Picture, if you will, a little rowboat and it’s out by the harbor, and then it gets out past the harbor, and then the waves, and the currents, and the winds, and it gets beyond the horizon. Now, it’s so far away from shore no one can see it.
Spiritually, there are people that you know and there are people that I know, in fact, some of us may be in this room, who are spiritually drifting away from God, and the truth, and all the things that we know are right.
It happens. In fact, it happens so regularly that in Hebrews 3:13 we are given a command about how to relate to one another. It says, “But encourage,” build up, “but encourage one another,” when? “day after day as long as it is still called today.” Now, how many days does that apply to?
When you wake up what do you usually call it? Today. “Encourage one another day after day as long as it’s still called today,” why? “lest anyone of you be hardened, your hearts be hardened, by the deceitfulness of sin.”
The question then is, “Who do you know that is in spiritual danger?” If you visualized in your mind a little rowboat, drifting past the harbor and then the wind and the current taking it out to sea, who is in that boat? Is it you? Is it a friend? Is it a family member? A mate? A child? Is it a coworker? You know they’re a believer and you’ve watched the slide.
Tthey’re going to end up doing something very, very dumb and it’s going to cost them a lot, and and they will reap the consequences forever.
Who is it? Because I’m going to tell you, there’s a lot at stake tonight. This is exactly the situation that the apostle Paul is going to write into. There’s a church he’s been away from for, plus or minus two years, eighteen to twenty-four months.
And he knows that there’s incredible persecution on the outside and he knows there’s great temptation on the inside. And he, literally, can’t sleep at night because he’s fearful.
And what he’s fearful about is that all their labor, all their preaching, all their discipling is going to go straight down the tubes because these people are going to spiritually drift, and they’re going to end up shipwrecked, and after coming to Christ they’re going to drift away and there’s going to be no impact, no fruit, no church, and what we’re going to look at tonight is a letter he writes to that group where he jumps into what I want to call his “9-1-1 rescue response.”
What we’re going to learn tonight is what to say and how to say it and how to do it in such a way where those people, you’re going to be like a little tugboat. And as those people are drifting out of the harbor into danger, God is going to show us, through the apostle Paul, how in the little tugboat you can come alongside, throw a little anchor, or whatever rope you throw over, hook onto their boat, and pull them into safety.
And you won’t be pushy, you won’t be holier than thou, and it’ll happen in a way that will restore them to the Savior.
And so let’s look at the model that the apostle Paul gives us here. He’s going to model a 9-1-1 rescue response.
I’m going to give you four steps of rescue intervention. Step one: Communicate your gratitude for the authenticity of their faith in the midst of spiritual opposition.
What we need to do is be positive and encouraging towards people. That’s how you communicate to people that are drifting away.
Then he expresses genuine concern. He’s saying, “My heart beats for you! He says, “I greatly desire to see your face,” why? “for we wanted to come to you.
The apostle Paul is saying, “You matter. I’m concerned about you. Not only am I grateful for what God’s done in your life but I’m concerned about you, and I care about you, and I love you.”
Can you imagine what would happen if someone communicated that they really cared? I mean, they really cared. In fact, step two of our rescue intervention is: Express your sincere concern for them, as a person. How? With words and ways that make sense to them.
I was the black sheep of the college ministry that I was involved in. And I had trouble getting up and going to church. Everyone went to Bible studies and I blew about half of them off. Everybody was memorizing a couple verses a week and I said, “Look, guys, if you want to do that, fine. They’re all in here. Why, you know, mess up my brain with spending all that time?”
I mean, I wanted to grow in Christ as long as it didn’t cost anything. That was my motto. And, finally, in a moment of weakness, I said to my roommate, “Bob, I’m tired of this. I’m living on the fence and it’s very uncomfortable.”
And I said, “Will you help me? I really want to walk with God but I’m just lazy and I keep blowing it off and…” He said, “Okay, well, I’ll help you get up for church.” Bob was big, strong wrestler, heavyweight wrestler at our college, big dude.
And he said, “Chip, until you get in God’s Word for yourself, you’ll never grow. Every morning I get up and I have a quiet time.” And I said, “Bob, every morning I like to sleep!” He said, “Well, Chip, do you do you mean business or not?” I said, “Yeah, Bob, I really want to do it.” I said, “No matter what I say in the morning, you help me get up.”
