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Advent and Second Advent, Part 2

November 30, 2006

 

So let us seek to awaken our hearts to greater longing for Christ’s return by looking further in Thessalonians at some of the things that will happen at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  At the end of chapter 2 we learn that

 

I. We will rejoice in the people of God

 

1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.

Paul is looking forward to his heavenly reward.  When Jesus comes, then Paul will glory and rejoice in seeing people whom he has influenced for Christ.  He will enjoy for all eternity the fruit of his labor in the Lord. 

 

But Paul isn’t a selfishly ambitious minister, using people to increase his own esteem in this world or reward in the next.  He doesn’t say that the Thessalonians are a means to his glory, he says they are his glory.  Their well-being is his joy. 

 

The doctrine of heavenly rewards is very important and deserves further study.  It is amazing how many times in the Scriptures we are inspired to do something by the promise of reward.  Sometimes we hesitate to embrace this because we feel like true virtue is doing our duty just because it’s the right thing to do with no thought of reward.  But that’s Kant, not Christianity.  Jesus teaches us to give and to fast and to pray in secret because our Father who sees what is done in secret will reward us. 

 

So we need to think more on our heavenly rewards, but there is a danger of thinking wrongly and selfishly about it.  I don’t think we should picture some heavenly rewards ceremony where we will feel our hearts swell as our names are called more often than others.  No, the Lord himself is our very great reward, and the fruit that we have borne in Him is something that we will enjoy for eternity.  If we actually receive a literal crown, we’re going to cast it at his feet anyway.  Seeing people in heaven to whom we have ministered the grace of Christ will be our crown. 

 

Now I want you to notice from the little word “for” in verse 19 that this heavenly hope is the reason Paul longs for fellowship with the Thessalonians now.   Paul wants to visit them face to face, for they are his joy before the Lord at his coming.  The hope of perfected fellowship at the coming of Christ inspires us to be with other saints now, imperfect though we are.   Every investment you make in a relationship with a brother or sister in Christ now is something that will increase your joy for eternity.  You will forever enjoy the fruit of every seed of grace and truth you sow in your friend’s life.   And this should, of course, be an incentive to befriending unbelievers as well for what a joy it will be to see them in heaven should the Lord use the seeds you sow to draw them to himself. 

 

Paul continues this thought in

1 Thessalonians 3:9-12 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,

[did you catch that?  not just for one another, fellow believers, but for all]

 

Now before I go on to talk about the next great thing we have to look forward to at the coming of Christ which is our perfected holiness, this is a good place to insert something that the Lord has been teaching me recently about prayer that I see in these verses. 

 

It’s the importance of thanksgiving in prayer, particularly thanksgiving in intercession.  When you pray for people, thank God for them the way Paul does.   I used to think that when I prayed for people I had to figure out what was wrong with them so I could tell God to fix it.  “Lord I pray for Joe.  Let’s see…what’s wrong with this guy?  Oh yeah, he’s got this problem and that problem, help him with that, Lord.”   This is a very depression, anxiety, and arrogance-producing way to pray.  And it completely dried up my love for intercession.  I got to where I felt worse after I prayed than before I prayed and so I became disinclined to pray.   But I kept up this errant praying longer than I should have because of a false conclusion drawn from verse 10.  Paul prayed that he might supply what is lacking in their faith, so I thought I was supposed to figure out what was lacking.  But now I’m convinced that Paul didn’t have any particular failing of the Thessalonians in mind.  If he had, he surely wouldn’t have hesitated to point it out.  He doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with doing that elsewhere.   And in chapter 4:9 he writes, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another,  10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.”  The only thing the Thessalonians lacked was more of the same.  They had been taught by God, but they needed continual supplies of grace, Paul wanted to be a means of that grace and so he wanted to see them, but we don’t need to play junior Holy Spirit and diagnose everyone’s trouble and tell God how to fix them.  We just need to speak grace and truth in our relationships, and when we pray for others we should thank God for his grace in their lives and pray for more of the same.   Pray those big, vague Pauline prayers for grace and love and illumination and hope and peace. 

 

And wouldn’t it be great if we took it a step farther and followed Paul’s example not only in thanking God for people, but then telling them that we thanked God for them, and specifically what grace in their lives we thanked God for?  That would transform a fellowship and make it just a little more like the perfect fellowship to which we look forward at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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