Tuesday, September 16, 2014

HOLDING FAITH (1 Thessalonians Chapter 3)

1 Thessalonians 3:1-5, “Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 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.  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.”

Paul, having been separated from the church in Thessalonica, sent Timothy to bring back word to him of their spiritual condition (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5).  He knew of the “afflictions” they were enduring (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:2).  He was fearful that the devil might have used their afflictions to undermine their faith.  The term translated “afflictions” in verse 3 means “to crush, press together, squash, hem in, compress.”  It was used of the process through which oil was extracted from olives or juice from grapes.  William Barclay wrote of the usage of the term, “In ordinary Greek always describes actual physical pressure on a man...In the early years of Christianity the man who chose to become a Christian chose to face trouble. There might well come to him abandonment by his own family, hostility from his heathen neighbors, and persecution from the official powers. It is always a costly thing to be a real Christian, for there can be no Christianity without its cross.”  The believer in Christ should not be surprised by suffering (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:3; 2 Timothy 3:12; Philippians 1:29).  And though Paul had warned them of this (“we are destined for this”; 1 Thessalonians 3:3), he was nevertheless concerned that somehow the tempter might use their sufferings to discourage them.

The tempter (i.e. “the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world;” Revelation 12:9) is always at work.  He is referred to as “the tempter” here and in Matthew 4:3.  He who was the tempter of our Lord is also the tempter of His people.  He has many devices at his disposal.  In his book, “Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices,” Thomas Brooks wrote, “From the power, malice and skill of Satan, doth proceed all the soul-killing plots, devices, stratagems, and machinations, that be in the world….A man may as well tell the stars, and number the sands of the sea, as reckon up all the Devices of Satan.”  He tempted and deceived Eve (Cf. 1 Timothy 1:13; 2 Corinthians 11:3) and has been tempting ever since.

A much-utilized weapon in his evil arsenal is afflictions.  The seed that fell upon the rocky places was likened to the response of one who “hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matthew 13:21).  Paul was concerned for the Thessalonians—that the tempter might likewise use their sufferings to upset their faith (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:18).

The phrase “your faith” appears four times in this chapter (1 Thessalonians 3:2, 3:5, 3:6, 3:10).  The word faith translates the commonly used Greek term, pistis.  Vine’s defines the term as a “conviction respecting God and His Word and the believer’s relationship to Him.”  The definition goes on to discuss the main elements of faith in God, which include: 1) “a firm conviction, producing a full acknowledgement of God’s revelation or truth”; 2) “a personal surrender to Him”; and 3) “a conduct inspired by such surrender.”  The term represents more than merely believing the facts about Jesus.  It involves personal trust—the kind of trust that supersedes and overcomes obstacles.  This aspect of faith is deemed virtuous in each of the examples cited in the so-called “Heroes of Faith” chapter of the Bible, Hebrews chapter 11.  The men and women cited were those who trusted the unseen God in the context of observable and substantial obstacles.  The believers in Thessalonica were met with a similar challenge—to continue to trust God though it was their faith itself that had given rise to their afflictions.

The tempter works to discourage faith.  “War the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience” Paul urged Timothy (1 Timothy 1:18-19).  There is a battle going on.  There is a need to “stand firm”—to keep on trusting, obeying, and serving.  The tempter would have us to doubt God, abandon HIs Word, leave our post, and give up in the fight.  Its one thing to believe and another thing to continue to believe amidst challenging circumstances.  Paul himself had that kind of faith (Cf. 2 Timothy 4:7).  Timothy returned to Paul and Paul and was reassured and comforted by his report (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:6-7).  The Thessalonians had suffered affliction.  They were tempted by the tempter to abandon their Savior.  But their faith held (Cf. 1 Timothy 1:19).  Paul’s labor had not been in vain (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:5). 

No comments: