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Living Life in Light of Jesus Return: A Good Report of Faith

and Love

1 Thessalonians 3:6-13

The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to 1


Thessalonians chapter 3 as we continue our way through this the
first letter of the apostle Paul. As youre turning there to 1
Thessalonians chapter 3 we're going to pick up in verse 6. I want to
say happy Father's Day to our fathers and say I may have a few
words for you from this passage because even though we're working
straight through a book of the Bible, Paul has some things that are
particularly relevant to us as Christian fathers as we consider this His
Word.

I want you to be on the lookout for three things as we read. First of


all, outlining this portion of God's Word is pretty simple. In verses 6
to 10, Paul is giving thanks. He's giving thanks for a good report that
he's received from Timothy about how the Thessalonians are doing.
You remember the last several weeks we've said there are people in
Thessalonica who are slandering Paul and trying to make him look
bad to the Thessalonian Christians. There are people who are
persecuting the Thessalonians and Paul is deeply worried about how
the Thessalonians are doing spiritually. And in verses 6 to 10 he
reports the report he got about the Thessalonians from Timothy and
his response to it. And the whole section is characterized by
rejoicing. Paul is relieved and he is joyful and he is thankful and he
thanks God for the Thessalonians and he tells the Thessalonians
that he's thanking God for them.

Then, in verses 11 to 13 we see a prayer. Paul tells the


Thessalonians what he's praying for them. Now, in that thanksgiving
and in that prayer I want you to be on the lookout for three things.
First, in verse 6 and youll see it again in verse 8, Paul describes for
us how it is that you go about standing fast in the Christian life. Have
you ever wondered, Okay, if I'm going to stand fast, what is it I have
to do in the Christian life? He actually tells you in verse 6 and verse
8 what is involved in standing fast in the Christian life. Look out for
the words faith and love."

Then second, youll see this if you look at verses 9 and 10. Paul tells
us that he wants us to grow in faith. You will see in verse 10
particularly hell talk about what's lacking in the Thessalonians faith
and that he wants to come to them in order to supply what is lacking
in their faith. And of course, Paul means especially by that teaching
them the Word of God because it's the truth that supplies what is
lacking in our faith. And so Paul wants to instruct them in the Word of
God so that their faith will grow.

Third, if you look at verses 11 to 13 Paul will talk about growing in


our love in order that we can be established in holiness. Now that's
interesting. If love grows out of being grounded in God's Word, how
is it that we need to grow in love in order to be grounded in holiness?
That's an interesting thing, isn't it? I want to consider that with you
today so be on the lookout for those three things as we read God's
Word. Before we read it let's look to Him in prayer and ask for His
help and blessing.
Heavenly Father, this is Your inspired Word. Every word of it is
profitable. Every word of it equips us as men and women who are
believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, as men and women who trust in
the Lord Jesus Christ as He is offered in the Gospel. It equips us for
every good work and it is profitable for our reproof and correction
and for our training in righteousness so make this Word profitable for
us and in us today. We ask in Jesus' name, amen.

This is the Word of God. Hear it in 1 Thessalonians chapter 3


beginning in verse 6:

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.

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired and
inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
It's been twenty years this year since my father died and I think
about him almost every day.

And one of the things that my family enjoyed most, I think, about
conversation with my dad was the superlatives that he would use
often associated with good food. If we had a particularly good meal
we were likely going to hear superlatives from my dad. If we were at
The Trawler in Charleston, South Carolina we were likely to hear
these words, I believe that that was the best she-crab soup I have
ever had in my entire life! Or if we were in Kelly's in Blacksburg and
we had just had a delicious steak we were likely to hear, I don't
believe I have ever put a better piece of meat in my mouth in my
entire life! Or if we were at Jack ODell's Midway BBQ and yes,
Midway was midway between Union and Santuck, South Carolina.
Santuck named because the sand almost tucked it away before the
kudzu was planted. And Jack ODell's Midway BBQ had sawdust on
the floors and those white and red checked tablecloths that were
kind of plasticy on the top because of all the spilled barbeque sauce
and man, it had some great Union County hash there and if we were
at Jack ODell's Midway BBQ we were likely to hear, You know, I
don't believe I have ever had better hash in my entire life! We loved
hearing Daddy's superlatives when we had a good meal. Well, the
apostle Paul is using some overpowering superlatives in this
passage. Did you catch it?

