Pastor Phil Andrukaitis, January 22, 2023
The Apostle Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians
General Theme: Living Righteously While Waiting Patiently for Jesus to Return
Sermon Title: Preparing God’s People for Tough Times
Sermon Text: First Thessalonians 3:1-5
Subject: Faith of the believer
Complement: When demonic opposition slams hard against the church, spiritual leaders express concern for the believer’s faith.
Big Idea: Satanic opposition can crush weak faith.
Overview & Review
I. Spiritual leaders prove their concern for the church. (1:1a)
II. Spiritual leaders provide care for the church. (1:1bc)
III. Spiritual leaders pray for the church. (1:2-10)
IV. Spiritual leaders pattern a life of loving service. (2:1- 3:13)
A. By evangelizing lost sinners with the saving gospel (2:1-16)
B. By edifying separated saints with loving concern (2:17 – 3:5)
- Significant relationships are necessary for camaraderie in the church. (2:17-20)
Focus today 2. Satanic opposition can weaken the faith in the local church. (3:1-5)
In the March 2020 edition of “The Voice of the Martyrs,” there is an article entitled, A Church No Longer Afraid. Evidently, the Chinese government is trying to force Christians to subject their faith in Christ to the Communist ideology under the guise of Chinese culture. Yet, Chinese believers are determined to remain faithful to Jesus Christ alone.
Listen to the following quotes from the leadership team at Early Rain Covenant Church:
- How wonderful it would be if, because of this suffering, we might be able to give off the sweet fragrance of the gospel!
- The goal of disobedience is not to change the world, but to testify about another world.
- By the grace and help of the Lord, try to turn the interrogation process into a process of evangelism.
Presently, there are thousands of Chinese Christians in re-education camps. “Based on more than 800 documented arrests of Christians in 2017 – 2018, it is fair to estimate that several thousand Christians are currently imprisoned in China, where they are subject to daily indoctrination in Communist values.”
In the current issue of “Christianity Today” (January/February 2023), the editors identified 50 countries where it is the most difficult to follow Jesus. (1) North Korea; (2) Somalia; (3) Yemen; (4) Eritrea; (5) Libya; (6) Nigeria; (7) Pakistan; (8) Iran; (9) Afghanistan; (10) Sudan; (11) India.
“Open Doors” (a ministry to the persecuted church) categorizes the primary sources of Christian persecution into eight groups:
1. Islamic oppression
2. Dictatorial paranoia
3. Communist & post-communist oppression
4. Religious nationalism
5. Organized crime and corruption
6. Christian denominational protection
7. Secular intolerance
8. Clan oppression
Sadly, persecution against Christians on the rise worldwide, as Satan knows that the King of kings and Lord of lords is coming back to fulfill His promise to destroy all the kingdoms of man and to reign over this world.
And finally, in a recent op-ed by Megan Bailey for “Beliefnet,” Bailey believes that persecution against Christians in our country is occurring on college campuses, in public schools, and in politics.
COLLEGE CAMPUSES: Bailey shared what she learned from Christian millennials who attend liberal colleges. Many Christians, who are outspoken about their faith and critical of our immoral culture, were “regularly demeaned, debased, and targeted for their beliefs.” In addition, traditional evangelical schools like Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts and Kings College in New York “are having their accreditation questioned.
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Bailey noted that “student groups like InterVarsity are no longer permitted to operate on campuses. A teacher in New Jersey was suspended for giving a student a Bible. A football coach was placed on leave for saying a prayer on the field at the end of a game. And when a student chooses to pray, even though the teachers are not able to encourage or discourage the praying student, teachers choose to censor all religion in the classroom, thereby “letting ignorance and bullying flourish.”
PERSECUTION IN POLITICS: Many politicians are attacked for their religious, conservative beliefs and often subjected to extraordinary scrutiny. Remember the case of the Christian bakers who refused to bake cakes for same-sex weddings? Or what of the public officers who refuse to authorize same-sex wedding certificates? To stand up for what is morally right and not endorse unbiblical behavior is to receive a huge amount of negativity. And what of our Pledge of Allegiance; the phrase, “under God” is under attack again as critics believe the pledge opposes the new progressive ideology: diversity, equity, and inclusion. Moreover, these critics are pledged to strip away our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage.
Is the church in America becoming more fearful? YES! There is the growing belief that mankind is on the brink of extinction. This is a lie! Consequently, our government (and other nations) are attempting to implement more restrictions upon our culture due to the “green agenda” and the never-ending pandemic. It’s about control.
One of Satan’s goals is to deny God from receiving glory from the people of God. To accomplish his goal, Satan has conducted three campaigns against God’s glory.
- Destroy the life and testimony of Jesus Christ. Satan has totally failed in his campaign to destroy Jesus Christ (i.e. Herod’s command to kill all the male children in Bethlehem and all that region who were two years old or under; Satan’s temptations). When Jesus sacrificed His life on the cross as payment for our sins, Jesus rose from His grave [leaving behind an empty tomb] three days later, thereby conquering death and denying the grave any victory. Jesus won the war!
While his campaign to destroy the Son of God has failed, Satan continues to wage war against God, especially against the people of Israel and the church of Christ. Yet, Satan will fail because God rules and overrules!
- Destroy the people of Israel. Even though Satan has failed to wipe out the Jewish people many times (from the Book of Esther to Adolph Hitler to the Middle-eastern nations that waged war against Israel), Satan is behind the major campaigns that have killed millions of Jews throughout history. Sadly though, many more Jews will die in the coming days as Satan “fans the fires” of anti-Semitism, which is also on the rise throughout the world.
By the way, did you know that next Sunday is recognized as “International Holocaust Remembrance Day” that commemorates the victims of the holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one-third of the Jewish people, along with other countless numbers of people from other minorities, during 1933 – 1945?
It was Hitler’s “final solution” to the Jewish question; yet it was a means by which Satan has attempted to destroy God’s chosen people.
- Destroy the church. Here too, Satan will fail to destroy the church. Why? Jesus said that He would build His church. And not even the “gates of hell” can stop the advance of the church as it moves into the enemy’s territory with the gospel of Jesus and the power of the Spirit. Nevertheless, Satan continues to assault the church by…
- …deceiving the church with false teachings that distort the gospel
- …discouraging the church through opposition and demonic oppression
- …dominating the church by getting it to defile itself [personal holiness is in view]
- …destroying the church through persecution
Today’s sermon is designed to prepare you to be strong in your faith. Why? The church is at war against the forces of darkness. This church [Bible Believing Baptist Church] is at war with the forces of darkness.
Satanic opposition can weaken our faith. We, BBBC, have a mission from God – to make disciples of Jesus, no matter the present difficulties before us. Therefore, are we going to shrivel up and blow away? No! Yet, Satan defiantly stands against this church. Moreover, he is ready to unleash his hatred and wrath against God’s people and the gospel message.
What are we going to do?
As a pastor who has come to preach the Word and help this church to move forward, your leaders are not interested in “marking time” [military term used to describe marching in place without moving forward] but to challenge and exhort one another to fulfill our mission – to make disciples of Christ.
Listen, as I read the text for this morning’s message. It comes from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians:
“Therefore, when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind in Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain” (1st Thessalonians 3:1-5).
Since Paul’s repeated efforts to return to Thessalonica were thwarted by Satan
(1st Thessalonians 2:17-20) and not knowing the spiritual condition of his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica, this was too much for Paul to bear. Paul’s concern for their faith increased, especially when Satan was afflicting the young church.
When Timothy and Silas finally met up with Paul in Athens, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica because Paul knew that Satanic opposition can crush weak faith.
When Satan brings the battle to an afflicted church, here are four conditions that will crush weak faith:
Satanic opposition will crush weak faith…
I. …when a believer fails to comfort an afflicted believer
II. …when a believer is “coaxed” with Satan’s empty words.
III. …when a believer is not prepared for afflictions.
IV. …when a believer is unaware of Satan’s schemes.
Satanic opposition can crush weak faith…
I. …When a believer fails to comfort an afflicted believer
“Therefore, when we could bear it no longer,
we were willing to be left behind in Athens alone,
and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ,
to establish and exhort you in your faith…”
(1st Thessalonians 3:1-2)
As we saw in chapter 2, Paul passionately expressed his love for the Thessalonians; in fact, it was so great that he was willing to pay the price of loneliness. But when Paul could take it no longer, he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica for two reasons:
- To establish them in their faith (2b); to strengthen stērizai (Strong’s #4741) is a technical term meaning, “to fix,” “to support,” “to buttress.”
