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The Value of Christian Fellowship - 8

Beacon Baptist / Gregory N. Barkman
The Truth Network Radio
May 23, 2021 7:00 pm

The Value of Christian Fellowship - 8

Beacon Baptist / Gregory N. Barkman

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May 23, 2021 7:00 pm

Christians need the fellowship of other believers and-healthy Christians strongly desire such fellowship. Pastor Greg Barkman continues his expositional series in 1 Thessalonians.

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Well, we come today to the last section of 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 in our exposition through this epistle of Paul. And in these last four verses, 17 through 20, Paul explains the reasons for his prolonged absence from Thessalonica, his desire to return and to be personally with them again.

Now, there are two background items that will help us understand why Paul is doing this. First of all, Paul was forced into a premature departure from Thessalonica because of persecution, as he was for many cities. He came to Thessalonica fleeing from persecution in Philippi. He had a very effective ministry. First in the synagogues, and then when unbelieving Jews forced him out of the synagogue, he continued elsewhere in the city, and a number of people were saved.

Some Jews, a great many Gentiles, but the Jews stirred up strong opposition. They collected a band of ungodly men to create a riot, and Paul found himself in danger for his life. Then he went down the road to Berea, and then eventually to Athens and to Corinth, and Corinth is where he's writing this epistle back to the Thessalonians. The second background item is that in Thessalonica, as again in nearly every city Paul ministered in, there rose up critics to his ministry who continued to attack him and to bring false accusations about him, and to try to turn the host of the converts away from him so that they would no longer be influenced by the word which he had preached.

And so critics were saying things like this. You Thessalonians believe that Paul loves you, but if he did, he wouldn't have left you so quickly. He wouldn't have fled from you simply because of persecution. He would have toughed it out and demonstrated a greater love for you. He would have returned to you by now if he really loved you. He doesn't love you. And so Paul writes this epistle to deny emphatically those false charges, and in this section in particular, to deal with that specific charge, that specific criticism that he departed from them willingly and did not want to return to them, and nothing could be farther from them.

So listen to Paul's response to this false accusation. Paul describes a wrenching separation, but a spiritual connection and an intense desire. A wrenching separation, having been taken away from you for a short time, he says. Being taken away is a Greek word that is often translated bereft.

We were bereft of you, and that's a word that is generally used when someone close to you dies, a mother that is bereft of her children or something of that nature. It's a very wrenching separation that leaves one in a great deal of agony and sorrow. It is not a voluntary separation. It is a forced separation.

It is called by others, even as the death of a child is not something that someone plans or welcomes, but is something that the circumstances designed by God force upon them in their lives. And Paul said, that's the way it was. I was bereft of you. I was wrenched away from you. I was forcibly removed from you. I was taken away from you for a very short time, but time is marching on. It's getting longer and longer, longer than I intended. And he explains the why of that in a moment. So I was taken away from you intending to return very shortly, but that did not prove to be possible.

I'm going to read a portion of this. After Paul, we read in verse 4, a great many of them were persuaded, and a great multitude of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women joined Paul and Silas. He had great success in his preaching in Thessalonica. But the Jews, who were not persuaded, became envious. And some of the evil men from the marketplace and they took some of the evil men from the marketplace in gathering a mob, sent all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason and sought to bring them out to the people. But when they did not find them, that is Paul and Silas and Timothy, the missionary team, they dragged Jason and some of the brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, these who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them. And these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.

And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things. So when they had taken security from Jason, they made him post a bond, and the rest they let them go. Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. Does that sound like a voluntary departure? No. Does that sound like Paul was tired of being in the presence of the Thessalonians and wanted to go someplace else?

No. Everything the critics were charging was absolutely false, and it is important to Paul that the record be set straight and that these people understand that his departure was forced, it was unwelcome, it was unwanted, but it was necessary. It was unavoidable. A wrenching separation. But Paul says even though we were separated in body, in physical presence, one to another, there was not a complete separation because there remained what we might call a spiritual connection between us, even in the distance where we were apart.

Notice again verse 17. Having been taken away from you for a short time, in presence, not in heart. In presence, not in heart.

Some versions translate not in spirit, but the actual Greek word is heart, cardia, heart. But it is similar to the idea of being with you in spirit but not in presence. We sometimes use that kind of language, and sometimes when we hear that we wonder is that genuine or is that just empty words? Well, I couldn't be with you in presence, but I was with you in spirit. Well, if you really couldn't be with them in presence and truly were involved in what was going on in your thoughts and prayers, then of course you were with them in spirit. But if you're just saying that, you could have been there and chose not to, then don't be a hypocrite.

Don't say that. But anyway, we use language like this. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5 when he was dealing with that very difficult church discipline situation, he was in Ephesus at that time and writing to Corinth and telling them how to deal with this immoral church member who wouldn't repent of his adultery. And Paul said, I being with you in spirit. In that case, the word spirit is used. He said, I'm not there with you in presence, but my spirit is there and I'm telling you what to do. Now, what does that mean when someone says that they are with you in spirit?

How is it possible to be present in spirit though absent in body? Well, what that means is that even though I'm not with you, I'm thinking about you. My thoughts are with you. Even though I can't be with you, my prayers are with you. I'm very much involved in your lives and as I'm thinking about you and about your needs, I am lifting you up before the throne of grace in prayer. I am connected with you in that way. In other words, I would love to be there.

I desire to be there. And because of that, I'm focused upon you in my thoughts and prayers, even though I cannot be with you in my person. That's what it means.

That's what Paul is indicating here. Though separated from you in person, nevertheless, I have been with you in my heart. I want you to know that. I haven't forgotten you. I'm thinking about you regularly.

I'm praying for you. Often, I am very much with you in my heart. And of course, we know that the Bible teaches there is a spiritual connection between all of the members of the body of Christ. We are joined together in one body, whether we are physically present with one another or not.

All true born-again believers are members of one body of which Christ is the head. And we're all joined together in that body in some way that we do not fully understand, but we know it's true. It's difficult to describe, but we know it's true. We are joined with other believers. There is a connection. There is a spiritual connection. We do not relate to other believers the same way that we relate to unbelievers. We have this connection that is made by the Holy Spirit of God, the Spirit of God that joined us to Christ and joined them to Christ and indwells all of us together. And even though we are apart, we are joined together in spirit.

And that's why it is when you meet Christians for the first time that you've never known before, sometimes it's almost like you've known them all your life. There's this immediate connection, the same desire, the same joy, the same Christ-ward focus, the same interest in the Word of God and in the gospel of Jesus Christ. There's a great connection, and Paul says, I have maintained that connection with you even though I have not been able to be present with you.

But he does declare his intense desire to be there in the last part of verse 17. Taken away from you for a short time, in presence not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire. There are various ways to translate that phrase.

It's not an easy collection of words to put into English because you've got several phrases that dangle here, but the main idea is very, very clear. Paul says, I had a strong, strong desire to be with you physically. I was earnest about that.

I'm serious about that. Because, and here's the point, as wonderful as this spiritual connection is that is real and he could think about them and could pray for them and could be involved to some limited way in their lives and church from a distance, that fell far short of full satisfaction. And he needed to get there and be with them physically. That's what he wanted. That's what he desired. And here we learn that Paul's separation from the Thessalonians did not cause his love for them or desire to be with them to fade, but just the opposite, it actually caused it to grow and become more intense.

It's a very intense desire, a growingly intense desire, endeavored more eagerly or more zealously, more and more energetically to see your face with great and growing desire. And Paul said, the longer we were away, the more we wanted to come. And he and the missionary team, up until this time, he's been using the plural pronoun, we, and that refers to himself and Silas and Timothy. And he and the team who felt the same way, Silas and Timothy, felt just like Paul did about their relationship to the Thessalonian believers. And they had made every effort to return, but as he will explain in the next verse, so far they had not been able to fulfill that desire. Their efforts had been in vain.

