Apr 22 - Tempted To Let God Go

Tempted To Let God Go

April 22, 2018

1 Thessalonians 3

 

TEMPTED TO LET GO OF GOD

April 22nd, 2018

1 Thessalonians 3

 

A man walked along a steep cliff one day, when he accidentally got too close to the edge and fell. On the way down he happened to grab a root sticking out of the soil.  This stopped his fall, at least temporarily.

He looked down and to his horror saw that the bottom of the cliff was hundreds of meters below.
There was no way for him to climb up by himself and he was afraid that the root wouldn’t hold much longer.  So he started to shout for help, in the hopes that someone would walk close where he had been. 

HELP! HELP! Is anyone up there? HELP!"
He yelled for a long time, but no one heard him. He was about to give up when he heard a voice.

  • Paul, Paul.  Can you hear me, Paul?

  • "Yes, yes! I can hear you. I'm down here!"

  • I know, Paul.  I am the Lord.”

  • The Lord?  You mean God?

  • Yes, Paul.  Do you have faith, Paul?

  • Um, well not really, but NOW I do.”

  • OK, Paul.  I want you to let go of the root.

  • What?

  • I said, let go of the root.”

There was a long pause.  Finally, Paul started yelling again:  “HELP! HELP! Is anyone else up there?"

 

 

When I became a Christian, in my late teens, one of the very first Bible verses I memorized was 1 Cor 10:13.

 

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.                              1 Corinthians 10:13

 

The Greek word translated as “temptation”, can equally mean test, trial or difficulty.  So it is completely legitimate to translate it accordingly.

 

No trial has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tested beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tested, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.                                                      1 Corinthians 10:13

 

Since the word can have both meanings, it sometimes has the combined meaning of, “being tempted on the basis of difficulties or trials.” 

 

In fact, in 1 Thessalonians 3, it becomes evident that Paul’s primary concern was that the believers in Thessalonica - because of the difficulties and trials that they had to face - had been tempted to give up on their faith and walk away from God.

 

Today we are continuing in our series in 1 Thessalonians and today we are looking at the whole of chapter 3. 

 

When we couldn’t stand it any longer, we decided that we should remain in Athens and send Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the good news of Christ, in order to strengthen you and encourage you in your faith, because we did not want anyone to falter[1] because of these troubles.[2]                         1 Thessalonians 3:1-3a

 

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Paul, Silas and Timothy had to flee, first Philippi (Acts 16:39-40), then Thessalonica (Acts 17:10).  Paul also had to flee from Berea (Acts 17:13-14), but left Timothy and Silas there while he travelled on to Athens. 

 

We don’t know how long Paul was in Athens, possibly a few months, but Timothy and Silas joined him there.  It was from there that Timothy was sent back by Paul to return to the churches in Macedonia.

 

I mentioned in a previous sermon, the trip between Athens and Thessalonica was about 500 km one way.  Timothy’s journey would have been much the same as walking from Sidney all the way to Pt. Hardy.

 

The reason why Timothy had to make the trip back to Thessalonica was because of Paul’s concern that the believers there were not doing well, that they were faltering or falling away because of the persecution and hardships they were enduring at the hands of others. 

 

We know from the previous chapter (1 Thess 2), that they had to endure some form of persecution by others in town.[3]   Let me continue to read from 1 Thess 3.

 

As you know, we were destined for these (troubles).  When we were still with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we had to suffer trials[4] and, as you know, that is what happened.           1 Thessalonians 3:3b-4

 

When Paul was in Thessalonica, likely also the other places that he planted churches, he must have been quite up front about the fact that Christians will, in all likelihood, face persecution. 

 

He had reminded them previously in this letter, that he and Silas had endured a severe beating when they were in Philippi.

