Who are your Thessalonians? (And do you have anything to give them?)

1 Thessalonians 2:19-20

“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”

Paul was faithful to bring the gospel to the Thessalonians. 1 Thessalonians is a letter from Paul to this young church. He talks about persecution, his ministry, the hope they have in Christ, and even touches on being prepared for when Jesus returns.

My reading plan this year has consisted of selecting a text (3-5 chapters, or in this case, an entire book), and reading the entire passage every single day. After reading the whole passage, I will start breaking down, with the help of different sermon notes, commentaries, etc., verse by verse, and doing exegesis of the text … basically until my cup of coffee is out.

I pulled out the following three main points of these two verses with the help of a sermon from Greg Thurston on sermonaudio.com, which I listened to during a skierg workout. In this post, we will take a look at the first takeaway ….

 

1. Our life work – our crowning achievement that we will stand before the Almighty with pride – are the people whom we invest in and share the gospel message with successfully.

Paul didn’t think he would stand before God and they both would be proud of the WORK Paul offered up to God. We can’t just say, “I did this for you God.” (insert: job, achievement, etc.)

PEOPLE brought to the knowledge of God are our evidence that we did something for God….because no matter ‘what’ we are doing for God, no matter where we live, no matter the position we have, there are people that we can transform in our midst.

As a youngster, I didn’t particularly enjoy making my bed (I guess I still don’t). Often, when I was given a list of chores, there would inevitably be a few that I would whine about and ask, “Why are we doing this?” “Why do I have to do this?” It’s not that I was lazy; in fact, I think these questions came more out of a desire to understand what the big purpose and big picture was for the task. I don’t think I ever could grasp a deeper meaning or larger purpose for making my bed. My parents told me though, about a scripture that sort of stopped me in those tracks. It’s the verse about doing everything as if you are doing it for Christ – and they encouraged me to view making my bed as if I was doing it for the Lord. It’s amazing how much that motivates you. Even as a small child, on certain occasions, if I thought about it that way, I really tried to go all out, because I genuinely believed that Christ was going to view my work and take pleasure in the fact that I offered it up to him.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve attached purpose to my work, my athletics, my relationships, etc., striving to do them ultimately to glorify God. I guess I ultimately still believe that is good and true, however, this verse specifically cuts me to the core because of what Paul says is his true crown – people.

You see, when we get to heaven, the only earthly things we invested in which will matter will be those things with heavenly, eternal value. A job, our money, a talent – those things can glorify God most certainly. But God is not as interested in the actual thing or even the way we use those ‘things,’ unless the primary focus is on people. What he cares most about is souls. And the call is for all of us, introverts and extroverts alike, to take up this call and make our number one priority about engaging with people, loving people, praying for people, and successfully sharing the gospel message with people.

Oh boy – see, I love sports. I am currently a coach, and I was a teacher before that – so there is certainly a part of me that gets energy from inspiring and working with others. However, I often felt in both of my professions that life would be a lot easier if I could just study music or study sports and not deal with the ‘riff-raff’ of interpersonal interaction. I might come across to some people as being very extroverted, but just ask my wife – there is a huge chunk of my being that would really like to build a log cabin in Alaska, bring my oatmeal, my skis, and my bike, buy a husky, and just run away.

Now, it might seem rather obvious to Christians what it is I’m saying. You’ve heard that we are to love people all the time. But analyze your own life. Are you willingly submitting your life work to glorify God?

If so, that is good.

But what do you claim as your life work?

Is it the actual activity, job, position, or trait that you have, or is the people you come in contact with and invest in by sharing the gospel, no matter what job, position, place, etc. you are at? 

That is where I find the biggest challenge. In choosing a career, I have maybe put too much stock in the nitty gritty details of the position – where will I work, who do I work with, what is the vision of the company or school, who am I going to be with, how many students are in my classroom, what is my schedule, will I travel a lot, etc. I want to have a job I love so that I can pour my heart into it, feel satisfied and fulfilled, and, since I’m a Christian, ‘offer that work for God’s glory.’ All sounds good, right?

Paul, very clearly here, is saying that people are a crown which we wear because they have eternal value. “… the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes…” those are the words in verse 19. What is the crown? “Is it not you?” he says. “Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”

So, I think if Paul were in my shoes, he would say, “I don’t care where you put me God, I don’t care who I work for, where I live, and who my co-workers are. I know that no matter where I am, my goal will be to go out and collect the harvest … the harvest is ripe everywhere …”

If I’m a music teacher, my ultimate goal shouldn’t be to build the best program, write the most pedagogically sound curriculum, climb the pay scale, and bring kids to All-State. It should be to have a conversation about the gospel with as many co-workers and people I come into contact with as possible. 

If I’m a coach, my ultimate goal shouldn’t be NCAA titles, appearances, recognition, or development of kids as athletes. It should be to have a conversation about the gospel with as many co-workers and people I come into contact with as possible.

If you are working at an investment firm, your ultimate goal shouldn’t be job security, increasing client wealth, moving up the food chain, etc. It should be to have a conversation about the gospel with as many co-workers and people you come into contact with as possible. 

Lately, I’ve really been missing my dogs, Zatopek and Joanie, twin rescue dogs that were at my side essentially during any activity I did. As Alamosa residents know, I not only had them with me on runs along the river trail (normal), but running alongside me as I rollerskied down main street early in the morning (not normal). I frequently think about memories of Zato and Joanie and all of their quirks, as I’m sure other dog owners can relate to.

