************ Sermon on 1 Thessalonians 3:12 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on March 19, 2017

1 Thessalonians 3:6-13
1 Thessalonian 3:12
"Love Overflows"
GEMS Sunday


What's the point of these pictures? We all need to grow and increase. Whether we are a tree, a flower, a fish, a cow, or a person we all need to grow and increase. This is true for Christians too. So in our text Paul prays for growth.

First, a little bit of background. Paul spent three weeks in Thessalonica. He went to the Jewish synagogue in the city and explained and proved to them from the Scriptures that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ, " he said. Some of the Jews believed and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and a number of prominent women. Other Jews were jealous; they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. Paul and Silas were forced to leave the city.

Ever since that time Paul prayed for the church in Thessalonica, he eagerly listened for news about the church from Timothy and others, and he wanted to visit them again. As he writes in verse 11, "Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus Christ clear the way for us to come to you."

In our Bible reading Paul tells the Thessalonians what he is praying for them. He is concerned for them. He loves them. They are his spiritual children in Christ. So he prays for them.

Girls, GEMS, Paul prays for them as pastor. He reveals a pastor's heart. He reveals what I pray for you, what Pastor Joel prays for you, what the elders pray for you.

Our text is just one request of three that Paul prays to God the Father and God the Son and passes on to the Thessalonians. Paul prays for growth in faith, growth in love, and growth in holiness. This is why Paul wants to visit with them: so they can grow in faith, love, and holiness. We need to look at all three tonight.

I Grow in Faith
A Paul's first prayer for the Thessalonians is that they may grow in the faith. Look at verse 10:
(1 Th 3:10) Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
Look at the word "supply." Other possible translations are "equip, complete, perfect." Paul wants to equip their faith, complete their faith, perfect their faith. He wants to make their faith better and stronger. He wants to grow their faith.

Here is a simple question: How does faith grow? How does faith become better and stronger? Notice what Paul doesn't say. Paul doesn't say, "Believe harder." Paul doesn't say, "Believe more." Paul doesn't say, "Believe with more strength." Paul doesn't say, "You are not believing hard enough."

How does faith grow? This isn't rocket science what I am about to tell you. The only way for faith to get stronger and better is to spend time with the Bible. To immerse yourself in the Word. To study the Word and read the Word and meditate on the Word. That's the key to a stronger and better faith.

Paul wants to visit with them so he can complete and perfect and enlarge their faith with the Word of God.

B Here is a glaring weakness in too many Christians today. Too many Christians today are spiritually lazy. Too many Christians don't make Bible reading and Bible study and even worship attendance a priority. Everything else takes precedence: work, sports, TV, exercise, kids, meetings, friends, texting. Too many Christians go for the quick fix: they sign up for the verse of the day being texted or emailed to their gadget.

Many churches and pastors are weak in this area. They don't feed their people the pure Word of God. Instead, they preach on the latest book to hit the religious book shelves. My heart prays for churches that never hear anything but psycho-babble, a self-help kind of thing, sermon light. There are also churches that promote retreats and conferences instead of a steady diet of Bible reading and prayer. And, many churches do not teach doctrine to their children and youth. Instead, they have Wacky Wednesdays that focus on pizza and softball and games. Faith doesn't grow, faith can't grow, in this kind of environment.

As I was preparing this sermon I came across an article in Christianity Today:
In the South, our beverage vocabulary can be confusing to those from other regions. When we offer you a Coke, we are asking if you’d like a soda of any kind. And when we offer you tea, we do not mean Earl Gray in a mug.
Using a term too generally can cause great misunderstanding. Take, for example, the term "Bible study" as it is often used in the local church. On the typical church website, it’s not uncommon to find classes on marriage, finances, parenting, and prayer all listed as "Bible studies."
In these gatherings, good things happen. People connect to one another in community. They share needs, confess sins, and explore topics through the lens of Scripture. But not all of these classes are Bible studies.
As we have expanded our use of the term, we have decreased the number of actual Bible studies we offer. Churches have gradually shifted away from offering basic Bible study in favor of studies that are topical or devotional, adopting formats that more closely resemble a book club discussion than a class that teaches Scripture.

Girls, GEMS, dear friends, there is only one way to grow your faith: by feeding on the Word. SHOW PICTURE OF GLASS OF MILK.
(1 Pet 2:2) Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation ...
What do babies crave? Milk. What should Christians crave? Spiritual milk -- which is the Word of God -- so they may grow up!

C As pastor, I want your faith to grow. I want to equip your faith, complete your faith, perfect your faith. I want to make your faith better and stronger. This is what I pray for. This is what Paul prayed for.

So, was this prayer answered? Was this prayer heard? Listen to what Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians:
(2 Th 1:3) We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more ...
Their faith was growing. Increasing. Perfecting. Getting better and stronger. Remember, it is God doing this. God is answering the prayer. God makes faith grow.

