Sermon on 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Text: How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
Today is the first Sunday in the season of Advent. The word “advent” means “coming to.” During this season of the church year, we focus our attention on getting ready for the celebration of Christ’s first coming to the earth on Christmas. As a result, many of the readings will look at Old Testament prophecies about Jesus or Gospel lessons, which focus on events prior to Jesus’ birth or the beginning of his ministry. There is a second focus, however, to the season. It is there to remind us of Jesus’ second coming to this world at the end of time. This season is there to help us get prepared for that event. With that in mind, we pray “LORD, PREPARE US FOR YOUR RETURN. 1. Supply What Is Lacking In Our Faith. 2. Make Our Love For All Increase. 3. Improve The Testimony Of Our Lives.”
A bit of background will help us better understand and appreciate the words of our text. Paul visited the Macedonian city of Thessalonica on his second missionary journey. God granted him some success there, as a number of people were converted. However, after three or four weeks, Jewish opposition arose to such an extent that Paul had to leave for his own safety. He traveled down the coast, but the Thessalonians were on his mind. So, he sent his co-worker, Timothy, to go back and see how they were doing. Timothy had recently returned with his report. In general, things were going well in Thessalonica, in spite of the persecution. When Paul heard the report, he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this letter to them.
In verse 9, we hear Paul’s genuine love for the Thessalonians, as he wrote, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?” Paul could not thank God enough for the fact that the Thessalonians were remaining true to the gospel message. In spite of all of the things that they were facing, they were persevering and their numbers were growing. This news gave such great joy to this missionary’s heart, who had been so concerned for them.
Paul shares a prayer that he and the others had as they thought about the Thessalonians. He says in verse 10, “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.” You can hear the love that they had for the Thessalonians in their prayer. This prayer was prayed “night and day.” What did they pray for? They prayed that “we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.” When it says that they wanted to “supply what is lacking in your faith,” Paul did not mean that they were unbelievers. There is no such thing as half a believer or almost a believer. They were believers. So, what could be lacking in their faith? Remember that Paul and the others had only been there, at most, four weeks. They were able to teach the Thessalonians the basics. They knew about their sins and that Jesus had come to the world to be their Savior. However, there were still subjects that the Thessalonians still did not completely understand or know anything about. For example, they knew that Jesus was coming back at the end of time. They were eagerly anticipating that time. However, they were not clear about those who had died before that time. Would they be missing out on the Last Day? In the letter, Paul teaches them about the resurrection of the dead on that day. They knew. They had faith. Yet, there was still more for them to learn.
We, also, pray that the Lord would supply what is lacking in our faith. By God’s grace, we are believers. We know that we are sinners, who rightly deserve the punishment of hell for our sins. We, also, know about Jesus. We know that he came to the earth to be our Savior. We know that he lived a perfect life for us. We know that he suffered and died on the cross to pay for our sins. We rejoice in the knowledge that Jesus rose from the grave on Easter morning. By God’s grace, we know many things. Some of us have known these things from little on. Yet, there is always more that we can learn about. Anyone who claims to know all that there is to know about the Bible is fooling themselves. There is still the need for us to be in God’s Word. We need to hear it preached. We need to hear it further taught in Bible classes and the like. We need to be reading God’s Word for ourselves. It has well been said that a faith that is not growing is dying. The only way that our faith can grow is to be in God’s Word. May we echo the words of a man, whose son was demon possessed. He came to Jesus for help. He said, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Jesus replied, “‘If you can’? Everything is possible for one who believes.” To this, the boy’s faith exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” He believed, but he also knew that his faith needed to be strengthened. So also, we, as we prepare for our Lord’s return, pray, “Lord, supply what is lacking in my faith. Keep me in your Word, so that my knowledge of you grows and grows.” After all, he is the only way to salvation. It only makes sense that we would want to know more and more about him. In that way our faith, our trust, in him grows and grows.
Paul continues his prayer in verse 11, “Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you.” Paul knew that Satan had placed roadblocks in his way, so that, at this time, it was not possible to go to the Thessalonians. He prays that the Lord would remove them. Then, he prays, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.” Love is the natural outgrowth of faith. As their faith grew, so would their love grow. Paul talks about the abundance of this love by using the terms “increase and overflow.” Think of a cup, which is, first of all, filled to the very brim with water. Then, you add some more, until it spills over the sides. This is the type of love that Paul prays would exhibit itself in their lives. He prays that it would “increase and overflow for each other.” He prays that this Christian love would show itself in their relationships in the congregation. As they grew in their faith, their love for one another would grow. They would be working together for the same cause. It would be a place where they would want to be. However, this love is not to stop there. Paul prays that this love would “increase and overflow . . . for everyone else.” Their Christian love was not only to be shown to those in the congregation, to those who were just like them. This Christian love would overflow to everyone around them. It didn’t matter who they were or where they were from. It didn’t matter what those outside the congregation were doing to them. They were to show love to them.
