A Cup of Cold Water
by Jack Wald | January 26th, 2020

1 Thessalonians 3:6-13

In the absence of information, the mind begins to imagine. I worked with a man who was talented, but did not communicate a lot about what he was thinking. If I asked questions about his future, they were diverted. We worked well together, but when he did not tell me what he was thinking, I began to imagine what he was thinking. He is working with another friend of mine and we have the same difficulty. Both of us have great imaginations, so in the absence of information, both of us begin to speculate and create scenarios that may or may not be accurate. Both of us are capable of imagining worst-case scenarios. “What is that,” you ask? Here is an example:

You have to drive across town. Your doctor calls you on your cell phone during the drive and tells you the disease is terminal, a policeman stops you for talking on your cell phone while driving and even though you tell him about the terminal illness he writes you up anyway. You’re so distraught about the terminal illness that you don’t care and throw the ticket away as soon as the cop leaves, where it floats along the gutter and into a street drain, never to be seen again. Five minutes later the doctor calls back to tell you he called by mistake and you aren’t the one with the terminal disease, which causes you to exult and rejoice, and you get pulled over by another policeman, and are written up for talking on your cell phone again, but you don’t care – you’re happy to be given a second chance in life, and you pay the second ticket, but forget about the first one and are eventually held in contempt of court. Your car is impounded and as you don’t have enough to pay the fine, you lose your driver’s license. Without a car or driver’s license, you lose your job, are evicted from your home, and live on the street holding up a sign asking for money from people who are driving across town.

I’m not saying that Paul was a worst case scenario person, but I think Paul, in the absence of information, did have the capability of imagining the worst possible outcome.

Let me give just a brief review of what was happening in the relationship between Paul and the church in Thessalonica.

Paul was on his second missionary journey, moving through what is today Turkey and Greece. He, along with his team – Silas, Luke, and Timothy – planted churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. There was violent opposition to the emerging churches and Paul and his team had to leave these new churches prematurely. In the case of Thessalonica, Paul, Silas, and Timothy left suddenly, in the middle of the night.

After Paul left, the Jewish leaders who were opposing Paul told the church in Thessalonica that Paul did not really care about them very much and left as soon as it became difficult for him. They worked to undermine the relationship the church had with Paul.

We need to remember that Paul did not have access to telephones, the internet, a reliable postal system, any of the things that make it easy for us to communicate with each other from a distance. When Paul left Thessalonica and headed to Berea, he had no communication with them. Because Paul left suddenly, he did not have the opportunity to say goodbye to them.

He planted a church in Berea but then the Jews from Thessalonica heard he was there and went down to stir up opposition to him in Berea, So Paul had to leave there as well, putting more distance between himself and the church in Thessalonica.

It was a two day journey to walk from Thessalonica to Berea and about eight days to walk from Berea to Athens. So Paul sat in Athens, at least ten days away from the church he had had to leave so suddenly.

I talked last week about how emotional Paul is in this letter to the church in Thessalonica. Listen to these two verses from his letter. (1 Thessalonians 2:7–8, 11-12)
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.
11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God,

While in Athens, Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica and Silas to Philippi. While they were away he moved from Athens to Corinth, another three to four days journey west and south. He sent members of his team to the cities where his heart was, but physically he moved farther and farther away.

Paul sat in Corinth and waited for news. We don’t know how long Paul waited alone in Corinth. If Timothy walked from Athens to Thessalonica and then back to Corinth, that would be at least a month of travel time, not counting how much time he spent with the Thessalonian church. So Paul waited a six weeks, a couple months, maybe more without hearing any news from Timothy.

And then finally, one day, there was Timothy with a big smile to greet Paul. News was shared and then Paul immediately sat down to write his letter.

But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. 

The Greek word translated “good news” is the word used for the good news the angel Gabriel brought to Elizabeth and Zechariah that they would have a son. It is normally used to talk about the gospel being sent out. The news Timothy brought to Paul was good news of great joy.

