We Are God’s Temple (Part Three of Four)

Series: 2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians 6:17-18 ESV
Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,

18  and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

 
Introduction
Through the apostle Paul, the Holy Spirit is telling the story of God, which also includes the story of God’s people. He takes ideas previously revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures and shows us their fulfillment in the Christ and his people. In this section, the emphasis is on Christ’s people and their identity as God’s new temple made up of living stones.
However, this story is not merely informational or perhaps inspirational. The Holy Spirit intends to use it to produce practical change in the way of life of Christ’s chosen and saved people. This concept of real life change is difficult for American Christians to grasp. We are very caught up in the idea that giving out information is sufficient to change people. We readily but wrongly assume that if you tell people about something, they will do it. We suppose that if we come to church, hear a message from the Bible, and give some sort of grudging consent to what we’ve heard that we’re spiritually all right. But we seem to forget or ignore that we don’t know until we do. Listen to what Jesus said. “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk 6:45). “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17). “If you love me, keep my commands” (Jn 14:15). “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me” (Jn 14:21a). “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (Jn 15:10). Jesus and the rest of the Bible are concerned about doing the truth, and not simply with knowing it.
We see this same emphasis in our text this morning. Paul has just told the Corinthian believers important information: “We are God’s temple.” But to this great statement of fact, he adds three commands, and then reinforces those commands with three promises for those who put them into practice. We must clearly understand that being God’s temple and his people requires that we are separate from everything that is unholy.
 
Exposition:
I. Three commands (6:17a-b)
It is interesting how Paul under the Spirit’s leadership takes commands given to old covenant Israel and transforms them into commands for God’s new covenant people, the church. He also takes words from Isaiah and Ezekiel and joins them into a new whole. There is much we could explore here, but we will focus on what we need to profit from this text.
A. The three commands come from Isaiah 52:11.

1. OT context – In Is 51:9 the people had called upon God to act with his almighty power. The Lord responds with four repetitions to stir their faith into action (Is 51:12, 17; 52:1, 11). God wants his people to act on the basis of who he is and what he has done.

2. The commands come from the fourth of these repetitions. In renewed faith, Israel was called to leave Babylon (cf. Is 48:20). In that departure, the priests and Levites were to be pure. They were not to touch any of the objects of worship of the Babylonian religion. There was to be a clean and total break with idolatry.

B. The Spirit wants us to realize that we must act in a similar way.

1. Everyone in God’s temple must make a complete break with every form of idolatry. We cannot live as God’s temple, while at the same time seeing how close we can get to the world and still call ourselves Christians. Our behavior matters to the Lord Christ!

2. Since the new temple is also the spiritual priesthood (cf. 1 Pt 2:4-10), we must keep our service of God free from entanglements with worldly religions. The Corinthians were to keep themselves away from the many temple cults in their city. We also must avoid contamination from the idols of our culture, such as lust for money or things or pleasure or power or popularity.

 
II. Three promises (6:17c-18)
Again, the Spirit directs Paul to take what was said to old covenant Israel and apply it to the new covenant church, and to draw these promises from various places in the OTS.
A. The first promise comes from Ezekiel 20:41.

1. OT context – Instead of using the promise from Isaiah 52:12 that speaks of God being with them in their departure, the apostle draws on another promise that tells of God receiving the remnant of Israel as fragrant incense. This remnant of the people would be purged from idolatry and rebellion against the Lord (Ezk 20:30-39). Then the Lord would receive them as his people (Ezk 20:40-41).

2. NT application – Paul wants his readers to know the rich welcome that the Lord offers to those bold by faith to separate from a culture devoted to idolatry.

B. The second promise comes from 2 Sm 7:14.

1. OT context – This is a promise from God’s covenant with David. The writer of Hebrews uses it to refer to Christ, the greatest Son of David (Heb 1:5).

2. NT application – Since all believers are in Christ, Paul applies the text to those who are in Christ by faith (cf. Ac 13:47). God will be a Father for us!

C. The third promise comes from Is 43:6 (or perhaps Deut 32:19).

1. OT context – If it comes from Isaiah as most think, it is talking about the restoration that God brings to his people. God gathers his sons and daughters from the ends of the earth.

2. NT application – The idea of sons and daughters points to the relationship that his temple, his people have to him. We share in being children in his family. Here is where we belong, where we are loved by God and others, where we have close friendships, and where we can rejoice with each other in the confident expectation of the glory of God.

