Run With Endurance
Run with endurance
1 Thess 5:12-27
About 10 days ago, my son’s basketball coach needed an assistant, so he called me to help out. I agreed to help, and at their practices, the coach is a pretty fit guy – he’s a hardcore runner – so he likes to run the drills and conditioning with the guys. The first day I was there, we started practice by running full court layups for 35 minutes straight for conditioning. Let me just say that this 40 year old body who works in an office was not cut out for that particular drill.
My legs and lungs were saying “you’re killing us here!” and my mind was like, well, yeah you should probably stop before you hurt yourself. But my heart wanted to show the guys I could do it – and a week later it still hurts to walk. But other than that – I feel good.
When it comes to the Christian life, you’ve probably heard or seen that the Christian life is more like a marathon than a sprint. And you’re on Facebook, maybe you saw the video I postedWhen it comes to spiritual growth, it’s not something that happens overnight. When you received Christ for salvation; when you came to faith in Jesus, you didn’t become a disciplined, faithful, well-rounded Christian at that moment. You’re not who you were, but you haven’t become what you will be. It’s a process of endurance.
Now it’s one thing to be gassed at the end of basketball practice, but River City right now, we have some families who are daily faced with challenges they have to endure – from special needs children, to health issues that just don’t seem to have answers, to losing loved ones, to relational conflict or tension in their family, things they’ve been praying about for years and years, etc. And for some of you who are or have been there, you maybe feel like that runner that has hit a wall. You aren’t sure if you can hang in there much longer or take another step.
And yet in our scripture today, we are told to “rejoice always.” So either God is cruel by allowing hardship in our life and telling us to be happy anyway, or there is something much bigger happening in the process that we don’t see.
Let’s pray, and ask God to open our eyes and soften our hearts as we hear from his word today.
Turn with me to 1 Thessalonians 5 – this is a small book in the New Testament that’s easy to miss, so if you’re new to the Bible, it’s best to use your table of contents for this one. 1 Thessalonians. This is one of the earliest letters written by the Apostle Paul, written to a church he had preached at during his travels. In Acts 17 you can see that when he came to town, he found a synagogue of Jews, and, this is Acts 17, “as usual Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and rise from the dead: “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.” Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, including a large number of God-fearing Greeks, as well as a number of the leading women.”
But, as you read on there in Acts, trouble started brewing. Some of the Jews got jealous of this influence, and accused these new Christians of treason because they were saying Jesus is King instead of Caesar. So persecution against them started up, and it got so hot that Paul and his companions had to run for their lives. This was very difficult for Paul, because he loved this new church so much.
So as time went by, maybe a little afraid that they would be spiraling under persecution, Paul sent his co-worker Timothy back to Thessalonica one day to see how the church was doing and get news from them; and much to his delight, Timothy reported that the church was not only surviving – they were flourishing!
Now – let me pause right here and say, if you moved away from Riverside, and 3-4 years later, visited to see how things were going – what would you have to see for you to say that River City was flourishing? Not just surviving, but flourishing? In fact – I’ve actually created a poll for you to answer that question – so take a minute, as the poll pops up on your screen, and answer that question – what would you need to see to say River City is flourishing?
[ Point out the ones that are the highest – don’t make comments, it’s not about that ]
Now, of course I set you up on this, because Zoom didn’t have the option to write in your own answer. But those are often what we think of as the mark of a healthy, flourishing church.
Now the church here wasn’t perfect – they had some issues Paul deals with in this letter, but here in 1 Thessalonians 5, as he is about to finish writing, he offers them some rapid-fire encouragement. We won’t take much time on these, but just to go through them starting in verse 12:
- Respect and love your leaders – admittedly that feels awkward for me to say as one of those leaders, but it’s written there in verse 12 and 13. Yes we all have access to Jesus; we all can read scripture; we all have the Spirit – but give recognition and love to those who work hard for your spiritual growth
- Be at peace among yourselves - avoid controversies and arguing and gossip. This doesn’t mean there will never be a problem among believers – but when there are issues, maintain peace as you deal with them
- Warn those who are idle, undisciplined - this word “idle” refers to a soldier who has abandoned his position. If you see a fellow soldier who should be on guard but is playing checkers, or has taken off some of the armor of God we talked about a couple months back, you warn him. No faith? Trying to earn God’s favor? Never reads their Bible? Warn them of the danger of continuing like that. You’re going to get picked off by the enemy like that
- Comfort the discouraged (faint-hearted) - comfort those who are bound up in fear and anxiety; those who might have the tools but are afraid to lead, afraid to act on their calling
- Help the weak - we often think of the church as a place for the strong – but God is in the business of uplifting the weak. This is the idea of standing face to face with someone, holding them up by the shoulders; people who are morally and spiritually weak
- Be patient with everyone - in stressful and difficult situations, don’t rush to anger – give people the benefit of the doubt; keeps restoration and reconciliation on table
- Don’t repay evil for evil - if you don’t return my text, I won’t return yours; you don’t invite me, I won’t invite you. Where there are stalemates in the church or between friends, both sides lose. The only way that evil for evil back and forth will end is if someone chooses a new way forward:
- Do good for one another and for all - don’t just do good for people who are good to you or can repay you: Do good for ALL.