So I’m doing what I do best early in the morning, at that point in my life, sleeping. And the alarm goes off , get rid of that thing, it’s a nuisance. Bob says, “Get up, Chip.” “Ah, get out of here, Bob.” “Chip, you told me to wake you up.” I said, “Hey, Bob, get out of my face, man, I’ll read the Bible tomorrow.”
Bob reaches down to my ankle, true story, and he lifted me up just like this, out of my bed. And then he, hey, he could do it with one arm. And he lifts me up, walks me over, and he said, “Drinking fountain or shower?” Man, I said, “Bob! Get away!”
And he said, “We’ll try the drinking fountain today,” and he hits the drinking fountain and it’s pouring over me, and I’m going like this, he said, “Chip, you made a commitment.” I said, “Bob, okay, put me down. So help me, I’ll read my Bible, okay?”
So he took me down and I got up and I read my Bible. The next morning he took me into the shower. The next morning I got up on my own. He got me to church, he called, he reminded, he prayed, he invited me to meals, he took me home with him on breaks, he brought homemade cookies from his mom, he loved me in a way that made sense to me. He cared. He cared when it is easy, he cared when it was hard. Bob wouldn’t give up on me and he wouldn’t let me give up on my faith.
Now, the apostle Paul will tell us step number three. Paul is going to demonstrate his deep concern and genuine fear and because of that, he will send Timothy to encourage the Thessalonians. In chapter 3, verses 1 to 5, he’s basically going to say, “You know what? I’ve been up nights, I’ve been pacing the floors, I don’t know how you’re doing, I am going absolutely nuts and so what I did is I sent Timothy to find out about how you’re doing.”
He pursues a relational connection. Look at it. Verse 1 of chapter 3, “Therefore, when we could endure it no longer we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone.” And you ought to jot in your Bible: II Corinthians. Because you’ll learn that when Paul was in Athens he was having a very difficult time. It’s one of the few times in the Bible we learn of a great apostle where he says, “Man, I am depressed. I am down.”
And yet, rather than keeping a close friend he says, “Hey, Timothy, I may be down, I may be depressed but I gotta find out how they’re doing.” By the way, do you hear what’s behind this passage? Do you love people or not? Do I love people or not?
Do you? If you do, you go after them. If you don’t, then you rationalize like I do and, “Oh yeah, they’re probably this and probably that.” And then three years later, “Oh yeah, I heard they’re separated.” Four years later they’re divorced. Five years later there are two kids bouncing around all over the county, two days here, three days here, and you and I saw it five years ago.
“When I could endure it no longer I thought it was best to be left in Athens alone and we sent Timothy, our brother, and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ,” why? “to strengthen, and to encourage,” or comfort, “you as to your faith,” why? “so that no man may be disturbed,” NIV: unsettled, “by these afflictions.”
He said, “We sent Timothy because, man, we are uptight in our soul because we know that every believer will encounter spiritual entropy. And they’ll get unsettled, they’ll get disturbed, their faith will get shaken, and they’ll be lured away.”
“For you yourselves know that we have been destined for this.” The apostle Paul basically says, “All that jazz you hear on the radio and on TV about, ‘Come to Jesus and all your problems will go away and you’ll be healthy and wealthy and drive nice cars is a bunch of baloney!’” He said, “When you follow Christ you’ll be destined for swimming upstream in a downstream world. It will be hard, it will be difficult, but you’ll have the truth. And you’ll have purpose, and you’ll have peace, and you’ll have all the things that matter but it won’t be easy.”
Notice what he says: “For this reason then when I could endure it no longer I also sent to find out about your faith for fear that the tempter might have tempted you,” the tense of the verb here: it was already occurring, “and that our labor should be in vain.”
Step number three of our rescue intervention for that person in that little boat drifting out to the spiritual sea is: Pursue a specific means of relational connection for the purpose of spiritual encouragement and protection.
The man who helped me the most was a guy named Dave Marshall and he’s a bricklayer with a high school education that has people like me, and dozens, and dozens, of others, in continents all over the world, as missionaries as a result of his ministry.
He’s as down-home, humble, regular a guy as you’ve ever met, who loves God passionately. There is nothing about Dave Marshall that is, “Oh man!” He’s just solid. He just walks with God day, after day, after day. And you know what? He pursued a relational connection.
He met me and he said, within two weeks said, “Chip, I’d like to meet with you. Would you like to learn to study the Bible?” I thought, “I’m a new Christian, the answer should be yes, so ‘yes!’”