 
III. Application for our way of life – God has called us out from the idolatry of an evil, unbelieving world.
He expects us to be separate to him, to be his living and moving temple for his glory out into that same world that we are now separate from. (Remember, Christ has sent us into the world on his mission, Jn 17:18). He encourages us to live this way with great and precious promises. So then, how do we live together as this separated temple? We must begin to put life as God’s temple into real life practice. We must develop a new way of life. Here is one way that we will begin doing this. Since God’s people are to be a blessing in the world, I will use the acrostic BLESS to set this forth. The point is to develop a new rhythm or pattern in our lives.
A. Benefit times three (cf. Rm 12:14)

1. Everyone should do one act, small or big, to benefit someone who is part of our assembly of believers, one to someone outside of our gospel partnership, and one spare blessing to go either inside or outside every week.

2. Core value – As children of our heavenly Father, we ought to be demonstrating mercy to everyone (Lk 6:27-36).

B. Listen to the Lord and others

1. Everyone is expected to (1) constantly read and reread the Gospels, (2) be reading somewhere else in the Old or New Testament Scriptures, and (3) be reading some other good book, fiction or non-fiction, Christian or not. Avoid trashy books and magazines.

2. Core value – This helps us learn God’s ways and to understand where people around us are coming from.

C. Eat times with others two or three times a week

1. Everyone is encouraged to share table fellowship with those not part of their physical family unit. Again, this should occur once with those who are part of our congregation and once with those outside our family of faith, and perhaps one to go either way. This will require much effort and creative thinking.

2. Core value – This will develop our hospitality and openness with everything. It will also provide opportunities to serve one another in love and to reach out to those who need the Lord.

D. Speak to the Lord at least one hour a week

1. All of us should be praying to our Father in heaven, since God’s temple is to be a house of prayer.

2. Core value – This will help us be a prayerful spiritual community.

E. Show Christ constantly to the world

1. Everyone views themselves as ‘sent’ by Christ into every place your life takes you. At the end of the day, keep a journal to reflect on your actions by answering two questions: (1) Where did I resist the opportunities the Lord Jesus gave me today? (2) Where did I work with Jesus today?

2. Core value – This will develop accountability to the Lord’s call for us to act everyday as his ‘sent ones’.

Apply: To be a blessing as God’s temple, we must act from Christ-exalting, gospel-formed attitudes. You cannot be a blessing if you lack an attitude or spirit of blessing. Here is a practical way that we can act as God’s temple together everyday beginning with today.
~ Dave
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/frampton-dave.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Pastor Dave Frampton: When push comes to shove there is usually nothing more satisfying than for a saint of God to have at his or her disposal a source of biblically sound instruction in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are here at CMC to be a blessing. Bible teacher and student alike will profit much from his labor in the God’s Word. Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.newtownsquarebaptist.org/” color=”red” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church[/button]

Part One: Living for the Pleasure of God

 

What Do Christians Do?

 
Passage

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;  that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,  not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.  Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another,  for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more,  and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you,  so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
                                                                                          1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

 
Introduction
(This is the first of two articles)
There are a number of important questions the professing church needs to address. At the top of the list, is “What is a Christian?”  Few know what a Christian is because only a few open the Bible to identify him.  I mean people haven’t a clue about the claims and demands of Christ and what He taught and did and who He truly is. Fewer still, even if they know these things, see them as consequential.
Where is the converted man who loves, and I mean truly loves the Christ of Scripture and His body and bride, the church? Where is this man or woman who will sacrifice themselves for God’s bride? If you find such a person, tell me where they are to be found! And I’m not thinking of internet land. I’m not thinking cyberspace or the nation to our south. Don’t default there.
Another question on that list might be: “What does a Christian do and look like?” Do they look like everybody else on any given day? Or are they somehow different? What drives them? What’s their main ambition in all that they do?
What do Christians, I mean real Christians, not the nominal ones who aren’t ones at all, what do they do?
In these verses, Paul masterfully sums it up. Essentially, he says

“Christians please God and love each other.”

Let’s look at this with seriousness. We’ll start today and finish next week (DV).
 
Christians please God.
Christians please God. That’s so easily understood from the first verse. That’s what those to whom Paul wrote were doing. They were pleasing God. They weren’t pleasing themselves by looking out for ‘number one,’ as if they were the center of things. But that’s the message we get everyday isn’t it. We are the center of things. Everything is geared towards the individual pleasing himself. Everything is produced and put before us for our pleasure as if we were kings.
I need not tell you how people like that sort of thing. Who doesn’t like being served? Who hates it when they make a robot to do your vacuuming? Who dislikes drive-thrus? The customer is always right (even if he’s dead wrong). Everything is for ‘me.’ And we like that. It appeals to our ego. It feeds the fleshly, sinful obsession with self. It reinforces that idolatrous bent so characteristic of both the non-churched and the churched (notice I didn’t say non-Christian and Christian). It echoes the lie that ‘I’ am God and thus worthy and deserving of the finest and the best, even in worship. Serve me, entertain me, exist for me, be for me, soothe me, work with me, work for me, vote for me, be on my side, please me.
But self isn’t the only idol that exists inside the professing church.
There is self-obsession. There is this ‘me’ orientation so characteristic of the world and unbelievers. But there’s also an abundance of man pleasing. Which is nothing more than making much of another, of using others, for selfish ends like praise and applause and a sense of self-worth and even making and keeping friends. Nobody likes, I mean naturally likes to be disliked! So to avoid that yucky feeling, we please the other! We say whatever it is they want to hear. We do what they want us to do. But what we’re really doing is appeasing him/her in order to please ourselves; nobody likes that ‘pit’ in the gut. So if the object of a man’s pleasure is himself or others it makes no difference. He commits and is guilty of the sin of self-gratification. He lives to be liked! And that is a snare.

Finally then brothers,” Paul writes, “we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and please God, just as you are doing…”

How Paul knew this and why he could therefore say this, that they were in fact pleasing God, is not without concrete, factual, observable evidence. Pleasing God is not some airy-fairy, undefined mystery.  Paul knew they were pleasing God because Timothy brought him a good report of their spiritual temperature. Despite the hits they were taking due to their public allegiance to Christ, they were steadfast. They were obedient. They weren’t caving in or backing down. They longed to see Paul again. Their faith was was anything but passive; it was a labor of love, a work of faith. There was no apathy here, no indifference. Their faith was real and alive, vibrant. They were tethered to the Word of God, united to Christ, and it was all very consequential. They were truly transformed men and women, obsessed not with themselves, but God. They pleased God. But what is it to please God?
 
To please God is to walk in a certain way.
It is to walk in a manner worthy, or which befits, the Lord (cf. Col. 1:10). I love the picture here. It’s rich. It echoes how Paul speaks of the Christian life elsewhere; pleasing God and walking/living by/in the Spirit go hand in hand. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by Him. If we are led by the Spirit, we will not gratify the flesh with its sinful desires. This is how Paul conceives the Christian life. It is life in the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, even the Spirit of Christ. He is our Law. Union with Him is consequential. It will compel us from the inside out.

Jesus’ life is the Christian’s life.
We have been crucified with Christ.

It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. We must understand this if we’re going to have a right view of the Christian life. It is the great and splendid, stupendous, marvelous truth, the context against which we must see the commands of Christ and His apostles. Christ lives in the believer, the true believer. As such, He commands and thus causes the believer from the inside to walk as he ought, even as He himself walked. It’s a compulsion that is bound to happen. Do not miss that there’s an ‘ought’ to the Christian life.
 
Pleasing God is walking how one ought to walk.
Free from law indeed! But those so free are also slaves of Christ. So, they live and walk and talk and think in ways the world sees as radical and different and even man-hating, ‘puritanical,’ and old fashioned.
Evidently, as Paul even says it, these Macedonian believers had previously received instruction in pleasing God. They were free from Law, but not without apostolic instruction.  And here as before, his instructions to them are essentially that they not be content with the degree to which they were pleasing God.

Finally then brothers,” Paul writes, “we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. ”

This is huge. Let’s just think about this for a moment.
In view here is not growth in doctrinal knowledge. Don’t misunderstand. Paul nowhere excuses doctrinal illiteracy or apathy. But here he doesn’t press growth in doctrine, but urges, encourages, exhorts growth in living for the pleasure of God. It doesn’t matter how much it happens now. It doesn’t matter how mature or immature you are in your journey. Paul says, “Please God more and more.” Increasingly. To a greater and greater degree, please not yourselves, but Him!
How is this possible apart from Christ in you? I tell you it is not.
One thing Paul does not want, and that’s for us to see this apart from Christ in you, if in fact he is in you. We ought not assume such a glorious, transforming, life-altering thing when there is no evidence, no fruit of it. But if He is in you, then you will live to please Him.
The exhortation here will stir your soul. We musn’t forget: He who indwells is He who inspired the apostle.  Paul’s words will resonate deep within your soul. It will be as if harp strings were plucked in the symphony of your heart. This then, will be, it ought to be, the obsession of your life. Is it? If not, make it so.
 
