On Various Subjects
"The Perfection of Our Faith"
RODGERS BAPTIST CHURCH
801 West Buckingham Rd. - Garland, TX 75040
1 "Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;
2 And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith:
3 That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.
4 For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.
5 For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain.
6 But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you:
7 Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith:
8 For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.
9 For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God;
10 Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?
11 Now God Himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.
12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:
13 To the end He may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints."Introduction:
If Christianity were reduced to its most basic element, that element would have to be FAITH! Without faith, there would be no faith. Hebrews 11:6 says, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." It is by faith that we experience God, that we accept His Son Jesus Christ, that we are justified before God, and it is by faith that we live by the directives of God's Word and Spirit. Truly nothing is more basic to the Christian identity and life, than faith. Minus faith, we cannot know God or live for Him.
For faith to be beneficial, it must be personal. Everyone in a lifetime learns to ride a bicycle. This is something we must do for ourselves. We can't learn for someone else like a brother or sister. It is a personal knowledge and skill. So it is with faith. It must be personal. There are a multitude of passages which teach the value of personal faith. We each must possess our own faith, a personal faith. In I Thessalonians 3:1-13, Paul uses the phrase, "your faith" five times! The phrase appears in verses 2, 5, 6, 7, and 10.
Also, we learn from this passage that faith is something that should grow and develop. When a child is born, it grows right before our eyes. Its amazing how infants change in their looks and skills with each passing day. It is the same with faith. It is born to develop and grow! The general theme and thought of Paul in I Thessalonians 3, is the perfecting of faith. The word "perfect" or "perfection" means to develop or bring to maturity. He was concerned about the progress, the perfection, of the faith of these new believers.
So what does your faith look like? If your faith was something you could see, say a car, what model, make, year and condition would it be? What is the blue book value of your faith? Is it a used Ford or a new Lexis? We should constantly be trading up in our faith!
In this passage, the apostle lets us know just what is involved in the development, or perfection, of our faith. Here are eight things concerning the PERFECTION OF OUR FAITH.
Paul's prayer was that he might "perfect" what was lacking in their faith. Notice verse 10. "Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?"
When a woman marries a man, she begins the great work of perfection. She lets him know what is lacking in his life! Some wives are successful in changing their husbands, others give up in time.
As we read this letter, we can trace the development of the faith of these people. Paul begins this letter by commending the these believers on their faith, patience, and love. Notice I Thessalonians 1:3-4. "Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God." They had faith to believe and work for the Lord, but they still had some growing to do, even though they had made much progress. Their progress was evident in that they had turned from lifeless idols, to God. In I Thessalonians 1:9 we read, "For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." Their progress was evident in that they were examples to all Macedonia and Achaia. I Thessalonians 1:7-8 says, "So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing."
Their progress was evident in that they were willing to suffer much persecution. I Thessalonians 2:14 says, "For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews." All of this, yet still, their faith needed perfecting because it was lacking in some areas.
The word "lacking" means having a deficiency which is to be filled or completed. Paul wanted to shape and develop their faith, to supply what was lacking, but it would take time. The progress of their faith to this point had taken time.
A wood craftsman starts with a block of raw wood, then from a rough outline of that block, he chips away, carving an image a little at a time over a period of time until he makes the final touches. Over time, a block of wood is transformed into a thing of beauty and inspiration. It is the same with our faith. Little by little over time, our faith grows, matures, into something beautiful, useful, and inspirational. God is patient with us, and we must be patient with others!!
Have you thought about your faith? Have you thought about what is lacking in your faith? Where is your faith weak? Where is your faith vulnerable? As we face the New Year, we ought to examine the condition of our faith, discover what is lacking and resolve to work on it.
Also, we must realize that in this journey of our faith, we will never arrive! We are always lacking something. There will always be something to "take off" and "put on."
Contact with strong Christians helps build strong faith. The Thessalonians had been blessed by the personal presence of Paul. In his absence, Paul realized the importance of fellowship and made arrangements for another strong Christian to be present. Notice I Thessalonians 3:2. "And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith." Association with Timothy would help perfect their faith. Why? Paul describes Timothy as a "brother," a "minister," and as a "fellowlaborer." Timothy had the credentials, the experience, the knowledge, the words and attitude, to help these people!
Timothy's task was to "establish," and to "comfort" these believers concerning their faith. The word "establish," means to strengthen, to confirm. The word "comfort," means to encourage, (literally to call along side.) Timothy was to accomplish all this by his teaching and influence.
There are some Christians who by their friendship, fellowship, and influence would discourage and detour faith rather than develop faith. We should all aspire to be someone who is qualified to build others through our influence!
Timothy was successful in his efforts. Notice verse 6-7 of our text. "But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you: Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith." Wow! Do you see the full circle of fellowship? Paul sent Timothy to strengthen their faith, after which Timothy returned to Paul with a good report by which his own faith was strengthened!