When we would take them on walks out in Carrol’s woods on the edge of town, they would chase each other back and forth – it was extremely entertaining to watch. If one of them would find a stick they liked, they would bring it back, strutting with pride as they gleefully carried it between their teeth. They were proud to show me their prize. They were proud of their stick, and they assumed, I suppose, that I would be proud of it too. You see dogs live with one purpose: to bring joy to their master. Not completely unlike what we were created for – to bring joy and glory to our Master, the Creator.

So, my dog’s crowning achievement of his hike was this stick … but here is the problem: I don’t care about the stick. The stick is great fire wood, and it will burn. As much as I love my puppy, the stick has no lasting value to me.

Maybe you are like my dog. Your life goal is so irrelevant in light of eternity – accumulation of wealth, a really nice house, a promotion, having a family that is healthy, educated, and successful, making sure your kids find good jobs and do “alright,” owning nice cars, having a big truck, owning a lot of land, having a nice body, winning races, awards, etc….that you are headed down the same path as Zato, destined to have your life’s work thrown into the fire and burned.

Sadly, those crowns neither satisfy you fully here and they have no eternal value to God

So you have a nice house? Life is 90-100 years, eternity is forever. Is it getting you to heaven?

So you’re kids have good health, find great careers, and have beautiful children? Life is 90-100 years, eternity is forever. Is it getting you to heaven? Is it getting them to heaven?

So you have a big truck? Life is 90-100 years … do you really need a hemi? Will the hemi get you to heaven?

No, in light of eternity, these things are about as worthwhile to your justification as a stick from a mut is to impressing their owner.

I want you to imagine a young girl who lives with her mom and dad. She loves her mom and wants to be just like her. Her mom is great. Her mom is a wonderful baker, and the girl desires to be just like her mom in this way. She has watched her mom make apple pie her whole life. She has studied how she makes the dough, how she cuts the apples in a special shape, how she lets the cinnemon and sugar soak into the apples before they go into the pie. The way her mom cuts the dough in an ornate and beautiful design and lays it on top before it goes into the oven. She knows, she understands the whole process.

One day, she wakes up and realizes her mom is out. A note is on the table saying where she is, but all that the girl can make out is that her mom will “return shortly.” (Hey, subtle reference to 1 Thess. 5 and how we don’t know the day or hour of Christ’s return for you sermon illustration geeks….) Who knows if it is enough time to make a pie, but she decides that she is going to try and do it before her mom gets back. So she sets out to make her own pie, just like her mom. She goes down into the kitchen, and she does everything her mom does. She makes the crust from raw materials. She kneads the dough, she slices the apples, she measures the cinnamon and the sugar. It is all ready – she does a great job of being like her mom in the kitchen.

The pie comes out and it is perfect. It is a golden color and everything is just right. Oh, the excitement in the girl’s heart! Her insides are jumping around a million miles per hour she is so proud of her work. She can hardly wait to show her mom when she comes home. She has labored over this pie, all for her.

And then her mother comes home – she has returned! She comes through the door. The girl, excited, beaming, for she is so full of joy with what she has created, runs up to the mom, pie in hand. This is her crowning achievement – this is her “Paul” moment, standing in the presence, as verse 19 says.

Then, the mom takes the pie, and she sits down at the table with it. The girl follows her and sits down. The mom takes a bite of the pie and spits it out of her mouth. It tastes horrible … maybe salt was used instead of sugar … I don’t know … but it tastes like a rotten chicken pot pie. “This pie is worthless,” she says. “It does not taste like a pie should!”

Maybe you are the little girl.

You study the word, you go to church, you believe you are following God and being sanctified to be more like him. You desire to make your life’s work something to give to God. Your job, your money, your talents – you have dedicated them to the Lord. But you forgot about one thing – the main thing. You forgot the quality of how the pie tastes is the most important part. You forgot that the way you ‘give’ your time, job, money, and talents to God is by investing in the most important part: the people. God is interested in an authentic investment of what he has given you (your life) in the people He has called you to love and share the gospel with.

And that doesn’t mean to just ‘love’ people by saying whatever they’re doing in life is ‘ok.’ What if they are walking in sin? Are you loving them by not sharing with them the truth of the Bible and the hope and salvation offered in Christ? I don’t think so. Investing in people means giving them the one thing, the most valuable thing, you can offer them: the message of the gospel. The truth of the Bible that is as sharp as a double edged sword. That is truly investing in people’s lives. If you are just donating your time, energy, talent, and even emotions and heart to people, but you are too scared to preach the gospel to them, what good have you done? 

And maybe you profess Christianity, but you don’t even know the God of the Bible. You don’t study the word enough, you don’t desire to grow in the knowledge of God and to walk into maturity. So, as you’ve aged, your picture of God has morphed into something that isn’t even Biblical. You don’t know about the character of God or the traits of God because your idea of God has been created by a combination of your limited study, secular views, and maybe even a secularized church – all deception, potentially.

God wants you to stand before Him with a pie, excited, just like that little girl. But he wants the pie to be good, through and through. He wants you to have used your position to invest and share the gospel with people. He wants you to be in a real relationship with Him. He wants you to understand WHO you are giving up your life to follow – Jesus, the Lord of the Bible … not the Jesus of a false church or the Jesus that the world has created to meet their current philosophical or moral ideologies.

The exciting part, and also the scary part, is that we will stand before Jesus in His presence. What is the crown with which we will “glory?”

If you are in a terrible job with terrible benefits, terrible salary, terrible employees, etc., but you use it to invest in Joe Bag-of-Doughnuts, and he comes to know the Lord, take that as a sign that your real “work” here on earth, is the work you do for the kingdom. That is soul saving. Soul investing. Soul loving.

That brings me to point #2 ….

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