Christians live for the pleasure of God.
This is what they do. This is their aim. They’re consumed by this. And Paul urges that they do this more and more. Please Him increasingly. Grow in this. Don’t be satisfied with where you’re at. Please Him aboundingly!
So, this aim must shape, first of all, our thinking. When our eyes first open in the morning, let our default thought be: “I will live to please Him and not for my own pleasure.”  “I will delight in those things in which He delights, like His Son, and not sin.” By the way, have you noticed that the difference between the word ‘Son’ and ‘sin’ is the letter ‘I” [As in me, myself, and]?

I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried

I’ve had my fill, my share of losing

And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing

To think I did all that

And may I say, not in a shy way,

“Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way”

 

For what is a man, what has he got?

If not himself, then he has naught

To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels

The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!

 
If pleasing God is our honest aim let that shape not just our thoughts, but our prayers also.
Whatever our requests and supplications and cries, the primary, big prayer, the very atmosphere of prayer needs to be that we please God more and more, even abundantly, that we abound in pleasing Him.  “In this trial Father, work in me, work in us, that which pleases YOU!” Not me! THY will not my will!
Let me ask you, beloved: “Does God exist to please you? Does God exist for our every hurt and pain, physical or otherwise?” He does not. Elsewhere: “’I entreated the Lord three times that He remove this thorn in the flesh from me. And He said no. I won’t. But my grace is sufficient for you.’ You see, there is something we need to understand and embrace and even savor with our souls and depths of our being. And that’s this:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things (including you and me) were created through him and FOR him (Col. 1:15-16).

This isn’t just high Christology for the theologian types out there. This was written to the church, to folks like you and me, that we might know and understand we were made for Him and not the other way around! We were made for His pleasure, to please Him and not He us.
 
The Grounds of the Exhortation
The grounds upon which Paul presses Christians to please God more and more are twofold.
The first, in verse two, grounds the instruction in the authority of Christ. In other words, the words before us do not come from a mere Christ-centered, Greek-speaking philosopher of the 1st century. They originate with Christ. To ignore them, or reject them, avoid them, or forget them is to therefore rebel against Him.
The second ground is stated in the 3rd verse: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”   So, ‘please God more and more for what I told you before comes from Christ. And your sanctification, that is your holiness, is the will of God.’ That’s the drift of the passage thus far. And don’t miss this: Apparently, as Paul conceives of it, sanctification happens when we please God more and more and gratify self less and less.
And then he gets specific, real specific.
The very first thing on the list of moral vices is sexual immorality. He’s crystal clear. The will of God is that you abstain from it, he says.   Quite literally, sanctification is keeping your distance from it. If it’s on the planet earth, live on the moon, as it were. What sexual immorality is, what defines it, is simple. The word here is porneia from which we get the word porn. It’s any sexual activity outside the marriage bed, either real or imagined.
I need not tell you the water in which we swim is polluted with this stuff. It’s pervasive. And it’s accepted more and more as the norm. Why this is the case is not rocket science. Jesus said that porneia is a heart issue. It’s a heart issue. It’s not what goes into a man from the outside that defiles and pollutes him. It’s what’s inside. The heart of the matter is the heart.

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”  And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable.  And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him,  since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:14-23)

So, the solution is not moving to the moon. A change of address solves nothing. This is a heart issue. Nothing but a change of heart, a new heart, one that hates sin and lust, and one upon which the law of Christ has been etched will solve the issue.
Paul underscores the seriousness of the issue when he says:

… do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God(1st Corinthians 6:9-10).

No holiness in sex, no heaven.

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,  for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).

Do you know how an Eskimo kills a wolf? Let me tell you.