 

At a later letter, Paul wrote that he received the dreaded 39 lashes 5 times, that he was beaten with rods 3 times, that he was shipwrecked 3 times, that his life was in danger numerous times (when he crossed rivers or when he was confronted by highway robbers, when traveling through the country side or while staying in cities, his life was in danger from Gentiles and Jews), and that he was often without food and shelter, enduring hunger and freezing due to exposure (2 Cor 11:23-27). 

 

He also mentioned, that he was stoned and left for dead.  This happened during his first missionary journey when he was in Lystra. 

 

(While in Lystra) Jews came from Antioch and Iconium.  They riled up the crowds and stoned Paul.  When they thought he was dead, they dragged his body outside of town.                                                                Acts 14:19

 

After going to Derbe and recovering physically from the stoning, Paul returned to Lystra.  But note his message:

 

They strengthened the believers and encouraged them to remain steadfast in their faith.  They said, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”[5]                                                                                     Acts 14:22

 

Again, Paul was up front, that Christians won’t have a trouble free life.  He may have been familiar with Jesus’ teaching on this matter. 

 

Remember what I told you: ... If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.            John 15:20

 

In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.                            John 16:33

 

There are three things about trouble we need to realize:

 

Either we’ve just gotten over some trials,

Or we are facing difficulties right now,

Or we are heading toward problems.

 

And I’m not being pessimistic.  Difficulties and trials are simply part of life.

 

So the reference to “we” in 1 Thessalonians 3, not only relates to the difficulties faced by Paul and his companions.  It also included the fact that the believers who were left behind in the town of Thessalonica were facing persecution of some kind.[6] 

 

It is because I couldn’t stand it any longer, that I sent (Timothy) in order to find out about your faith and whether the tempter[7] had (successfully) tempted you[8] (or: the one who produces trials has tested you) and our work among you has been in vain. 1 Thessalonians 3:5

 

Paul’s work would only have been in vain if his fear, that the tempter or tester had been successful in tempting them or testing them - that is, that as a result of the difficulties they had been facing, they had decided to abandon their faith. 

 

The tempter or tester is likely in reference to Satan, who Paul mentions later on in the chapter.  We find Satan referred to as the tempter only one other time in the NT, when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness (Matt 4:3).  In the book of Revelation, the devil is referred to as the one who tests or tempts some of the believers by having them thrown into prison (Rev 2:10).

 

The concept of Satan being the “tempter” comes from Genesis 3, the temptation of Adam and Eve.  In the Genesis account the snake is not identified with Satan or any other spiritual creature.  [In fact the curse placed upon the snake (Gen 3:14 - to move on its belly and eat dust) makes it highly unlikely that the author of Genesis thought of the snake as an evil spiritual being.[9] ]

 

However, other passages in the Bible, like Rev 12:9, make that connection.

 

... Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. ...

2 Corinthians 11:14

 

Just as an aside, when I think of Satan, I envision someone much like the Balrog in the Lord of the Ring movie.[10]  However, as Paul knows, Satan most often doesn’t appear that way.  He appears as an angel of light.  As something that appears to be innocuous, tolerant, even innocent and safe.

 

So what are some things that might tempt us to abandon our faith today? 

 

1. God didn’t come through for me (or someone I care about)

 

I’m still struggling ... emotionally, relationally, financially, morally.  Stuff happens in my life but I can’t see anything good coming from this.  Rejection is painful. Loss is devastating.  Illness and pain are bad.  There just doesn’t seem to be an upside to any of these things. 

 

If God really cared, he would not allow the kind of suffering and death that we can see every day in the news.

 

Everything should be fun and exciting when it comes to God.  So where are the bells and whistles, the wonders and miracles, the adrenalin rush, the happy, happy, joy, joy life? 

 

Things should constantly be changing for the better.  I should go from one mountain top experience to another mountain top experience.  No need to hit the valleys.  One victory after another.

 

Life should be more like a video game, where death is fake and I can level up.

 

Many people don’t mind being a Christian, but when it comes to their personal lifestyle choices, they don’t want God to telling them what to do.

 

Further, God may be asking us to give up our comfortable and cozy lives in order to make a difference in someone else’s life. 

 

But most people want to live for their own enjoyment and pleasure ... and if they do something for someone else, that surely shouldn’t result in them doing without something - it shouldn’t cost them.

 

But God not only expects us to share our time.  He also expects us to share our income.  That too will put a crimp in what we want to do and experience and enjoy.

 

Jesus said that following him is somewhat radical ... he likened it to carrying a cross.  Honestly, many of us don’t feel like carrying anything, much less a heavy burden like a cross. 

 

Supposedly hardship builds character.  But some of us would rather skip the hardships and not have as much character.

 

Suffering, pain, trials, tribulations, misfortune ... all of these can lead to discouragement.  And discouragement can be costly.  A sense of defeat and hopelessness can settle in that saps us of energy and vision.

 

Trials can consume a lot of our time - because they may keep us worried and anxious, thinking of a way out.

 

Difficulties can keep us from doing what we need to do (procrastinating) because when we try to simply avoid dealing with it.

 

Suffering can be the reason why we end up in unbelief. 

 

Paul saw in suffering as a situation out of which God can and will bring something good or beneficial, either for the person suffering or for someone else.

 

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.                       Romans 8:28

 

It seems to me as if Paul had a joyful or positive outlook because he truly believed that, God will inevitably bring something good from anything that is bad.  We just need to have the insight to recognize it.

 

For example, Paul believed that when God provides comfort for someone who is undergoing a great difficulty, he is also giving the person the ability to understand and comfort those who are going through that same thing.

 

God comforts us in all of our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the same comfort we received from God.          2 Corinthians 1:4

 

Or then there are the verses, like those found in 1 Peter, where hardships are seen as a way of proving the genuine nature of our faith. 

 

For a little while you have been distressed by various trials. Through them your faith will be tested and will prove itself to be more precious than gold that is refined by fire yet still perishes.                         1 Peter 1:6-7[11]

 

In other words, if those various trials don’t knock us off course and cause us to abandon God, then our faith is genuine.  But what a nasty way to find that out.

 

Let’s go on in our passage in 1 Thessalonians 3.  We’re at v.6:

 

But now, Timothy has returned from you to us, and has reported the good news of your faith and love, and that you always think with fondness of us, longing to see us, just as we long to see you.      1 Thessalonians 3:6

 

It likely took Timothy a couple of months to travel to Macedonia on foot, visit the various churches, and then return to Greece.  When Timothy returned, either Paul was still in Athens, or he had moved on to Corinth by then (see Acts 18:5)[12], where he would spend the next 1 ½ years (Acts 18:11).

 

Timothy’s report was extremely positive.  He reported that the Thessalonians had not faltered in their faith nor had their affection for Paul waned. 

 

Despite our distress and afflictions, the report about you and your faith comforted us.  When you persist[13] in the Lord, we have a new lease on life.  How can we thank God enough for you because you give us such great joy with which we rejoice before God?         

1 Thessalonians 3:7-9

 

Paul was elated when he heard the news from Timothy.  He described this feeling literally as “living”.  In other words, hearing the news gave him “a new lease on life”, he was now “truly alive”.  A huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. 

 

He was filled with so much joy and happiness, that he could not help but rejoice before God for what was happening in their lives.[14]

 

Paul goes on ...

 

We earnestly pray night and day that we will see you face to face again and complete what may be lacking in your faith.      Now may our God and Father himself, and Jesus our Lord, direct our steps to you. 

1 Thessalonians 3:10-11

 

Paul was praying earnestly night and day (cf. 1 Thess 1:2-3; 2:13),[15] that he would soon visit Thessalonica again. His desire to see them is a recurring theme in this letter, as can be seen from the verses out of 1 Thess 2, which I added to the slide. 

COMPARE

 

We are so eager and desired greatly to see you face to face.  We wanted to come to you, I Paul more than once, but were hindered by Satan.                    

