I Thess. 3:1-10
In Puritan Pastor John Bunyon’s classic allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, the enemy Giant Despair has locked Christian in the dungeon of Doubting Castle. Oh the doubt and despair that sank upon his soul. Day after day, he barely hangs on until he remembers his faith! Faith was the key in his pocket all along that unlocked the prison door.
We are declared righteous and forgiven of our sins by faith. We are saved by grace through faith. We walk by faith not sight. The righteous man shall live by faith.
Yes, faith without works is dead. But works without faith is even deader.
The backslider is weak in faith. The lazy in service for God are actually dull in faith. Sheep don’t need an emotion revival or a spiritual buzz; they need a faith revival because faith is the most important thing about a Christian.
And faith renewals are what pastors are for. Imagine going to a doctor and not asked about your health. When you take your car to the mechanic, he doesn’t ask about your golf swing.
Pastor’s don’t know with absolute certainty who will be like Peter and return to the Lord broken and humbled or who will be like Judas and leave the faith (of course God knew Judas never truly believed). So from our perspective, nothing is guaranteed. Ask any seasoned pastor, they will affirm this. It is a war for the soul until that soul is safe at home in heaven.
For sure, those born again and possessing saving faith cannot be lost. Even battered and beaten faith will survive. But just as true, those who believe must continue to believe. They must persevere to the end, all by the sustaining grace of God. And helping them do so is the whole point of pastoral ministry because God uses means. He delights to use the love, prayers and concern of pastors. He uses their visits and inquiries. He uses their teaching, preaching and follow up letters and phone calls. We persevere in the faith in part through the loving spiritual care of our pastors.
This brings us to Paul’s pastoral example in I Thess. 3:1-10. The main thrust of this passage is that the faith of the flock should be a pastor’s highest concern.
We’ve seen three proofs thus far (see my Nov. 11 article). Today we finish we proofs four through six.
Proof #4: Pastors are deeply encouraged by the faith of their flock (see vv. 6-8).
Paul’s relief is palatable as Timothy returns with good news of their faith. His deep concern turns to great joy and comfort. So much joy that he says “for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord” (v.8). Paul’s soul was like parched grass and Timothy’s news was like two inches of rain.
The pastorate has unique pressures and anxieties. One of them is the constant threat to the faith of individual sheep. Paul’s example teaches us that if a professing Christian falls away, it should deeply disturb her pastor. As I told my church, “if you renounce Christ, part of me would die! But if you persevere in the face of persecution and affliction, then I am rejuvenated!”
True pastors find a bounce in their step when members of their flock stand firm in the fiercest drought and storm. This is simply what it means to be a pastor vs. a hireling.
My goal as a pastor is to see my people have firm faith in sovereign grace, be established in God’s electing and keeping love and that this total dependence endures to the end of their days!
I’m not here to produce decisions. I’m here to make disciples who know, love, trust and follow Jesus until final their breath. This is why one pastor honestly confessed: “my favorite thing in ministry is the funerals of saints.”
Proof #5: Pastors are thankful to God for the faith of their people (see v.9).
We simply cannot thank God enough for the gift of faith He has given and the sustaining of faith He is producing.
Now that these Thessalonian babes in Christ had faced persecution and stood firm, Paul knows the gospel really came with power and they truly turned to God from idols and were serving God and waiting for Jesus’ rescue from heaven. Confirmation of their faith translates to Paul’s overflowing joy.
Proof #6: Pastors pray and labor to complete what is lacking in the faith of their people (see v.10).
Paul was an optimistic realist. He knows their true faith has room to grow and deepen. He knows God has called him to that end, so he prays constantly to see them again and “complete what is lacking their faith.”
All Christians need this pastoral ministry, for faith, by its very nature, never arrives until it becomes sight. Even strong, mature faith can become stronger and more mature. The minute you think you don’t have room to grow and change, you will no longer grow and change.
Jus the fleeting thought, “I’ve arrived” simply reveals you haven’t!
Pastors then must lead people to God through Christ, not to themselves. This is because a belief is the most important thing about a believer.
To help bolster faith, I’ve recently self-published a little book called Who am I? Recovering the Believer’s True Identity in Christ. It can be purchased at www.thebookpatch.com by clicking on the tab Bookstore. Thank you.
Unless otherwise noted, all posts are written by Pastor Chris McKnight