Well, it was a couple of weeks ago that we had a wonderful celebration here of the 35th anniversary of our ministry together, and that was just a rich and special day for me and for our family, an unforgettable time. The pen works wonderfully well, even though it was made in 1969 and has never been used since then. It’s just a great reminder of your love and a wonderful treasure to me as the book is also.
But I - as I thought about that Lord’s Day so many times, it kept coming back to me that this is not just my 35th anniversary, it’s yours, too. You’re here in this 35th year. Some of you have been here since I came. Some of you have been here since before I came. This is a time for you to celebrate as well. And while I deeply appreciate the remembrances and the gratitude and the respect and the love given to me from you on my 35th, I just felt the whole day was incomplete because it’s also your 35th anniversary. It’s the 35th anniversary of this church, and nobody said anything about that.
So I decided this morning that I want to talk to you about your 35th anniversary. What it means to me that you are a part, collectively, whenever you came, you’re a part of a 35-year glorious, glorious experience in this wonderful church. And I was just trying to sort of pull together in my mind how I might express my gratitude. I don’t know that anybody has ever been so privileged as I have. I can’t imagine anybody’s ever had a more wonderful, a more fulfilling, a more joyous ministry than I’ve had here. And this, by the goodness and grace of God, I don’t know why.
I don’t have insight into the sovereign purposes of God. Why He has treated me so kindly and so graciously by giving me such an incredibly wonderful congregation of people who have been never anything to me but an immense joy. But as I was thinking about that, I was drawn immediately to the apostle Paul’s experience with the church in Thessalonica. He wrote two letters to the Thessalonian church. Very early in his writing ministry, the first thing he wrote was Galatians in about 49 A.D. It was about 51 or 52 that he wrote 1 and 2 Thessalonians.
So very early in Paul’s ministry - and, I think, importantly so from God’s standpoint - very early in his ministry, he was exposed to a really wonderful, encouraging church. Well, time would take him to some churches that weren’t so wonderful and they weren’t so encouraging, wouldn’t it? It almost seemed as if God wanted to anchor him down to the best before He exposed him to the worst, and so I was drawn back to read 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians.
Be reminded that in two epistles that he wrote to that church, he never condemned them for anything. There isn’t a suggestion of some sin. There isn’t any discussion of some defection. There wasn’t any doctrinal aberration. But the two letters are - with basically some instruction regarding the second coming, the rapture of the church, the coming of the day of the Lord to clarify their eschatology a little bit, everything else is commendation. Everything else speaks to the privilege that he had of knowing those people, the joy that they brought to his heart.
That was a church that just was an ideal church. It just couldn’t have been any better than it was. Certainly, as I said, Paul had a lot of other church experiences that were far from that. And, you know, there’s something to be said for pastoring one church, if it’s like that. I would hate to be like some of those pastors in Russia and have to oversee 40 congregations. If it had a couple of them that were good, the others would more than cancel out the good experience, and your life would be filled with an awful lot of stress. But then again, maybe over there, sort of - tried by fire. There’s a purity and a joy in those churches that makes even having 40 churches a blessing.
But God has been good to me to have one church. That’s the only church my whole life, Grace Community Church, from the time I started ministering. One of my granddaughters came up to me and looked at me and said, “Papa, how old were you when you came here? When you started preaching?” I said, “I was really young. I was in my twenties, a long time ago.” They can’t even identify what I might look like at that age, you know. It has been a long time. I wouldn’t have it any different.
God has taken us through a lot in these 35 years, and I can honestly say you are a Thessalonian church. I have nothing for which to condemn you. I have nothing for which to correct you. I have nothing in terms of theology to fix. This is a remarkable, remarkable church, and after all these 35 years, is worthy of commendation of the highest kind. I have been spared some of the agonizing pain of pastors who have been treated terribly by churches, who have been criticized and abused and run off and misunderstood and misrepresented. I have escaped that. I have escaped the recalcitrant congregation that fights against the truth. I’ve not know that.
I’ve had these 35 years of absolute blessing from God, and it’s because you are who you are. It’s because of the wonderful work of God in your hearts. And so, if you don’t mind, I would like this morning to thank you for the 35 years you’ve given to me, which is far greater than the 35 years I’ve given to you. I’m just one. You’re many and, collectively, you have literally swept me away with blessing. And Patricia echoes all of this, as does our whole family.
I need to tie this into a text. You know, I had a good sermon, I need to find a verse to attach it to. This is exactly what we tell seminary students never to do. But as Al Mohler said, you can preach a non-expository message once a year as long you repent. Well, this is going to be expository. Turn to 2 Thessalonians chapter 3. It had to come out of Thessalonians because this is that ideal church, and I want to just look at the first five verses of this third chapter.
Second Thessalonians 3:1 to 5. “Finally, brethren, pray for us that the Word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you, and that we may be delivered from perverse and evil men, for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command. And may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.”
And I read that this week, and I said, “You know, that could be written today to Grace Community Church.” That’s really you. You know, the expectation of the people toward the pastor is very high, very high - and rightly so because the Scripture sets the expectation very high, doesn’t it? Shepherding God’s flock is the highest calling. Not just in the sense of privilege but in the sense of duty, obligation, responsibility. Most serious task any person could ever be given on the earth because this is that which is most reflective of the purpose of God for His redeemed people and for the world.
Therefore, the Bible gives to this responsibility the highest level of excellence and commitment and devotion and faithfulness. And there’s so much in the Word (and through the years we’ve gone through just about all of it) that defines for us the duty of pastors and elders and overseers and shepherds, and we’ve endeavored to understand the standard that God has set and as we can, within our limitations, move our lives in the direction of fulfilling those things. The duty of the under shepherd, under Christ to his church is precise. It is clear. It is demanding.
It calls for the highest kind of devotion, dedication, diligence, endurance, faithfulness, spiritual sensitivity. And if one falls short of the standard as it’s laid down in Scripture, one is disqualified from this great privilege. And while it is right to talk about that side of the relationship, it is also right to talk about the other side of the relationship and that is the relationship between the people and the pastor. Whatever I have brought to you, you have brought more to me.
I have a serious, demanding, and formidable duty, and it doesn’t get any easier, and it’s not slowing down, but you also have had a duty through all these 35 years, a duty which I might say that you have fulfilled toward me and toward the others who have shepherded the flock along with me here. And Scripture does say a lot about the responsibility that you have toward your pastor. Philippians 2:29, Paul says, “Receive him in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard,” speaking of Epaphroditus. Hebrews 13 says you’re to follow our faith. You’re to submit to our teaching.
First Thessalonians 5:12 and 13 says you’re to esteem us and regard us highly for the work that we do. Not because of personality, not by objective evaluation of the importance of our work, but because doing what we do is so important. It’s all important to show respect and love and support and appreciation and all of those things, and submit to the truth. But there’s another approach to this that is, I think, comprehensive, and it comes out of this passage.
There are five specifics that you can render to a pastor that can make his life joyful. Five gifts that you give and have given to me for all these 35 years. And they are laid out in those five verses. Five things that I would desire for you from the very beginning. Five things I desired from you. Five things now that I can say through all the 35 years of our time together, you have given to me constantly in an unbroken gift. Five spiritual activities. Five benedictions. Five blessings that you’ve literally covered me with through all these years. And I need to specifically thank you for them.
The first one is this: I desired and you have given to me your prayers - your prayers. You have been prayerful. Let’s just say that. You have been prayerful. Notice verses 1 and 2. “Finally, brethren, pray for us. Pray for us that the Word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you, and that we may be delivered from perverse and evil men, for not all have faith.” Pray for us on a positive note, that the Word may go forth effectively. Pray for us on a negative note that we might be protected from those who would do harm to us.
Here is the shepherd wanting the prayers of his sheep; here’s the pastor wanting the prayers of his people. And when you stop to think about it, it is interesting that Paul, of all people, was supremely gifted, qualified, and given divine revelation, along with Holy Spirit-guided opportunity. He had the most to start with. Preeminent in his giftedness. Preeminent in his power. Preeminent in his opportunity. Preeminent in his connection with Jesus, to Whom he communed and Whom he saw personally in some incredible revelations.
He was competent. He was immensely capable in his natural ability to think, to reason. With all that natural ability and his formidable education and his immense experience and his great skill and the power of the Holy Spirit and divine revelation and the presence of Christ and all of that, he’s still very much aware that he needs prayer. That if anything is going to happen to advance the kingdom of God, it has to transcend him. And it isn’t that he asks for something he doesn’t have. He doesn’t say, “Pray that God will give me power.” He knew he had power because he had the Holy Spirit.
He doesn’t say, “Pray that the Lord will give me the truth.” He knew he had the truth, because it was revealed to him. He didn’t even pray that the Lord would give him opportunity. He had opportunity everywhere he turned. He wasn’t really praying for more of anything. He had all there was that God could give to make him powerful and effective, to literally impact the world. When he is saying, “Pray for us,” meaning himself and those who serve with him, he really is focusing on the fact that he knows that it’s very easy for him (because he’s human) to get in the way of all these resources that he already has, short-circuiting the power that God has released in him through the truth and the work of the Holy Spirit.
In fact, he prayed, I’m sure, constantly to get himself out of the way because he said in Romans 7 that what he wanted to do, he found himself not doing, and what he didn’t want to do, he found himself doing. And he was a wretched man who could easily intrude in the work of the Holy Spirit. He could become himself a barrier to what God wanted to do through him. He not only prayed for himself, but frequently, through his letters, he asked the people to whom he ministers to pray for him.
As strong as he was, as gifted as he was, as noble and faithful and experienced as he was, he even says in Colossians 129, “I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” He had the mighty power of God working in him. Still he pleads for people to pray for him because he knows how easy it is for him to short-circuit the power that’s already there. He was dependent on the Lord for every aspect of his ministry.
He certainly prayed for the Thessalonians. Look at chapter 2, verse 16, right before where we began reading in chapter 3. And he says, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.” There’s an indication of his prayers for them, for their comfort and their strength. He knew things were difficult for them. There were (according to chapter 1, verse 4) persecutions and afflictions, which they were enduring.
And so in chapter 1, verse 11, he says, “To this end also we pray for you, always that our God may count you worthy of your calling and fulfill every desire for goodness in the work of faith with power.” Always praying for his people, he then turned around and said, “I need you to pray for me.” It was true. He needed their intercession. He had a hard life. He had a difficult life. He had a solitary life. He had a dangerous life. He was usually self-supporting. He was always preaching where he was not wanted, to people who didn’t want to hear what he said. That’s tough.
I mean I’m encapsulated in a place where I’m supposed to preach. You come to hear me preach, and I suppose you want to hear me preach. Paul preached throughout his whole ministry in places that he had to sort of commandeer. Synagogues, temples, schools - wherever - basically, to people who didn’t want to hear what he had to say. And he certainly couldn’t succeed without the power of the Lord. And so he says - let’s go back to verse 1 for a moment. Finally - literally, it means - loipos in the Greek means for the rest, and rather than finally, as if it’s the last thing, this term means besides that or in addition to whatever else I’ve been talking about, besides that, I want you to do this. Pray for us.
Now, there’s an interesting little nuance in the Greek. We don’t always need to deal with the Greek because sometimes the English is clear enough, but in this case, “for,” the word “for” is peri - periphery, peripheral, perimeter. It means around. Pray around us. Pray around us, surround us with prayer. Present tense, “Continually surround us with prayer.” Here’s the most spiritually strong man, the most gifted man, the most used man. Shows his meekness and shows his humility, asking for the prayers of virtually the weakest Christians.
You know the story of Thessalonian church, right? It was planted basically in two weeks, three Sabbaths. Came to Thessalonica, preached on the Lord’s Day, was there a week. Preached on the Lord’s Day, was there another week. Preached on the third Lord’s Day, stayed a little bit longer. But what you have here in this church, very, very weak belief - basically, new believers. And here is a wonderful reminder that the strongest of believers is dependent upon the weakest of believers interceding for them. And all through the years, you have done that.
All through the years, I have been surrounded by prayer. You tell me that all the time. There’s never a day in my life that goes by that I don’t get letters, cards - not one, but many - telling me you’re praying for me. “We’re praying for you.” “We’re praying.” Sometimes it’s a short note. Sometimes it’s a card purchased somewhere. I’ve seen them all. I’ve seen everything Hallmark has to offer. I’ve seen all the computer-generated cards. I’ve seen you make them with your own hands. I’ve seen the cards your kids make. I’ve gotten the notes and letters on every imaginable kind of stationery and napkins and whatever and whatever.
I’m not complaining. Keep those cards and letters coming, folks. They’re a great encouragement to me. But they always say the same thing, “We’re praying for you.” “We’re praying for you.” You know, you look at the ministry here, and you ask, “Why has God blessed this?” Because you’ve literally surrounded me with prayer through all these years, and I thank you for that. Patricia, my wife, thanks you for that, and our family thanks you for that. The fruit of that is visible in this ministry and in our lives.
Whatever gifts a man may have, whatever natural abilities he may have, they cannot operate apart from the power of God to the advancement of the kingdom of God. And so it’s your prayers, and I just need to say thanks for 35 years of holding me up in prayer. From the very earliest years, there were people who prayed, the very earliest years. Some have gone on to glory, and I’ve always wanted to see if I could find somebody to take their place.
No matter how gifted someone might be, no matter how available the power of God, no matter how well versed they are in the truth of the revelation of God, we are always deeply aware of our own personal inadequacies, and we are dependent upon the power of God to protect us from ourselves, and you have always built a fence around me of your intercession.
And that’s what Paul acknowledges. “Brethren, pray for us.” They had done that. They needed to continue doing that. Even though he’s a chosen vessel of God, he has no confidence in his flesh. In fact, he does have confidence in his flesh that it’ll do what flesh does. But then he brings two requests in specific with regard to this prayer covering. One: Pray for the success of the message. Pray that the Word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified just as it did also with you. He’s looking beyond those people, isn’t he?
The Word of the Lord came to you and it came with power and it came with conviction from the very beginning. I will never forget it. First Sunday I came here, to candidate in my twenties, all that was here was the chapel and the little building behind it. And I preached on a Sunday night. And some of you know the story. I preached. I don’t know - I wasn’t watching the clock but I was - I’d been studying Romans 6 and 7 for a number of months that summer and so I was getting an opportunity to unload it, and I think I preached about an hour and 20 minutes.
And they were used to 30-minute messages because they only had a one-hour service. When it was over, Patricia looked at me with a great deal of incredulity. “Do you know how long you spoke?” she said. I said, “I don’t know.” And we were sure that no one would want me to come back. And afterwards, some of the elders of the church came to me and said, “If you were our pastor, would you give us the Word of God like that every week?” And I said, “Well, I would, but maybe not that long...?” They invited me back for the next Sunday, and there was a huge clock on the back wall. Huge. From the first day I came here, the Word of God spread and was received. From the first time I came.
And so Paul says, “Just as it did with you, would you pray that the Word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified?” Back in 1 Thessalonians chapter 1, verse 5, Paul said to the Thessalonians, “Our gospel didn’t come to you in word only but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” Boy, when he preached the Word to these Thessalonians, it really came. It came in power in the Holy Spirit with full conviction, and they believed it.
Verse 6 says they “became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the Word, even in tribulation, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” - and watch this - “for the Word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.” Is that an ideal situation? You go there, you’re there a few Lord’s Days, you preach the Word, they embrace the Word.
In fact, chapter 2, verse 13 (1 Thessalonians 2:13) even goes deeper into how they responded. “We constantly thank God that when you received from us the Word of God’s message, you accepted it, not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the Word of God.” You accepted it, not as the word of men, but as God’s Word, which also” - energeia - “energizes its work in you who believe. And you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus.” From the very outset, this church received the truth. From the very outset, they believed it, they embraced it. And so Paul says, “Pray that the Word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you.” Pray for the success of the message.
Now, the Word of the Lord - phrase used hundreds of times in the Old Testament, number of times in the New, means the Scripture, the revelation from God. That is the Word of the Lord. “Pray that it may spread rapidly.” That’s the Greek word trecho, to run. “Pray that the Word of God will run.” Reminds me of Psalm 147, I think it’s verse 15, which says, “He sends forth His command to the earth; His Word runs very fast.” He wants them to pray, that the Word - the saving, sanctifying Scripture, the truth, the revelation of God - will move swiftly, keep on moving, running like a strong runner, speeding over the land without obstruction or without hindrance, making rapid progress everywhere.
To the Ephesians, he said something very much like this. Ephesians 6:18, “Pray with all prayer and petition in the Spirit with this in view, pray on my behalf” - verse 19 - “that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.” Pray that it’ll run, he says to the Thessalonians. To the Ephesians, he says, “Pray that I’ll be bold.” You’ve prayed for that, too. I get into situations where some people aren’t bold. I get into situations that are pretty tense and adversarial. And for whatever reasons, my heart leaps to the opportunity to be bold for the gospel.
It’s not a second thought. I don’t have to convince myself to overcome some obstacle. I can’t wait to get there and to be bold for the truth. And I really believe that that’s because you’ve prayed. You’ve surrounded me with that kind of prayer by which God strengthens me to the boldness of the proclamation of His truth.
And then here, he says, “Pray that it’ll go across the earth fast.” I’m generally living in a state of shock at how the Word of God has spread from this church to the ends of the world. Wherever I go in the world, I come across it. I go to a place like Samara out on the edge of Siberia, the middle of absolutely nowhere, where the Russians relocated people. There’s a million and a half people out there now to build military weapons, to build war machines, to build airplanes and things like that. Across the Volga River, because they knew the Nazis couldn’t cross the river to get to them.
Way out in the middle of nowhere. I go there, and people are embracing me and hugging me and kissing me and thanking me because the Word of the Lord from Grace Community Church has penetrated their world through books translated and through a Bible translated and through 25 young missionaries that are over in the former Soviet Union, teaching and training and taking the Word of God from this church to the ends of the earth.
And they’re in Croatia, and this morning, Christian Andresen from Berlin was here in our prayer time. The Word of the Lord is spreading even in Germany, a seminary in Mexico, and you go anywhere in the world and the Word of the Lord has gone forth. And wherever it goes, it’s glorified. What does that mean? It’s honored. It’s respected.
You can read the comments in that little article of some of those men in Samara, and it was the same response in Moscow, of how they loved the Word of God, and when they hear it and understand it, they exalt it, they lift it up. All you could ever ask for as a pastor is that you would be given the opportunity to preach the truth and that the truth would get legs and run across the face of the earth swiftly. Paul says, “Pray that that’ll happen.” You have done that, and God has heard your prayers.
Everywhere I go, I see the fruit of your prayers. Your prayers. I carry your heart with me there. I always greet everybody, “From Grace Community Church,” I always start out, “Privetstviyou from all the people who love you at Grace Community Church”. And you have surrounded me with your prayers. You’ve surrounded others of us with your prayers, and you’ve surrounded our missionary shepherds with your prayers. And God has heard them, and the Word is speeding around the world. It’s just amazing to me.
Do you know the Spanish radio broadcast, Gracia a Vosotros, is now on more radio stations than the English ones? Do you know Henry Tolopilo has more radio programs than I do? He’s like a rock star in Latin America. Isn’t that exciting? Isn’t that wonderful, how the Word of God has spread in about three years? Just keep praying. You’ve done that, and you’ve seen - this is just what God does in response to your prayers.
Secondly, with regard to this pray-for-us, first of all that the message may go to the farthest part of the world, that it may run rapidly, and be glorified. But, secondly, not only for the message to spread but for the safety of the messenger. Verse 2, “That we may be delivered from perverse and evil men, for not all have faith.” Through the years, there have been threats. There have been times when even physical difficulties came into play. And God has marvelously sustained us and rescued us and delivered us - rhuomai - the word delivered means to be rescued. It pictures a somewhat threatening situation.
Paul isn’t saying, you know, “This is for my personal preservation and my personal comfort.” This is just a necessary element of keeping the message going, isn’t it? You have to protect the messenger if the message is going to keep going. There was great hostility to the Word. There’s still great hostility to the Word. Paul was facing that hostility everywhere he turned. The Gentiles resented it. The Jews resented it. As I said, everywhere he preached, he preached in an environment where he wasn’t welcome, a message they didn’t want to hear.
Paul knew about all this hostility. He woke up every day knowing he could die, it could be his last day. The plots of the Jews, the plots of the Gentiles, and the world is full of perverse and evil men. Those people who hate the truth. He mildly says, “For not all have the faith.” Not all hold the Christian faith. There are enemies of the faith. Through the years, I get threatening letters and sometimes actual physical threats. And I really believe that I’ve been protected through all these years from that and any other things that might come because the Lord wants to keep the Word going forth.
Perverse is an interesting word, atopon. It means out of place. The only time it’s used of people is here. Normally, it’s talking about something that’s out of place, it’s somewhere it shouldn’t be. These are people who are spiritually out of place, morally out of place, unrighteous, perverse. And they’re evil, and they’re around, and they hate the truth. And so Paul says, “While you’re praying for the message to go, pray for the messenger who has to take it” because there won’t be a message if there isn’t a messenger.
And I can think back to the many, many times when you - and you continually do it - but many times when your prayers have surrounded me in a time of physical need, in a time of stress, in a time of confrontations, many unbeknownst to you. And God has heard and answered your prayers. What more could a man ever ask for than a congregation surrounding him with prayer for the positive spread of the truth and the protection of the messenger? You have given me that for all these 35 years and, consequently, I will forever be in your debt.
Secondly, what else would a pastor want out of a people? I think this is so important. Not only that they would be prayerful, but that they would be trusting. Let’s just say that, that they would be - or faithful. To what? Well, look at verse 3. “The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” What he is saying there is this: I want you to know - I want you to be reminded - that you can trust the Lord to protect you. You’re going to have to live your Christian life out there. You’re going to have to pay the price of that.
You’re going to proclaim a message that’s not popular to people who don’t want to hear it. You’re going to have the enemy coming after you. You’re going to have Satan coming against you. The Lord’s faithful. What is this saying? This is saying, “Look, I thank God for a church that believes in the sovereign faithfulness of God.” You do what you do, and you live the way you live, because you believe God is in control. That’s how we live our lives in this church.
Somebody gets a heart attack and they go to the hospital. Conversations are always amazing. “Well, I’m just trying to see what God’s saying to me in this.” “I want to know what the Lord’s purpose is.” “I’m rejoicing in what God has for me.” Somebody has cancer. I got a phone call the other day from a lady who’s going in for chemotherapy. She said, “I’m so excited to see the hand of God in this.” We live under the confidence that our Lord is faithful, don’t we? So no matter what happens, no matter what goes on, we see the mighty hand of God, faithful to us. I have no fear of the evil one.
That’s not true with everybody. We’ve got a new movement in evangelicalism called The Openness of God. It’s very, very fast-moving movement, and what it basically says is God does not determine the future, God does not control the future, He doesn’t necessarily completely control the present, He doesn’t even know the future because it hasn’t happened, there isn’t anything to know. And so God’s up there trying to sort it out as it happens, just like we are, and, you know, we just need to kind of hold Him to the fire and encourage Him to do a good job of kind of reacting.
That’s a horrible thing. I don’t need a God like me. That’s not helpful. Everybody else in my life operates like that, I need somebody who doesn’t. I need a God who transcends all that, who’s sovereign over all that. And that’s the God who is our God. That’s the God we’ve always believed in here at Grace church. We have always believed in that marvelous doctrine of grace called the sovereignty of God. We have people in our church who have joined our church from other churches, and they have said to me, “We left that church because that church believes in the sovereignty of Satan.”
This is a Christian church. But you know what they say? “The devil will give you cancer, the devil will give you a heart attack, the devil will steal your job, the devil will bring divorce into your family, the devil will make your kids sick, so we gotta go through the house praying away the devil, praying away the demons.” And people live in fear and terror that the devil’s going to do something awful to - we don’t live like that. We don’t live like that. We know that the Lord God is sovereign and the devil can only do what God lets him do for his own purposes.
We don’t live in fear, we live in joy. We live in confidence. We live in trust. I don’t think I could piece together peoples’ lives who lived under the sovereignty of Satan. I think trying to shepherd those kinds of people would be absolutely so destructive I couldn’t comprehend it. If I couldn’t say to somebody, “God is in this, working His glory and your good,” I don’t know where I’d go. I’d be like Job’s friends, giving stupid answers out of ignorance. But I can tell you this, through all the years that we’ve been here, whatever comes and whatever goes, God is doing His Will, and all things are working together for what? For good because He’s in control of all things.
You have given me back that trust. You have trusted in the God of the Bible, and He has strengthened us, and He has protected us from the evil one. And He will always do that. Romans 8, right? Nobody’s going to bring a charge against God’s elect. Nobody’s going to condemn us. Christ has already died for us. Nothing is going to separate us from the love of Christ. It’s been such an immense joy to live with a people that trust.
I need to hurry. Thirdly - if I could want anything out of a people, it would be that they’re prayerful and trusting. Thirdly, that they’re obedient. Not to me but, verse 4, “We have confidence in the Lord concerning you that you are doing and will continue to do what we command.” In the end of the day, you know, what makes the parent happy is the child’s obedience. Is that not true? Is there anything more difficult to deal with than a disobedient child? Same is true with pastoring. A recalcitrant, rebellious, resistant congregation is a heartache of heartaches.
You’ve never been that. For 35 years, whatever we have brought to you by way of biblical command, you have obeyed. And verse 4, I can say with Paul, “We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command.” You always have, and so that’s an assurance you always will. The fact that you always have indicates that you’re truly converted. Because the truly converted obey, do they not? “If you continue in my Word, then you’re my real disciple. Whoever loves me, obeys my commandments,” and on and on, those verses go.
So Paul says, “I’m confident of this, because I’ve seen it. My confidence is in the Lord and His work concerning you.” They were a genuine church. They were a true church, real believers. In 1 Thessalonians 1:4, he calls them the elect, the chosen of God. I’ve seen it. You are doing and you will continue to do what we command. Therein is the preacher’s supreme joy. We bring you the Word, and you do it. You do it. It’s just a continuing joy to me. We know that you’re truly Christians. We know that you are truly being sanctified. We know that you truly honor the Word of God because you do it.
This is a great blessing. This is a benediction of all benedictions. Because when we call you from the Word to trust God, you do it. When we call you from the Word to be prayerful, you do it. So at the heart of this little list of five, number three, right in the center, holding it all together is obedience, this great gift that you have given to me, heart obedience. Heart obedience.
Number four - verse 5 - “And may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God.” What would a pastor want from his people? That they would be prayerful, trusting, and obedient, and loving. Loving. This doesn’t say they weren’t loving. Of course, they were loving. They were characterized by love. Love was a distinguishing mark. Back in chapter 1 of 1 Thessalonians, verse 3, he says, “I constantly bear in mind your work of faith and labor of love.”
But what he’s saying here is, “My desire for you is that the Lord would direct.” Now, that word “direct” is a verb that means to make straight - to make straight. It is used in 1 Thessalonians 3:11 of removing obstacles out of the way and straightening out the path so there’s no hindrance. So what he is saying is this: “My desire is that the Lord would put you on a direct path, straight into the love of God.” The word “heart” means your inner being.
It’s like saying, “You know, I just want you to go straight into the depths of the love of God.” And not just God’s love for them, but their love for Him. I want you to immerse yourselves in the love of God. Certainly, you’ve already done it. I just want the Lord to direct you in a non-diverted, straight path, deep into the love of God.
And that, too, has been characteristic of this church. I don’t think people on the outside can ever understand this church. They can’t understand it. They hear me preach a message. In fact, one man introduced me at a bookseller’s convention. He said, “This is John MacArthur. He’s much nicer in person than he is in his sermons.” Well, that’s fair enough. I mean if I’m preaching a sermon on a certain issue, I’m not trying to be nice, I’m trying to explain what the Bible says. But we’d better be loving in our relationships, and this church has always been that. This is the most loving congregation I know, most giving, sacrificial, nourishing, caring, compassionate.
I keep getting letters off the Larry King program. “You were so compassionate. You were so caring toward the man you were talking to.” Well, what else? I think people are surprised because they think if you’re doctrinal and you’re definitive about Scripture, somehow love is missing.
You know, if I have not love, I’m nothing more than a noisy gong, right? This church has always been characterized by love. In fact, I think probably it’s its most visible characteristic. You have given back love to me, to my wife, to our family, to all in the congregation and all outside. We are known as a church of people who have plunged, as it were, deep into the love of God. Thank you for 35 years of loving me.
Finally, I want to say more than I’m being allowed to say by time, because it’s way gone, unless this clock is wrong. It’s not. One final comment. Clayton took too much time this morning. That’ll cost him.
Number five. May the Lord direct your hearts into the steadfastness of Christ. May the Lord direct your hearts into the steadfastness of Christ. The word steadfastness, hupomonē, endurance, endurance, endurance. You know, what more could you ask for than a people who are prayerful, who are trusting, who are obedient, who are loving, and who are enduring? I’ll tell you what, this church is a testimony to endurance. Thirty-five years of listening to one man. That is endurance. That is really endurance. You have endured in love.
You have been patient for the ups and downs, the bad decisions, the mediocre decisions, the good decisions, the directions, the misdirections. Through it all, you have endured in loving patience. You have shown your steadfast love for Christ. You have shown your steadfast love for truth. You’ve shown your steadfast love for me and for all of us who serve you.
Honestly, Paul is summing up here all that I could say about you, and I don’t know what I’d say beyond this. You are prayerful, trusting, obedient, loving, and steadfast. And the privilege that I’ve had for 35 years to be here, I’m sure, is without equal, and I will spend, not only the rest of my life, but my eternity in praise to God for the gift of this congregation.
Father, thank you for the time we’ve had. We haven’t had enough time. So much more to say. Left so much unsaid that this people needs to hear. But, Lord, first I thank you for them. Then I thank them for responding to you. For making this one pastor’s life so rich - so rich.
And now, as we end, Lord, if there are any here who don’t know Jesus Christ, may you open their hearts to faith in Him and salvation, the forgiveness of sin, and the hope of heaven. If there are some struggling with sin, may this be a day of cleansing. If there are some who need to become a part of this church and serve here and be shepherded here, would you draw them as well?
Do your work in each of our hearts. And, again, Lord, thank you for your gift to me in this church for all these years. In Christ’s name. Amen.
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