“First, the Eskimo coats his knife blade with animal blood and allows it to freeze. Then he adds another layer of blood, and another, until the blade is completely concealed by frozen blood. Next, the hunter fixes his knife in the ground with the blade up. When a wolf follows his sensitive nose to the source of the scent and discovers the bait, he licks it, tasting the fresh frozen blood. He begins to lick faster, more and more vigorously, lapping the blade until the keen edge is bare. Feverishly now, harder and harder the wolf licks the blade in the arctic night. So great becomes his craving for blood that the wolf does not notice the razor-sharp sting of the naked blade on his own tongue, nor does he recognize the instant at which his insatiable thirst is being satisfied by his OWN warm blood. His carnivorous appetite just craves more—until the dawn finds him dead in the snow!”  – Chris T. Zwingelberg

The Eskimo set the bait – and then waited. The wolf did the rest. It was consumed by its own lusts. John Owen nailed it when he said “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.”

“…This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;  that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,  not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”

What is it ‘to control [our] own body in holiness and honor? This verse has been understood in various ways. I take it to mean ‘gain mastery over one’s sexual life’ or even ‘one’s sexual life should be holy and honorable,’ pleasing to God. It isn’t that sex is wrong and evil. It isn’t. When expressed within the confines of marriage, it’s an amazing thing of beauty! But outside of that boundary, and in the realm of “Serve me, entertain me, exist for me, be for me, soothe me, please me,” it’s like warm blood on the hunter’s knife.
 
Living for God’s Pleasure in Controlling the Body
How then shall we control our bodies in holiness and honor?

(1) Whether married or not, the issue is not the body, per se. The issue is deeper. If you’re not a believer, this will make no sense to you. Your first order of business is to turn from your sins and trust in Christ for every spiritual blessing God has for you in Him. But if you are a believer, you must realize that every sexual failure has been forgiven you completely. You’re not condemned. Don’t beat yourself up over it; Christ took your thrashings. Why thrash and whip yourself? That would be unbelief. So, trust Him.

(2) Trust Christ not only for forgiveness. Trust Him also for growth in pleasing God in this.  If you live by the Spirit, walk by the Spirit. The fruit, the natural outgrowth of Him who dwells within you by His Spirit (Holy), inscribed on your heart, is holiness and – self-control.  So, be led by the Spirit and you will not gratify the lusts of the flesh. So says the Scripture.

(3) Put to death the deeds of the body, by the Law? No, but by the Spirit.

(4) Meditate on 2 Corinthians 3:18 which reads,

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Behold the glory of the Lord and it will be done to you. You will be increasingly transformed into the same image, the image of Christ! We don’t look to the Law for help, why? This is why: Moses shines a candle of God’s righteousness. But Jesus is the Son! He far outshines him in every way. “To focus on the Ten Commandments as our own standard of righteousness, while the full blaze of Christ’s own glory shines before us, is like turning away from the sun to gaze at a candle” (Leiter). This is awesome.  I Iove that. So, again I say to you, behold Christ in all His glory, learn of Him, savor Him, seek Him, be entranced with and by Him, and it shall be done to you. This is the way to holiness in all things. And it’s the way to please Him more and more, walking as we ought to walk.

 
Conclusion: The Life of God in the Soul of Man
Let’s go back to verse 3:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; THAT you abstain from sexual immorality; THAT each of you know how to control his own body…”

Two things:
(1) There are no imperatives here. No commands. None. Paul isn’t telling us to do anything. All Paul is doing is describing sanctification, not commanding it. Abstaining from sexual sin and controlling one’s body describes, they are descriptions of the will of God which is our sanctification.
(2) This is the will/desire of God. What if God lived not with His people, but in His people? What if God in the Person of His Son in His Spirit, the HOLY Spirit, took up residence in the human heart? What if God worked in you and willed His will from within and caused you to be abstaining from sexual sin? What then? Would your life not look tremendously different? Would you not know victory over sexual sin(s)? When one is walking by the Spirit, obeying Him, this is what he/she looks like! He controls himself in the matter of sexuality. This is not merely the will of a God from above; it’s the will of a God who is intimately involved in a bona fide believer’s life! Therefore, imaginations are clean, hands are where they ought to be, buttons are untouched, teen pregnancies are not, and marriages are saved.  But most importantly, God is pleased.
 
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/todd-braye.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Todd Braye (B. Mus., M.Div) is the pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Blacke, Alberta, Canada. After graduating from the Canadian Theological Seminary, he served a Baptist church in eastern Ontario for six years before coming home to Alberta. He has been SGBC’s pastor since October 1, 2005.[/author_info] [/author]

The Excellent Ministry (Part 8)

 

True Ministry
A Primary, Heartfelt Concern

 

Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.
 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, 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.

                                                     1 Thessalonians 3:1-12

 
INTRODUCTION
Ministry is tough. Caring for souls is an arduous, gut-wrenching, exhausting, emotionally draining endeavor. That’s what I see in this chapter. When I read these words, it’s almost as if Paul was on an emotional rollercoaster. He knew the “ups” and “downs” and “going-around” of life and ministry. He knew the joy of ministry, the hardship of ministry, the personal cost of ministry, the heavy burden of ministry, and even wondered at times if his labors were all for nothing.
As we resume our studies in this epistle, I remind you we’ve assumed our course under the heading of ‘the excellent ministry.’ Paul was, of course, an excellent minister. He therefore serves as a model for all who would do ministry. His pattern is the right one because it’s the Biblical one. We aren’t interested in doing life and ministry any other way. Many of our contemporaries may call out to us from any number of platforms and by any number of means, telling us to do church, to do ministry their way. But they don’t have our ears because, despite who they claim to be, they do not carry the weight of the Bible.   We must never forget this. I will not tire of saying it to you. The Bible is our book. It is the authority for all matters of faith and practice. It’s clear on these things. And the Bible is sufficient for these things. And regarding the excellent ministry, the chapter before us tells us that: 

“A primary, heartfelt concern of excellent ministry is steadfastness in the faith.”

 Three main heads:
 
I. Paul’s attitude was selfless.
First head concerns the attitude required for this. The very first verse drips of this. Paul writes: “Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone.” The apostle had just recounted how he was ripped away from these new believers. He had poured his life into them, teaching them the faith. But because of their activities, because the Jewish establishment became jealous, and because they preached Christ, Paul and Silas were run out of town. It wasn’t their choice. But it was providential, and not without pain. In fact, Paul also writes of his many attempts to return to Thessalonica. But, he says, Satan hindered them. Satan, the invisible ‘monkey wrench,’ prevented their return. “Therefore when we could bear it no longer,” he says, “we were willing to be left behind at Athens.”   The separation had become unbearable. Why it was so was in part due to his love for them. These were dear folks to Paul. He loved them. He had real affections for these bunch of – sinners. He deeply wished to be with them again for this reason alone. But when it became obvious that wasn’t going to happen, he was ‘willing to be left behind – at Athens – alone.’

Feed My Lambs
Paul loved God’s Lambs
Paul’s attitude was selfless. He really and truly considered the needs of the Thessalonian church above his own.  I want us to hear this. Paul considered the needs of the church and its welfare as more important than his needs – like comfort afforded by companionship, in a city such as Athens, no less.  What was it like to stroll through Athens, a city of intellectuals, religious intellectuals of many stripes, with a message that wasn’t quite, shall we say ‘politically correct?’ My guess would be that it would be like walking the streets of any strange 21st century city with no cell phone, hotel room, or friend at your side- but with one difference. Christ was unknown. The God who is was an unknown God. What was it like for Paul, the man, the fallen man, to be alone in that city, with no one to buttress him! This is to say nothing of the benefits of group travel. Luggage had to be carried. And there was safety in numbers. We can only imagine how exposed and vulnerable he felt.  But Paul thought it best to be left alone rather than leave the Thessalonians by themselves.  They came first. Why they did so we shall see in a moment.
But there’s something very Christ-like about this, isn’t there?  
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…” (Phil. 2:1-7).
Paul’s attitude was selfless. It was Christ-like. This is what excellent ministry looks like, even ‘participation in the Spirit.’
 
II. Paul’s action was decisive.
Second head: Paul’s action was decisive. In the second verse we learn Paul sent one of his ‘top guns’ back to Thessalonica.  Timothy wasn’t just any ‘Tom, Dick, or Harry.’ Timothy was, as he’s described here, ‘our brother,’ –which makes him bound spiritually to Paul – and ‘God’s coworker in the gospel of Jesus Christ.’ Such were Timothy’s credentials. Whatever it is we wish to make of them, one thing is clear: Paul’s decisive action was anything but cheap. It cost him a good, dear man, and a faithful one.
Why he did this, why he decided to give up what he gave up in Timothy, and why he chose to go it alone, simply underscores both Paul’s concern and the nature of the task assigned. The last phrase of verse 2 tells the story. Timothy’s mission was ‘to establish and exhort [them] in [their] faith.’ This is a very pastoral assignment. This is the aim of every Biblically faithful pastor. To establish is ‘to cause to be inwardly firm or committed’ (BDAG). Timothy’s job was to cause these believers to be ‘inwardly firm’ in their faith, that is, in the faith, in the one Paul preached. How he was to do this is by exhorting. Exhortation, weighty admonition, is the means. Let me give you an example. One elder recently expressed to another elder elder how he felt inadequate for the task. The elder elder replied, “Shut up and follow your Master!” So, he did. True story. I won’t soon forget it. It’s what I needed to hear to snap me out of my self-obsession and pity party. I didn’t need emotional coddling. Pastor Moe told me to shut up! Don’t listen to yourself, in other words. Fix thine eyes on Christ!
But let’s be clear on something.
Establishing, or strengthening churches in the faith by exhortation is central to faithful, excellent ministry (The way we tell someone to close his mouth depends, of course, on the relationship). Jesus tells Simon Peter in Luke 22:32 – “…I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” So, what does Peter do before he’s nailed upside down on a cross? He writes two letters. In the second he writes, “…I intend always to remind you of these qualities [he had just listed several godly qualities], though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.”  Luke records that “After spending some time [in Antioch], he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples” (Acts 18:23).    And why does Paul describe Timothy as a coworker with God? Maybe Romans 16:25 sheds some light. It reads, “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ…” Establishing believers is a work of God, one in which men like Paul and Timothy and pastors share. But that’s not all. All believers are called to share this work.
Hebrews chapter 3 fits here nicely.
Remember this? “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day…that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, IF we hold our original confidence firm until the end.” This is the responsibility of every believer, not just a select few. This is why the local church exists, in part, and why watching church on TV, or merely listening to sermons on mp3 doesn’t cut it.  Christ did not die to make isolated believers. He died to create the church, a body of believer in fellowship for the fight against, not each other, but sin. That’s what the church is for. That’s what churches, real churches, do. And that’s part of what makes the church the church and not a simple, mere association or club for those who need a pat on the back. It stung for a second. What Moe said to me was like Buckley’s: It tasted awful. Who likes to be told to shut up? ‘But Moe, don’t you want to know how it feels for me?’ Ha! He never gave me the chance to ask. Instead, he cut straight to the issue.  ‘Stop talking and do what you’re called to do! Follow Christ!’ And guess what?  It worked!
The charge to Timothy to establish and exhort them in their faith came for the following purpose. It’s right there in the third and fourth verses: that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.”  Timothy’s ministry aimed at stability in the midst of persecution.  Because they weren’t closet Christians, the Thessalonians took hits for their faith, for their allegiance to Christ in all things. The precise danger and concern is that any might be moved by these afflictions. That is to say, Paul’s concern for them is for their steadfastness in the faith. To be moved here is to be shaken so as to give up one’s beliefs. Yes. Paul was concerned about apostasy in Thessalonica. Actually, he feared that his labors were all for nothing. Fruitless. That’s what he says in verse five. He feared that the tempter had tempted them and that his labor was in vain.
I do not know what Timothy might have said to establish them in such a time. But this is my guess. He would have reminded them of at least these five things:
(1) “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).

  • This is not a ‘maybe.’ It doesn’t say that. This is a sure-fire thing. Truly believing and living godly in Christ and persecution go hand in glove. Ill-treatment and true religion go together. It’s not that mockery and the cold shoulder and hatred on account of Christ isn‘t normal. It is normal.

(2) “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ IF they persecuted me, they will persecute you…” (John 16:18-20).

  • If they hate you because you’re serving Christ, you have solid proof of your election.

(3) “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 24:13).

  • But the question is “Endures in what?” The verse before this one makes it plain: “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” Those who endure to the end in hot love for Christ will be saved! What’s your spiritual temperature?

