God Will Clear the Way to Feed You More
A sermon based on 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Sunday, November 29, 2015 – Advent 1C
Well, I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving Day! Mine was great! As usual it was marked by eating too much food. After the meal of turkey and stuffing, potatoes and gravy, green beans and dinner rolls, I suspect that the real intent of relaxing for some conversation and a board game after the meal was simply to let the food settle a bit more before we dug into the pie and other desserts. But before we could return the table, we had to clear the table of the dishes that already covered it. But once that table was cleared, we were ready for the best part of the night—the dessert.
The Christians in Thessalonica also needed some clearing to take place before they could eat. But unlike me on Thursday afternoon, they weren't stuffed. They were hungry—not for some pie, but for the Word of God. On his second missionary trip, the apostle Paul spent less than a month in Thessalonica instructing them in the Word before he was driven out of town by an angry mob. And the Thessalonians weren't satisfied with what little instruction they got. They were lacking in their knowledge and were hungry for more. But they needed to have the way cleared for Paul to come and give them more to eat—spiritually speaking, that is. And Paul prayed earnestly that the way might be cleared.
This morning, it is my prayer that God might clear the way for you that you too may enjoy the best part—not dessert, but the Word of God. May he clear any obstacles that stand in the way of you digging in to the Word and digesting what it says that you might grow in your faith. Here's Paul's prayer for the Thessalonians and my prayer for you, recorded for us in 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13...
9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. 11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
The Thessalonians were hungry. With only three weeks with the apostle, their instruction in the faith was cut short. And they wanted more. They had faith. They had zeal. And they had a sincere desire to know more. But they were lacking in their faith. What were they lacking? Paul never spells it out. Some suggest it was love for each other and everyone else. They had a head knowledge and real trust in Jesus, but weren't putting into practice in their Christian living. Others suggest it was a certain knowledge of the end times as Paul spends the greater part of 1st and 2nd Thessalonians clearing up their misunderstandings. But whatever it was, Paul had every intention of supplying what was lacking when God would clear the way.
So how about you? Are you hungry? Or do you think, "No. Not us. We're not infants in the faith like those Thessalonians. We've been going to church since we were in diapers. We know the books of the Bible and even what most of them are about. We go to church. (Here we are!) And we read our Bible AND devotions every day!"
Well, maybe it's apathy that keeps us from growth in our faith. "I already get church on Sunday morning. What do I need Bible Study for?" Or maybe it's a sense of spiritual pride that stands in the way of our growth. An attitude that says, "I already know waaaay more than everyone else here. I don't need daily Bible study." Maybe it's arrogance that says, "I already know everything that's going to be said. I know all I need to know. I'm already full. I'm satisfied."
But unlike it is with the food at Thanksgiving, we can never be full of the Word of God. You can never have eaten enough that you're satisfied and need no more. You can never master his Word well enough! Can anyone here honestly claim that their love for others can no longer increase because it's already perfect? Can anyone claim that they've mastered every part of the Word of God? Even if that were the case (and it's certainly not), then we still need to come to Bible Class and worship... for others! God says in Hebrews 10:24-25, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
If we lack a hearty appetite to do that we show our lack of love for others and our self-serving attitudes. When we cease to pray for others night and day as Paul did, we show that we're really concerned about ourselves. Would anyone here claim, then, that on their own they are blameless and holy in the presence of God? Hardly!
But that's why we need the gospel. Because we cannot get what will satisfy our craving to be right with God, to be blameless and holy, to be able to stand in his presence, in self-help books, in personal life coaches, or from talk show hosts. The Gospel alone satisfies that craving. In Isaiah 55(:2-3) God says, "Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live."
Here, in God's Word, we hear the comforting message that Jesus cleared the way for us to get to heaven. He cleared our sins of arrogance, of pride, of apathy toward the Word when he, the blameless and holy Son of God, took those sins on himself. He cleared the way for us when he gave us credit for his perfect, blameless and holy life. He cleared the way for some "Paul," a pastor, a friend, your parents, to share this good news with you! And now you and I are truly blameless and holy, by faith in him! And God will now supply what you're still lacking in your faith, since no one here has fully arrived!
Some suggest that what the Thessalonians lacked was nothing more than the strength to keep going. That's why Paul prayed, "May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones."
Well, you, like the Thessalonians know the wonderful truth of the Gospel. You believe it. And you find satisfaction in Jesus. But now, may God clear the way to feed you even more. May he remove those obstacles that keep you from growing even more in your faith, in your love for one another, in your strength of heart that will keep you blameless and holy in the presence of God until Jesus comes.
I know it sounds a bit harsh, but it is my sincere prayer that God would remove those obstacles by any means necessary. Do you have trouble getting to bed early on Saturday because you're out late with friends? Then may God kill your social life. Do you stay up late watching TV, but have trouble finding 5 minutes to read your Bible? Then may your TV break and cost too much to repair so you have more time in the Word. Is it apathy that keeps you from studying God's Word? Then may he send you some trial or pain, some cross, that drives you back to the Word for answers and comfort. May God clear the table for you to keep eating the Word.
Then, as the old prayer used to go, as you hear the Word, read it, mark it, learn it, and inwardly digest it, may you get the nutrients you need to grow stronger, to learn more and to love more. And as you're filled up with his love, it will overflow and spill into the lives of others like a glass of water that's filled up and overflowing, spilling onto the table.
Then we'll be eager to pray for others night and day that God might clear the way for them to have what is lacking in their faith supplied. Pray that he might clear the way for you to go to them and share the truths they so desperately need to hear. Pray that he might remove your fear and apprehension as you talk about what matters most, that they too might be blameless and holy until Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
And as you do, "May he strengthen your hearts so that you will [continue to] be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father [until] our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones." In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.