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How to Keep Walking when the Road Gets Rough (chapter 3)
One Step at a Time
How to Keep Walking
when the Road Gets Rough
1 Thessalonians 3:1-13
So far, in our series from 1 Thessalonians, we've discovered several things God has provided to help us in our walk with Him.  He has called us to Himself and given us the gift of salvation, blessed us with a church family and pastors and teachers to walk along side us, and allowed us to have His Holy Word so we can stay on the right path and walk worthy of Him.
Unfortunately, some who come to Christ are deceived into believing once they become a Christian the road is going to level out and they'll never have any more problems, but nothing could be farther from the truth.  In fact, following Christ may mean that your problems will increase. Just ask Paul. 
His journey to Thessalonica took him through several cities where heated opposition was expressed. The gospel's success in Thessalonica brought persecution against the young church. Paul had his own troubles in Corinth, the city from which he was writing. This letter calls his friends to renewed courage.
So today, as we turn the page to chapter 3, we find him discussing another valuable resource in our journey and that is perspective.  And the perspective we find here is what allows us to keep walking when the road is rough. 
And even though it is a challenge to the theology of many today, at some point in your walk with God, the road is going to get rough. You are going to experience some potholes and detours. There are going to be some twists and turns that will complicate your walk with Him. So what do we do when that happens?
Well, let's see what we can learn about how to keep walking when the road gets rough from the perspective of Paul. First, notice    
1.  Paul's Perspective on Suffering
verses 1-4
Paul writes to those who are suffering as one who has suffered. He is speaking from experience. Paul knew what it was like to go through tribulation.  He had suffered much at the hands of evil men. 
Thessalonica was a young church. It was filled with brand new Christians who are now being attacked and persecuted for their faith. He did not want them to buckle under the hand of severe persecution, so he sends Timothy to help them.
In sending Timothy to them, Paul had three things in mind. He tells us first that he wanted Timothy to
- establish them in the faith (verse 2)
Paul wanted Timothy to teach them the great realities upon which their faith rested -- the virgin birth of Jesus, His life and ministry, His death upon the cross, His resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the return of Christ. He was to get them grounded in the fundamentals of the faith.
Vince Lombardi, who was the head football coach of the Green Bay Packers for many years, produced one NFL champion after another.  They could have used him this year! 
But Lombardi motivated his men to play every moment of every game to the best of their ability. No matter what the circumstances, the Packers were as strong and tough in the last two minutes of the game as they were at the opening kickoff. They never quit.
What was their secret?  We're told that Lombardi began each practice session by holding up a football and saying, "This is a football!" Then he drilled his men in the basics of conditioning, blocking, tackling, and play-making.  This thorough training in the basics stood them in good stead when the pressure was really on. It kept them from giving up.
That was essentially Timothy's assignment in Thessalonica. He was to get the Christians of that church grounded in the fundamentals.
Secondly, Paul hoped that Timothy would help them to
- stand firm in afflictions (verse 3)  
They needed to know that panic was not the appropriate response to problems, and that suffering and affliction could be overcome. These believers had a new source of strength, so there was no need to fear. They could now lean on God. He would take them through everything and use it for their benefit.
You see, folks, God is not going to allow us to go through more than we can endure.
The Bible says in I Corinthians 10:13, "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."
A man doing some shopping in a grocery store was being closely followed by his small son. The boy was carrying a large basket and the father was loading it with one item after another. He put in canned goods, sugar, flour, meat, and a variety of vegetables. A customer who was watching began to feel sorry for the youngster, thinking his load was becoming too heavy for him.
Walking up behind him, she said quietly, "That's a big load for a little boy like you, isn't it?" The boy turned to her as if surprised by her question.  Then he smiled and said, "Oh, don't worry. My dad knows how much I can carry!"
Our heavenly Father also knows our load limit and understands precisely how much each of us can endure.  Well, Timothy was sent by Paul to Thessalonica to help them understand their appropriate response to problems, and to show them that they could endure suffering and affliction in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The third reason Paul sent Timothy was that
- he wanted to know how they were doing (verse 5)
he needed to know what was going on, not because he was checking up on them, but because he was genuinely concerned about them. He knew what it was like to suffer.
He knew what it was like to be afflicted, and he wanted to make sure that his spiritual children in Thessalonica were successfully enduring their tribulation and standing firm in the Lord.
In fact, if you look at verses 6-9, you see the great relief he had in knowing that they were doing ok.  His work had not been in vain. It stood solid and sure. The faith of his followers was intact. Their love was evident. And best of all, their trust in God was secure. Paul was so proud of their steadfastness in the face of persecution.
Again, we see the tender love and affection that Paul has for this church!  As we saw last week, his heart was broken when he couldn't get to where they were. Even though he had tried hard to get there, Satan had hindered him. But it wasn't because of a lack of desire on his part. He earnestly tried to return. 
I read an interesting story last week about persecution. A group of 100 Roman soldiers had been drawn together in a special bond of closeness through the experiences they shared in battle. Among them were 40 Christians. One day the emperor called for a test of loyalty, demanding that every member of the army bow down before his statue.
As each of the 40 believers passed before the image, they refused to worship it. One by one they declared, "I'm a Christian!" And every one received the sentence of death. Because of his high regard for these men, the legion commander was heartsick as he marched them onto the ice where they would be left to die from exposure to the bitter cold.
As they went out into the darkness this chant rang in his ears, "Forty wrestlers wrestling for thee, O Christ, claim for thee the victory, and from thee the crown." The commander waited throughout the night onshore near a roaring fire, hoping some would change their minds and obey the imperial decree. Finally he saw a solitary figure groping his way toward the fire, approaching the emperor's statue. The half-frozen man fell down before it, but no one else appeared.
The centurion was so moved by the steadfastness of the 39 remaining men that he dropped his armor and rushed to join that dying band. In a few moments the cry again was heard, echoing across the frigid waste.  "Forty wrestlers wrestling for thee, O Christ, claim for thee the victory, and from thee the crown."
Paul had an understanding of their suffering, and if at all possible he would have been like that Roman, centurion and would have joined them in their tribulation and persecution. And he was certainly thankful to hear that they were not giving up; they were not throwing in the towel. They were continuing steadfast.
Next we see
2.  Paul's Perspective On Satan
verses 5-9
Already, we've seen Satan pictured as a hindrance back in chapter 2. And notice, Paul doesn't even try to give them a list of possibilities. He just says, "I don't want you tempted "by some means".
His schemes and methods are wide open and he'll use anything and anybody at his disposal to get you off course.  He is a clever devil and he will use any means to attack the Christian and weaken his faith in God.
In fact, if you will notice in verse 3, Paul says, "I don't want any of you to be shaken by these afflictions."
The word "shaken" is an interesting word usage in that the number one definition for the word is "to wag the tail", as in a dog wagging its tail. The idea Paul is expressing is that just like a dog will wag his tail in order to get something he wants, like a pat on the head or a treat, Satan comes in the same way. 
He does not always come with a sword in his hand.  He's not always wearing horns and carrying a pitch fork. In fact, I don't think he ever comes like that.   Hardly ever do his attacks appear to be evil or dangerous. He's a whole lot more into fun and pleasure. His appeals are fleshly and sensual.   And very often, he comes like a little puppy dog wagging his tail.
He has a whole arsenal of weapons available and he is a student of human habit and appetite. He knows what to offer and how to approach his victims. And he is always up to something. That's why Paul said, "I was afraid for you that one of his tricks might work and what we worked to accomplish would be defeated." 
Fortunately, it appears that when Timothy gave his report to the apostle Paul about the church in Thessalonica, they had withstood the temptations of the devil.
verses 6-9
Now don't miss what Paul is telling them. 
He is warning them about the attacks of Satan, but notice, in verse 5, his primary concern was their faith.  And in verse 6, he says Timothy has come and brought good news regarding your faith. 
And in verse 9, after hearing the report, he is unable to come up with the words to express to God His thanks for what has happened!
The point is the way to overcome the attacks of Satan is through faith. We can overcome his temptations by faith. The way to keep waling when the road gets rough is by faith. So what kind of faith does he have in mind? It could be:
- Faith in God’s Character.  After all, He is good and He makes no mistake.
- Faith in God’s Word.  It never changes.  It is true no matter what happens to us. 
- Faith in God’s Purpose.  He has begun a work that will ultimately end with us being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.
- Faith in God’s Promises.  He has promised He will provide a way of escape and never burden us with more than we can bear. 
- Faith in God’s Presence.  He has declared to never leave us or forsake us, that He will be with us in the darkest moments of life.
- Faith in God’s Power.  He can deliver us from every temptation.
But I also see here another kind of faith that will help us in hard times and that is the shared faith of God’s people.
So many believers struggle because they try to handle their problems alone. But God never intended that you should walk through the lonesome valley by yourself.   Remember, as God's people, we never walk alone! 
Notice what Paul says to them in
verses 7-8
Is that not amazing? We are prone to think of Paul as always being the one to encourage others, but here we read that the great Apostle himself drew strength from the courage of these new believers.
And although he had come to minister to them, and now he is writing to continue that encouragement, Paul is saying that by standing firm in hard times they were actually ministering to him. In fact, Paul says, “I can face my trials because I see how well you are facing yours.”
And in that context, it occurs to me that far too often we are asking God to remove from the lives of those around us and from our own the very things that He intends to us as a demonstration of our faith so that fellow Christians can be encouraged in their own walk with Him and lost people can be impacted with the gospel they so badly need.
How vital it is that we learn to live by faith and develop this perspective we find in Paul, whether it is in a time of suffering or an attack from Satan.   
Thirdly, we find
3.  Paul's Perspective On Shortcomings
verse 10
Even though it is relatively short, what we read in verse 10 is extremely intense. Paul adds to the fact that he was "praying night and day" the word "exceedingly". He was "praying exceedingly night and day". 
That word "exceedingly" is a very strong word that is found in this combination only rarely in the New Testament.  Paul uses it in Ephesians 3:20 to talk about how God can do "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think". 
He uses it again in 1 Thessalonians 5:13 to encourage the church to recognize those who labor among you and "esteem them very highly in love" for their work's sake. 
The idea is of going over and above, and to do it on bhalf of someone else.  In the Ephesians reference, God, on our behalf, is able to do more than we could ever imagine. In the chapter 5 reference here in 1 Thessalonians, the pastor who is faithful to God's Word is to be honored in an extreme way for his work. 
And here in our text, Paul says to those young believers, I have offered on your behalf, a super abundance of prayers. You've been on my heart day and night and I have prayed for you "exceedingly".
And then he tells them the specific prayer requests he's been making.
First, he wants to be with them again in person.  We looked at that last week in an earlier passage.  and then he says, "I'm asking God to perfect what is lacking in your faith."
The word "perfect" means to complete or equip.  Sometimes it was used to speak of mending nets with the idea of brining something back to usability.  I think my favorite definition is "to make one what he ought to be".
Whether we like to admit it or not, none of us are what we ought to be. We all have some shortcomings. If we will be honest, we need to be perfected. And Paul recognized that the Thessalonians were off to a great start, but he was asking God to supply what was lacking, to provide for their shortcomings. 
I used to hear an old black pastor friend of mine ask God to "build us up where we're tore down the most."  That's the idea here.  Paul understood that the Great Commission hadn't been fulfilled just because someone made a profession of faith. He realized that there also had to be the work of maturing believers into full-grown disciples of Christ. 
I think Paul must have viewed the church in Thessalonica as a diamond, but in reality, it was a diamond in the rough. And a diamond in the rough looks just like a common rock. But after it's cut , the hidden beauty begins to emerge.
But that's not the end of the process.  That cut stone has to go through a finishing process to bring out its full radiance.  This is accomplished by a skilled craftsman who holds the gem against the surface of a large grinding wheel. 
Since no other substance is hard enough to polish the stone, this process may take a long time, depending on the quality desired by the one who will wear it. If the diamond is being prepared for a king or for some other prominent person, great care and many hours are spent perfecting it.
The apostle Paul knew that the church in Thessalonica was a diamond being prepared for a King. He is able to see their flaws, their shortcomings. But his desire was that they be perfected for the King.
In reality, that is the commitment these parents made this morning with their precious children.  The responsibility for that child doesn't end with birth.  IN fact, it's just beginning.  And the truth is, you aren't raising that child primarily to have a good name or be a productive citizen or an obedient child.  They are to be perfected for the King! 
And Paul, having already addressed them as a mother who cherishes and nourishes and a father who exhorts and comforts, now says, "I want to be a part of seeing God bring you to maturity as He builds you up where you're tore down the most."
And to that end, I am asking God to help me get to where you are so you can learn to love one another in the same way that I love you.  
verses 11-12
One final thing. We see Paul's perspective on suffering, Satan and shortcomings. Lastly, consider 
4.  Paul's View on the Second Coming
verse 13
This is the second time Paul mentions the second coming of Christ in this short letter.  Before we finish, we'll hear him address the subject three more times.  In fact, every chapter in 1 Thessalonians ends with a comment about the second coming of Christ. And beyond that, you can't read any of Paul's epistles without understanding his preoccupation with the second coming of Jesus Christ.
And here he looks off into the future and what he sees is the end product of the process.  What begins with our conversion is completed when we stand blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
Can you imagine that?  One of these days, at the judgment seat of Christ, our lives will be reviewed, not to determine our salvation but to examine our service.  We will never face our sins in heaven, for they are remembered against us no more. But our works will be tested, and we will be reviewed and rewarded accordingly. 
One day a traveler in Switzerland discovered a beautiful but secluded estate on the shores of a tranquil lake.
Knocking at the garden gate, he was met by an aged caretaker who cordially asked him to come in. The guardian seemed glad to see another person and eagerly showed him around the garden.
"How long have you been here?" the tourist asked.
"A very long time," he replied.
"And how often has your master returned?"
"Four times."
"When was he here last?"
"Many years ago. I am almost always alone -- it's very seldom that even a stranger visits me."
"Yet you have the garden in such perfect order," said the traveler, "and everything is flourishing as if you were expecting your master tomorrow."
"No, sir," exclaimed the caretaker. "I have it prepared it as if he were coming today!"
As believers in Christ we must be ready for the return of our Lord at any moment. The Bible says, "For in such an hour as ye think not, the son of man cometh."
And Paul is simply reminding these early believers, along with us, that we need to keep walking, even when the road is rough because one day we're going to make our appearance before God and the goal is to be presented blameless in holiness. 
As I said, that journey begins with the first step called salvation, and if you haven't taken that step, do it now. 
Let's pray.
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