Now this leads us to some very important conclusions. And that is that separation from one another in the body of Christ tests our level of commitment. The desire for reunion, either in separation, it either grows stronger or it grows weaker. It either waxes or wanes, to use an old English phrase.

And which one of those two things it will be reveals something about our level of love and our level of commitment to Christ and to the body of Christ. We've all heard the phrase, absence makes the heart grow fonder. And in some cases we know that is exactly true. We've also heard the phrase, out of sight, out of mind. And we know that that is also true in some cases. And here's two opposite proverbs to describe a similar situation, but with entirely different outcomes.

So which is it? Is it absence makes the heart grow fonder? Yes, in some cases. Is it out of sight, out of mind? Yes, it's also that in some cases. I remember as a teenager hearing some of the teens talking about romantic relationships and laughing and saying, if you can't be near the one you love, then love the one you're near. Have you ever heard that?

Same idea. Absence makes out of sight, out of mind. And that formerly seemingly strong connection grows weak and no longer captures your thoughts and captures your heart and captures your mind.

And you begin to see your attention wandering in another direction. And so, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Is that true? Yes, if love is strong and commitment is strong. Out of sight, out of mind.

Is that true? Yes, it is, if love is weak and commitment is weak. Obviously in the case of Paul and Timothy and Silas, their love for the Thessalonians was strong, their commitment to them and to their welfare was strong, and therefore the more months that went by without their being able to be in their presence, their intense desire, their longing to be there just grew stronger and stronger and stronger and stronger. Paul's righteous desire, verse 17. But in verse 18, we learn of Satan's evil opposition, and this helps explain why Paul had not been able to get back. Therefore, we wanted to come to you, even I, Paul, time and again, but Satan hindered us. We wanted to come to you, but Satan hindered us. And Paul here describes a common desire and a personal desire, but a thwarted desire.

First, a common desire. Therefore, we wanted to come to you. Again, that personal pronoun, we.

He's including Paul and Silas and Timothy, who all had the same desire, who all had the same strong love. We wanted to come to you. We endeavored to come to you, but then Paul breaks out of the mold of using this personal plural pronoun, we, that he's been using for all of them, and he resorts to the personal singular pronoun, I. Therefore, we wanted to come to you, even I, Paul, time and again, once and again, more than once, repeatedly. I, Paul, wanted to come to you. And so going beyond expressing the desire for the whole team collectively, he feels it important to emphatically state his own personal desire to be with them.

Why is that important? We're not told, but I am guessing it's probably because the criticism being leveled by the enemies of the gospel in Thessalonica was leveled primarily at Paul. He was the leader. He was the preacher. He was the one they were trying to undermine. He was the one whose influence they were trying to destroy.

He was the one they were trying to separate in their affections from the Thessalonian believers. And so they were primarily criticizing Paul. Paul doesn't love you. They weren't saying Paul, Silas, and Timothy don't love you. Paul doesn't love you. Paul doesn't want to be with you. Paul hasn't returned to you because he doesn't really love you. And Paul, therefore, says, I, Paul, time and again, desire to come. It's a very personal desire as well as a common desire.

And therefore, he states this strong personal affirmation of desire. But he tells us why he hasn't come. It's a thwarted desire. But Satan hindered us.

That's why. Satan. There are several terms that are used for the devil in the Bible, the devil being the other most common one. Satan and the devil are the two most common, though there are others. The word Satan means adversary. And here it's used with a definite article, the, the devil, the adversary, the adversary of your souls.

The adversary hindered us. This one who is a real person and a formidable adversary. Satan is not a vague influence only. Satan is not just the, the name that we attach to this force of evil in the world.

It's hard to quantify, identify, explain, or trace the cause to. Now, Satan is a real person. By person, I don't mean a human being.

He obviously doesn't have a body. But he's a person in the same way that it's true that the Holy Spirit is a person, though, though a spirit. And God is a person, though a spirit. In fact, all members of the triune Godhead are separate persons.