STANDING FAST IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

Verse 6 - look at the first line reads almost like, you know, he's
been writing you from chapter 2 verse 17 all the way to chapter 3
verse 5 about how worried he is about the Thessalonians. He's
worried that the slanderers are getting to them. He's worried that the
persecution is getting to them. He's worried that they may be
wavering in the faith. He's anxious to be with them so that he can
encourage them and suddenly it's almost like Timothy comes in the
door in the middle of him writing verse 5 and getting to verse 6 and
says, Paul, good news. Theyre all trusting in Christ. Theyre
standing firm in the Word. Theyre walking in the faith. And there's
this gigantic sigh of relief that you can hear all across two thousand
years and how ever many miles that it is from Thessalonica to
Jackson. You can almost hear it in verse 6 But now that Timothy
has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your
faith and love - and can I just pause right there and say, Did you
hear what Paul just said? Paul called Timothy's report to him from
the Thessalonians saying that they were doing well spiritually, saying
that they were continuing on with the Lord, saying that they were
established in faith and love, he calls it good news.

Now I think I'm right in saying this is the only time that Paul calls
anything that is not the announcement of God's Gospel the good
news. Do you see the kind of extravagant language that Paul is
using? He is so concerned about the Thessalonians that when he
gets a good report that theyre doing well spiritually he calls it gospel.
He says, Timothy brought me gospel. He brought me good news
about your faith and love. Now he's not saying that Timothy came
and preached him a good Gospel sermon; he's saying that Timothy
came and gave a good spiritual report about the Thessalonians that
he uses the word that he uses everywhere else to talk about the
Gospel. It's superlative language. You can see here that Paul has
been so deeply concerned about the Thessalonians that he is
incredibly relieved. In fact, hell use the language in verse 9 -of joy,
we feel joy for your sake before our God. So Paul is relieved and
he's thankful and he's joyful and he's using superlative language.

So he goes on and he says this, When we heard that report, verse


6, that good news from Timothy about how well youre doing, even
though we were in distress and affliction, we were comforted about
you through your faith. You know how sometimes somebody else's
faith encourages you. Have you ever had a Christian friend who was
going through an incredibly hard time, a situation that makes you
think, I'm not sure how well I would handle that, and that Christian
friend goes through that hard time trusting in the Lord, not becoming
bitter, believing God's promises, absolutely determined that the light
at the end of the tunnel is going to come and you think, Boy, youre
faith has really encouraged me. Well, Paul's saying even more than
that here.

Look at the next sentence that he utters. Look at verse 8. For now
we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. Now that if isn't meant
to put any question mark on how the Thessalonians are doing. It's
meant to emphasize that what makes Paul be able to say, I can live
again, is the report that the Thessalonians are standing firm in the
faith. Now that's extravagant language. Men, you know that kind of
language. You used it when you met some girl who rocked your right
brain hard however many years ago. Yeah, you remember?
Remember writing her notes and saying, You make me live. I'm
alive for the first time in my life. That's the kind of language, but
Paul's not using this about a girlfriend or a wife. This isn't even the
language of a pastor saying, Boy, I kind of feel like my ministry's not
a failure now because youre doing well in the Lord. It's not even that
kind of relief. There's no indication here that Paul worries about the
success of his ministry. This language is much more like a father
talking about his children doing spiritually well.

John Stott commenting on this passage says, Pastoral love is


parental in quality. That is, Paul has a love for these Christians like a
father and a mother have for their children. So it's the reaction is not,
Oh, I'm not a failure, thank heavens, because youre doing well.
The reaction is as a parent, My children are doing well in the Lord.
My children are standing firm in the faith. Thank God, I rejoice. My
heart is filled with thanksgiving to the Lord.

I was on a panel a couple of years ago at a conference in Chicago


with Tim Keller and the moderator was asking Tim about how young
men could be better appliers of Scripture. How can you get better at
applying Scripture in your sermons? And one of the things that Tim
said in response to this fellow is, Well, one thing you have to do is
you have to experience a little bit of life. You know, you have to have
some pain and some loss and you have to live life with fellow
believers that experience pain and loss and you live bit of life and
you get to be a better applier of God's Word. But in the course of
that answer he said something in passing. He said, You know when
youre parents, when youre parents of children that were out of the
home, you are never more happy than your least happy child. What
he was saying was parents care about the children's happiness and
their wellbeing and if you have four kids and three of them are doing
great, but one of them is not doing so well, it weighs on you as a
parent. You think about it all the time. It burdens you. You want them
to be happy. You want them to be doing well and Paul's using that
kind of language here. I can live again because youre doing well!
Youre standing firm in the faith. Youre growing in faith and love. I
can live! It's the language of a parent.

One of the things I love about John Stott's commentary on this


passage is that John Stott almost speaks in the first person about
this. He says, You know, we parents are so concerned for our
children's wellbeing that when we see them doing well we're relieved
and we rejoice and we give thanks to God. The interesting thing
about that is John Stott was never married. He's a single man. How
does he know about this? Because he has spiritual children all over
the world.

And that's exactly how Paul is speaking about the Thessalonians.


When he sees them doing well, standing firm in the faith, growing in
faith and love he says, I can live again. I was dying inside when I
thought that you weren't doing well.

Parents, do you understand that? Those of you who have kids who
are out of the home now, you ever seen your adult children and their
making some decisions that are not good and youre at that
relationship now where there's only so much you can say and do and
you just hold your breath and you say, Lord, all those prayers that I
prayed, all that teaching that I did, all preaching they heard, all the
example that I shared, Lord, just use that. And when they come
through those trying times you go, Yes, I can live again. My children
are standing firm in Christ. Theyre growing in faith and love. That's
exactly the experience that Paul is having and that's why you get all
these superlatives in this passage. In other words, Paul is saying that
he can live again because he has heard of the Thessalonians faith
and love.
Look specifically at verse 6 again. Timothy has brought us the good
news of your faith and love. Then verse 8 - Now we live for you are
standing fast in the Lord. That superlative language is that Paul is
so thankful that the most important things are in place in their life.

Notice it's not that the Thessalonians aren't experiencing hard times
because, in fact, theyre being persecuted. He's not, Whew! Now I
can live again because youre not going through hard times. It's that,
Now I can live again because youre standing firm in Christ. Youre
growing in faith and love. And now here's an application, fathers.
You know, as fathers and mothers you want your children to marry a
nice person, be a good husband and wife, have a nice life, no major
illnesses, no big problems, have a good job, be respected in the
community. All of those things are good things, but far more
important than that is that they stand firm in Christ and that they
grow in faith and love.

At the door after the early service a young man came and met me.
He's a PhD student in engineering. He's been married for ten years.
Three years into his marriage he and his wife were just not, they
were not going to make it and he was reading a book by John
McArthur and he came to faith in Christ. Their marriage was hanging
by a thread and God turned it all around by bringing him to faith in
Christ and then leading them into a Bible believing church where
they heard the Gospel preached every week and the Bible faithfully
taught and they began to work through their issues in marriage and
then they had a child who was just diagnosed with autism. Now, no
parent would say, Okay, it will be good for you to struggle in your
marriage and have a child with autism. You just - that's not what
youd be wishing for your child. But you know what? That young man
is preaching the Gospel at a rescue mission in downtown
Birmingham every week and he wants to be a church planter and he
wants to be involved in the work of the kingdom. He's standing firm
in the faith. He's growing in faith and love through all of those
circumstances.

