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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
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. “…so 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.
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.
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 publicly 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 was 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, 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 publicly, 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 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 remembering 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 either 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,” it’s – 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 sixties and late seventies – 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 said.
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 and how do you want your life to turn out?
Life lesson: Ministry to others is a sacred stewardship. You might jot that down. Ministry to other people, for us as believers, is a sacred stewardship. Our motives must match our message.
See, the fact of the matter is is some of us are sharing our faith, some people are coming to Christ, and right now when a person’s picture comes to their mind about who has helped them spiritually, you know whose picture it is? It’s yours.
Now they’re going to go through some rough times later, and your picture pops up in their mind will they be able to say, “Oh, that woman, that man, that student – they were a straight shooter. They really lived out what they said.”
Final point under this is: The credibility of the message is intrinsically linked to the integrity of the messengers.
How many have a close friend who has fallen away, or slipped away from the Lord, because they put a lot of stock in a person, whether it be a pastor, whether it be a business person, whether it be someone who helped them spiritually, and now that person has gone south spiritually and that person says to you, “Hey, I gave it up after that.”
You know anybody like that? I do. Who are the ministers in this church? It’s us, right? Leaders are equippers. Every member is a minister. You are a minister so guess what? The integrity of the message, the credibility of the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, is intrinsically linked to the integrity of your life.
Now that’s a moral weight, isn’t it? Now if you feel overwhelmed, good! You should! That’s what ought to keep me and you on our knees saying, “Oh, God! I deal with tough people. I deal with thousands or millions of dollars. I’ve got all kind of responsibility at my work and there’s people here in ministry, they all really look to me and I can’t measure up and I’m inadequate.” Great! That’s the apostle Paul said.
Who is adequate for these things? Nobody is! And so you stay dependent and you cry out to God one day at a time and you say, “God, give me the supernatural power to significantly live out my life and when I blow it don’t let me fake it. Let me go back to people and tell them where I blew it, make it right, and go on.”
People don’t need perfect models but they need real ones. And so we learn: Help people remember the day, help them remember the people that had impact.
And third, help them remember the love. When people’s faith is starting to falter, when they’re getting knocked down, they’re discouraged, and they feel inadequate and they have some doubts – they need to remember the people that really, really have loved them because we forget that.
Paul gives us two metaphors here, verse 7 through 11. Metaphor one is he said, “We loved you with a mother’s love.” Metaphor two, “We loved you with a father’s love.” The first is tender, and compassionate, and sacrificial, and giving away your life, and going for broke.
The second one is instructive, encouraging, even rebuking when necessary to keep you on the straight and narrow.
Follow along. He says, “But we proved to be gentle among you as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.” The word, “tenderly cares,” literally, it’s, “to warm.”
The apostle Paul says, “The picture that comes to your mind when you see a tiny, little, newborn baby against the breast of her mother and the warmth and the security that that baby feels – that’s how we feel about you! That’s how we loved you!”
Verse 8, he says why, “Having thus a fond affection for you.” This wasn’t a job, we weren’t preachers. “Having thus a fond affection, we loved you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel but,” what? “but our own lives because you have become very dear to us.”
The people that you know that are struggling need to remember there are people that have loved them deeply, sacrificially. There’s people that have been over at their house late at night, and prayed through the night, and met them at the hospital and struggled with doubts.
Verse 9, he goes on, “For you recall, brethren, our labor and our hardship and how we worked night and day as not to be a burden,” the idea is financially, “to any of you. We proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are our witnesses and so is God,” verse 10, “of how devoutly,” it means “holy,” “how uprightly,” it means “morally pure,” “and how blamelessly,” “beyond reproach,” “we behaved towards you believers.” How? “Just as you know we were exhorting, encouraging, and imploring each one of you,” metaphor, “as a father does his own children.”
You study the three words – they’re amazing. “We were encouraging, we were your cheerleaders, we were the dad who said, ‘You can make it, son! You can make it, son! Hang in there. I love you! Oh, you fell down, you blew it, just sinned again, you went out and got drunk, God understands! We still love you. Come on, get up, let’s go again! Oh, it’s alright, I know it’s tough and you’ve been in those pagan temples. Hey, get up and do it again! We love you. Hang in there!’
“And then we comforted. And we cried, like a dad does at times.” And then a final word, “We implored, we urged,” there’s a sense of urgency, “we stood up and said, ‘Hey, you’re playing games with God. Step up to the daggon plate, and walk with God, and say no to sin, and do what you know is right.’”
See, that’s what a dad does. And the apostle Paul says, “That’s what we did for you.” He said, “You feel like your faith is on shaky ground? Remember the day that you were saved. Number two, remember the messengers. Remember the people that God used in your life. Third, remember the love! Remember the love that you’ve received.”