1 Thessalonians 2:17-18

 

How Satan hindered Paul from returning to Macedonia is unknown.  Possibly, Paul may have suffered some illness or physical disability that kept him from traveling.  It may also be that he felt that the work in Greece simply couldn’t do without him at that time.[16] 

 

With his visit, the Apostle desired to “perfect or complete” something that potentially was still be lacking in their faith. Paul had left Thessalonica in a hurry - while the Christians there were still completely new to the Christian faith (Acts 17:1; Acts 17:4-5; Acts 17:10).

 

It would make sense that they did not fully comprehend the events surrounding Jesus’ return (see 1 Thess 4:13 - 5:3) or the moral implications of their faith. Paul addresses both of these topics in the next chapter of this letter (see 1 Thess 4:2-8; 5:6-8).[17] 

 

Paul then repeats a prayer for a reunion in the near future.  Unfortunately, this never took place.  3 or 4 years would go by before Paul passed through Macedonia again, this time on his third missionary journey (Acts 20:1-2).[18] 

 

Paul then ends this section of the letter with a blessing, really a prayer for blessing. 

 

May the Lord cause you to grow and abound in love for one another and for all people, just as our (love) does toward you, in order that your hearts may be unshakable[19] and so be blameless and holy before our God and Father when our Lord Jesus returns with all his holy ones.                              1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

 

Paul already mentioned that the love of the believers in Thessalonica is exemplary.[20]  Now Paul prays that their love toward one another and toward all men would grow even more and abound, just as Paul’s love abounds toward them.[21]   

 

The reason for an increase in love, and that really refers to loving actions, and not “just” a warm and fuzzy feeling, is that it would make firm or establish or stabilize or strengthen their hearts.  And a heart that is firm, that is unshakable, in turn will be blameless and holy before God. 

 

The point is NOT that they will reach perfection in the distant future when Jesus’ returns (for one, in Paul’s mind the time is too short for that). Instead, the prayer of blessing is that the believers in Thessalonica would be blameless and holy now AND that they would continue to be so until Jesus returns. 

 

The reference here to Jesus’ holy ones (who come with him at his return), could potentially be the belief that Jesus will come with an angel army in tow.[22]   It could also reflect the belief that the righteous people who have already died will accompany Jesus at his return (cf. 4:17,18 - the dead in Christ will rise first, then those who are alive will join Jesus and the previously risen). 

 

But the important thing to keep in mind, is that the believers’ blameless and holy character is ultimately the result of their increasing love for each other and all people

 

So let me end with just a few thoughts on the trials that we face.  Plato said something very similar to what is on the next slide:

 

Be kind because everyone you meet is likely fighting some kind of battle you know nothing about[23]

 

When we are young, we may not appreciate that sentiment because life at that point may seem pretty problem free.

 

But as we get older, we realize that most people we meet are facing challenges of one kind or another.  It may be the loss of a loved one, poor health, taking care of aging parents, problems with children or grand-children, addiction, dealing with bullying, or possibly with financial problems or illness, maybe stress and anxiety is creating havoc, or they are traumatized because of something that happened in the past.  The point is that no-one escapes this life unscathed. 

 

And the same is true of Christians. “In this world you WILL have troubles” Jesus said.   And since everyone faces some kind of battle,

 

1. We should treat them with kindness, and

2. We should not be surprised when we face our own battles. 

 

Mind you, we will likely never have it as bad as the apostle Paul. He writes of himself:

 

We are greatly afflicted in every way, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. ... Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward body is passing away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. Our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.                                                   2 Corinthians 4:8,9,16

 

Paul somehow had the ability to view all the bad and potentially discouraging events in his life from the perspective of eternity.  So the great afflictions that he faced become momentary and light afflictions

 

Paul viewed every difficulty as something that is only temporary, something that would pass.  And he felt that no matter how long it persists, it’s still a very short time when compared to eternity. 

 

There will be sunny days filled with laughter and excitement.  But there will also be stormy days, filled with conflict, tears, anxiety, uncertainty, challenge and unwanted change. 

