I’ll never forget the first day of Sociology 101. I was eighteen years old, I had just become a Christian about seven or eight months before, I had never opened the Bible in my life until I was eighteen and so I’d been reading it now about six or seven months.
I was overwhelmed with what I was learning. I had zeal; I was excited, the thought of forgiveness and peace and purpose; I was a zealous, brand new, “whistling in the hall” Christian.
And then I went to sociology class. You gotta remember, this is 1973. The ‘60s are rounding to and end. Kent State is barely in the rearview mirror for those of the era.
I walk into class, and people were filing in, and I notice there’s an unusual guy sitting on the desk up front. He has, for the day, extremely long hair, which was really unusual then for a teacher at this school.
He had frayed jeans, a rather unusual shirt, a headband, sandals, and he was sitting cross-legged on top of his desk. He was warm, he was friendly, he said nothing for the first five or ten minutes – we all sat down and he sat there bow-legged, you know, crossed, you know, looking at us saying nothing.
And then he began to open up and we found out he was the teacher. Every textbook we studied, whatever you always thought or believed about life, about God, about America, about anything he had a book to refute it.
And he started for the next semester, week after week after week, to challenge every single thing that I had believed and decimated the Christian faith.
Now, I don’t know the Bible very well, I don’t know how to answer any hard questions. And at first I just thought, “Well, he’s a little unusual.” But he had a captive audience. And it wasn’t long before he raised some doubts in my heart and a confusion in my soul began to grow. And then I felt inadequate and I couldn’t answer the questions.
And I wasn’t ready to give up my faith because I didn’t want to become like this guy but he was dealing with a lot of issues that I didn’t know how to deal with. And I just felt knocked down, I just felt like he took the air out of my sails, he took the whistle off my lips.
Whatever joy I was experiencing I spent most of my time semi-confused and insecure and struggling and just feeling kind of beat down. His arguments weren’t good enough or strong enough to really cause me to question the depths of my faith but they were strong enough just to keep me messed up most of the time.
And my observation is it’s only a matter of time before something or someone attacks your faith. It will raise doubts in your heart, confusion in your soul, and a sense of inadequacy in your mind.
In fact, you may be there tonight from a few of the looks I got as I started. You might have a work situation where there’s such a culture of unbelief that basically day after day it just assaults your faith and makes you feel lower or smaller because you’re a believer.
Or you might have an antagonistic family member - that works well. You know, someone that, whatever you say they have a little needle and their goal is to pop the balloon of your life, whenever they get a chance.
Or I’ve had a couple “intellectual” relatives and you get together three or four times a year and they just keep asking these questions that, at this point in your life, you know someone has good answers but you don’t.
Or you have the fellow student or teammate that just keeps looking at you, “You really believe that stuff? Are you kidding? Don’t both brain cells work with you? I mean, I don’t get it, I thought you were a reasonable person.”
Or, finally, there are the old friends who question your new-found faith and say, “How long is it going to last? How long are you going to go through this phase?”
And so the question I want to ask and answer tonight, as we’re in the second part of this series on encouragement is, “How do we encourage those people whose faith is being knocked down?” How do you encourage the people that you know and that you rub shoulders with whose faith is called into question? They are constantly bombarded by criticism. They are ridiculed, or attacked, and maybe even persecuted on the job, or in their family situation, or on a sports team, or school where they’re at.
How do you come alongside them when you see them wavering and faltering? What is it that God wants you to do as a fellow believer to encourage them, to lift them up, to help them work through their Sociology 101 experience and come out the other end a stronger Christian?
That’s what we want to ask and answer today. And God has a game plan. And the game plan, at first, sounds really kind of weird. You know what the game plan is? Remember, remember, remember.
The Bible is replete with the importance of remembering. In fact, in the Old Testament the Bible will say, “Be careful lest you forget the Lord your God.” Moses, when he took the second generation in, you know what he named the book? Two: Deuteronomy, the second law.
You know what the key word in the book of Deuteronomy is? Remember, remember, remember, remember. Because you know what happened? The first group forgot. They forgot God’s great acts, they forgot His great ways, and they didn’t follow Him.
Now, the apostle Paul, as we learned, went into a Greek town of about two hundred thousand people, Thessalonica, planted a church, it started to multiply, it started to grow, it started to mushroom. They were becoming well known, I mean, they were on fire and making incredible impact.
And then some people came along and started slandering Paul, slandering their faith, poking fun. Just a little criticism, “Oh, you know that Paul? Yeah, we heard about him. He’s just out for your money. Oh, oh, that new Christianity stuff? Oh man, it’s dying out.” Or, “We’ve heard this, we’ve heard that,” and they kept poking, and poking, and poking.