This is why the Lord established His church, His assembly. The church affords us the opportunity to build strong relationships that will build our faith. We need to cultivate this contact with strong Christians (meetings, worship, reading.)
Are you the kind of Christian, church member who can strengthen others? We have a discipleship ministry. We are always in need of people who are strong enough in their faith to come along side and help others, disciple others.
By the way, Timothy was a young man, yet he had a strong, mature faith. Building our faith, progressing in our faith is a self paced program. There are some who are old in salvation years but weak in their faith. Others are young in salvation years and strong in their faith.
Trials have a way of either making or breaking our faith. James 1:2-4 says, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." Abraham, was not born the "father of the faithful." His faith grew through trials. Joseph experienced some difficult things, but the Lord used it all for good. Moses grew through trials as God great leader. Christ Himself had to be tested on His way to become the captain of our salvation! Notice Hebrews 5:8-9 "Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered; And being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him."
The Thessalonians were to have their share of trials as well. Notice I Thessalonians 3:2-4. "And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith: That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know."
Earlier, Paul had predicted trouble for these people, and it came to pass. The record is in Acts 17:5-9. These people experienced trials and persecution for their identity with Jesus Christ however, this served to solidify their faith, not destroy it.
Enduring trials is a part of the destiny of all of God's people. In II Timothy 3:12 Paul bears the sobering news, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." When we experience trials, we must realize they are not for our punishment, but for our perfection. We must not allow the trials of this world to destroy us, but instead refine us and shape our faith. The Thessalonians endured and so can we!
There is a vast difference between being tested and being tempted. Testing has as its goal, the refinement of faith. Testing is to produce a purer Christian. Notice James 1:2-4. "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." The goal of temptation is different. Temptations are from the devil and are designed to destroy faith. Notice James 1:12-15. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." However, if both trials and temptations are successfully endured, the Christian is made stronger.
Joseph was tempted by Potiphar's wife, he resisted and was made stronger in his faith. God then promoted him to second in command in Egypt. Daniel was tempted with a lifestyle, he resisted and was made stronger in his faith. God was able to promote him in the Kingdom of Babylon.
Paul was afraid the "tempter" had gained control of the Thessalonians. Verse 5 of our text says, "For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain." New converts are especially vulnerable to Satan and temptation. The city of Thessalonica made it even more a difficult and dangerous for these baby believers. Remember? They lived in a pagan environment. They had "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." To complicate their lives even more, there was Jewish hostility in that city to the cause of Christ. Acts 17:5 reads, "But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people."
Resistance to temptation has to come from within, from faith. Paul wanted to know their faith. Timothy brought good news of their faith. They stood strong in the face of the temptation to turn back to idols or buckle beneath the pressure to surrender their allegiance to Jesus Christ! Just think of the family pressure alone exerted upon these believers! Their victory over temptation made their faith stronger!
When we are faced with temptation, the strength of our faith will determine how successful we will be in resisting. A weak faith is tempted to yield. A strong faith shields against evil allurements, and each successive resistance works to perfect our faith.
We must resolve to be like the Thessalonians in their resistance to temptation. This world tutors us to give in to our carnal, fleshly desires. The Word teaches and tutors us to stand firm in the face of temptation, to say "no" to sin, and "yes" to the Spirit!
I Thessalonians 3:8 says, "For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord." To "stand fast" means to cause a thing to be in place, persevering in a given activity. Few things are as encouraging to a preacher than to hear of the steadfastness of someone he has had a hand in bringing to faith in Jesus. These people were assaulted by the devil, yet they stood firm! They did not give up. They did not turn back. The news of the steadfastness of the Thessalonians caused Paul to "live" or enjoy life!
Harold Sherman quite awhile ago, wrote a book entitled, "How To Turn Failure Into Success." In it he gives a "Code of Persistence." If you give up too easily, write this down and read it daily.
1. I will never give up so long as I know I am right.
2. I will believe that all things will work out for me if I hang on until the end.
3. I will be courageous and undismayed in the face of odds.
4. I will not permit anyone to intimidate me or deter me from my goals.
5. I will fight to overcome all physical handicaps and setbacks.
6. I will try again and again and yet again to accomplish what I desire.
7. I will take new faith and resolution from the knowledge that all successful men and women had to fight defeat and adversity.
8. I will never surrender to discouragement or despair no matter what seeming obstacles may confront me.
Notice, they stood fast "in the Lord." A growing faith is characterized by a greater dependence upon the Lord and His resources, not our own. The Thessalonians allowed the strength of the Lord to enable them to stand secure, in place.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 6, that the key to standing fast, is putting on the Lord's armor. Notice verses 10-13. "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." Each and everyday we must put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of God's peace, grab the shield of faith, put on the helmet of salvation and take the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
These new believers stood fast and we must do the same. We must learn to rely upon God's strength, not ours for stability, not status, not possessions, not intelligence, but union with God in heart and life. Our faith will then develop and mature so as to enable us to remain loyal in all circumstances of life!