 

Now, the storms of life will affect us in one of three ways:

 

1. Either, we will be shipwrecked by them.

 

This is when we have a nervous breakdown, when we have one anxiety attack after another, when we fall apart, when we end up in shock, unable to move or act, when we throw up our hands and give up or give in or walk away.

 

2. Or we will muddle through the storm we are facing with difficulty.

 

We struggle and struggle, it’s tough going, we are torn apart inside.  So all we can do is just hang in there, slug through until it’s over.

 

3. Or we will sail right through the storms of life. 

 

This is when we are not fazed by the difficulties.  They don’t bring us down emotionally.  We remain incurably positive

 

Which would you like to be?  I think it would be wonderful if I always felt “on top of the world”.  If I remained positive despite setbacks.  If I experienced calmness and tranquility regardless of my circumstances.

 

So Paul seemed to be able to have this, despite the fact that his life wasn’t easy.  He writes about having learned the secret of contentment, whether he has lots or nothing, whether he’s well fed or suffering hunger.

 

I have learned to be content regardless of the circumstances I find myself.             Philippians 4:11

 

How can we handle trouble, the storms of life ... without having to give up on God?  Here are some suggestions (in no particular order ... not in order of importance):

 

1. Assess - what is the cause of the storm?

 

a. Storms that I cause (hardest to spot)

 

There are problems that we bring on ourselves. Often we have blinders on and don’t recognize when we are the cause of a problem ... the natural thing is to make excuses or to blame someone else.

 

b. Storms that others cause (hardest to forgive)

 

There are trials in our lives that are caused by other people.  They are not only the hardest to forgive, but also the hardest to respond to in a positive manner.  Our natural instinct is to hit back, to hurt back.

 

c. Storms that God allows (hardest to understand)

 

When a child dies, when a tsunami kills, when pain endures, these events and others like them are hardest to come to terms with because there does not seem to be any rhyme or reason for them. 

 

So the first thing I should do is figure out where the difficulty is coming from and decide whether or not I can do something about it.

 

The second way to handle the storms of life is to ...

 

2. Gain a new perspective

 

This means that we look at life differently.  How can we gain a new perspective?[24]  Well here are some hints:

 

a. Embrace life as it is (don’t compare)

 

So many of us want to embrace life as we want it to be, not as it actually is.  And so we are never content.  Instead of realizing that the vast majority of humanity have it worse than us, we compare ourselves to those who have more than us, who we think have it so much easier and better, and as a result we lose sight of the good things in our own lives - and become discontent. 

 

b. Stay calm and rational

 

Some of us have problems keeping our emotions in check. Instead of taking 10 deep breaths and realizing that it’s not that big a deal, we get completely bent out of shape.[25] 

 

And when our emotions get out of hand then we react without thinking things through rationally, often with disastrous results.    

 

c. Evaluate (actually re-evaluate) the problem in terms of eternity.

 

This is what Paul did,

 

However, normally when we gauge an event, or a problem or a difficulty, we often see only the present or maybe the very immediate future.  We have a hard time looking at things long term.

 

When someone really ticks me off, I sometimes have to tell myself, “don’t take yourself so seriously,” and, “in 100 years, all new people.” 

 

When we actually are able to see things long term, particularly in terms of eternity, then we will not be so prone to viewing every little inconvenience or problem as an earthshattering event, as if it’s the end of the world. 

 

d. Pray / be thankful / practice gratitude

 

That is one of the best ways to gain a different perspective.  Instead of focusing and dwelling on the things that are wrong, we focus on the things that are right and good and wonderful.  And we might be surprised just how much of the good stuff is in our lives when we set out consciously to thank God and others.

 

e. Get help / support / advice

 

Sometimes our pride does not allow us to get help, especially when we have a terrible outlook on life, when we’re only focused on ourselves and our problems.  But really, that is when we should reach out to people we trust. 

