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An Inexpressible Thanksgiving!
An Expository Message from I Thes. 3.

by Robert L. Cobb
-Administrator, News For Christians Dot Com


For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God...
I Thessalonians 3:9

Introduction: The little 4-year old closes her eyes and recites, "Now I lay me down to sleep..."  And at the end she says, "...and thank you God for Mommy and Daddy, Brother and Sissy, Grandma and Grandpa..."  A child's thanksgiving prayer is so sweet and trusting.  But what about we adults?  Is our thanksgiving prayer very different from the 4-year old?  Are we sincere?  Is it heartfelt?  Or do we go through the motions of recitation hoping God accepts our impersonal and negligent prayers?

I direct you to 1 Thessalonians Chapter Three where we will find an unusual type of thanks- giving...A thanksgiving with no hint of vain repetition or hollow praise.  This is spontaneous thanksgiving, inexpressible and abundant thanksgiving.  Paul's thankfulness in 1 Thes. 3 can be illustrated by the few searchers who found their loved ones safe after the twin towers terrorist attack.  We watched on television as families reunited.  There was no need for the dialogue of words.  Hugs and tears of happiness told the story.  Paul struggles to express how he feels when he finds the believers flourishing and fruitful.  "What thanks can we render...?" 

This year, as we stuff ourselves with our holiday meals, let us at least acknowledge to God our disingenuous and petty brand of thanksgiving.  Let us say too, that by the grace of God, we will seek to reach that stage of inexpressible heartfelt thanksgiving.  Such thanksgiving has three stages, which can be seen in Chapter Three:  (1)  Apprehension, or anxiety  (2)  Assurance, or the joy one gets when the unknown becomes known, and (3) Appeal, or considering what this new knowledge will mean for the future.

I.   Paul's Apprehension to Know Their State   v. 1-5

1  Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;
2  And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith:
3  That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.
4  For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.
5  For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain.

The Apostle Paul had a special relationship with the Thessalonian believers.  God had directed Paul and his missionary group to Thessalonica after laboring in Philippi and enduring much persecution there.  His ministry was cut short in Thessalonica because of persecution from unbelievers.  Scholars say that he was with the Thessalonians only a few months at the most, and possibly as little as one month.  We learn from these verses that, to have an inexpressible thanksgiving, one must have great love.

1.  His Compassion   v. 1-2
When it came to the Thessalonian believers, it was more than a job.  Their faith and continuation was of utmost importance to Paul.  The word "wherefore" points back to Chapter 2 where Paul bears his heart and tells them how important they are to him.   He says in verse 20 of Chapter 2, "For ye are our glory and joy."  Paul thought it so important to learn of their state that he chose to be alone, without the fellowship of his friend Timothy.  To Paul, the Thessalonian church was unfinished business.  His heart was still with them.  A note here to prod us to think:  Was it not Paul who wrote in 2 Cor. 6:4  "But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience..."  Where was his patience now?  Where was his faith in the providential workings of God?....Remember Paul's anxiety over the Thessalonians when you are tempted to chide someone for their perceived "lack of patience."  Sometimes love and compassion take over the soul, and we can "no longer forbear".  When love is great, emotions sometimes get the best of us.  Paul led with his heart when it came to the Thessalonians.  This love is one of the things that made his thanksgiving unique.

2.  His Comforting  v. 3-4
One of Paul's greatest worries was that the Thessalonians would become discouraged and despondent over his trials.  He tells them that he was "appointed" to certain suffering.  This word denotes "an appointment, or a destiny."  Paul's health was not good, and he had endured terrible persecution in the months leading up to his Thessalonica ministry.  He was treated badly by the Thessalonian unbelievers and the Christians there felt partially responsible for it.  Paul wants to assure them that his suffering has a purpose and a providence in his life.

3.   His Concern   v. 5
The word "forbear" in verse 5 is the same word translated "beareth" 1 Cor. 13:7, Love... "Beareth all things..."  What a paradox!  The Christian is to stand strong in the knowledge that God is in control and knows what He is doing.  But here is Paul, in heartfelt anxiousness, and can "forbear" no longer.  He has so much invested in these people, HE MUST KNOW their state even if it means doing without his helper in the ministry for a time.  Though his love for them is undeniable, verse 5 lets us know that his concern is also personal to him.  Paul expects a reward from God for the work he has done in Thessolanica; he does not want to lose that reward through their failures.  If only today's Christians could glimpse the importance of our future rewards as Paul did!

Transition: The kind of thanksgiving revealed in verse nine demands a huge investment of love and compassion!  Is our thankfulness just words we mouth to God in prayer, like the little child praying "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep"?  Or does it come from a full heart that cannot even find sufficient words to articulate it?

II.  Paul's Assurance of Their Stand   v. 6-9

6 But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you:
7  Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith:
8  For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.
9  For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God;

Paul knew first-hand of the enemies of the gospel in Thessalonica.  There were both priests and laymen who despised the Christian message and had possibly threatened Paul's life when he was there.  The story in Acts 17 tells us that the Thessalonian Christians compelled Paul to leave for his own safety.  Now Paul worried for his converts in this atmosphere.  He could not stand idly by; he had to know!  He sent Timothy back to find out their condition and waited longingly until he returned with news.  In verses 6-9 we see the joy Paul felt when the unknown became known.