And yet they are all spirits except for the son who took upon him flesh and became both body and spirit. So Satan is a very real person and a formidable adversary. And he's always opposing the people of God. And he's always opposing the gospel of Christ. And he's always doing what he can to hinder the progress of the gospel.

And therefore, he took special aim at Paul, who was so effective by the power of God in proclaiming the gospel and seeing people come to Christ. And Satan hindered us. That word hindered is a very interesting term. It literally means cut into.

Satan cut into us. Or it's a military term that's often used to cut up the road, destroy the road so that the opposing army can't pass this way. It stops them, at least slows them down, like blowing up the bridge so they can't go over the bridge. They've got to find another way to get across the river. You cut up the road so that the soldiers that are marching can probably get through the rubble, but it slows them down. And as far as the supply wagons and all of that, they're stopped. They're stymied until you can build a new road, make a new way. If you can destroy the road, cut it up, you can stop progress pretty effectively, and that's the language that Paul uses. We desired, we tried, we made every effort to get there and be with you, but Satan, our adversary, cut up the road. And so far, we haven't been able to get past that obstacle, to get back there. Now the question is, what did Satan use to keep Paul from getting back to Thessalonica?

And the answer is, we don't know, because we're not told. But whatever it was, it would seem that it applied more to Paul personally than the others. So it may very well have been illness that applied to Paul in a way that it didn't apply to others, because this section moves on almost without interruption into chapter 3, as we shall see in the days to come. And so you can drop down to chapter 3, verse 1. Therefore, he says, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left alone in Athens and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God and fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith. So Timothy was able to get back, but Paul was not.

Again, why? I don't know, but apparently something that applied to Paul in a way that didn't apply to Timothy. But Satan is the cause that Paul points to here. Now there are two errors relating to Satan that I need to warn you about. Number one is to minimize his activity, which is often done by minimizing his person, as if Satan is not real, the devil's not a real person, not a real fallen angel, not a real created being, it's just an influence. It's that religious language, it's that tradition, that mythological idea that we incorporate into our Christianity and we call it the devil. And there are people who think that way and talk that way and they are wrong.

That's a mistake. The devil is real and very strong and very powerful. So don't make that mistake of minimizing the devil. But on the other hand, the second error is to exaggerate his power in such a way that you think he's as powerful as God.

He's not. In such a way as you focus always on the devil and never go beyond the devil to the God who controls the devil. You know that, don't you? The devil is real. He's powerful. And in the inscrutable purposes of God, he is allowed to oppose the people of God and create a lot of mischief. But only as it fits into the overarching will of God. And God uses the devil and his evil to accomplish God's righteous purposes. And the devil is on a leash and he can only do what God allows him to do.

And as we say from time to time, the devil is, as it turns out, the unwilling servant of Jehovah. He serves God and he does what God allows him to do. And he can't do any more than God allows him to do. And when God says you can touch Job's body but you can't take his life, then the devil is powerless to take his life.

He can only do what God permits. So when we're looking at the causes of difficulty in our lives, it's not wrong to say that's the devil's opposition. That's Satan.

He's trying to hinder me from serving God and from accomplishing God's purposes in my life. But it's good to even rise above that and say, but I know my God controls the devil and that God has this plan for my good and I don't know what God is doing. But I'm not afraid of the devil, as powerful as he is, because I have one who is greater. Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.

And my God controls the devil. Which brings me now to God's undefeatable purpose in verses 19 and 20. For what is our hope or joy or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For you are our glory and joy. God's undefeatable purpose is that Paul talks about trophies of conquering grace and Paul talks about the triumph of a conquering savior and Paul talks about the termination of an effectual process. Trophies of God's conquering grace. What is our hope or joy or crown of rejoicing?

Is it not even you? It's a rhetorical question. In fact, it's two rhetorical questions. One that follows another, the second that helps to answer the first.

But Paul says, what or who, and it can be translated either way, what or who. What or who is the reason for our hope, our earnest expectation? Answer, you are. What or who is the cause of our joy? Answer, you are.