Why would God let go of you now? Why falter? Why doubt? Why question? If God loved you that much in the past, do you think He’s going to let go of you? No way!
Application: Help others as you meet with them this week, as you write letters, as you call people on the phone, as you line up lunch appointments and I’m encouraging you to do that. Remind them of the time, and the meals, and the counseling, and the financial help, and the encouragement, and the childcare, and the friendship they’ve received from those that ministered Christ to them. That’s mother’s love.
And remind them of the instruction, and the truth, and the Bible studies, and the challenge, and the spurring on, and even the rebuke, and the correction they received from those who ministered Christ to them. And that’s father’s love.
Help people remember how they’ve been ministered to. And the little life lesson here: Ministry is messy. Ministry is very messy. Ministry isn’t about transmission of informational teaching. Ministry is about wholehearted involvement in the trenches of life, where you go through it with people, and you love them until they mature.
And you go down with the downs and up with the ups, and down with the downs and up with the ups.
And there are times where you love, embrace, encourage, and comfort. And there are times you sit down and say, “If you really don’t mean business with God why don’t you let me know? Because I don’t want to play games and God doesn’t want to play games. What you’re doing is wrong. And the last three or four times we’ve met, you’ve asked for help and all you’re doing is whining. If you want help, I want to give it. If not, at least get honest, okay?”
That’s ministry. It’s involvement. And the apostle Paul says if you can help people remember that day they were saved, if you can help people remember the people that have been significant, and remember how deeply they have been loved, you know what happens to their little problems, their faltering faith? They get small.
I mean, we’re talking about a God, if He’s done this much in the past He’s surely going to help them make it through this.
Final thing he says, “Remember the transformation in your life.”
He reminded the Thessalonians, “Hey, not only when I came, how you came to Christ. Not only the character against all the slander and attack you hear, man, we were above reproach. And not only did we stay up late and help you, and love you, and care for you like a mother, but he says, “you know, Thessalonians, why don’t you just rewind the tape. Your life has changed. You’ve been transformed.”
Notice verse 12, he says this imploring, this encouraging, this exhorting like a father – his own children, notice verse 12, “So that,” when you see “that” in English it can either mean purpose or it can mean result. In this case, grammatically, it means “result.”
It has the idea, “So that,” or “resulting in, you may walk in a manner worthy of God who calls you in His own kingdom and glory.” He basically says, “So that – we encouraged, we loved, we helped so that you had the power and the ability, along with the desire, to live out a new life even as you already are.”
And he tells them, “Look, think back. When we came into town, before you heard the gospel, now think of all that time, now think of who you are here now. Look at the difference between your life here and there. Your relationships between here and there. Your joy level between here and there. The peace in your heart between here and there.”
And you know something? We need to remind people in our midst of how much God is changing them. You know who the last person is? This is another little life lesson. The person who is last to know how much Christ is changing their life is the person inside the body walking around. Because most of us, what do we do? Even though we are changing, all we see is the crud that still needs cleaned up. All we see is the problems that still need attention.
And so we give our focus to that. We need to be little mirrors to one another. We need to verbalize to one another, “Man, you’re making progress! Wowee! Are you just starting to talk to your wife and kids like that? You used to be pretty insensitive. Wowee!” “You know that issue you asked me to pray about three months ago with your husband? It is amazing the change I see. Man, your countenance is different.”
“The discipline I see in your life, your concern for other people, man, I hear you verbalizing your faith and living it out! It is amazing what I see in your life!” But it happens so gradually, doesn’t it?
Okay, back to square one. People are hurting more than we know, and more than they every show, right? And, you have more to offer than you know and more than you show. Find that person, if they be in your own home, if they’re in your Bible study, if you’re in ministry with them, if they’re a mom, a dad, a brother, a sister, an aunt, an uncle, a co-worker.
I’m going to ask you to fan out and each one of us choose one person and say, whether it’s over lunch, a letter, a phone call, an email – I’m going to guide this person to remember the day that they were saved and relive it.
Wouldn’t that do a lot for them? I’m going to guide this person and I’m going to, I’m not going to tell them, I’m just going to start asking them questions about the people that have had the most impact in their life. I’m going to do something over the phone, or around the table, where I get them to remember how deeply God has actually loved them through other people.
And then I’m going to make some very honest, objective, not blowing smoke comments about the concrete, supernatural, Christ-like character that I see in their life that didn’t used to be there. People, I want to tell you something, if you bow your head tonight and ask God to bring a name to your mind, He will.
And if you, this week, will take steps to help that person remember God’s faithfulness in the past, then they will get perspective to do what? Do His will in the present.
When our faith is slandered, remembering the work of God in our past is what provides perspective to do the will of God in the present. That’s what the apostle Paul did for the Thessalonians and that’s what God wants to do for us and what He wants us to do for others.