And so by the time Timothy came back to give the report, he said, “Paul, they’re really doing well but, man, they are taking it on the chin. Week in and week out people are questioning their motives, they’re questioning their message, they’re questioning the validity of their faith. And, you know, I’m going to be honest with you, Paul. They’re having a great impact but they’re going through some hard times.
And so in chapter 2 verses 1 to 12, I Thessalonians, guess what Paul does? He causes them to remember the most important things in their life, in order to restore their perspective, so that they grow through their faith being knocked down.
How do you help, how do you encourage people whose faith is being attacked or slandered? Now, I’d like to read through the passage and as I read it here’s what I want you to do: I want you to pull out a pen. I’m going to put you to work. We’re going to do a little Bible study.
Whenever you read a passage of Scripture, words or phrases or concepts that are repeated are often the key to understanding the passage. Because if they’re repeated once, twice, three times they are important. If they’re repeated five, six, seven times they’re probably the theme of what’s being taught.
So let’s listen to what the apostle Paul does. First, in verses 1 and 2, he reminds them of their reception of the message. He says, “For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain. But after we already suffered and had been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid such opposition.”
You got your pen out? Put a little box around, “you yourselves know” in verse 1. And then verse 2 put a little box around, “you know.” First two verses, isn’t it interesting that he’s, “You know; you yourselves know.” He’s bringing things back to their memory.
Notice in verses 3 through 6 he reminds them of the character of the messengers: He, Timothy, and Silas. He says, “For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we’ve been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak. Not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattery in speech, as you know,” guess what you’re going to put a box around? “nor with a pretext for greed – God is our witness – nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.”
Put a box around “as you know” in verse 5. Next, he reminds them of the ministry they received in verses 7 through 11. He goes, “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her children. Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives,” why? “because you have become very dear to us.”
Verse 9, put a box around the next phrase. “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day, so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” Notice verse 10, “You are witnesses,” what’s that do? It reminds them. Put a box around that.
“You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as,” verse 11, “you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each of you as a father would his own children,” why? Paul reminds them of the results in their lives when they received the message. “[S]o that,” or resulting in, “that you may walk in a manner worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
Now just by way of doing a little Bible study, by the way, this is what I do. I’ll read a passage over and over and over, and any concept that is repeated then I’ll circle it or underline it.
Look at verse 1, “You yourselves know;” verse 2, “You know;” skip down to verse 5, “As you know;” skip down to verse 9, “For you recall;” verse 10, “You are witnesses;” verse 11, “You know.” Are you getting the idea that possibly the apostle Paul, writing to these people whose faith is being undermined, that he wants them to remember something? Could this be a possibility?
Why? See, there’s something extremely powerful about remembering. What we tend to do is see the problem on the horizon and it doesn’t have to be very big but as that problem gets closer and closer and closer what happens? We lose perspective, and we lose sight of all of this, let alone all that happened behind us.
And one of the great ways to get perspective is to pull that problem back, in light of history, and what God has done, and who He is, and what you’ve experienced. Then all of a sudden it’s just a little pebble to deal with. But when you’re looking at it right through here, it looks pretty big, doesn’t it?
And so the apostle Paul is going to teach the Thessalonians, it’s a hard word to say, you should try it sometime. Remembering God’s work in the past, is the key to getting perspective for doing His will in the present. That’s what he’s going to teach them.
He’s going to teach them, “Yeah, there’s attack, there’s slander, you lose perspective, but remembering God’s work in your past is the key to getting perspective to do God’s will in the present.” And most of us don’t do that much.
I would love to be in the car, as you drive home, or around the coffee shops around town tonight, if some of you would have the prompting of the Holy Spirit tonight as you go out and say, “You know when we had the prayer time? Would you share with me what went through your mind? Would you tell me about the very day that you became a Christian? Where was it? How did it happen? How did you feel? Who were the people? Who loved you? What did they do? What were the great deliverances?”
See, we prayed through this passage already tonight. It was so that we could apply what God wants to teach us. And now what I’d like to do is I’d like to give you four key principles to help people who are faltering.
Here’s how to help them. First thing I think you need to do, is help them remember the day. Just remember that phrase: Remember the day. You’ve got a friend, you’ve got a son, you’ve got a daughter, you got a mom, you got a dad, you got a brother, you got a sister. Whoever it is help them remember the day they came to Christ.