What happened? God used Timothy. Look at 1 Thessalonians 3:2:
(1 Th 3:2) We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God's fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith,
Paul was not able to go so he sent Timothy. What did Timothy do? He preached the Word. He corrected, rebuked, and encouraged. He instructed with sound doctrine (cf 2 Tim 4:1-5). God used Timothy's preaching and teaching to bless them and grow them in the faith.

Girls, the purpose of GEMS is NOT just fun and games. The purpose is growth. Growth in the faith. That's why we start GEMS' meetings with Bible reading and prayer. That's why we have a Bible lesson. Take this part away and we might as well change our name to 4-H or Girl Scouts. We want you to grow in faith instead of being like the small, scraggly trees of Alaska (HOLD UP PICTURE).

II Grow in Love
A Paul prays, I pray, Pastor Joel prays, the elders pray for growth. We pray for growth in faith. How do we know if this prayer is answered? If there is love. When there is love. Love is the evidence of a growing faith.

That's why Paul first prays for a faith that grows. Because when faith grows then love grows. That brings us to our second point: growth in love. Look at verse 12:
(1 Th 3:12) May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.

Paul prays that love may increase and even overflow. SHOW PICTURE OF OVERFLOWING FOUNTAINS. God wants your love and my love to grow and even overflow. God want you to have an increasing love. An abounding love. A love that spills over.

B When it comes to love, Paul had a choice of different Greek words he could have used. He could have used the word that describes the care we have for puppy dogs and neighbors who need help. He could have used the word that describes the love between friends who share with one another. He could have used the word that describes the attraction between a man and a woman. Paul uses none of these words. Rather, he uses the Greek word "agape." Agape love is a sacrificing love. Agape love gives for the sake of the other person without seeking anything in return. Agape love loves even though the other person may hate and reject and mock and curse. Agape love is the strongest, purest, highest, and most noble of all the loves.

Paul prays, and I pray, and Pastor Joel prays, and the elders pray that you may grow and increase and overflow in agape love.

Grow in love "for each other." For the other girls. For fellow Christians. For fellow believers. For brothers and sisters in the faith. Not just those in Trinity United Reformed Church but true Christian believers in other churches as well.

Grow in love "for everyone." For the lost. For unbelievers. For those who persecute us and hate us because we are Christians. For those who are enemies rather than friends. Show them agape love. Sacrifice for their sakes.

C I don't need to tell you how to show agape love. I don't need to teach you how to show agape love. I don't need to instruct you on this. Why not?
(1 Th 4:9) Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.

When did this happen? How did this happen? When were the Thessalonians taught by God to love each other? When were you and I taught by God to love each other? By Jesus. By His life of service. By His suffering. By His sacrificial death. By His burial. By His atoning sacrifice when He took your place and my place before the judgment seat of God.

Paul is right. We don't need to be taught how to have agape love. All we need do is look to Jesus. He shows us. Because He is love. He is agape love.

Do you want growth in love, agape love? Look to Jesus. Marvel about His love and His sacrifice for you. Be like Jesus. Imitate Jesus. Follow Jesus.

D Was this petition answered? We need to go back again to 2 Thessalonians 1:3:
(2 Th 1:3) We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.
Did you hear that? Their love, their agape love, is increasing. Thanks be to God. He gives the faith. He gives the love. And, He gives the increase. He is the One Who hears and answers our prayers for growth.

III Grow in Holiness
A This brings us to the final part of Paul's prayer, the final part of a pastor's prayer. Paul prays, I pray, Pastor Joel prays, the elders pray for growth in holiness. Remember, we don't want you to be like the small, scraggly trees of Alaska (HOLD UP PICTURE):
(1 Th 3:13) 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.

Please see the connection between this and the first two requests. It starts with faith, moves to love, and ends with holiness.

Paul uses the word "strengthen." We can also say "firm, stable, unmovable." Strengthen against what? Firm against what? Stable and unmovable against what? Against temptation and evil. Against false teachers and false religions.

"O God," is my prayer, "strengthen these girls against temptation. Strengthen them against the trash and garbage on TV and the internet. Strengthen them when friends try to lead them astray. Strengthen them against breaking any of Your commandments. Strengthen them against heresy. Let them believe in You and Jesus and let them live for You." That is my prayer.

B Did God answer Paul's prayer for holiness? Let me quote the words of 2 Thessalonians 2:13:
(2 Th 2:13) But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit ...
Did you hear that? The sanctifying work of the Spirit? So this prayer too is being answered.

GEMS, we need to increase in faith, love, and holiness. We want you to grow instead of being like the small, scraggly trees of Alaska (HOLD UP PICTURE). That's Paul's prayer for you. That's my prayer, Pastor's Joel's prayer, the prayer of the elders.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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