1 Thessalonians 3:1-9
Finally, when we could stand it no longer, we decided to stay alone in Athens, 2 and we sent Timothy to visit you. He is our brother and God’s co-worker in proclaiming the Good News of Christ. We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith, 3 and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through. But you know that we are destined for such troubles. 4 Even while we were with you, we warned you that troubles would soon come—and they did, as you well know. 5 That is why, when I could bear it no longer, I sent Timothy to find out whether your faith was still strong. I was afraid that the tempter had gotten the best of you and that our work had been useless. 6 But now Timothy has just returned, bringing us good news about your faith and love. He reports that you always remember our visit with joy and that you want to see us as much as we want to see you. 7 So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. 8 It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord. 9 How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy as we enter God’s presence.
“How are you doing?” is a phrase that while it sounds like a concerned question has actually become a standard greeting in our modern culture. “How are you doing?” “Fine, thanks.” “Good, how are you doing, fine” and then we move on. While we may ask people how they are doing the reality of our rushed society is that many of us don’t intend for those we ask to tell us anything other than to respond with the expected greeting of fine. The truth is very few of us actually make space for this question but that was not true of Paul. When he asks the Thessalonians this question, he actually wanted to know how they were doing, because he cared and had a great concern for them. This wasn’t just a comment that rolled out of his head but one that came from his heart. He desperately wanted to know how they were doing and had probably spent countless days and nights thinking about them. I also want you to notice what Paul used as a gauge for how they were doing. What Paul focus on in the “how are you doing?” was their faith. He didn’t use feeling as a gauge but faith, referring to their faith five times in just a few verses. When people ask you how your church is doing, what do they want to know and what do we tell them? Usually, the focus is Numbers, buildings, and programs. We like to count nickels and noses but for Paul who started this church, he wasn’t concerned about programs but about the people. His greatest concern was for their faith because faith is a great measure of your growth. So let me ask you, how is your faith? From time to time it is good for us to taking a temperature reading of our spiritual health because it reveals where we are and how we are really doing? It’s here that Paul ties trials to our faith and while we don’t like trials they can be a great benefit because trials actually reveal our faith. Paul reveals several truths about trials beginning with the seriousness of trials as he tells us the truth that:
- Trials can Shake us.
Paul cared about their faith with regards to suffering and in verse 3 he tells us that trials can be unsettling. The word shaken here means to flop back and forth, while the word troubles or trials means to be under the hammer, under pressure. Some of you are under that pressure right now, and you need to remember your particular trial doesn’t matter as much as how you respond to it. Often we focus intently on the details of our difficulties, and as we do our problem becomes bigger in our eyes than our Provider. While trials may shake you they don’t have to snap you. As you go through trials remember this truth that God will take care of what you go through, but you need to take care of how you go through it. There is a story about a field in which at one end grew a large oak tree while at other was a little willow tree. Whenever a wind moved through the field, the willow swayed in the wind, while the oak remained unmoved. When this happened, the willow said to itself, “I wish I was as strong as the Oak, instead of bending over with every breeze“ then one day a large windstorm whipped through the field. When the storm passed, and the darkness lifted, the willow looked across the field and was shocked to discover that the oak was laying on the ground, broken. When the Gardener came into the field, the willow said, “Oh sir, what happened to the Oak? How is it that I survived the storm, weak as I am, and the Oak fell?” The Gardener said, “Oh little willow-tree, do you not understand what happened? When the winds blow, you bend with them, while the oak remains still. So when a really powerful wind comes along, you can bend with the wind, and survive it. But the Oak cannot bend, and so if the wind is strong enough, it will break. For the Oak had a secret, a weakness within that no one looking at the outside could see. And the Gardener went on his way, leaving the willow to ponder what he had said. Strength within and strength without are not the same thing, and one needs to cultivate strength within first. Sometimes what appears strong on the outside is just that, nothing more that surface strength that is only skin deep. Are you leaning on the Lord for inner strength to help take you through the storms or are you only concerned with looking good? Trials have a way of stripping away our surface strength and revealing what is lacking in our lives. Are you relying on outer strength or inner strength to survive the storms of life? Second when the winds of life blow we need to learn to flex so that we can survive the storms. When we try to resist instead of bend they will break us. Faith provides the flex needed to not only survive the storm but thrive through the storm. Faith provides a shelter from the storm because faith hides under the feathers of the Father. Not only does Paul tell us that trials can shake us but second he reminds us that:
- We don’t have to fly Solo vs 2
In verse 2 he reminds us that we are not alone. While Paul was unable to go to them he sent a coworker named Timothy, a man who was trustworthy and could encourage and shore up their faith. For Paul, his concern was more than just a checkup he had sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage them. Notice how Paul refers to Timothy, a brother, and God’s co-worker in proclaiming the Good News of Christ. What about you are you a co-worker, are you coming alongside and encouraging others? Also notice what Timothy chose to proclaim, “the Good News of Christ.” What are you proclaiming? Are you proclaiming the problems or pointing people to the Provider? Many of us have become the bearers of bad instead of being the bearers of blessing. If you want to encourage and strengthen others you need to proclaim Jesus and His power, not the problems. We can all be workers working together to share the good news, you don’t have to be a preacher to proclaim Jesus. Even though trials can shake us they don’t have to stop us from serving and coming alongside to strengthening others in the faith. What about you, are you serving or flying solo?