It would be impossible to have a mature faith, without the help of prayer. Prayer is an exercise of faith. We pray because we believe in God. Where there is much faith, there is much prayer. As we exercise our faith, faith grows (like weight lifting).
To Paul, prayer was vital to perfecting faith. Notice verses 9-10. "For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God; Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith? Now God Himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you." In Paul's prayer, he gave thanks, recognizing God at work in his life. His prayer was a joyful thanksgiving for their spiritual growth. He prayed that he might personally see them to perfect their faith. He prayed that God would "direct" his way to them. All of this indicates a dependence on God revealing that prayer was important to perfect faith, both his and the Thessalonians.
Prayer not only expresses faith, but strengthens it as well. Thru prayer, Jesus found strength to face the cross. Thru prayer, the early church found boldness to preach. Our faith is also perfected by prayer.
In an essay on prayer, C. S. Lewis suggested that God treats new Christians with a special kind of tenderness, much as a parent dotes on a newborn. He quotes an experienced Christian: "I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning at the beginning of faith. As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic." At first glance, such a suggestion seems to have it all backward. Shouldn't faith become easier, not harder, as a Christian progresses? But, as Lewis points out, the New Testament gives two strong examples of unanswered prayers: Jesus pled three times for God to "Take this cup from me" and Paul begged God to cure the "thorn in my flesh." Lewis asks, "Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, 'Why hast thou forsaken me?' When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle." quoted in Disappointment With God, Philip Yancey, Zondervan, p. 208.
Paul's prayer for the Thessalonians not only included a desire to be with them personally, but also a request that they develop traits of Christian virtue. Notice verses 12-13. "And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints."
Paul prayed that their "love" would "increase and abound," steadfast, but not stagnant. The news of their faith and love had spread world-wide, nevertheless they were not to "settle in" on their present level of love. Instead, they were to make it "increase and abound," as a fountain of love toward all men, not just the local congregation, or even Christians, but to ALL!
The purpose for the practice of such love was to perfect their faith. The word "stablish" in verse 13 means to fix, to make fast, to set.
They were also to be "blameless," so that no charge could be made against them and sustained. They were to exemplify "holiness" which speaks of separation from the world unto God, of consecration, and devotion to God.
These virtues are expressions of the reality of our faith, and their practice will in turn, perfect our faith. The more we love when its hard to love, the more we will grow in Christ's image. The more we say "no" to our flesh, the world, and the devil, and say "yes" to the Spirit and the Word, the more we will be victorious for Christ.
When Paul first arrived in Thessalonica from Philippi, he taught about Jesus. Acts 17:2-3 gives us this record. "And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ." Faith in Jesus Christ related to the past, present and the future. They were freed from their past and their sin by the grace of God. In the present, they were to live the virtuous life by faith in Jesus Christ. They also were taught and believed in the future coming of Christ. Verse 13 of our text says, "To the end He may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints."
Biblical prophecy provides some of the greatest encouragement and hope available to us today. Just as the Old Testament is saturated with prophecies concerning Christ's first coming, so both testaments are filled with references to the second coming of Christ. One scholar has estimated that there are 1,845 references to Christ's second coming in the Old Testament, where 17 books give it prominence. In the 260 chapters of the New Testament, there are 318 references to the second coming of Christ--an amazing 1 out of every 30 verses. Twenty-three of the 27 New Testament books refer to this great event. For every prophecy in the Bible concerning Christ's first coming, there are 8 which look forward to His second!
Hope in the return of Jesus gives strength to our faith. We often get caught up in the present, and as we do life begins to lose its purpose and meaning. Soon our power to resist evil begins to fade. Remembering the Lord's return can re-vitalize our faith. We need to remember that all history is moving toward one final event, the return of Jesus Christ! This should encourage us to remain faithful to God. Notice II Peter 3:11-14. "Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless." Faith looks beyond the present and sees the ultimate purpose of God!
In THE LAST DAYS NEWSLETTER, Leonard Ravenhill tells about a group of tourists visiting a picturesque village who walked by an old man sitting beside a fence. In a rather patronizing way, one tourist asked, "Were any great men born in this village?" The old man replied, "Nope, only babies." A frothy question brought a profound answer. There are no instant heroes -- whether in this world or in the kingdom of God. Growth takes time and determination.
The perfecting of faith is something we work at daily. It is a journey toward God. There are many things that help along the journey such as the fellowship of strong Christians, the trials and temptations we experience, as well as prayer, Christian virtues, and the Second coming of Christ. The important thing is that our faith continues to grow and strengthen.
Some days the travel will be easier than others. We can expect some detours and roadblocks along the way, however we must not allow these things to cause us to quit our journey. We must use the means God has provided to help us perfect our faith.