Prof. Cherney preached this sermon at the Vacar Call Service.
1 Thess 3:6-13
“How Can We Thank God Enough for You?”
“What kind of pastor are you going to be? Are you the scholar-theologian kind, or are
you more of a ‘people-person’?” Well, think about this one: which was the Apostle Paul?
“Paul?” you say. “Are you kidding? The author of half the New Testament? The great architect
of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith? The man who could quote Greek poets
from memory, to say nothing of large chunks of the OT; the man who had studied so much and
knew so much that Governor Festus thought Paul’s knowledge was driving him crazy? Here’s a
scholar-theologian-egghead if there ever was one.”
All very true. But as you listen to these words from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians,
reflect on the side of Paul you see here.
6 But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. 7 Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8 For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.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.
You know the story. Paul and company preached in Philippi, and that story ends with
Paul and Silas being escorted out of jail and asked by the city fathers to please just quietly go
away. So they do. Paul and company head 90 miles down the Via Egnatia to Thessalonica. Here
there’s a big Jewish community, so Paul preaches Jesus in the synagogue as long as the
synagogue will let him, which isn’t long. Once he gets kicked out of the synagogue, Paul and his
colleagues turn to the people of the city. Soon a little church has formed; it includes a few Jews,
a few gentile converts to Judaism. But most are former pagans who had been slaughtering
animals in idol temples just a short time ago. These people have got a lot to learn, and Paul and
his colleagues are teaching them as fast as they can; but the teaching gets cut short. The
synagogue hires a “rent-a-mob,” and they drag some of the new Christians before the city
council and accuses them of preaching treason against the Romans. The whole business ends,
once again, with Paul and Silas having to get out of town; they head down to Berea, then Athens,
And as he travels, just imagine what’s going through Paul’s mind. His members back in
Thessalonica were spiritual babies. Paul had to run away and leave them after nothing more than
bare-bones teaching—and the persecution had started already. How long do you really think
people can stay Christians in a situation like this? How do you think they feel now about this
whole Jesus-thing? And how do they feel now about Paul? “Thanks, Paul. Thanks a lot. You
come into town, talk us into this Jesus-thing, get us all in big trouble with the law, and then you
head off down the road, leaving us to face the music ourselves.” Is that what they’re saying about
me? Paul wonders.
So Paul sends Timothy back to Thessalonica to find out. Timothy brings word that it’s
exactly the opposite. The Thessalonians are standing their ground. Their lives are overflowing
with love for God and one another. What’s more, they are overflowing with love for Paul. They
can’t wait to see him again, to thank him for all he’s given them, to encourage him and to share
with him everything they have. These verses are Paul’s response, and what is this? It’s not an
exegesis. It’s not a dogmatics lecture. It’s a love song, a song of love for God and for the people
Paul carried on his heart.
Brothers, learn this from the apostle Paul tonight. Learn this over the year ahead. Learn
how to carry God’s people on your heart, because this is what ministry is. It’s what makes the
year you are embarking on not just a drill. You are headed out to a place where you will be only
temporarily (although it will be nice if you get to serve out the whole year, and your year doesn’t
end with you being run out of town). But just because you’re there only temporarily, just because
you’re serving under a mentor, just because this is supposed to be more learning-time, time for
you to deepen your knowledge of certain things you’ve been taught and to develop certain
skills—that doesn’t make Vicar Year just some kind training exercise. This isn’t just a hoop the
Seminary makes you jump through on your way to getting what you really want, which is a real
ministry, a real home, and a real congregation of your own.
The people you will come to know are not just training dummies that the Lord puts in
front of you to practice on. The people are real. The Lord Jesus really bought them with his
precious blood. In a miracle that none of us can understand, they have really been brought to
faith in Jesus as Savior by the Spirit’s power; and by that same power they are trying desperately
to remain faithful to Jesus even when it’s not glamorous or fun. They still love and have fond
memories of those who have brought them the gospel in the past, and their lives really are
overflowing with love for God and for one another. Yes, they are; in some of your members you
will see the love easily; in others, you’ll have to look a little harder; but love Jesus and one
another, they do. And even after one year, they will come to love you. They will come to thank
God for you. Just as, after two years, have we (although with some of you, some of us go back a
little further than that.)
Go to Jesus’ people and love them. Go, pick up some of God’s people, and bear them on
your heart; as you are born on the hearts of others, and on the heart of your dear Lord Jesus. Go
learn exactly what that means. Then come and report back. Amen.