1.  Their Faith was Strong   v.6
Timothy brought back "good tidings."  This is the same word translated "preach the Gospel" in other places.  The success of the gospel was news just as good to Paul as the gospel itself!  What constituted their success?  Faith and charity!  The gospel was not just news once read and then left behind; it was everyday news, working news, a news that loved inside and through those who believed it!  Also, Paul rejoiced that the Christians there still held him in high esteem.  This was personal to Paul; he wanted to know that they still remembered his labor and love for them.  We are beginning to see Paul's inexpressible thanksgiving in these verses.  Can you see him with tears in his eyes as Timothy gives his report?  Such joy he felt!

2.   Their Fellowship Was Special   v. 7
In verse 7, we get another indication of how important these people were to Paul.  All of his afflictions and distress were minimized when he was told of their stand for God.  No doubt the Thessalonian believers thought of Paul as a great preacher and powerful man of God, but Paul paid them the ultimate complement.  Their testimony comforted Paul.  We may never know what a blessing each of us are to others.  Your Christian walk is either a blessing or a burden to those who see you.  Paul allowed the believers in Thessalonica to touch him deeply.  Their faith was a great blessing to Paul.

3.   Their Fates Were Singular   v. 8-9
"For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord."  Paul had placed his life on hold for the Thessalonian believers.  "Now that I know your faith," he says, "I can get back to living again."  What a great contrast to most preachers today!  Where is the compassion and concern for people today?  Paul wrapped his ministry up with the Thessalonians; Paul wrapped his expectations for reward in them;  Paul wrapped his very happiness and joy up in them.  Many preachers today act as if they are God's gift to humanity.  The church is there as a stage for them to show their expertise and ability.  Not so with Paul!  His success in the ministry was tied to the success of the Thessalonian church.

Transition: We saw in verse 1-5 an investment of love and compassion from Paul to the Thessalonians.  But we see in verse 6-9 an investment of great involvement.  Paul judged his own success and delight by their Christian walk.  Is your ministry that important to you?

III. Paul's Appeal For Their Success   v. 10-13

10  Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?
11 ¶ Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.
12  And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:
13  To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.

Though Paul was greatly relieved by Timothy's report, he does not rest on past blessings and accomplishments.  Though he is assured of their past success, he now prays for their future success.  An inexpressible thanksgiving only glances at the past; it is quick to build on it for the future.

1.   A Powerful Desire   v. 10-11
Paul prayed for the opportunity to finish his ministry among the Thessalonians.  He prayed "exceedingly" that he might see them again.  This means "beyond measure."  His prayer was not the "now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep" variety.  Why did he so deeply desire to see them?  He desired to "perfect" their faith.  This means to "finish, or complete them" as a craftsman would finish a project.

2.   A Precious Direction   v. 12
His prayer is that the Thessalonians would "increase" and "abound"  in love.  This love was to focus in two directions:  (1)toward one another,  and (2) toward all men.   Their future success would not be based on some external value, but on the agape love of God.  Their love should go out in all directions, just as Paul's love for them.

3.    A Perfect Deliverance   v. 13
"To the end" means "for a specific purpose."  What is that purpose?  To "stablish your hearts."
This means "to make stable, place firmly,  to strengthen, to make firm."  Here he is looking at eternity, our final perfection.  Paul wants to do his part in bringing the Thessalonians "all the way."  His prayer is to that end; his expectation is to that end;  his longing is to that end.

Transition: In these verses (10-13) we see the inexpressible thanksgiving as a great hope.  Thanksgiving is admitting to God your worthlessness and His super-ability.  This kind of thanksgiving demands great love, great involvement, and lastly, great hope.

Conclusion:  It was 1862 and the Civil War was in full stage.  The Yankee losses had been great and the call went out for more volunteers.  A strapping boy from Michigan, John Morgan,  had just turned 17 years old.  His mother was a widow so John was exempt from the draft.  But his mind was made up; his country needed him.  His mother was distraught.  "Son, if you must go, make me a promise.  Do your duty and no more.  Don't put yourself in harms way if you don't have to.  I couldn't bear to lose you!"  John reluctantly promised his mother.  Within a month he found himself on the front lines at Shiloh in some of the worst fighting.  Men were dying all around him and he prayed to God that he would live to see his mother again.  "I did not fear death for myself," he said. "I feared what my death would do to my mother."  He was hit in the head with a rifle butt which rendered him unconscious.  After the battle he awoke amid the screams and moans of the dying.  He checked his extremities and felt the bruise on his head.  He later wrote, "I will never forget the exhilaration I felt when I realized that I survived the fight.  I lay on my back and watched the clouds pass over me.  My thankfulness to God was indescribable.  I could not even form a prayer in my mind or on my lips.  But God knew, because thankfulness filled my heart."

Look at your spouse sitting beside you.  Of the many millions of people in the world, God put you together as one!  Look at your children, what a gift from God is each one!  Look at your possessions: your home, your life.  God gave these things to you!  Doesn't He deserve more than a cursory glance of thanksgiving?  Think of your salvation!  Of all the billions in the world God sought you out, convicted you, drew you to Himself, and saved you!  Let us seek to be thankful to God in a deeper and more meaningful way:  a thanksgiving that is so meaningful that it is indescribable with mere words.  Let us say with Paul, "What thanks can we render to God again..."

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