meditate and Pray: In considering how Paul was heart-broken because he so often missed worshipping, fellowshipping and simply enjoying being with God’s people, ask the Lord to give your church family an ever-increasing sense of privilege in gathering as one body for worship week-by-week and in staying connected ‘face-to-face’ in your daily lives. Use Psalm 16:3 as your prayer that God would increase our ‘face-to-face’ delight in one another as a church:
As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.
Weds/Thurs: read 1 Thessalonians 3:9-12. Paul’s longing to see the faces of the Thessalonians drives him to pray in 1 Thessalonians 3:11 that both God the Father and the Lord Jesus would “clear the way” for him to come to them. This language of God the Father and Son “teaming up” to direct the Apostle’s footsteps back to Thessalonica is worthy of comment.
First, is this not a clear ascription of Deity which assigns to Jesus equality with God the Father? Paul claims the same high place for Christ in directing the ways and hearts of men and women (with His Father) in 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 where he prays: May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
What this means in terms of estimating the Divine power of Christ, as co-equal with God the Father and God the Spirit, is that we have full Apostolic authority to take all the Old Testament verses which describe the Father’s power to guide and apply them to our Lord Jesus. For example, just a sampling of Old Testament texts listed below give us now a new depth of joy and gratitude to our Savior when we put His name, “The Lord Jesus” in each of them! Listen to these great, literal translations of Jesus’ actions on your behalf from the Old Testament:
The Lord (Jesus) makes firm (or ‘straight’) the steps of the one who delights in Him (Ps. 37:23).
(Jesus) lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand (or ‘gave me a secure footing’) (Ps. 40:2).
And can we not turn Proverbs 4:26 into a prayer to our Savior?: (Lord Jesus), make level paths for my feet and help me to take only ways that are firm. Finally, can we not take Paul’s prayer in 2 Thessalonians 3:5 and use it confidently to appeal to both God the Father and Son to guide not only our steps, but even our hearts?
May the Lord direct our hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.
Meditate and Pray: Thank the Lord Jesus now that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are committed to guiding and even correcting our every step. The word Paul uses in his prayer in 3:11 asks literally that God the Father and the Lord Jesus would “correct and make straight” the path of the Apostle back to the Thessalonians. And did not God answer that prayer in Acts 20:1-4 where a whole host of believers accompanied Paul back to Thessalonica, (as well as to the other cities of Macedonia where he had planted churches)? Thank Jesus for this also! He can break down all barriers which hinder the mutual edification of the saints, and which threaten the completion of our spiritual duties in preparation for Christ’s return. Sing about this in hymn # 669:
|Commit thou all your griefs
And ways into his hands;
To his sure truth and tender care,
Who earth and heav’n commands.
Who points the clouds their course,
Whom winds and seas obey,
He shall direct your wand’ring feet,
He shall prepare your way.
|Give to the winds your fears;
Hope, and be undismayed;
God hears your sighs, and counts your tears,
God shall lift up your head.
Through waves and clouds and storms
He gently clears your way;
Wait for his time, so shall the night
Soon end in joyous day.
Fri/Sat/Sun: read 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13. Verses 11-13 form the first of two “wish prayers” in 1 Thessalonians – “wish” referring to the grammatical optative mood of the prayer, not to any doubt on Paul’s part that God would indeed hear it and answer. Other examples of such “wish prayers” would include Psalm 68:1: May God arise, may His enemies be scattered. I think this mood, if anything, underlines the longing of the Apostle… and adds to the emphatic nature of the prayer’s beginning in 1 Thessalonians 3:11, which could read: Oh I wish and desire that He, our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, will clear the way for us…
With such fervency in prayer we close our study of 1 Thessalonians 3 by noting how laboriously Paul prepares the way by prayer for the Thessalonians to be “readied” for Christ’s return. The “strengthening” for which Paul prays in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 teaches us that the great Day has to be prepared for – just as an athlete must train for the Olympics; an attorney has to prepare for arguing a case before the Supreme Court and a farmer has to fertilize, till and plant before waiting for the harvest, so Christians are in no shape to welcome Christ’s return without adequate preparation.
For example, take a look at the familiar idea of Christ’s return as a ‘harvest.’ This is the basic picture behind both 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 and 3:13: the ‘harvest’ of believers (body and soul) as God’s ‘field.’ Paul speaks in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 of the “holy ones” who will come as Jesus’ vanguard from Heaven. Some have interpreted this as implying angels, even as 1 Thessalonians 4:16 overtly describes the angelic voices involved in the gathering of believers to Christ. In the Gospels, the angels are described as ‘harvest workers’ who go out to gather believers on the Last Day (Mt. 24:31). Moreover, Paul says elsewhere of our Savior that He is “the first-fruits of those that sleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). In other words, Christ in His Resurrection and coming glory is the ‘first sheaf’ presented to God the Father… as a pledge of the ingathering of the whole harvest which takes place upon His return. Think of it! Like a faithful, patient farmer, God intends to get a ‘full crop’ from all of our lives! Our souls, our bodies and even our good works done in Jesus’ Name – all resurrected at the dawning of the great return of Jesus Christ. That is how effective God will make Paul’s prayers for the Thessalonians as He uses them to ripen those believers for the Harvest!
Meditate and Pray: Are you tempted to mourn the lost days of your past, and the regrets of prior mistakes? Take heart! God is an excellent farmer – He will not miss one grain of holy seed – all that is God-given, spiritual and holy in your life will be gathered. Nothing of value will be lost! What a joyful harvest that will be! Sing about the joy of that day in hymn # 715 of our Trinity Hymnal:
Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.
All the world is God’s own field, fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.
For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
Giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store in His garner evermore.
Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home.