And someone claims he doesn't love them. What is our victor's crown? The crown here is the laurel wreath. It was placed upon the brow of the winners of athletic contests in the Greek Olympics and other athletic contests. There's two different words for crown. One is Stephanos, a royal crown, but this one is the victor's crown. It's a laurel wreath, but it conveyed great honor. It wasn't worth deadly squat intrinsically.

It was going to fade very quickly. It was just a wreath made out of leaves, olive leaves or laurel leaves or something of that nature. But the honor of being called up to the grandstand and bowing down and having this laurel crown placed upon your brow to recognize that you are the victor in the contest and to tell everybody else, to demonstrate to everybody else your victory. That's what Paul is referring to, and he's saying, now what is our victor's crown?

Answer, you are. So when we think about casting our crowns at Christ's feet on that great day when we are before him and receive our rewards, Paul is indicating what I'm going to do is just basically say, here they are, Lord. Here they are. All these people that have come to Christ under the preaching of my ministry, that's my crown. I give them to you. I cast them, as it were, at your feet. What is our victor's crown?

You are. The Thessalonian Christians were Paul's trophy. They were his reward. The Thessalonian Christians were his pride and joy and his hope for the future, his hope. The Thessalonian Christians meant everything to Paul. Oh, how he loved them, how could you doubt that? Remember when Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus before he raised him from the dead and some of the Jews who observed that said, look how he loved him. He's weeping. Well, this is what Paul is doing.

He's demonstrating the reality of his heart, the strong longing of his heart, the strong love he has in his heart, and their response no doubt would be, look how much he loves us. It's so obvious. How could we overlook it? How could we deny it?

How could we be persuaded by the critics that it is not so? This gathering of trophies of God's conquering grace, which is the triumph of a conquering Savior, as verse 19 tells us, is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? Christ is coming someday, and that's going to bring all of the triumphs of his grace into focus. On the day of Christ's coming, there will be a bride for Christ.

It's being gathered now, but on that day it will be completed, and it will be given to Christ, guaranteed. Not maybe, guaranteed. There will be a bride for Christ, guaranteed. That bride will be in his presence at the day of his coming, guaranteed. That bride will be complete without a single member missing when he returns, guaranteed.

Satan cannot stop that from happening, guaranteed. What a day that will be. We went to the funeral of Benny Aldridge this week.

It was a blessing, and we sang together at the congregation. There's coming a day. What a day that will be when, my Jesus, I shall see, when I look upon his face, the one who saved me by his grace, when he takes me by the hand and leads me to the promised land. What a day, glorious day that will be.

Yes, it will. And when the Lord returns, we're going to see all of this coming to culmination, the triumph of a conquering Savior. The termination of an effectual process. There's nothing that can thwart this process, for you are our glory and joy.

Now, it's not over yet. Paul, are you sure they're going to make it? Paul, are you sure they're not going to fall away? Paul, are you sure that Satan's not going to do something to defeat what you desire for these people?

No. You are our glory. Glory is the manifestation of honor.

He's still thinking about that last day when Christ returns, and they are his crown. You are our glory and joy. You is emphatic. Glory is the reason for honor. Joy is the reason for rejoicing. So, and here's the point, whether Paul ever makes it back to Thessalonica or not, they are still guaranteed to be his joy and glory. Whether Paul is able to go back and tend to them, to minister to them, to help them, to shore them up, to strengthen them, or not, it's guaranteed that in that day of Christ's return, they will be his glory and joy. God's full purpose for them will be perfectly fulfilled. It is the undefeatable purpose of God that we see.

Isn't that great? Paul's righteous desire, Satan's evil opposition, who's going to win? Don't you worry about it for half a second. I'll tell you who's going to win.

God's undefeatable purpose will be fulfilled, I promise, on the basis of God's infallible word. Now let's learn a few lessons. First of all, regarding the forced separation of members of the church because of COVID. Livestream is good. Much, much better than no contact. How grateful we are for that. That really helps, doesn't it? Praise the Lord for it. But Livestream is not fully satisfactory.

Why? Because it is not bodily present. It is not face-to-face present.