 

f.  Grow in love and compassion for others

 

When we go through storms and we are still compassionate and kind to others, it does something wonderful in our hearts and our minds.  As Paul wrote in our passage, it is foundational to strengthening our hearts and our faith and making us blameless and holy before God.

 

Today is the time to “increase and abound in love” as we await the return of the Lord.

 

 (No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted - Aesop)

 

HAVE I BEEN TEMPTED BY THE TEMPTER TO LET GO OF MY FAITH?

 

IF SO, HOW WILL I RESPOND?

 

 

 

[1] Literally, “to be drawn aside” (sainesthai)

[2] Greek Thlipsis, (literally “pressure”) meaning persecution, affliction, distress, tribulation.  This also includes the internal conflict due to tribulation, especially the feeling of being constricted or hemmed in without a way out. 

[3] See 1 Thess 2:14 - You suffered at the hands of your countrymen (as the churches in Judea suffered at the hands of the Jews).

[4] Derivative of same Greek verb in v.3.

[5] See also Paul’s letter to Timothy:  All who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted ...   2 Tim 3:12.  In the Western world Christians may not face the kind of persecution that was common in Paul’s day, but there are other forms of “persecution” (ridicule, rejection, etc.).

[6] See 1 Thess 2:14 - You also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen.

[7] Derivative from the Greek “peirazo” (see comment in footnotes above) - the one who tempts (to sin) or the one who produces trials or difficulties; 

[8] Derivative from the Greek “peirazo” - to tempt or to produce trials

[9] This then poses the “difficulty” of a snake that can speak. 

[10] This Balrog was known as Durin's Bane and he resided in the Mines of Moria, where Gandalf battled him.  Both ended up falling into the abyss.

[11] The same idea is found in James 1:2-4 - Christians should be overjoyed when they face trials that test (prove) their faith and produces endurance, which can result in wholeness and completeness (lacking nothing).

[12] Acts 18:5 - When Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, ...

[13] Greek steko, meaning “to stand firm,” “to persevere”, “to persist”, “to retain one’s standing”.

[14] Given that Paul was not harmed in either Athens or Corinth, he may be referring either to previous affliction, or perhaps about simply being opposed, such as being dragged before Gallio, the new proconsul of Achaia, while in Corinth (Acts 18:12-16), or about the physical distress of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue in Corinth, who was beaten publicly (Acts 18:17).

[15] We give thanks to God always for you ... constantly thinking of your work of faith and labour of love and steadfast hope ....

[16] In Acts 18:9-10, Jesus (i.e., the Lord) came to Paul in a vision at night and told him to keep on speaking since many people in the city were or would become believers.

[17] These verses speak of sexual immorality and drunkenness.

[18] 2nd missionary journey c. 50-52 CE.  3rd missionary journey c. 53-58 CE.  Since he stayed 2 years in Ephesus prior to traveling to Macedonia (Acts 19:10), it could have been 3 years before he saw the Christians at Thessalonica again.

[19] The infinitive of the verb sterizo, which means to make stable, to make firm, to strengthen, to make consistent or constant, etc.

[20] 1 Thess 1:3 - your labour of love; cf. 1 Thess 4:9-10 - They are taught by God himself to love one another and do so toward all Christians in Macedonia.  Even so, Paul urges them to excel even more in that love. 

[21] In the 4th chapter, Paul encourages them to excel in love even more, despite him mentioning that they had shown love to all the believers in Macedonia.

[22] Jude quotes from 1 Enoch 1:9: “Behold the Lord (in Enoch: “he”) will come with 10,000 of his holy ones to execute justice ....” 

[23] Plato wrote, “Be kind.  For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” 

[24] Joni Mitchell (1967?) Both Sides, Now.  She looked at clouds from above and below, she looked at love from gain and loss, she looked at life both as a wonderful thing and as one where friends put her down.  Her conclusion:  She doesn’t know clouds, love and live at all because they are illusionary (there is no up and down?).

[25] Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.