Church Still Under Pressure – Be Ready
Thursday 3rd for Sunday 6th September 2020
**Reading: Psalm 9:1-2
Song – Ten thousand reasons (Bless the Lord)
Prayer (Gathering for Worship pp.323-324)
Song – I will sing the wondrous story
**Message: Church still under pressure (3) – *Be Ready!
*Urgent priorities and obedience in the face of the future
These are the priorities for living in the light of what Paul’s been saying.
*(x 4) Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5
This is written in the continuous imperative tense – in other words, keep on praying. If Paul needed prayer, and how he knew it, then most surely we do too.
He mentions two prayers – not a long list of activities for prayer.
He requests prayer for **(a) the proclamation of the message – *for the word of the Lord to advance (v.1). There’s a natural implication in Paul requesting this that the Thessalonian church should be doing the same thing that he’s asking them to pray for him – despite the very serious opposition they faced. I’m sure the same applies to us today.
Secondly, he prays for **(b) the protection of God’s people. *He asserts that the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect them (v.3).
And following on from this, Paul expresses his concern that the believers in Thessalonica should go on and on with the Lord, not just come to him to start with and then stagnate in their journey with him. *Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life’ (Proverbs 4:23). It should definitely be our prayer too that the Lord would direct our hearts, and the hearts of others, into Christ’s love and perseverance. How we need to pray for hearts – our hearts and those of others. This is the epicentre of the human being and controls all desire and motivation.
*(x 6) Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15
As we have seen these last weeks, the church in Thessalonica was a faithful model of discipleship and an incredible example to other churches in Macedonia and Asia.
Paul commended the Thessalonian church, not because they were a cutting-edge church, growing rapidly and the ‘in place’ to be, but because they were a community rooted in God’s grace and love, committed to Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, bearing witness to the gospel, characterized by faith, hope and love, faithfully enduring because of their hope in the gospel. And that despite severe opposition. This meant that they were a church pleasing to God, focused on the reality of Jesus’s coming return.
Yet, within the church, there was a sin taking place that was causing ongoing disruption and concern. *‘We hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business’ (2 Thessalonians 3:11). This is the first and only time that Paul specifically calls out a known sin in Thessalonica
These are strong words. This idleness Paul speaks of is more than just not working. It’s the kind of behaviour that has a negative impact on others. It’s suggestive of marching out of step, tripping up others as they go along and generally causing havoc.
There were several issues causing concern for Paul.
Firstly, some of the believers were not obeying the apostles’ teaching in this area. There is a very real danger that we can pick the parts of the Bible we like, and reject or ignore other parts.
Secondly, people were saying the Lord is about to come back imminently, or he has already come back, so why bother? We may ultimately be citizens of a different kingdom, but we are still in this world and we are not called to abandon it.
Thirdly, this attitude was spilling over into a practice of some of the believers refusing to work when they perfectly well could, and at the same time abusing the kindness and generosity of their brothers and sisters in Christ. This was putting a burden on the church, because there was no welfare state, so the responsibility was falling on the shoulders of others within the church to care for those who didn’t work
So Paul calls on the church to notice what’s going on here and to avoid association with these people for a time for the purposes of their discipline and restoration. He urges them to so this – in other words, he entreats them with a pastoral warmth and encouragement to do the right thing. It’s serious language because Paul believes serious action is required.
King Solomon shares this story – **‘I walked by the field of a lazy person, the vineyard of one with no common sense. I saw that it was overgrown with nettles. It was covered with weeds, and its walls were broken down. Then, as I looked and thought about it, I learned this lesson: A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little more folding of the hands to rest – then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber (Proverbs 24:30-34).
The man was blessed – blessed to have a vineyard, when there would have been so many people around him too poor to own a field. But he was neglectful. Solomon describes nettles, weeds and broken walls to indicate that the vineyard is totally destroyed. What caused the destruction?
If you would have got a chance to interview him, he would have probably given you a list of excuses. He might say, ‘The ground isn’t fertile. I know nothing will grow if I plant. It’s a waste of time, so I didn’t try.’ But if nettles and weeds grow, then so can fruit and vegetables.
We can easily use this excuse too. We blame other people or the situation. And we give this excuse to the Lord as well. It might be, ‘I don’t have that talent – I can’t sing like them – I can’t preach like him.
The second excuse that the lazy man might have given is, ‘Even if I grow the crop, animals would get into the garden and ruin everything.’ The passage clearly says that the field once had walls, but they were in ruins. Why were the walls there? To protect the garden and keep the wild animals away. The walls would likely have been made of stone, which means that they would be really strong. But the man neglected the walls so much that they broke down, giving room for wild animals.
This is another reason we may give. If we seek to move closer to God, we’ll be more of a target for the enemy. But let’s remember that if we are in Christ and really seek to honour him and live for him, then the Lord places a hedge around us. Like Job. He feared God, shunned evil and sacrificed regularly to God. This resulted in a hedge around him placed by God. Satan tried to attack him, but he couldn’t because of the hedge.
If we allow little foxes to enter our lives, our hedge will be ruined. *Solomon also says, ‘Catch all the foxes, those little foxes, before they ruin the vineyard (of love), for the grapevines are blossoming!’ (Song of Solomon 2:15).
Are we neglectful in some area of our spiritual lives? Has the priority of God’s kingdom subtly been allowed to be replaced by other things?
There can be things that constantly distract us and take our attention. And it would seem that those who were just sitting around waiting for the Lord’s return, because they had nothing else to do, were beginning to run around spreading panic and putting their noses where they did not belong. In the NIV version what Paul says reads, ‘They are not busy; they are busybodies’. It seems that they had time on their hands and gossip on their lips, but they defended themselves by saying, ‘The Lord is coming soon!’
They were meddling in matters that shouldn’t concern them – *‘Interfering in someone else’s argument is as foolish as yanking a dog’s ears’ (Proverbs 26:17). Do you seek to build up the church by what you say and do, or are you actually damaging God’s work?
** Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:16-18
Paul ends where he began. The Thessalonian church is reminded of the power and sufficiency of the Lord of peace. This is not achieved by obtaining inner tranquillity and mindfulness or meditation, by walks in nature or by listening to Radio 3 or Classic FM. It’s a peace that only comes from drawing into the inner presence of the Lord in the midst of our lives, in busyness as well as in quieter times. There is in fact, never a day when his peace is not sufficient. *Jesus says, ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20).
Paul is emphasizing his God-given authority as an authentic apostle. And he ends with grace. *The grace of Jesus is like the Niagara Falls. You can’t turn it off. It’s always flowing and cascading down.
How we live matters. *‘Never tire of doing what is good’ (2 Thessalonians 3:13). *In Ephesians he says ‘Be very careful, then, how you live’ (Ephesians 5:15). We might sometimes think, ‘Is it really worth it?’ The things we do in public, and also in private, matter. Your life may be the only Bible some people will ever read. People will judge the Christian faith on what they see in us. Do they see someone who is compassionate, understanding, trustworthy and honest, someone who goes out of their way to help others out? Or do they see someone who is self-absorbed, judgmental and not to be trusted, a gossip, prone to fits of anger, who uses inappropriate language?
On a cruise ship, the majority of people on board are passengers, who have paid good money to sit back and enjoy the cruise while they are served on hand and foot by the hard working crew. The passengers can relax and watch the scenery slip slowly by, and enjoy all the facilities the cruise ship offers, the entertainment and food, and relax and unwind while others do the work.
Contrast this the purpose of a lifeboat – not to serve the people already on board the boat, but to save lives. Every person on board the lifeboat has a job to do. There is no room for idleness, because it’s on a mission to navigate lives stormy waters, and rescue people.
*John Wesley once said, ‘.One of the principal rules of religion is, to lose no occasion of serving God. And, since he is invisible to our eyes, we are to serve him in our neighbour; which he receives as if done to himself in person, standing visibly before us’
*Rick Warren has said, ‘Faithful servants never retire. You can retire from your career, but you will never retire from serving God’.
None of us know how long we have on this earth, or when Jesus will return. Perhaps during these unprecedented times, when so much of what seems to be normal may have changed, we need to remember that urgent priority.
Song – I give you my heart (This is my desire)
Mission Prayer – Derek Ofoborh – Street Pastors
Prayers of Intercession – Maudlyn Samuels
News and Information
Communion next week