Dads, is that what you pray for your sons and for your daughters that
theyd stand firm in Christ, that theyd grow in faith and love, not just
that circumstances would be easy? And you know, we can all want
the circumstances to be the best for you, but that no matter what the
circumstances are, youre standing firm in Christ and youre growing
in faith and love. Are those the kinds of spiritual desires that we have
for our children, not just that theyd be accepted and prominent and
have a great job and an easy marriage and all of those things, that
theyd be firm in Christ, growing in faith and love? Well, here Paul,
you see, what's he relieved about?

He's relieved, he's thankful, he's joyful, he's overwhelmed that the
Thessalonians are manifesting faith and love.

And I love what John Calvin says about those two words. In faith
and love, Calvin says, Paul gives a brief summary of all godliness.
All godliness can be summed up in faith and love; believing God's
promises and His Word, trusting in Jesus as He is offered in the
gospel - faith, love, loving God, loving one another, loving our
neighbors. He just sums up the whole of the Christian life faith
and love. Theyre living the Christian life. Theyre believing God's
promises; theyre believing His Word; theyre trusting in Christ as
He's offered in the Gospel; theyre loving God; theyre loving one
another; theyre loving their neighbor; theyre loving all in this
passage.
Notice how it says not only are they loving one another, but all. Look
at verse 12. Abound in love for one another and for all. And Paul
says theyre doing well. And he's thankful and he uses this
extravagant language. Doesn't that teach us that one thing we want
to aspire to if we want to stand fast in the Christian life, if we want to
live life in light of Jesus return the way Christians ought to? How do
we do that? By being established in faith and love; by growing in faith
and in love. That sums it all up, doesn't it?

CHRISTIANS GROW IN FAITH AND LOVE BY THE TRUTH

Here's the second thing I want you to see. Look at verses 9 and 10.
Paul, having given thanksgiving for their faith and for their love goes
on to say, What thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all
the joy that we feel for your sake before God, we pray most earnestly
night and day that we may see you face to face? Why? And supply
what is lacking in your faith. Now, what's that about? Well Paul had
only been able to be with them and teach them for a few weeks and
then he had to go away and he wants to come back to supply what is
lacking in their faith. How's he going to do that? By teaching them
the Word of God. That's how he's going to supply what's lacking in
their faith. He can't create faith; he can't grow faith. Only the Holy
Spirit can do that. But how does faith grow? Faith comes by hearing
what? The Word of God.

And Paul tells you that, doesn't he, in 1 Timothy chapter 1 verse 5.
Take a look at it. Paul says, The goal of our instruction, 1 Timothy
chapter 1 verse 5, The goal of our instruction is love from a pure
heart and a good conscience and sincere faith. In other words, his
aim, he's received a charge from Jesus to do Gospel ministry. His
aim in that ministry, the goal in his teaching and in his instruction is
that there would be disciples who love. They love God, they love one
another, they love their neighbor from a pure heart, a good
conscience and a sincere faith. And so his teaching is going to be
designed to what? To grow them in love. So when he says he want
to come and supply what is lacking in your faith, what he is saying is
he wants their faith to be grown by truth, the truth of the Word. He
wants to come supply them what is lacking by teaching the truth of
the Word.

Now this is hugely important. If we don't understand how truth


functions well miss the whole point of why we gather Lord's Day
after Lord's Day, why we teach all week long, why we have
seminaries, why we have schools that teach the Word of God. God's
just is not in the business of simply information transfer; He's not
trying to cram your minds full with little facts so that you know more
than the people around you; that truth is designed to transform your
life. You know, we often say to seminary students, You can learn
about the hypostatic static union of the natures of Jesus Christ and
still go home and be a jerk to your wife. So the important thing is to
understand that everything that God says in His Word is designed to
change how we live in relation to Him and in relation to one another.
And Paul is saying, I want to supply what's lacking in your faith.
How's he going to do that? By teaching him the Word and then by
their lives being conformed to God's will by His Word. Isn't that what
he talks about in Romans chapter 12 verses 1 and 2? That we're
transformed by the renewing of our minds according to the Word of
God. That's what Paul is saying here, that we grow in faith and in
love by truth.
INCREASE IN CHRISTIAN LOVE IS NECESSARY FOR
GODLINESS

