Sunday, December 02, 2018
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
Happy New Year! No, this isn’t a joke greeting. I’m very serious when I say “Happy New Year!” because even though January 1st is a month away, this Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent, marks the start of a new Church Year. As we kick-off this New (Church) Year I thought it would be fitting to come up with some New (Church) Year resolutions.
What is it that you want God to do with your spiritual life this year? If nothing comes immediately to mind, then let’s use Paul’s prayer in our text as our prayer for the New (Church) Year: Lord, deepen our faith, and increase our love. Amen.
Paul’s prayer was originally for Christians living in the Greek city of Thessalonica. Paul stopped by that city on his second missionary journey and preached for three Sabbaths before being run out of town. Even though Paul had only been there a short time, God blessed his message and a good number of people, both Jews and Greeks, were converted to the faith.
One note of importance, the persecution of Christians didn’t stop when Paul left. Paul was concerned for these new converts. With the concern being would they remain faithful in spite of the persecution? Paul wanted to know so, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how the church was doing (Acts 17). Thankfully, Timothy brought back a good report. Not only had the Thessalonians stood firm in the faith, they had spread God’s Word! It’s no wonder Paul said of the Thessalonians in our text, “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?” (1 Thessalonians 3:9) Parents who see their children stand firm in the faith even after they go off to college or to work in the “real world” understand the joy Paul talks about in our text.
Still, Paul knew that his work with the Thessalonians wasn’t finished. He went on to say, “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:10). Although the Thessalonians had demonstrated great trust in God’s promises, they still had a lot to learn about God’s Word. After all, Paul had only been with them for three weeks, and just how much could he teach them in that short time?
So, what did Paul want to teach the Thessalonians? Paul, in his two letters, taught them about the rapture, the antichrist, and church discipline. Do those seem like subjects you would teach “new” Christians? Probably not, in fact those doctrines don’t come up in my New Member Information Course until the last few lessons. That’s unfortunate because that may give the impression that those doctrines are only for the “more advanced” Christians, when in reality all Christians should know well every doctrine of the Bible. Indeed, the writer to the Hebrews said, “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about Baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so” (Hebrews 6:1-3).
If you’ve been happy to say, “Jesus loves me this I know, and that’s all I wanna to know!” Think about how Jesus Himself instructed us to make disciples of all nations by Baptizing and teaching them to obey everything He commanded (Matthew 28:19, 20).
Our prayer should be, “Lord, deepen our faith,” as we begin another Church Year because it’s a prayer that God Himself wants us to pray, and it’s a prayer that God stands ready to answer. Thankfully we have many opportunities at this congregation to broaden our knowledge of Scripture. In fact, today in our Sunday morning Bible class we’re learning about the Exodus and how God was with the Israelites while traveling to the promised land. If the Sunday morning Bible class hour doesn’t fit into your schedule, then there’s the Wednesday evening Bible class at 7:00 pm (which will resume in January). If you don’t like any of these times or any of the topics that are being covered, then speak to me and let’s find something that interests you and let’s make time to study the Bible so that God will deepen our faith.
We don’t ask the Lord to deepen our faith to make us better Bible trivial pursuit players; we ask Him to deepen our faith because it strengthens our hold on heaven. In fact, that was the whole point of Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians. Paul prayed, “May [the Lord] 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” (1 Thessalonians 3:13).
Paul knew that the Devil wouldn’t stop his attacks on the Thessalonians just because they were standing firm in the faith. In fact, he knew that the Devil would increase his attacks. Therefore, if the Thessalonians wanted to continue in the faith, they would need God to strengthen the faith they had. In the same way the Devil will only increase his attacks against us as the end draws near. Therefore, we will want to strengthen the faith we have through the study of God’s Word so that we’ll remain blameless and holy when Christ returns.
Paul didn’t just pray, however, that the Lord would deepen the faith of the Thessalonians so that they would be ready for Christ’s return; he also prayed that the Lord would increase their love while they waited for Christ. Paul said, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).
A Christian isn’t just someone who knows the Bible well; it’s someone who puts that knowledge into action by loving others as Christ loved the world. Paul didn’t pray that the Thessalonians would love, (they were already doing that) he prayed that their love would increase. That’s a good New Church Year resolution, not just that God would make us love, but that He would make our love increase.
One way to increase love is by loving more deeply. Paul prayed that the love the Thessalonians had for one another would increase. They needed that love and support especially when they were being bombarded by the world and persecuted for their faith. If they couldn’t turn to fellow Christians for support, to whom could they turn?
We also want God to increase our love for not just our fellow church members. No, our prayer is asking that He increase our unselfish concern for one another. The Lord gives us many opportunities to do just that, therefore, our prayer should be for God to increase our love to our fellow humans.
Another way to increase love is by loving more people. Paul prayed that God would increase the love the Thessalonians had for everyone, even those who were persecuting them. That fits Christ’s command doesn’t it? In Matthew 5, Jesus instructed us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. But is it really possible to show unselfish concern to those who don’t seem interested in returning that same love? The truth is we don’t have what it takes to show this kind of love. That’s why it’s important to point out that Paul wasn’t praying that the Thessalonians produce this increase in love; he prayed that God would grant them the increase.
Since it’s God’s will that our love increases, we can be certain that when we pray for it, God will give it to us. That’s scary when we think about our sinful nature. Because deep down inside we would rather go on holding a grudge than forgive. We’d rather be the rotten people we are! That’s why it’s so important to be reminded of our Baptism.
In Baptism the Holy Spirit washed us clean from those sins. Not only that, the Holy Spirit held the sinful nature under the water until it was so weakened that it can’t control us any longer. Satan doesn’t want us to remember that though. He wants us to believe that we can’t help but give in to our sinful nature. Since it’s God’s will that our love increase, and since Jesus has disarmed the powers of hell we not only can do what God wants, but by His grace we will.
So here we are, standing on the threshold of a New Church Year. What will this New Year bring? It may even bring the return of Christ. Since that’s the case, we would do well to refocus our faith. Won’t you pray with me that God will deepen our faith and increase our love? Why not? For then we will be ready for Christ’s return. Amen.