So also, we pray that the Lord would make our love for all increase. As we grow in our faith, our love for others will grow, too. At times, we need this encouragement, because we don’t feel like being very loving to those around us. Someone might have said or done something to me that hurt me. I don’t really feel like being loving to them, at all. According to my sinful nature, I would rather be angry with them or want to hurt them back or hold on to a grudge against them. We think that it’s good enough if we tolerate them. However, the prayer in not, “Lord, help me tolerate everyone.” Rather, the prayer is that we love one another. The prayer is that this love would increase and overflow. When we love those around us, we are there to help one another, and not just those we feel deserve it. When we love one another, more is able to be done, because we are all pulling in the same direction. When we love those outside of our congregation, we show what being a Christian is all about. By doing this, we pray, that more and more people would be brought to believe in Jesus as their Savior. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) As we prepare for our Lord’s return, we pray that he would increase our love, our love for those we know and our love for those we do not know.
Paul speaks of the end game of this love, as he concludes his prayer in verse 13, “May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” Paul looks forward to the end of time when Jesus returns. He prays that the Lord would “strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy.” Please, note that Paul is not calling for nor promising perfection while we live on the earth. We are always a work in progress. We continue to grow in our faith life and the resulting actions. Yet, we know that, at the end of time, we will be able to stand before Jesus as blameless and holy. While we know that we are not blameless and holy on our own, we know that, because of Jesus, we will be able to stand before him. His blood cleanses us from all of our sins. At the end of time, there will be no mention of our sins. They are completely forgiven and forgotten. It is interesting to note what will be mentioned on the Last Day. When we turn to Matthew 25:35-40, we hear Jesus say to the believers, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me . . . Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Remember that we are standing before the Judge of all. The evidence of the saving faith is shown in the things that we did for others. This is a good reminder that the way that we live our lives gives testimony to those around us of the faith that is in our hearts. How we treat others is a reflection of our relationship with our Savior. The closer our relationship with Jesus, the better that we will treat others. The way that we treat others, especially those whom the world would say do not deserve our kindness and love, speaks volumes. We are to be reflections to others of the love that has been shown to us. When we love, as we have been loved, that is testimony to others. For that reason, we pray that the Lord would improve our testimony to those around us.
We know that we have not always acted the way that we should. It is so easy for us to think that we know all we need to know about Jesus, so there really is no reason to try to learn more. We know that we have not always been as loving to others, as God would have us be. We admit that, at times, our testimony has not been as clear as it could be. Our actions have colored the testimony that we are to be making to others. How we thank God that Jesus came to the earth that first time. We praise him that he lived perfectly in our place. We stand in awe of his amazing love as he was willing to suffer and die on the cross to pay for our sins. We rejoice in the wondrous Easter message that says that Jesus rose from the dead. We thank him that faith has been created in our hearts that trusts in him alone for our salvation. Now, we pray that our lives might glorify him. We pray that all that he wants to see in us would continue to grow.
It seems like this time of year is all about preparations. There are preparations for Christmas parties that have to be made. There are preparations as we search for the perfect gift. There are preparations that have to be made as we enjoy special treats and meals. Perhaps, preparations will have to be made for special company that will be coming for the holidays. All of these things are wonderful, in and of themselves. However, at this time of year, there are more important preparations that need to be made. We pray that the Lord would prepare our hearts as we celebrate the wondrous news of Jesus’ birth. We prepare to celebrate Christ’s first coming into the world. Yet, we also want to always be prepared for Christ’s second coming at the end of time. The way that we are prepared is to believe that Jesus is our Savior. To help us be prepared, we pray that the Lord would supply what is lacking in our faith. We pray that he would continue to strengthen our faith in him. We, also, pray that the Lord would increase our love for one another. We pray that our love would overflow from the love that has been shown to us. We also pray that the Lord would improve the testimony of our lives. We pray that everything we say and do gives witness to the faith that is in our hearts. As we do these things, we are preparing for the Lord’s return. Amen.
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