- To exhort them in the faith (2b); to comfort is to “cheer them on” parakalēo (Strong’s #3870). Christians are not meant to be cheerleaders but encouragers, helpers who come alongside to motivate struggling saints to keep on running the race; don’t drop out; fight the good fight; keep the faith.
There are times when my brothers and sisters in Christ call out to their shepherds. They hear the desperation in their voices. They see the wrinkles on their faces. They sense the fading of hope from their hearts. God does, too. They ask, what do we do if the coronavirus suddenly claims hundreds of thousands of lives? What if our liberties are taken from us? What happens if our church is forced to pay taxes?
How do you establish and exhort believers in the faith? What do you say to them? Well, here are several theological truths designed to “beef up” your faith, especially when you and your church family are waging war with the forces of darkness.
What can we do when we find ourselves or others needing strength and encouraging words?
II. …When a believer is “coaxed” with Satan’s empty words.
“…that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know
that we are destined for this.”
(1st Thessalonians 3:3)
Our faith can be weakened by Satan’s deceptive coaxing. Satan’s opposition involves deception. Paul writes, “…that no one be moved by these afflictions.” You see, Paul was concerned (maybe worried?) that the pressures and testing of their faith might be too much for the Thessalonian believers.
The verb, “be moved,” sainesthai (Strong’s #4525) originally meant the “wagging of a dog’s tail” (like when you hold out table scraps and say, here boy, come and get it); a type of cajoling or coaxing. However, the context suggests that Paul was concerned that during the opposition, Satan’s “flattering,” “cajoling,” and “coaxing with untrue words” would undermine their faith.
Satan is out to beguile all people, especially God’s people. He plays upon our emotions, desires, and promises happiness. Therefore, Paul did not want to see any of God’s people be led astray by Satan’s empty words and promises. What would Satan’s empty words sound like?
- Your mate was once healthy and full of life; but all that has changed. Your mate is a burden. Things are not the same. You’re tired. You wish it would all end. Do I leave him/her? I want to be happy again.
- Your church family has changed also. Satan has stirred up discontent, causing unrest within the church family. As a result, some families leave. Eventually, the young people are gone. The kids are gone. Question: How do we carry on the spiritual battle? What is happening to our faith? What are we doing to strengthen our faith?
- Your finances are a mess because several financial deals fell through when the prospective buyer realized that you were a Christian. And now you are on the brink of bankruptcy. You need money. Satan suggests, lie on your tax return. Or, Satan suggests that embezzling a small amount of money is not all that bad. After all, you are going to pay it back before anyone finds out the money is missing.
Speaking of finances, our nation’s debt ceiling, uncontrolled spending, and the volatility of our stock market will soon create a global, financial meltdown.
Know this, Satan’s deceptive coaxing will weaken your faith and mine. God has promised to be with us in every trial and trouble. God the Holy Spirit is presently conforming every child of God into the image of Jesus Christ. Therefore, do what is always right, no matter the consequences.
III. …When a believer is not prepared for afflictions.
“For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that
we were to suffer affliction,
just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.”
(1st Thessalonians 3:4)
Our lives were destined to experience afflictions. Afflictions have been incorporated into our destiny. It is all part of God’s plan for our lives. The Thessalonians knew (obviously through Paul’s teachings) that “afflictions” thlipsis (Strong’s #2347) are not accidents but an integral part of God’s plan for every Christian. In fact, long before the foundations of the world were laid, God the Father established for His children to experience struggles, anguish, trouble, even persecutions.
Listen to these reminders from God:
- Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5-10-12).
- In this world you will have tribulations. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).
- All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted… (2nd Timothy 3:12).
- Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have it full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).
- And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, Who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you (1st Peter 5:10).
From our text and other Scripture, God…
- …has planned for the saints to experience afflictions;
- …has warned us of coming afflictions;
- …permits afflicts (Book of Job);
- …limits the intensity and length of afflictions (Book of Job);
- …provides grace to His children to endure afflictions (2nd Corinthians 12:9)
- …conforms us to His Son’s likeness through afflictions (Romans 8:28).
IV. …When a believer is unaware of Satan’s schemes.
“For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith,
for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain”
(1st Thessalonians 3:5)
Paul is repeating his concern, as revealed in verse 1 because persecution has come upon them, threatening their spiritual well-being. Paul knows that the tempter’s efforts through opposition and affliction are designed to bring discredit, disapproval, dishonor, and disfavor upon the believer.
When Satan tempts peeirazō (Strong’s #3985) us, he is testing us to see what good or evil there is in a person; and we know that the devil always solicits a person to do evil.
What evil actions does Satan employ against people so that they offend God and others?
- The tempter blinds the minds of unbelievers, regarding Scripture (2nd Corinthians 4:4).
- The tempter destroys a person’s initial interest towards the Word of God; the parable of the sower and seed. Satan will choke out the Word, persecute the Word, and steal the Word (Matthew 13).
- The tempter deceives the minds of those who have heard the Word. Satan deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden, saying, “has God said…” thereby calling into question the authority of Scripture.
Paul was not ignorant of Satan’s schemes. Concerned for the Thessalonian believers, Paul sent Timothy to the city to strengthen and encourage them in their faith, believing that even though Satan most likely applied pressure to crush the Thessalonian believers, Satan failed. Nevertheless, Paul would wait for Timothy’s return and report.
And Timothy’s report will be the subject that follows this passage.
Culturally speaking, we are a polarized nation. The godly values we as a nation once embraced have been exchanged for another set of values, ungodly and worldly values.
Spiritually speaking, I also believe the church is becoming polarized. This occurs when the church remains ignorant of Scripture. Second, when the church inclines towards a progressive, liberal theology.
Satanic opposition will always arise against our faith and challenge our position on any of these issues:
- The sovereignty of God
- The depravity of every person
- The authority of Scripture [Scripture has the final say!]
- Leadership roles in the church [Women pastors? No!]
- Gifts of the Spirit [Signs, wonders, tongues, miracles – are they still active today?]
- Same-sex marriage [This is especially difficult for those family members that are gay.]
- The sacredness of life [From abortion to euthanasia, the value of life is giving way to pragmatism.]
- The gospel [The church is distorting the gospel with other teachings; prosperity; social justice; etc.]
Therefore, if our Bible reading and study of Scripture are weak, our faith will remain weak. After all, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). And what does weak faith produce?
Weak faith leads to demonic deception.
Weak faith leads to self-sufficiency.
Weak faith leads to impatience.
Weak faith brings no peace.
Weak faith encourages complacency.
Weak faith is blind to the glory of God.
Weak faith leads to surrender/defeat.
Weak faith does not help the believer live out the truth, according to God’s Word.
In these five verses, we see the mission team’s reasons for comforting afflicted believers. Paul sent Timothy to them to strengthen and encourage them (1-2), to warn them of coming persecutions (3-4) and to find out what was going on with them (5).
And I believe God has brought me here, to comfort, to rebuild, to challenge, and to exhort each of you to come together in Christ. Your faith in Christ that is most important to God and to your pastor and spiritual leaders.
The mission team’s ministry was no perfunctory ministry; it was intentionally relational where camaraderie through significant relationships had been established. Therefore, our responsibilities to one another are clear.
However, if our relationships with others in the church family are distant, there is no camaraderie.
- If no camaraderie, there is no strong unity.
- If no strong unity, there is no organized resistance against the devil.
- If no organized resistance against the devil, there is no hope of victory.
- If no hope of victory, there is no godly testimony.
Satan will every tool to scheme his way to deceive, discourage, dominate, and destroy the church. Therefore, let us look out for one another, praying together for one another and for the mission of the church.
I close with Steven Lawson’s practical and defensive principles for overcoming satanic opposition:
Defense #1: RESIST SATAN IMMEDIATELY.
Do not ignore him. Do not debate him. Do not negotiate with him. If a burglar was trying to break into your home and harm your household, you would resist him with all your might. Do likewise to the devil. The Bible promises that the devil will flee from you (James 4:7b).
Defense #2: USE SCRIPTURE STRATEGICALLY.
The Bible is your offensive weapon. Jesus used Scripture when the devil tempted Him in the wilderness. Remember, our warfare is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of hell. The Bible is the only weapon on earth that can help us overcome the wicked one.
Defense #3: WORSHIP GOD EXCLUSIVELY.
Jesus is worthy of our devotion, complete and undivided devotion. Satan desires that we redirect our devotion away from God. Do not fall for the devil’s schemes. Thus, when believers are in the heat of battle and afflictions, remember to be alert, discerning, submissive to God, armed with God’s spiritual armor, and be prayerful always.