Paul writes:
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.

This gives an indication of where Paul’s imagination had taken him. They had pleasant memories of him. Paul had worried that they would be angry with him, disappointed in him, feel abandoned by him. He imagined all kinds of negative feelings they might have and now he discovered they had pleasant memories of him and that they longed to see him, along with Silas.

In that waiting time, Paul was full of doubt and insecurity. He had left three churches before he wanted to. He feared they would fade away and then where was the fruit of his missionary journey? Had he been mistaken in setting out on this journey? What had he done wrong?

Proverbs 25:25 says, “Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.” The news Timothy brought was deliciously cold water and refreshed Paul’s weary and anxious soul.

Paul writes:
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.

They longed to see Paul and Paul longed to see them. The longing was mutual.

The longing Paul had for the Thessalonian church was not unique for him. This is how Paul felt about all the churches he planted and visited. Paul was like a father who passionately cares about his children.

He wrote to the church in Rome: (Romans 1:11–12)
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.

He wrote to the church in Philippi: (Philippians 1:8)
God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

He wrote to his loved disciple, Timothy: (2 Timothy 1:4)
Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.

Paul longed for the churches, longed for his spiritual children and it was refreshing, like a cup of cold water, for them to long for him in the same way.

Paul writes:
Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith.

Paul was not on vacation in Athens and then in Corinth. Paul had been shaken by his experiences with the churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. As I mentioned, he was filled with doubt and insecurities. An indication of how he felt is seen in his letter to the church in Corinth.

He writes in 1 Corinthians 2:3 “I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.”

In his second New Testament letter written to the church in Corinth he refers back to how he felt when he first came. (2 Corinthians 7:3–7)
For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within.

Tired, continually harassed by conflicts and inner fears. Paul needed to be encouraged and that is what Timothy’s news did for him.

in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith

Paul had been fearful, doubting the wisdom of making this missionary journey and worried that the churches would not stand up to the persecution they were experiencing. But the news Timothy brought reassured him. F.F. Bruce writes, “The gospel had taken firm root in the capital city of Macedonia; the seed had been sown in fertile ground and the fruit was already beginning to appear.”

The fact that the church in Thessalonica had not given in to the persecution encouraged Paul and his team to persevere with the difficulties and persecution they faced.

Paul wrote,
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?

Like most of us, Paul’s emotions rose and fell depending on his circumstances. Again, let me read from F.F. Bruce’s commentary. “Paul’s concern for his converts and sense of oneness with them breathes through all his correspondence. When they were led astray, he was indignant; when they slipped back, he was distressed; when they showed evidence of living lives worthy of the gospel, he was overjoyed.”

When you read the gospels, the letters of Paul, the other New Testament letters, look for the truth that is contained in these books of the New Testament, but look also for the human emotions that are on display. The people we read about in the New Testament were flesh and blood humans, just like us.

From here Paul moves to express his joy in prayer. He writes once again how much he longs to see them.
Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

And then he prays:
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.

Paul has told them repeatedly that he has an intense longing to visit them and now he begins his prayer asking God to clear the way for Paul and his team to come to Thessalonica.

Paul’s prayer was answered, although only (so far as we know) about five years later when he visited Macedonia twice towards the end of his third missionary journey.

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.

Unity is a dominant theme throughout all of the Bible. God created us to be his family on earth with our hearts set for eternal existence in fellowship with him. We are to be in fellowship with each other as Father, Son, and Spirit are in fellowship with each other.

So last week when we received members into our church, I quoted Paul in his Ephesians letter. (Ephesians 4:3–6)
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Paul prayed that the Lord would make their love increase and overflow for each other.

But love goes further than our church communities. Jesus created all men and women to be part of his eternal kingdom. Jesus came to earth because his creation was failing to live lives that would enter into his kingdom. Jesus died for you and me and for all the people on earth.