And it can never replace that. We need that face-to-face relationship. We need personal relationships. We need to join our voices together in praise. We need to lift our hearts together in prayer. We need to minister to one another and be ministered to by one another. When you come to church, the only ministry you receive is not what you get from the pulpit.

I hope you understand that. I hope you value the pulpit ministry, as you should, but that's not the only ministry that you receive. You are being ministered to by other believers, whether you even understand how that's happening or not.

It is happening by the design and purpose of God. And when you're absent, you miss that. And when you're absent for a long time, you miss that. And sometimes it's unavoidable. But please don't ever forget that nothing can replace face-to-face presence. To be present in heart but not in body is not fully satisfactory.

And Paul demonstrated that isn't good enough. If it were good enough, I wouldn't be so strong in my desire and my efforts to get back and see you personally. I must do that unless God just will not allow it. Which causes me to ask then in regard to this forced COVID separation, which has been a very difficult time, are you eager to return to the assembly of the saints? Are you making every effort to return?

And if not, why not? Is it an indication that your love is growing weaker? If so, that ought to set off alarm bells.

Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. That's not good. That's not spiritually healthy. I need to address that.

I need to reverse that. There's a second lesson here that pertains to the desires of the heart. There's a wonderful text in Psalm 37.4. Delight yourself also in the Lord and he shall give you the desires of your heart. Isn't that a wonderful promise? Question, did Paul receive the desire of his heart to visit Thessalonica?

Answer, not as far as we know. So evidently trusting God is not a guarantee to fulfill every personal desire, even good ones, strong ones, holy ones, Christian ones. Well then what is this about? Delight yourself also in the Lord and he shall give you the desires of your heart. It means delighting yourself in God is how we get our desires recalibrated. Delighting ourself in God is how we make God's desires our desires. It's not that if we delight ourself in God, he's going to bend to our desires, even if they're not best. He's only going to fulfill the desires of our heart that are in tune with his desires and that really do honor him and really do advance the cause of Christ and really do produce good in our life and only he knows which ones those are. So our delighting ourself in God is how we sort out the, what shall I put it, the illegitimate desires from the legitimate ones because we can't always tell.

But delight yourself in the Lord and God will sort that out for you. So we make God's desires our desires. That therefore means that our greatest desire is to please him, our greatest desire is to honor him. Our greatest desire is to submit to him. Our greatest desire is to serve him. Did Paul get that desire?

Oh yes. Whether ever he got back to Thessalonica or not, he got that desire in great measure because he delighted himself in the Lord. One final lesson regarding divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

We learned in this passage that God's purposes will be fulfilled perfectly guaranteed. Does that eliminate human involvement? No. No. Logically it seems like it should.

No. Because the Bible tells us otherwise. We must fully engage ourselves in the endeavor to cooperate with God's purposes, to fulfill God's purposes, to be part of God's purposes. And he will show us how to do that and when we are going in a direction that is not helpful, he'll steer us someplace else, but we are to always have this intense desire to be involved in cooperating with the purposes of God and being an instrument in his hands. Paul desired that. He wanted to go back to Thessalonica. He wanted to go back and minister to them again. But they're going to make it whether you do or not.

No matter. I want to do that. I need to do that. That's a God-honoring thing for me to do.

To take my responsibility to fulfill the ministry that God has given to me. Is that a contradiction? Only for those who are looking for contradictions, and some people are, but for those who are submitted to God and to his word, it's not a contradiction. It may be a bit of a mystery. It may be a conundrum at times, but no. It's not a contradiction. It's just part of the mysterious workings of God that we learn to submit to and to understand to the extent we can, and then to yield the parts we can't understand to God and just go on humbly serving him.

Well, that concludes. Christians need the fellowship of other believers, and healthy Christians strongly desire such fellowship, shall we pray. Father, increase our love for you and our love for one another. Father, increase our desire to be in the fellowship of the saints and to fulfill the purposes for which you designed the church and the assembly of believers, as we ask it in Jesus' name, amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-14 19:33:43 / 2023-11-14 19:47:23 / 14

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