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About this series
The Awesome Power of Encouragement
Do you know someone who needs a spiritual "shot in the arm?" Do you long to receive encouragement from others and be the kind of person who brings out others' highest potential? First Thessalonians is the Apostle Paul's game plan for encouraging believers. This book teaches practical ways to bring hope and love into the lives of those you care about most, and also presents the New Testament's clearest teaching about the future of the Church - the rapture.More from this series
Let’s look now at the attitudes the apostle Paul ends with that Christians need to have. How do you build great Christians? He’s told us how to build a great church but what kind of attitudes do you need to have to be a great Christian, to be a real encourager?
He’s going to give a word here about our private worship, in verses 16 to 18. Then he’s going to give us a word about our public worship. And then he’s going to talk about our spiritual growth. So let’s look at private worship first.
Verse 16 through 18, “Be joyful always, pray continually,” or, “without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;” why? “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Boy, that’s short, isn’t it? But did you notice three quick commands? Be joyful. When? When things are going well?
Happiness has to do with happenings, circumstances. Joy has to do with the unchanging relationship you have with God.
In fact, the root word where we get our word “joy,” some of the related words are words like, “grace;” words like, one translation for one word in the New Testament for, “forgiveness.” Words like, “gifts.” See, joy is a choice.
You say, “Well, how can I be joyful all the time?” Let me give you two practical ways. One, focus on God, instead of circumstances. If you focus on circumstances you will ride a rolling coaster of ups and downs. You know? When things are going good, when things are going bad. If you focus on God – He loves you; Your eternity is secure; He is good; He is sovereign; He is faithful; you matter to Him; He is not down on you; He wants to draw you close to Himself; He has a plan for your life. Choose willfully to be joyful. How? Focus on God, instead of your circumstances.
Second, focus on the unseen instead of the seen. When was the last time you did that? Do you ever think about that? Think about some things that you can’t see. Think about a special person in your life that you know really loves you. Can you see it? Well, you can see some actions but you don’t see love. You don’t see relationships, do you?
Think of the most special times. I just did a funeral about ten, twelve days ago and people came up and shared about Jim’s life. And it was interesting. I sat there and I thought, let’s see, no one talked about what he drove, no one talked about the 401k program that he had, no one talked about what kind of dresser he was, whether he was a good athlete or not, no one talked about how many people reported to him, or how he wore his hair, or what his physique was like.
You know what they talked about? His love, his compassion, they talked about his relationships. They talked about all the things you can’t see. You see, when we focus on the things that you can’t see, see, those are eternal things. All the things you can see are here today, maybe gone tomorrow.
Second, he says, beyond being joyful always, pray continuously. And you say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. We’re all supposed to quit our jobs, find a little “kneeler” somewhere, and just pray twenty-four hours a day? Chip, I’ve got to eat. I can’t pray twenty-four hours a day. I got a job to do! I’ve got to drive the car!”
The word for, “continuously,” or, “without ceasing,” is used in other literature for a hacking cough. Here’s how God wants us to pray. [Coughs] Now, I’ve got to do something else. [Coughs] Now I’ve got to do something else. [Coughs] When someone has a hacking cough, when do they cough? They cough every time they’re not either speaking, or breathing, or doing something essential. But the moment there’s a little window, what happens? [Coughs] You cough.
You see, the life that God wants for you has nothing to do with coming once a week here, and hearing the Word, and even being involved in service. It has way more to do than once or twice a day reading your Bible and praying. The life God has for you is He wants to have a moment by moment relationship with you, twenty-four hours a day when you’re awake. In fact, the Psalmist even said that God gives to him even in his sleep.
And so He wants you to be talking with Him when the focus of the job doesn’t demand you, when this conversation doesn’t demand you. So, you’re driving your car and your thoughts gravitate toward God and you talk with Him. And you’re taking a walk from your car out to the office building, you got a meeting, and you say, “Lord, boy, I don’t know about this one. And I’m really concerned about it.” And you talk about it.
And you’ve picked up the kids and they’re in your car and they’re jabbering away and you’re having a conversation with God. Now, some of you, don’t do too much of this on the road. It’s dangerous. My wife says my prayer life is making a lot of progress but my driving has a lot to be desired. And she’ll say, “Didn’t you see that?” And I’m thinking, “No, I was having a good conversation but it probably wasn’t the right time right now.”
I read a book by a monk out of the fifteenth or sixteenth century called Brother Lawrence. The little, tiny paperback, I don’t even know if it’s available anymore. It’s called Practicing the Presence of God. That book had a profound impact. It’s about a monk, in that time period, who, he learned, when he would peel potatoes in the kitchen – that was his job – he did it as an act of worship.
And then as he would walk out and do the gardening that he was supposed to do, he did it as an act of worship. And all day long, he would communicate with the Lord.