Notice what Paul says in verse 1, “For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you wasn’t in vain.” It means it wasn’t empty. It’s in a tense of the verb that means, “We came, and something happened, and the results are continuing in prosperity.”
He goes on in verse 2, “But after we had already suffered and been mistreated,” He said, “Remember, we were in Philippi, man, we got our heads bashed in. They took the clothes off our back, they threw us in prison, we were Roman citizens, we were publically humiliated. For doing what? For preaching the gospel. And yet even though even though we went through that you know that we had the boldness in our God.”
I like the NIV’s translation. It says, “We dared to speak to you about the gospel of God amid such opposition.”
Let me give you a couple things as you try and encourage people, about remembering their day when they were saved. First, help them remember their experience. Now, we’re in a day where people take experiences to an extreme. But sometimes in the Church we go the opposite direction.
When is the last time you just sat down and really pondered your experience? Where you were in your life, what would have happened if you hadn’t trusted Christ? Think of all the things that have changed. Think of how little you knew, how much God must have loved you, where you were, what your life was like, the direction it was going and, boom! He came into your life!
When is the last time you really thought about that? Well guess what? The way God wants you to encourage other people, He wants you to remind them through a letter this week, or through a phone call, or through an invitation to lunch, or through an email. He wants you to do something to spur them on to remember the very day that they were saved. To reminisce, if you will. It will be a powerful experience and it will give them perspective.
The second thing you might want to do to help others, is help them remember the price tag and the sacrifice of those who shared it. You know, sometimes we look at our salvation experience just through our lens. The apostle Paul, in stirring up their memory, you know, He does something.
He makes one of those left-handed compliments to himself, and he does it in such a way not to give him glory, but to encourage them.
He says, “You know this stuff, preaching the gospel? It’s not cheap and it’s not easy. The last major town I did it in was Philippi. I got beat up, I got stripped publically, I ended up in jail, and then I got run out of town.”
Now thinking human beings realize that when that happens to you, keep your mouth shut next time. The apostle Paul says though, very interesting word. It has the idea of confidence and courage combined. And as you look at the translation some of them translate, “the confidence,” and others, “the courage.”
“We had boldness or we dared to speak even though there was a lot of opposition.” What do you think the message is to the Thessalonians? “You matter. Hey, you really matter. Last time we shared this message we got beat up. When we came into town we knew it was going to be a rough situation and we dared to speak. We boldly proclaimed the message because that’s how much you matter to God.” When is the last time you thought of the price tag of the people who shared Christ with you?
The bricklayer who was so instrumental in my life, I found out later that, I remember the first Bible study I went to. It was on Thursday nights. Real down home guy, he’d come with his moccasins and he did have a nice guitar, Martin guitar. I didn’t know anything about guitars. It was an old one. He could really pick it too. Did a lot of bluegrass back then.
And he’d wear his jeans and his moccasins, and he’d open up his living room, and he wanted to reach this campus for Christ. And the fullback on the football team invited me to go. And so I went because he was the fullback on the football team, and he was big, and he was nice, and I thought whatever he said, I should do right now. I didn’t have any friends; didn’t know anybody.
And so I walked up this little road about a mile, a mile and a half, and I walked in Dave’s house and I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, I don’t know anything about this Christian stuff. I’ve been a Christian, like, two months and there are four other people, and Dave, and me. Five of us. I’m thinking, “Uh, this is a big meeting.”
And then I learned later, that for four years that’s about how many people he had. Five people to eight people. Twice a week he went down on campus and shared his faith. Every Thursday night for three and half, four years, he opens up his home.
He had decided this would be the last year. If God doesn’t do something then he’s moving on. He moved to that little town to reach that campus. He was independently employed, he was a bricklayer, he could go wherever he wanted, and he traveled all over to do his trade. He wanted to reach that campus, He moved his family to that little town, to reach that campus of about four or five thousand.
Now for whatever reason, that year, it took off. That was my freshman year. By the time I was a junior we’d dug out the basement underneath his house and we had two hundred and fifty kids in Bible study all over campus.
And we saw a wave and a movement of God. But you know something? That guy hung in there for four years, with five people a night on Thursday, and him giving two or three nights a week to tell kids about Christ that didn’t seem to give a rip. But he kept telling, he kept going, he kept casting the seed.
And I, fortunately, was in that last installment. And I realized he paid a price. And when I think about that I think, “What an honor, God.” That encourages me.
The life lesson? You need to remember the day for yourself, for sure, that’s not the life lesson. You need to remember the day for others. But here’s the life lesson: Sow the seed wildly. Sow the seed of the gospel wildly.