(4) Jesus is coming back to get you (cf. 1:10). Jesus is coming back to get you. This isn’t it. This will pass. Christ, in all His splendor and power and glory is coming back.  So, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb. 12:3).
(5) Our God predestined our persecution. It’s right there in verse three. Paul says believers are ‘destined for this.’ “Shall I take from your hand your blessings yet not welcome any pain. Shall I thank you for days of sunshine yet grumble in days of rain?” And many say yes, not with their lips per se. But here’s the deal: God says suffering for Him is a gift and therefore is a blessing. We got it all wrong. Just listen to Paul: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29).
I think that’s some of what Timothy might have said to them by way of exhortation, to keep them from falling away.
But this is the context into which Paul sent Timothy.
He knew these converts would be taking hits, big hits, because they turned to Christ. So, he sent Timothy. And he did so, not just for exhortation, but for his own education. Verse 5: “For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.” Paul wished desperately to know how the people of God were faring in the face of the enemy of God and His people. Two things are striking here.
First, notice what Paul actually feared.
He feared the tempter, Satan, had tempted them so as to bring his labors among them to nothing. Remember, these were new converts, maybe 2-3 months old. Maybe. I’m guessing. And remember they received the word with joy. We know that from chapter one. Now listen: “And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for awhile; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away” (Mark 4:16-17).   Evidently, this was Paul’s concern: apostasy. Falling away from the faith, from Christ and his church. It happens all the time. People start well. But they crash sometime afterwards. They might publically renounce Christ. Or they may not. Instead they just might blend in, be flat, and then slowly drift away.
The second striking thing is this…
Paul wanted to know about their faith. He longed to know their spiritual temperature. Were they caving under pressure? Was their love for Christ growing cold so that they gave up being together? One of the very first signs of lukewarm-ness is drift away from the church.  It is remarkable to consider, furthermore, everything Paul wasn’t concerned to learn. These folks were being pelted, and yet Paul shows no concern for their emotional well-being, their physical safety, their job status, or anything. It’s not that these things are unimportant. But they’re not ultimate! Paul’s only concern here is for their faith! This is what excellent ministry is concerned about. Again, it’s not that the physical or emotional is to be ignored. But neither are they to define life and ministry. Why not? Here it is: “…while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”    Excellent ministry is concerned about spiritual matters, soul matters, eternal matters, faith in Christ! Does this describe us? Is this truly our concern? Or are we happy to converse about, and encourage each other in lesser things?
“A primary, heartfelt concern of excellent ministry is steadfastness in the faith.”
Where are you in relation to all this this morning? Are you holding steady? Drifting? Indifferent? Is the state of your faith, your relationship to Christ, His truth, and His people of primary concern for you? Or do you have something better to do?
Paul’s attitude was selfless. His action was decisive. And finally…
 
III. Paul’s joy is explosive.
This is what I see in verses 6-13. We won’t take the time to re-read them. I simply draw two things from them for our consideration before we close.
First, Paul’s joy is their faithfulness.
That’s what he means when he says in verse 8: “For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.” Here’s a man with virtually nothing. He’s a poor preacher with shirt on his back and shoes on his feet. And what makes him happy? Their faithfulness to Christ makes him happy! Period! He didn’t want anything from them. He’s already made that clear to us. He never came to them with a pretext for greed. He wasn’t in it for himself. He was in it for them. So, I think the application is obvious. I’m going to say this and then as soon as I do, I’ll regret saying it (kidding): If you want to make your pastor happy, whoever he is, if his heart is right, don’t give him stuff. He’s not in it for stuff. He’s in it for you. Your faithfulness to Christ makes him happy. [You can tweak that a bit. But you know what I’m saying!] Secondly, we must pay close attention to how Paul envisions ‘standing fast in the Lord.’ Some key phrases scattered throughout the epistle to this point:

  • “work of faith”
  • “labor of love”
  • “steadfastness of hope in the Lord”
  • ‘you became imitators of us and the Lord’
  • ‘you became an example to all the believers’
  • ‘your faith has gone forth everywhere
  • ’you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God’
  • ‘you received the word of God…as the word of God’
  • ‘you suffered’
  • ‘your faith and love’
  • ‘you…long to see us’

This is what the gospel looks like in everyday life. This is what standing fast looks like. It’s not in the closet, but very public. It’s not home alone, but with others. It’s not even private devotions, or ‘quiet time.’ These aren’t bad things. But they’re not the ultimate things.   The truly valuable thing is not private devotion per se; evidently it’s corporate affection. Just listen to how Paul links love and holiness together (in verses 11-13):

“Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, 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.”

Why does Paul wish that the Lord ‘make you increase and abound in love for one another’? It’s so that he might ‘establish your hearts blameless in holiness!’ That’s the main thing. That’s the real deal. That’s what standing fast in the faith looks like. And that’s a primary, heartfelt concern of an excellent ministry.   Therefore, so stand we all.
~ Todd
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/todd-braye.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Todd Braye (B. Mus., M.Div) is the pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Blacke, Alberta, Canada. After graduating from the Canadian Theological Seminary, he served a Baptist church in eastern Ontario for six years before coming home to Alberta. He has been SGBC’s pastor since October 1, 2005.[/author_info] [/author]