Look at the actions through that list – give recognition; warn; comfort; help; patience; reject revenge; do good. Now as MidWesterners who love a good casserole, we tend to look at this list and see the to-do list. Right? Because most of us grew up religious one way or another, we tend to think about what God wants us to DO.
But I want you to look again at that list, because what is clear as day that
- God has a heart for the idle person who keeps saying they should read their Bible but they don’t; if that’s you, hear the Word of the Lord – God’s heart is for you so much so that he is willing to put people in your life to challenge you to step up.
- God’s heart is for the discouraged, the faint-hearted – the anxious, the fearful. If that’s you, hear the word of the Lord: God loves you so much that he instructs the rest of the church to comfort you.
- God’s heart is for the weak; the person who keeps running back to the same addictions, same sins, same relationships again and again. If that’s you, God loves you so much that he instructs the church to come alongside you and help you figure things out.
- God’s heart is also for the bullies; for the jerks; for the scoffers; and for the people who hurt you. He loves them so much that he tells us to give them a break; be patient with them – don’t retaliate the way you might want to, but do something good for them instead.
Church – Paul has not given you a to-do list: he’s given you a picture of the heart of God.
And the means that God has chosen to use to carry out his heart for the weak, the idle, the discouraged, and the bullies, is the local church.
I don’t know how many of you are runners. But many marathoners and long-distance runners know what it means to “hit the wall.” One minute, they’re running with sustained energy and speed, and the next, they feel immense fatigue and have to stop or maybe even drop out of the race. So many athletes have implemented the “spectator strategy,” where they position friends and family members at specific mile markers to help encourage them and cheer them on. Instead of hearing “I can’t do it!” in their head, they hear “You can do it!” from their fans. Hearing the cheers of encouragement lifts the athletes’ spirits, pushing them forward.
Hebrews 12:1 says “therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily entangles us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith.”
The body of Christ is positioned by God at various times in each other’s lives to warn, or comfort, or help someone else who’s hit the wall. For that person who lost their job; for that family that is struggling with a child; for that teenager who is wrestling with peer pressure and trying to find where they belong; for that marriage that is on the rocks; for that wife who lost her husband; for the leaders who are tired and need wisdom; for that person who can’t make rent… Paul’s encouragement to the Thessalonians, and his encouragement to us is that we would be a church that is after the heart of God!
And River City, I know right now it’s hard because we’re on Zoom, and we are praying constantly that God would allow us to meet in person again, but as we were meeting together this summer and early fall, I was seeing you do this! I’ve shared some of these stories with you in the past, but seeing your love for each other, and care for the hurting – That’s the mark of a healthy church! When we stop doing that, and start complaining that we don’t have our own building yet, we are no longer flourishing.
So that’s how we help others, but what do we do when we hit the wall? What do we do when discouragement and fatigue set in?
- Rejoice always - rejoicing always, no matter your situation, involves being content with what you have; celebrating the hope you have. I’ve mentioned before wrestling with anxiety this past year; but I can honestly say I’m seeing myself and God in a way I wouldn’t have if there had never been anxiety in my life. Now I’m still going to pray for healing in that area, and for the faith to see God even more clearly. That’s the next part:
- Pray constantly - This is a means to maintain our rejoicing, and therefore next mentioned. This can’t mean constantly talking to God – I mean right now I’m not doing that, I’m talking to you. But Dutch author Henri Nouwen points out that our thoughts never stop. Our brain is always active. If you have a flat line on your brain activity – you’re dead. And Nouwen’s idea is to turn our thoughts into prayers. In other words, always being aware of God. When you love someone, you are always aware of them. You
- Be thankful - The great drama of the Bible centers in the belief that God is at work for good in the lives of His people, no matter what. There was nothing good in Joseph’s brothers selling him to the Ishmaelite traders. There was nothing good about the injustices he experienced from Potiphar’s wife. But, in retrospect, Joseph could say of it all: “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). This belief is articulated powerfully by Paul: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God” (Rom. 8:28). We must never forget that God is at work in and through, and often in spite of the “things.” While I may not be able to give thanks for all of the things that happen, I can give thanks in everything for the confidence that God is always present and is always at work for good.
- Don’t stifle the Spirit and the gifts he’s given you - // If Jodi and I have a date or some business to attend to some evening, we are headed out the door leaving our kids at home, and I say to the children, don’t let the fire in the fireplace go out, what am I really asking them to do? Stoke it. Add wood to it. Do what you can to keep it going. Now I might say it in the negative, Don’t let the fire go out, but what I mean is the positive – keep it going. That’s what this means. Fire will go out either by neglecting it, or casting water upon it. By not exercising grace in the duties of religion, or by allowing sin in ourselves, we may quench the Spirit
- Don’t despise prophecies, but test them - In fact, Paul himself will say in 1 Corinthians 14:1 that you should eagerly desire to prophesy. That’s the opposite of despising them. Some day perhaps we will study the gifts of the Spirit to get a better understanding of prophecy, but in most New Testament cases, prophecy isn’t so much telling the future as it is proclaiming the word of God. Prophets remind us of judgment. Prophets remind us “this is what God says!” So some of you probably have the gift of prophecy, but you haven’t yet acted on it. So how do you test it? The word of God. Does it line up? Is it gospel centered? Does it center on Jesus?
- Hold onto good and stay away from evil - Hold onto what is true, and don’t even pretend to participate with evil
And here is where the whole thing comes together in verse 23 – Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. And may your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will do it.
God himself is working in your life, through hardships and trials, to make you more like Jesus.
Why does that matter? What if I don’t care? Well – Jesus is the only one qualified to get to heaven. He’s the only one who met God’s standards for what humans were designed to be. He is the picture of what you and I were created to be. When we look at Jesus we see very clearly how crushingly far short we fall of what we’re supposed to be. But God intervenes on our behalf, remember 1 Peter, by causing weak, fearful, anxious, addicted people to be born again, giving us a living hope that is the person of Jesus – and he begins the process of making us what we’re meant to be, purifying us, cleaning the sin off of and out of us with the blood of Jesus, which is what it means to sanctify something. It means to make something holy!
And here’s what’s fascinating to me: The word “you” in 23-28 is plural. It refers to the whole church. So God is making [us] holy, look at verse 14, whether you are the idle person or the one doing the warning! God is making both the comforter and the discouraged more like Jesus through the same interaction! God is making the helper and the weak more like Jesus through the same opportunity!
Imagine children in a home being told to clean up their toys or clean their room. They’ll fight the parent over it. They don’t want to do it. But the minute the parent enters into the mess of the playroom and starts to help them, they’ll jump at the task and start to pick up. That is what grace does for us! It reminds us that Jesus jumped into the mess of our lives and the resurrection proves that he has done the work to clean it up without us lifting a finger.
At Christmas, Jesus came to earth to show us God’s heart for the weak, the outcast, the anxious and fearful, and his heart for those the world rejected so that no matter who you are or what you’ve done or experienced in this life, there is a Savior who stands smiling with open arms who is a friend of sinners.
As Jesus lived his life on earth, he was living the life we were supposed to live. When he died, he was taking our punishment for NOT DOING IT, and when God raised him to life again, it was in order to show us, I don’t hold your sin against you anymore! It’s forgiven! Done! Gone! You’re not even scolded or condemned for what you didn’t do! Your job now is to rejoice always, pray continually, and be thankful! That’s God’s heart and desire for you! He LOVES YOU! And if you’ll by faith receive his love for you, then you are adopted into the family of God, which is the Church around the world, surrounded by people being built together into the house of God where his Holy Spirit fills, equips, and empowers us day after day as he makes us more like Jesus, preparing us for his second coming.
You want to know how to endure to the end? Respond in faith to what Jesus has done on your behalf. For some of you, you need to do that again. It’s been a while. You’ve kind of been coasting spiritually and it’s high time to get in gear. For others you need to just be reminded that God’s heart is not for your performance but for YOU. He doesn’t need me or you or any of us. But he gives us the opportunity to be part of what he is doing, and his goal is that we would know him. Last, maybe your response to Jesus has been one of eh, it’s not that big of a deal. And we plead with you today to repent and receive the gift of grace God has for you.
Let’s close by reading 1 Thess 3:11-13
Poole, Matthew, Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Volumes 1–3
Wesley, John, John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes
Ogilvie, Lloyd J., Preacher's Commentary