And I began to realize that spiritual maturity isn’t how many verses you have memorized, it’s not how many activities you’re involved in. That part of spiritual maturity is measured best by, how long has it been since you’ve been conscious of your relationship with God?
I remember talking with God in the morning, and then checking in at night and, I don’t know what He did, but I know what I did. And as I began to grow in Christ it was like, “Boy, I haven’t thought about the Lord in three or four hours.”
And as I began to grow in Christ it was like, “Boy, I haven’t talked to the Lord in fifteen or twenty minutes.” And then pretty soon, God begins to cultivate a heart and a life where you’re just talking with Him all the time. That’s what he’s saying. This is private worship.
You choose to be joyful, you choose to pray, and then notice, finally, it gets even more difficult, “Give thanks,” when? “in all circumstances.” We know that when we’re filled with the Holy Spirit, according to Ephesians 5:18 to 21, when you’re filled with the Holy Spirit, you’ll give thanks for all things but this says, “In all things,” as well.
Why do you do that? Because it’s the will of God. Now, I don’t think at all this means the trite things that I’ve seen go on. I’ve seen people in some groups where, you know, “Let’s give thanks for everything,” and they’re always saying, “Praise the Lord,” like they don’t mean it, and that really bothers me.
Man, you need to get in there and hurt with people, and cry with people, and go through it. But at some point in time, you’ve got to step back. At some point in time, as my friend who is in a wheelchair now because of an accident that took me about a year to learn to say, “thank you” for, he said, “Chip, you don’t know what God’s doing. You assume that the greatest thing in my whole life could be being able to wrestle in college and ride bikes and do the stuff we did.” He said, “You’re angry at God. I’m not angry at God.” He said, “He’s done things in my life that, sure, would I like to walk again? You bet. But I wouldn’t trade this.”
I said, “What?” He said, “No, I wouldn’t trade this.” He said, “You don’t, you don’t have any idea what God’s done.”
See, God wants us to willfully thank Him for all things and in all things but here’s the only way you can do it. You go back to the basics: God is good. That means that not because you’re good, not on the basis of your performance. That means that there is a benevolent God, with a gracious heart, that wants to bless you, encourage you, that you live under friendly skies, and He longs to be your friend.
He is good. Every day, every moment, twenty-four hours a day. And He is sovereign. That means that anything that comes into your life is either decreed by God, or allowed by God. That means there’s no accidents, no slip-ups, no luck. He is good and wants your best, He is sovereign, so He either allows or decrees.
And, finally, you need to remember He is faithful. Whatever He has purposed to do, whatever promise He made, one hundred percent of the time, with you, always, He will come through.
And so, when you face the issues of life that don’t make any sense, you don’t glibly say, “Praise the Lord,” but you step back and you say, “Oh, God, this is a fallen world and life doesn’t make sense, but I know You are good and here is the evidence. I know that You’re sovereign and I know that You are faithful. And as an act of worship and obedience, I choose to thank You, to bring out the highest and the best, even if others caused this by evil motives.”
Those kind of people, by the way, are the kind that, when I’m hurting or when you’re hurting, you go to talk to. What I’ve described is Christians who have a private worship life of joy, prayer, and thanksgiving because it’s God’s will.
And the person that changes when you operate like that in your private worship, it is not from your circumstances. These are the Corrie Ten Booms of life. They’re the regular people sitting in front of you and behind you, that live this way, and when you’re hurting, we go to them because there is stability and character that has grown up, because public impact is just a symptom. Public impact always flows out of private worship.
Wanting to have a great impact for God begins with choosing to rejoice, praying without ceasing, and learning to give thanks. And when you can do that by faith, you will learn who God really is and He will make you what He wants you to be.
Well, He moves on now to public worship. And apparently, during this time, they were having some problems, and in some churches in the New Testament, the people got carried away with some issues and in this church, apparently, they were, kind of, poo-pooing some of the work of God.
And so we pick it up in verses 19 to 22. It says, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire,” or literally, “don’t quench the Spirit.” The grammar means, “Stop,” it was already happening, “stop quenching the Spirit.”
“Do not treat prophecies with contempt,” or, “don’t despise them,” is the idea. The word means, “to act as if it were nothing.” But notice, verse 21, “Test everything, examine. When you come to public worship,” he says, “the Spirit of God is going to be operating.”
He may be operating through a song. He may be operating through the spoken word. He may operate in the hallway over a cup of coffee. He may operate in a class. He may operate through a variety of spiritual gifts. Come, and don’t quench the Spirit. Well, you say, “How could I quench the Spirit?” We quench the Spirit anytime I know God is speaking to me, and it’s His will, and I say, “No.”
Don’t ever pour cold water on what God is firing up. And so what’s he telling us here? He says we need to be open to the Spirit and then he says, “Treat prophesies,” what? Be receptive to the word. A prophet’s job is to forth tell the Word and then, in the New Testament times here, they would foretell the Word as well.
It’s prophecy. Jesus is coming back. The Rapture. That was all foretelling. But their primary job was to forth tell, to teach. Now, not to make you all too uncomfortable, but God actually does want to speak to you, often. Some of the promptings I’ve gotten from the Spirit of God in my own life have come during the worship time.
There are some of you, I don’t know how to tell you this, you’ve never heard the first two songs of worship here because you’re not here. And you need to prepare yourself for public worship. That means you get ready and maybe even have some time to get your heart ready.
But it means you come with a mindset that says, “God is going to speak to me today not just through the message.” He may turn your life around through a phrase in a song, or a prompting from the Spirit, or from the testimony. And He may actually had someone He wanted you to meet out in front at five or six ‘til that you would speak a word of encouragement into their life.
And so I would encourage you, not as a, “Ooh, shame on you.” That’s not it. I just don’t, I’m just trying to preach the passage. What’s it say? It says, “Be open to the Spirit, be receptive to the Word,” seems to me that you can’t do it if you’re not here when we start.
And then it says, “Be discerning and selective.” He says, “Test it.” When you hear anything from any pulpit, when you hear anything from any teacher or preacher, radio, TV, whatever. The first thing you need to do is be like Acts 17:11, that group, the Bereans: “They received the Word of God gladly, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether those things were so.”
Just because Chip Ingram says it, heaven forbid, you buy and think it’s true. I mean, I have off days. You need to find, you need to look at the Scriptures and I don’t care who you like. Every cult starts out with some guy that was on the right track and people start following the person instead of the Scriptures, and then he takes them in the ditch, and he’s in the ditch, and the whole group is in the ditch.
Don’t ever do that. You test it. The word means like taking a piece of ore or a metal. You test it with acid and you find out, “Mm, that’s fool’s gold.” And what do you do? You let that go and you hold on to the legit.
That’s what God wants you to do in every public worship setting. Be open to the movement of the Spirit of God; be receptive to the Word; examine it for yourself, and then that which is true, hold on to. That which isn’t, then avoid. That’s the idea. Hold off, let it go.
Finally, he’s going to talk about our spiritual growth. And our spiritual growth here he’s going to tell us that there are two big areas we need to remember. One, is we need to be dependent.
You never grow unless you’re dependent on God. But then he’s going to flip the coin and say, “You’re also responsible.” Verse 23 and 24 is a prayer. He says, “May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify,” that means just set apart, make you holy, “you through and through.”
So where does God want to make you holy? Through and through. Your mind, your thoughts, your motives. Every area: At work, at home, everything.
Well, notice he develops that. He says, “May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless, pure, holy,” when? “until the coming,” or, “at the coming of our Lord Jesus.”
Well, who is going to accomplish this great and miraculous change? “The one who calls you is faithful.” He will do it. You can’t change your life. I can’t change my life. We just can’t do it. But you say to yourself, “Does that mean that you just don’t do anything?” No. In fact, look at verses 25 to 28.
We’re to be dependent, trusting Him to do the work, but we need to make ourselves available to how He gives us grace.
Notice how he concludes this. He says, “Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.” And then he says, “I charge you,” solemn is a strong word. “I solemnly charge you, before God, to have this read,” this epistle, the Word, “to all the believers.” Summary: “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”
You know something? It’s interesting. He says, “Be dependent. Only God can bring about the change,” but then the apostle Paul himself, who seems to be a pretty mature Christian from what I can tell, he says, “Pray for us.” He needed the prayers of people and he knew people needed to pray.
“Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Now, this went out of fashion between the third and fourth century. Christians used to greet one another with a holy kiss and everything kind of goes south over time, and so they had some, a lot of men beginning to visit the Church saying, “Man, this is a pretty neat group,” you know, and they were hitting on all the ladies. Seriously. For real. You know?
And so they’re coming and kissing all these women, so the Church fathers, by about the third century said, “That kissing stuff, we’re not… axe. We’re not doing that anymore.”
But what’s the idea behind it? It’s warm, intimate, caring relationships. Isn’t that biblical fellowship?
And then the third one, what’s he say? “I charge you, have this read, the Word.” You see, you can’t change you. Only God can change you. But He doesn’t do it in a vacuum. “Have this read.” When the Word is read and taught, grace flows. When you pray and talk to God honestly, individually or with others, grace flows.
When you’re in fellowship in a small group, or out in the parking lot and you really share hearts and care for one another, grace flows. It’s not either/or. We’re dependent totally on Him but we need to avail ourselves of how grace comes. That’s how to be an awesome encourager.