What will be our glory and joy?
by Jack Wald | March 3rd, 2019

I Thessalonians 2:17-20

This morning we come to the last of the sermons on I Thessalonians for this year. We will finish up chapter two and then pick up chapter three in January 2020.

Next Sunday is the first Sunday in Lent, the forty days before Easter, and we will begin preaching through some of the parables Jesus taught. If you have a parable that you would like to hear preached, let me know. I can’t guarantee we will cover that parable, but I will try.

Before we get to our text for today, 1 Thessalonians 2:17–20, let me give an overview of where we have come to help set the context for these verses.

The events that led to this letter occurred on Paul’s Second Missionary journey. He left Jerusalem with Silas, headed north along the Mediterranean coast to Antioch, crossed over into what is today Turkey where he picked up Timothy and then Luke as his part of his team. They then crossed over into what is today Greece where they planted a church in Philippi, and then Thessalonica.

After a short time they were forced to leave Philippi because of severe persecution and the same thing happened in Thessalonica. Paul left for Berea, then Athens, and finally Corinth where he wrote the letter we know as I Thessalonians.

His letter begins teaching us about what a church is, what a church should be. The opening four verses of I Thessalonians tell us that:
The church is a community which lives in relationship with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
The church is a community which is distinguished by faith, hope and love that is expressed in practical, tangible ways
The church is a community which is loved and chosen by God

In I Thessalonians 1:5-10, from what a church is and should be, Paul makes a transition to the gospel: how it comes to us, how we receive it, and how we send it out.

What becomes clear as we read his letters is that Paul not only had a great mind but that his intelligence was matched by a great heart. He prayed day and night for the people in the churches he planted because he thought about them day and night.

I talked with a couple this week who worked in Uganda and set up a ministry that helps women find work that empowers them and lifts up their families. They had to leave after three years because of not receiving a work permit and now they are in Paul’s situation, having to encourage from a distance, having to trust those they had trained to carry on the work. Some of us are also in that position. Those who have experienced this know a little about how Paul was feeling when he wrote this letter.

This brings us to I Thessalonians 2:1-3:13 which is the next section of Paul’s letter. In this section Paul focuses on the attacks and accusations made against him by those who forced him out of Thessalonica and makes his defense against those accusations. Let me read from John Stott’s commentary that presents the historical background for what Paul writes.

The brief mission in Thessalonica had been brought to [an embarrassing, shameful, dishonorable] end. The public riot and the legal charges against the missionaries were so serious that they were persuaded to make a humiliating night flight from the city. Paul’s critics took full advantage of his sudden disappearance. In order to undermine his authority and his gospel, they determined to discredit him. So they launched a malicious smear campaign. By studying Paul’s self-defense it is possible for us to reconstruct their slanders. ‘He ran away’, they sneered, ‘and hasn’t been seen or heard of since. Obviously he’s insincere, impelled by the basest motives. He’s just one more of those many phoney teachers who tramp up and down the Egnatian Way. In a word, he’s a charlatan. He’s in his job only for what he can get out of it in terms of sex, money, prestige or power. So when opposition arose, and he found himself in personal danger, he took to his heels and ran! He doesn’t care about you Thessalonian disciples of his; he has abandoned you! He’s much more concerned about his own skin than your welfare.’

Paul’s enemies were clever in the spin they put on the facts of what had happened. His abrupt departure and his failure to return seemed to fit the accusations made against him. Their accusations seemed to carry truth.

In this letter Paul defended himself against these unjust accusations, not to protect his image for the sake of his ego, but because he knew the truth of the gospel and the future of the church were at stake. Chapters two and three of I Thessalonians are a defense of his life that is being lived in submission to Jesus.

First in 2:1-16 he defends his conduct. Second, in 2:17-3:13 he explains his involuntary departure from Thessalonica, his subsequent inability to go back, and his determination to visit them again as soon as he can.

Elliot and Glenn walked us through Paul’s defense of his conduct over the past two Sundays. The JB Phillips translation of I Thessalonians 2:3 summarizes Paul’s defense.
Our message to you is true, our motives are pure, our conduct is absolutely above board.

I Thessalonians 2:1-8 is a great passage for any of us who preach, teach, lead a Bible study, teach Sunday School, or disciple others. Read this passage and take time to think and pray about each quality Paul lists. Where is our heart in what we do? What is motivating us to do what we do? What is the reward we are looking for? Where is our ego leading us astray? This kind of reflection is critical to being a good leader. I strongly encourage you to take time to do this.

Last week Glenn preached from 2:9-13 with an emphasis on verse 13.
And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.

Paul received the word of God directly from Jesus who is the word and his life took a radical shift. Each of us who receives the good news of the gospel and allows it to go deeply into our lives are also radically changed. What used to motivate us is no longer so powerful. We may continue in the same path we were going or we may set off on a new path, but wherever we walk, we walk with different values, different goals, different hopes and aspirations. And, as we walk, we see the people who walk with us with different eyes. The gospel radically transforms every person who receives it with an open heart and mind. And because this is a living gospel, because the Holy Spirit is continually working in us to transform us, this radical transformation continues even to the end of our lives. The last two or three years have produced remarkable transformation in me and I have years to come to see who God will help me become.

The next three verses, 14-16 are easily misinterpreted.
For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone 16 in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.

These verses have been used in church history to persecute the Jews – which is not at all Paul’s intent. You only have to read Romans 9-11 to see how deeply Paul loved his fellow Jews and how much he longed for them to come into relationship with Jesus. But because this is not where I want to finish this year, I will skip over them and begin next year with verses 14-16.

This morning I want to finish our series for this year on verses 17-20.

Paul has defended his conduct when he was with the Thessalonians, now he begins to explain why he had to leave so suddenly, why he had not been able to return, and how much he is determined to visit them again as soon as he can.

I Thessalonians 2:17–20
But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. 19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

Paul begins by calling the members of the church in Thessalonica his brothers and sisters. He is making a family connection. They are all sons and daughters of God through Jesus. It is a warm and affectionate relationship they share and the pain of being separated from them is expressed in a starkly, powerful image when Paul writes, we were orphaned by being separated from you. I know a bit of the pain of being orphaned because of the abrupt deportation of the “parents” of the children of the Village of Hope that took place in March 2010. The pain and grief experienced by the children and their “parents” is beyond my ability to describe.

Paul has described himself, in relationship to the Thessalonian church, as their father, mother, even baby and brother. Now he speaks of a father, mother, baby, or brother who has been torn away from them. It was a forcible and painful separation. Paul defended himself against his accusers by writing how painful this separation has been for him. He is not an opportunistic charlatan, seeking his own benefit. He is an intimate family member who has been ripped away, against his will, from his family.

But Paul speaks from the longing of his heart and his hope that this separation will not last long. It is just “for a short time” and Paul assures them that although he has been separated in person, he has never been separated from them in thought. They have never been out of his mind and heart.
out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way.

It was not his laziness, his indifference, or by his choice that he did not make a return visit to Thessalonica. “Satan blocked our way.” In other translations Satan thwarted us or prevented us. Paul uses a verb which could be applied either to breaking up a road to make it impassable, or to cut in on someone during a race. Paul did not come because he did not want to, Satan made it impossible for him to come.

How did Satan block Paul’s way? There are various suggestions. Perhaps there was an active Jewish plot against his life and the lives of those with him that prevented him from returning. Perhaps Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh,’ his sickness, prevented him from returning. Perhaps the Roman officials in Thessalonica had put a legal ban against Jason’s property and assets that would be jeopardized if he returned. Or perhaps some other reason. We don’t know.

What is very clear is that it was Paul’s deep longing to return to be with them. In verses 19-20 Paul reveals the intensity of his desire to be with them.
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

As I read through the passage, this is the verse that jumped out to me. Immediately, I asked myself the question, “What will be my glory and joy when I come into the presence of Jesus?”

In writing this, Paul has not taken his eyes off Jesus. Paul has not replaced the glory of Jesus with the glory of the people who came to the churches he planted. Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus and never took his eyes off of Jesus and the calling he received to take the gospel to the Gentiles.

In fact, when we come into his presence, it will be impossible for us to take our eyes off of Jesus.

There is a story of Joan of Arc, a young, peasant woman in France in the 15th century, who felt led by God to help France against a military assault on the city of Orleans. This young, peasant woman, who had never before visited the palace, was brought to the royal court. The young king, Charles VII, hid himself behind other regally dressed court officials to test her, to see if she would know which one was king. But to the amazement of Charles VII and the court, she went right up to him and spoke. This was proof that God was truly with her.

When we come into the presence of Jesus there will be no doubt who Jesus is. We will not be looking at the millions of people assembled and wonder which one is Jesus. Jesus will be the center of all our attention. Jesus will draw all our minds, hearts, and souls in worship of him.

So Paul is not saying that the Thessalonians will be the focus of his attention when he comes into the presence of Jesus. His eyes, like all our eyes, will be on Jesus. What Paul is saying is that in heaven, his life there will be intertwined with the Thessalonian believers.

One of the parables I will be preaching from in the next few weeks is the parable of the talents. A landowner leaves on a trip and entrusts money to three different servants to invest for him while he is gone. When he returns, he asks for an accounting of how their investment went. When the servant who invested five bags of gold showed that he earned another five bags of gold, he received praise from his master.

I think this is what Paul is thinking of when he says the Thessalonians will be his joy and crown in heaven. Jesus gave Paul a gift of new life and a call to take the gospel to the Gentiles. In heaven Paul will be able to gather with the members of the church in Thessalonica and show Jesus the fruit of his ministry. With great excitement Paul will say, “Look Jesus what I was able to with the gifts you gave me!” That will be a joyful celebration.

If there were questions in the minds of the Thessalonian church about how Paul felt about them, this was a powerful statement of affirmation for them. They are, along with the others in churches he planted, his hope, his joy and crown in which he and his team of workers will glory in the presence of Jesus.

What actions, what relationships, will be celebrated in heaven?

Do you think anyone will focus on how many churches Paul planted? Will someone come up to Paul and say, “That’s pretty good Paul, 14 churches planted. But I want you to know I planted 27 churches.” That’s absurd. The number of churches, the size of churches, the budget of churches is only for those who have their eyes fixed on earthly rewards. It is the people who come into heaven with us who will be our glory and joy.

For Paul, there will be an abundance of rich fruit. There will not only be all the people who heard the gospel from his lips, but also all those who have read his letters through the centuries and have been encouraged to draw near to the love of Jesus through them.

I have a small list of people I know who became followers of Jesus because of what I shared with them. There is a longer list of people I have encouraged as they have made their way through this life, heading to their eternal home. The truth is that most of us do not have long lists of people we can say became followers of Jesus because of what we shared with them and longer lists of those we have encouraged in their walk with God. But one of the great joys of heaven will be to discover how creatively God used our words and our actions to encourage people to open their heart to him and follow him even in difficult times.

Sometime after WWII, two single ladies began taking in abandoned children in the town of Ain Leuh, located south of Meknes and Fez. In the mid 1990s the healthiest of the two ladies died and the other returned to the US to go to a nursing home.

I was told of a man some Moroccan Christians met in Ain Leuh about ten years after these ladies were gone. They began talking with this man about Jesus and he said that he wanted to be a follower of Jesus. This was surprising since it normally takes much longer, years in many cases, for someone to decide to begin following Jesus. They asked him why he was making such a quick decision and he told them that when he was a young boy, thirty or forty years earlier, one of the two ladies had come up to him. They gave him some food and a coat for the cold winter and he never forgot their kindness. Years later, after both of these ladies had died, their actions, loving him with the love of Jesus, bore fruit.

We have no idea how wonderfully God has used us in the lives of others. We have a few stories, but those are just the tip of the iceberg. God is at work in us and through us to bring his love into the hearts of people he wants to rescue.

When we get to heaven, there will be long lines of people wanting to talk to Paul (except if there are lines, then it would not be heaven, would it?). However it works, you will meet Paul and have time to talk with him, but you will be surprised by how many people will want to talk with you and thank you for what you did, for what you said, that encouraged them to follow Jesus.

We, like Paul, will stand in the presence of Jesus and when we stand, who will be our joy and crown?

This leads me to ask, “What are we living for? What is the focus of our attention? What uses up our time, our energy?”

In my life, after seminary and marriage, I served as a pastor for 6 ½ years. I spent the next 13 years working in business. During those thirteen years I did not neglect my relationship with God. I took my bible with me when I traveled. I prayed. I tried to be a witness to the people I interacted with. But most of my time and attention was devoted to my business. I woke up in the morning, exercised, ate breakfast, maybe read the Bible and prayed, but not regularly. I drove to work or flew off to some city to visit with customers. I worked to the end of the day or the end of the week and then made my way home.

When I woke in the morning, my thoughts were about work. When I went to bed at night, my thoughts were about work. My stress and anxiety in life were the consequence of my work.

I went to church on Sunday. I read Christian books. I bought ones I liked and gave them to customers and to salesmen who sold us materials. I went to some Christian seminars. I was not inattentive to my faith and walk with Jesus, but I was very much consumed with my work.

I could have done it much better. I wish I could go back and do it again with what I know now. But it is not wrong to put so much energy and attention on our work. We cannot be successful in our careers without putting all our effort into what we do. Careers demand our full attention. I am not being critical of working hard in our jobs. When we excel in what we do, we have a platform from which we can share our faith in appropriate ways. Being successful in our work is a part of our witness for Christ.

What I am challenging is how we view what we do and what we accomplish.

When Paul wrote about how the Thessalonian church became a model for other churches, he talked about what was reported, (1 Thessalonians 1:9)
They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,

The danger for us in our work is that our work can become an idol.

One of the books I am reading very slowly is Jacob: The Fools God Chooses by David Roper. Let me share with you a section I read this past week that reflects on Genesis 35:1-15.

Jacob leaves Shechem and instructs his family to bury all their household gods at the foot of a tree before they leave to return to Bethel where Jacob first met with God.

Israel’s idolatry was simple and direct – they worshiped the Tarpi, the lusty satyrs of Shechem. Our idolatry is often more subtle and difficult to detect – a strange focus on someone or something other than God. Attractions and distractions other than the true God motivate and master us.

Who gets the incense? That’s the question. What are the ambitions and aspirations we venerate? What are the values we value above all? How much time do we spend making money and making a name for ourselves? How much time do we spend with God?

Calvin said our hearts are factories in which we endlessly manufacture idols. The evil, he said, is not that we desire things, but that we desire them inordinately. This is the subtle perversion of idolatry.

One way to identify your gods is to observe your reaction when you don’t get your heart’s desire or when that desire is taken away. You’ll know because you’ll become self-pitying and bitter instead of submitting to God and longing for his likeness.

Another way to know your idols is to know your own thoughts, for, as Jesus said, “Where you treasure is, there your heart [mind] will be also” (Matthew 6:21). We treasure most what we think about most of the time. Our last thoughts before we sleep, our first thoughts when we awaken, our reveries throughout the day are spent on the things we treasure and trust. These are the gods that draw us away from God’s love.

“No one can serve two masters,” Jesus assures us. “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). He does not say we should not love two masters. He says we cannot. “One master passion in the breast,” wrote Byron, “swallows all the rest.”

Of all the things we do, what are we most proud of? What do we hang on our walls to show what we have accomplished, what we have achieved?

If I had a meeting with Mohammed VI, I would want to have a picture to commemorate that meeting. If I ever meet with President Obama I would love to have a picture of that encounter on my wall. But I have been in homes with people in their older years who sit amid many pictures and diplomas and certificates of appreciation and other awards and are blinded to how eternally insignificant they all are. They live in past glory with no future glory in front of them.

The world is very seductive. The world tells us how to rate and value others. We measure people by their wealth, by their success in their career, by their accomplishments, by how many important people they know, by how important they are themselves.

The church is not immune to this. I met yesterday with pastors and other leaders in our association of churches, AMEP. I talked about how easy it is to begin thinking we are building our own kingdom and how much the church suffers when we do that. One church is jealous of another church because it has more members, a larger budget. Rather than be encouraged by what God is doing in that church, negative things are said about that church and its pastor. Pastors too easily fight to build up their own kingdom.

Living your life so you can impress others is foolishness. At the end of your life, it will not matter how many people come to your funeral or how long your obituary will be or how much money you will leave behind in your bank accounts. What will matter is who greets you when you come into Jesus’ kingdom. Knowing this is wisdom.

Never be deluded into thinking that the rewards of this world will have eternal significance. This world is a temporary home. It is a tent in which we live and we are waiting for the home Jesus is preparing for us in heaven.

Never forget that Jesus is at work to rescue and bring the lost into his kingdom. That is his focus. And when we are brought into his family as his beloved daughters and beloved sons, we are given the privilege of working with him in his work.

We are very much aware of how much Jesus suffered on the cross for our benefit. But why did Jesus suffer and die on the cross?

Jesus did not die on the cross so you could have more of the world’s rewards. Jesus did not die on the cross so you could have an easy, comfortable, and luxurious life. Jesus died on the cross so you could be rescued from eternal death and brought safely into his eternal home. Jesus died on the cross so you could experience his love in all its fullness. When we know we are deeply loved by Jesus, then his passion, his work, becomes our passion and our work.

What will be your glory and joy when you come into the presence of Jesus?

When you die, you will leave behind your accomplishments, your success, your diplomas, your awards. Your career does not have any eternal significance. But the people you work with, the people who work for you, your children and other family, your friends, your neighbors, the people who work in the markets and stores where you shop, the street guardians, the beggars, the bureaucratic officials you deal with, the people you interact with in daily life – these are the people you can influence with your words, your example, your actions.

What you accomplish in this life will be quickly forgotten. Who you are able to love and influence along the way, these people will be your glory and joy when you come into the presence pf Jesus. And when you stand with these people you will hear the beautiful words of Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Come and share your master’s happiness!”