Past difficulty is not a prediction of future impact. We need to remember that. Jesus, in His parable, told us only twenty-five percent of the time people respond well, parable of the soils. Sow the seed wildly. Just every time, every opportunity, tell people.
Tell them there’s an answer for sin, there’s forgiveness, it’s Christ. He came, He loves them, He wants to give them peace, He wants to give them a new life, He wants to forgive them from the wrath, just wrath of God.
Sow it wildly. That’s what the apostle Paul does. And then remember the day, remember the day that you were saved. It will give perspective and encourage others. Whatever you can do to encourage them to remember the day they were saved.
Second principle here is not only remember the day, but Paul says, “Remember the people.” We need to remember the people that God used in our life because when our faith is a little shaky, bringing back to mind those people and remember their character, and remembering later their love, will help us get perspective.
Notice what Paul says in verse 3. He says, “For our exhortation,” or our appeal, “does not come from error,” it means delusion, “or impurity,” there were no sexual connotations, “or by way of deceit.” Now you say, “Why would he say sexual connotations?
In that day, every Tom, Dick, and Harry was roaming around the Roman Empire and they were doing their little tricks. And they did their little tricks to hoodwink people - they were charlatans, just like today.
And they did it to get a following, to get self-promotion, to get money, and then most of the ancient religions had some sort of sexual deal hooked in with them. And the leaders were highly involved in it.
And so the apostle Paul, defending himself, he says, “When we came there was no error, no impurity sexually, and no trickery or deceit.” The word means, literally, a bait, like for a fish.
He says, “But just as we have been approved by God,” notice this phrase, “to be entrusted with the gospel so we speak.” We’ve been approved by God. God’s approval is on our life and we have been entrusted. “We are stewards of the gospel so we speak,” how? “not as pleasing people but God,” and He says to examine our hearts.
“The character of the servants of the gospel message,” he says, “we were straight shooters.” Notice verse 5. He says, “For we never came with flattering speech,” we would call it a con man. It’s the idea of leading people along, getting them to follow you, building into their confidence until the point you take them down a different path and the whole goal of the different path is you fleece them either emotionally, monetarily, or sexually.
He says, “Not us. We never came with flattery, as you know, nor with pretext,” or it’s literally a mask. No hypocrisy. “We didn’t come for greed or money.” He says, “God is our witness. Nor did we seek glory from men,” this wasn’t about self-promotion or making a name or trying to be a somebody, “either from you or others even though, by the way, let’s get this straight, as apostles, we had every right to exercise some authority but we didn’t even do that. We gave away our apostolic rights, in order to serve you.”
Here’s his argument: They are being attacked and they are going through their Sociology 101 experience of faltering in the faith. And the apostle Paul says, “First of all, let’s remember when you were saved. Remember that? Yeah.”
Second he says, “Let’s remember the character of the messengers. Remember me, remember Timothy, remember Silas, remember how we lived. These attacks, these questions that are coming to your mind? They’re unfounded.”
And so let me give you a couple ways underneath here to help people. First, help people remember the character of those who ministered to them. Help them think back of a person or two that they really admired, that were really straight shooters, they were people of integrity.
Second, get them to compare the character and quality of those who ministered to them, with the character and quality of those who are attacking them. That’s critical, did you get that? Get them to compare the character and the quality of those who have really, genuinely helped them in their faith and compare that with the character and the quality of those who are attacking.
I’ll still never forget the day, this sociology professor… I mean, he had me going up one day and down the next, and then he talked a little bit about his family and I asked questions, and I saw his lifestyle, and I saw his morals, and I saw his lack of them. Then I saw his hypocrisy, and his inconsistency, and what he was good at - it was a game people played in the ’60s and late ‘70s - you know what people were really good at then? Cutting everything down and saying what was wrong with everything.
But there weren’t very many people who then stood up and said, “And I’m willing to own the moral responsibility about how to make it right.”
All he did was cut down everything and everyone. And then as I watched him, you know what? He didn’t even live by the same standards that he set.
And I remember I was confused, and I stepped back one day and I thought, “Okay, there are a lot of questions, and I can’t handle all this but I watched the way this bricklayer and his wife love each other, and the kind of family they have, and when he says something he means it, and he’s faithful and he’s loyal and he’s true. And all he has done is love me. And I weigh that over against this professor who cuts down everything that I believe and who is cynical, and sarcastic, and his relationships aren’t working, and he’s hypocritical in what he says versus what he does. Now which of those carry the most weight?”
Do you get it? See, that’s what the apostle Paul is doing. And we need to ask, and help people who are discouraged, ask them whose life has the most credibility?