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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
Step two of our rescue intervention is: Express your sincere concern for them, as a person. I put that very purposefully. Not as a project, not out of duty, not, “I’m making seven calls and I hadn’t seen you in church lately,” you know? “You’re on my list, I’m on the Slipping-Away-Falling-Away-Back-Slidden-Recovery-Committee.” You know? Give me a break.
People need to know that, in your heart of hearts, they matter. Most people don’t believe anybody thinks they matter. 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. In fact, one guy, I’ll share later, said, “I don’t think you’re ever going to amount to anything.” And I had trouble getting up and going to church. Everyone went to Bible studies and I blew about half of them off. I still remember a couple that I fell asleep at.
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 wanted to grow in Christ as long as it didn’t cost anything. That was my motto. And so I kept getting involved in a number of things that were not very healthy for me. But you know what? Timothy is really right as the Spirit of God speaks through him.
You can deny Him but He won’t deny you. He really won’t. And you can deny Him so that the blessings of God can be off your life but, see, something happened when you trusted Christ, if you really trusted Christ. You said “yes” to Him, and God said “yes” to you. You can break your word ‘til the cows come in; He’ll never break His word to you.
He won’t let go of you. He’ll make your life miserable until you come back to Him but He won’t let go of you. “Well, He’s making my life miserable!” 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. I’ll help you get up for church.” And he said, “The other thing I’m going to do, I’m going to help you because, man, Chip…” Bob was big, strong wrestler, heavyweight wrestler at our college, big dude about 235, 240, his arms were like my thighs or close. Huge guy.
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.” This is the kind of concern, this is the kind of concern that goes to the nth degree.
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. I had the habit of throwing on my sweats five minutes before class and running into class with a baseball hat on. Many of you students understand that life.
And so it went off in time for a quiet time. 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, because he didn’t do this once. He took my ankle 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.
There is someone you know, and I want you picture them again in a tiny, little rowboat, and the current is taking them out, and the waves are getting big, and the sharks are circling, and they’re just about out of the horizon, and someone better get in a boat and go out after them.
And you can save them. But if you don’t they’re going to get eaten up. We’re a body. We belong to one another. We matter to one another. And so step number one: Communicate your gratitude for the authenticity of their faith. Step number two: Express your sincere concern for them, as a person, in ways and means that make sense to them.
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: 2 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’ve got to 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.
But, you know, what would they think if we pry into their life? They might thank us for all eternity is what they might think.
“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,” literally the word means “to support,” “and to encourage,” or comfort, “you as to your faith,” why? “so that no man may be disturbed,” NIV: unsettled, “by these afflictions.”
The word “disturbed” or “unsettled” means “shaken” or to be lured away by a deceptive means. That happens to all of us. 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.”
Let’s bring it into our day. 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.
It’s not enough to know who they are, it’s not enough just to drop them a note, it’s not enough to start really caring, it’s not enough just to express your concern. You’ve got to pursue a relational connection.
The man who helped me the most was a guy named Dave Marshall. 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. He has the most uncharismatic personality I've ever met.
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.
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, to get in a small group, to get involved in a community group.
You take those steps and we’ll go out and reach all those other people as well. 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. Do you hear it?
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 1 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? It just makes you want to get up and make the bed tomorrow. Just makes you want to be more affectionate and kind with your mate. 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. I’m sleeping better! My heart is lifted up! I’m encouraged because I live, I bleed, 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 adjust, to give input, 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.” Wow. “So that He may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”
You see the ultimate goal? The ultimate goal is that God wants to take that person, even if it’s you, or a friend, or a relative, or a mate, and they’re drifting out to the spiritual sea, and He wants you to express gratitude for when they were on the shore. Then He wants to say, “I care!” Get on the megaphone! “Hey! On that boat out there! You may think no one cares. I do! I do for real!” And then you take your boat and you make a relational connection. You go out, get right up next to it, and you throw a line over it, and you hook it in. And then you pull them in and as you’re pulling them in they start taking some steps back to shore on their own. And every time they take a little, tiny step you go, “Yipee! Yipee! I’m so proud of you. Way to go! Way to go!” That’s what He does.
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.
We don’t have to see people that we know and feel uncomfortable and say, “Hm, what should I do?” We can express our gratitude for their faith; we can communicate our deep concern; we can, this week, determine how to get relationally connected; and then when they take a tiny step we can rejoice.
If you turn to the back page, the first question is on a scale of one to ten: What manner of spiritual drifting is occurring in your life right now? It would be a shame to talk about how to help others until we kind of looked in the mirror, wouldn’t it? A one is: You’re anchored in Christ; a five is: There’s a subtle drifting; and number ten is: You’re out to sea. And if you had to put a star right on there, where would you put it?
Secondly: Quickly list those who come to your mind whom you sense are spiritually drifting. It might be three or four or five people. Just quickly do it; jot them down. And then here’s your assignment: Which one of these people do you care enough about to attempt a rescue intervention this week, empowered by the Spirit, in the grace of God?