And then third, if youd look at verses 11 to 13, this is very


interesting. Then Paul says - look at verse 12 - May the Lord make
you increase and abound in love for one another and for all so that,
verse 13, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in
holiness. Now that's interesting. May the Lord make you increase
and abound in love so that He may establish your hearts blameless
in holiness. That strike you as interesting? He's just said in 1
Timothy 1:5 that he's going to teach them the truth so that they love.
Now he's saying that he wants them to increase and abound in love
so that they may be established in holiness. Hmmm? How's that
work? I'm not sure that I know the whole answer, but I think that I do
know this. Paul is saying her that it is impossible for us to grow in
holiness apart from the context of really Christian loving relationships
with one another and in attitudes towards all people. That is,
Christian godliness is not just a matter of you sitting down and
saying, I'm going to cultivate this particular virtue in my life because
virtues let's say you decide youre going to open up Galatians
and youre going to work through the fruit of the Spirit and you've
decided youre going to be a more faithful person or youre going to
be a more kind person. Well, guess what?

You can't do that by yourself. There has to be somebody else around


before you can be more faithful because you have to be more faithful
to somebody or there has to be somebody else around if youre
going to be more kind because you have to have somebody else if
youre going to be kind. And so the virtues of the Christian life cannot
be cultivated in isolation from one another. We need to be in
community and we need to be in accountability in order to cultivate
the virtues of the Christian life.

And so Paul is saying, I want your love to increase and abound in


order that you might grow in holiness because it's in the context of
those loving relationships that your godliness will be established. Do
we realize that? It means that if we're going to be established in
godliness in our relationships we're going to have to learn to forgive
one another and forbear with one another. Love is often going to
have to cover a multitude of sins. Love is going to have to think the
best of others when we're tempted to think the worst. And all of that's
going to be necessary to our growing in godliness and our godliness
is that thing that makes the world look at the church and say, You
know what? Theyre not like us. Because if we're like that world, the
world says, You don't have anything to teach us. But when our
priorities are different, when our behavior is different, when our
aspirations are different the world says, Well, theyre a little weird,
but there might be something I need to listen to from them. But that
godliness won't manifest itself that witnesses to the world that the
Holy Spirit is at work in us if we are not increasing and abounding in
love. And so increase in love is necessary for establishment in
godliness. That's what Paul is saying here.

It's a glorious passage and it sets before us aspirations. Don't you


want to grow in faith and love? And don't you want to grow in the
truth so that you can grow in faith and love? And don't you desire to
be more godly and because you desire to be more godly you realize,
You know, this is going to require me deliberately committing myself
and asking the Holy Spirit to increase and abound in love and love is
going to mean me thinking about other people before myself. It's
going to be about me seeking their best interest before my own. It's
going to entail me overlooking offenses. That's the way that we live
life in light of Jesus return.

And by the way did you notice how Paul mentions that in verse 13?
That He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our
God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus.

He's still thinking about the coming of our Lord Jesus. How do you
live life in light of Jesus return? You long for godliness, you pursue
love, you grow in faith and in love. That's how you stand fast in
Christ, in faith and in love. And don't you love the combination of
that? You know, if you look out in the church today and there are
people that are strong in love and weak in faith, strong in faith and
weak in love and here's Paul saying, No. Those things go together.

Increasing in faith and love, faith and love are there. It's what we
want to be. That's the kind of congregation we want to be. May the
Lord bless His Word.

Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, work Your truth into our lives so that we love from
pure hearts, good consciences and sincere faith. In Jesus' name,
amen.

Well, in this passage it's very evident that Paul loves the church.
Let's sing about that love using number 353, I Love Thy Kingdom
Lord.

Receive God's blessing. Grace to you and peace from God our
Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen.