Monday, February 16, 2015

Clear the way! (Ministry in Thessalonians, #15)

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. Now, may our God and Father Himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May our Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones. 
- 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

The news of the Thessalonians' faith and love was encouraging to Paul and leads into this beautiful outpouring of prayer on their behalf. Paul longs to thank God for them and does so the only way he can - by praying for them. He prays that the team can see them again; that our Lord will increase their love; and that He will strengthen their hearts. Each of these prayers is a lesson in itself, but what strikes me the most about them is a key difference between the first prayer and the other two. 

The latter two prayers focus on asking Jesus to do something IN the Thessalonians - increase their love and strengthen their hearts for the holiness that should characterize children of God. This isn't surprising. When we walk with the Lord we learn that we cannot love without His love in us. We know that it truly does take a certain strength of heart to pursue blameless, holy living when everything around us fights against it. It's not surprising to hear Paul ask for a divine impartation of love and strength.

What surprised me is that Paul's team prays earnestly to "see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith." They even ask God to get personally involved in making that happen. As a former Pharisee, Paul knew the Scriptures. He was certainly familiar with passages like Daniel 10, which tells of spiritual battles going on in the heavenly places involving angels, and shows God dispatching an angel in response to Daniel's prayer. Paul doesn't ask for an angel to get involved here. He boldly asks God to personally step in. And lest we misunderstand his request he gets extremely specific: "Now may our God and Father Himself and our Lord Jesus..." There's only one God. The "Himself" is only there for one reason: To make it clear that this request is for God's personal intervention. 

The nature of the request is equally specific; he asks that they "clear the way for us to come to you." The phrase "clear the way" refers to the removal of hindrances. What hindrances? Paul has only verses before explained why his team didn't make it back to Thessalonica: "Satan stopped us." (1 Thess. 2:18). Paul and his team recognized that Satan was personally involved in an effort to keep the leaders from getting back to that new church. Satan wanted to keep the ministry team away from the young church as part of his diabolical plan to steal their faith. So, Paul went straight to the top - and asked God Himself to get involved in the fight. 

What was this so important? Why couldn't Paul just ask God to impart what was lacking in their faith, just as he asked Jesus to give them love and strength of heart? Here is the beauty of God's plan for the church: There is something inherent in the nature of faith that makes it grow in ways when we are together that it does not grow when we are apart. 
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)
The New Testament was still in its infancy, so the Thessalonians didn't have the words of the apostles written down like we do - but we still need more than a pen and our own Bible, as important as those personal quiet times are. Something that we lack in our faith is built up when we hear the word of God proclaimed. We are equipped by our pastors and teachers, prepared for service and built up to a more mature faith. Every time we hear a Biblical sermon or sit under a sound teacher, something is supplied for our faith that wasn't there before. Our part is to recognize that our faith needs this impartation of the word, and to regularly put ourselves in a place where it's taught, with a heart attitude to receive it.

Here's the ministry challenge for this passage: If you are not in one of the spiritual roles mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, then thank God for your church leaders who do bear this responsibility. Pray for them to impart the word of God accurately, and for them to have the time to prioritize prayer and Bible study. Recognize that as their primary job. Thank them for it. Pray every day this week that when you come to church next Sunday God will use your pastor's words to supply something lacking in your faith. Let God use him for the purpose He gave him to your church - to build you up and mature you.

If you are in one of these spiritual roles, I'm sure you recognize the profound responsibility that you have to the body of Christ and the vital importance of handling the word of God accurately. However, take some time to recognize the importance of having what is lacking in your own faith supplied as well. Who is your "pastor" or teacher? Take some time this week to receive a word from God that you don't have to research, write, or determine how to communicate to others. He has a word that is just for YOU. It will supply what is lacking in YOUR faith, and it will build you up for the work you are doing in His church this week. 

Jesus loves His church. This is one prayer we can be sure He answers - to clear the way for His people to hear His word.

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