And seven o’clock, every Tuesday morning, he came and knocked on the door. I bet half the time I rolled over and acted like I didn’t hear it. But you know what? Next Tuesday morning, knock on the door. He saw me Wednesday. You know what I didn’t get? “Hey, Chip! Where were you Tuesday morning?” What I got was, “I missed you, Chip. I’m excited about getting together with you again and I’m praying for you.”
He loved me. And you know what? I ate meals at his house, had Bible studies at his house. If you’re going to rescue people it’s not enough to know, it’s not enough to express, it’s not enough to communicate. You and I must pursue a relational connection. It means you give them a call this week, it means you ask them to lunch, it means you drop them a note, it means you drop in at their work. They’ll usually be there.
Whether it’s a hobby, a social event, you figure out how you’re going to connect with them relationally, and you say, “You know, Lord, for the next three or four months, I don’t know where I’m going to get the time but I’m going to find an hour or so for this person every week, on their turf, in a way that matters to them.”
What do you need to do in your mind? What do you need to do to reach out to that person in that boat? Or, by the way, if you’re the person in the boat, this is a two-way deal.
I mean, if you leave here thinking, “Oh, I now know the problem. Everyone is supposed to come and love me, and care for me, and I don’t think enough people are doing it. I hope they’re listening!” No, no, no, no, no!
You are morally, spiritually responsible for your own spiritual health and don’t you blame anybody else for anything. There are enough opportunities for you to take steps to get plugged in, get loved, to come to dinner, to come to a class, and if you feel disconnected, you think of someone who is more disconnected than you and you start helping them, and you’ll find yourself deeply loved.
The fourth step, the apostle Paul goes beyond sending then he gets a report back. And when he gets the report back he is the master motivator.
I’m always interested when I hear all these motivational speakers with these secret principles of the universe. And then they give one of them and I say, “Yeah, well, great. Boy, that, well, that’s excellent.” And then I think to myself, “Mm-hm, let’s see, that’s I Thessalonians 3:6 through 13.” It’s amazing how they discover the truth.
But people in motivational circles, you know what they know? You need to rejoice over people’s success, you need to rejoice, you need to explode with joy when people make a little progress. The problem with most of us is with our kids, with our mate, with people that we know – they make a little progress and we say, “Oh, that’s not bad but you still have a long way to go.”
I mean, that just motivates you, doesn’t it? Just makes you want to jump for joy and say… quit raising the bar and start patting people on the back for the bars that, by the grace of God, they’re getting over.
Notice what the apostle Paul does. Look at it. Paul explodes with joy and he breaks out into prayer over Timothy’s report of the Thessalonians’ positive, spiritual progress.
Verse 6, “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love,” notice what he praises. Not their activities - their faith and their love. Sure, it comes out in activities but he praises the values.
“And that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you.” Verse 7, “For this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith.”
He said, “You know, we’re going through a lot of hard times and life is really hard,” in fact, literally, the word “distress” means a choking type situation. He said, “We were encouraged and comforted knowing that you’re doing well.”
Verse 8, “For now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord.” One commentator said, “Basically the translation, Paul says, ‘The moment we heard that you’re pressing on with the Lord,’ He said, ‘I got a new lease on life. I’m sleeping better. My heart is lifted up! I’m encouraged because I live, I dream, I think about your spiritual progress because you’re so important to God and because you’re so important to God, you’re so important to me.’”
So he says, “Now we really live, if you stand firm for the Lord.” Verse 9, “For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, as night and day we keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete,” means “to bring to full maturity, to bring help,” “that we might complete what is lacking in your faith?”
He’s exploding with joy. And now he breaks out into prayer, verse 11, “Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct,” or “make straight,” “our way to you.” He said, “Man, we want to see you. We want to see you.”
“And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for each other, and for all men, just as we do for you. So that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”
So our step four: Rejoice with them and over them. I like that phrase. Rejoicing over a person. At any, and every, step of positive, spiritual progress.
As I was studying this, I think it was getting deeply imbedded in my subconscious and one of my sons is really working hard in an area of academics. And I have really watched him bust it.
And it doesn’t come naturally for him and it’s hard for him, and I tend to be the kind of person that when you have done eight out of ten things well, I am very quick to say, “Those eight are great. Now, let’s talk about how we could fix those two.”
It’s not a real blessing to have a dad like that. By the grace of God, I’m asking Him to change me. But my wife and I were just ready to walk out the door, we were going to go on our Friday date, and before we did I went back and I just jotted him a note: “I am so proud of you. God is pleased. Way to go.” I rejoiced over him.