So Paul prayed that their love would increase and overflow for everyone else, including those who were persecuting them. God’s love has no limits. God loves those who reject him. God loves those who ridicule him. God loves those who persecute his children. We have to choose him, but there is no one who chooses God who will be rejected. Paul asked the Thessalonian church to pray for everyone in Thessalonica.

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.

Paul finishes his prayer for the Thessalonian church with his eyes on the finish line.

Paul wrote to the church in Philippi. (Philippians 3:13–14)
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

The image here is a race where the runners strain to reach the finish line where they will receive a prize. To continue with this analogy, a runner may receive cheers along the course of running a marathon, but the runner does not stop along the way to have photos taken and to receive the praise of the spectators. I ran the Boston Marathon and the road from Hopkinton to Copley Place in Boston is lined with people cheering. About half way the runners pass Wellesley College, where Annie went to school, and the women of Wellsley are enthusiastic encouragers. But the runners pass by. They do not stop. The runner’s eyes are focused on the finish line, not on the distractions along the course of the route.

Paul prays they will be blameless and holy when the time comes to stand with the citizens of heaven in the presence of Jesus.

We want approval for what we do. We want to be honored. We work hard and for some of us there is a reward for our work here on earth. I have been to the US Embassy for military officers who received a medal for their service in Rabat. I have been to the US Embassy for the retirement ceremony of a military officer. There are speeches and gifts, it is a great day for the person being honored and a privilege for me to be present.

A member of our church was honored at Buckingham Palace in London when the Queen presented him with the Order of the British Empire. John used to show up to church in shorts and flip-flops so it was wonderful to see him dressed in top hat, tux and tails. John kept the certificate from the Queen on his shelf in his home.

I imagine there will be an honoring of me in a year and a half when I step down as pastor of RIC.

To honor someone is a good thing. To be honored feels wonderful. But these are merely the cheers we receive as we run along the route of the marathon. Our eyes need to be fixed on the finish line where we will receive the prize.

All honoring ceremonies on earth will pale in comparison with our arrival in heaven and enter into our eternal home and hear, hopefully, “Welcome. Well done, good and faithful servant.”

What can we take from this text this morning?

First, keep your eyes on the prize. When you are facing a decision to be made it is good to make a list of the pros and cons. How will the decision affect your life here on earth? But more importantly, ask how your decision will affect your eternal life. We will all have regrets when we get to heaven. I know there are many things I regret and I have more years to live. But don’t add to the list of your regrets. Make decisions in light of the finish line that will take you into your eternal home.

How do you treat people you meet? Think of them in light of the finish line you are moving toward. How do you use your time, your possessions, your money? Use them in light of the finish line you hope one day to cross.

Second, Proverbs 25:25 says, “Like cold water to a weary soul, is good news from a distant land.”

Who is there you can encourage with news about your life? Who are the people who influenced you to become a follower of Jesus? Who are the people who discipled you at different stages of your life? Who are the people who have mentored you in your life? Perhaps a Sunday School teacher, youth leader, pastor, Bible study leader, a friend.

When is the last time you contacted them and thanked them for what they did for you? Send them news that is like a refreshing cup of cold water.

Who are the people you have influenced to become followers of Jesus? Who are the people you have discipled? Who are the people you have mentored?

When is the last time you contacted them and asked how they are doing? Send them a message of encouragement.

To go back to the race analogy, we are all running a marathon and we all need to be encouraged to persevere, to keep our eyes on the prize that awaits us when we cross the finish line. Encourage someone this week with an email or letter.

When I was in the US in October/November, I visited the man who was the leader of our student ministry in Boston. We had a great time talking and sharing news and I told him how much I appreciated his leadership and all I had learned from him. In his response he indicated that he knows he could have been a better leader. He was, after all, just in his twenties and there has been a lot of growth and maturity in the years since then. But I think it was an encouragement for him to meet with me and hear how helpful he had been to me.

The people who have helped you to find faith, to grow in faith, need the encouragement of hearing good news from you. Bless them this week.