The Big Hearted Life

1 Thessalonians 2:13-3.13

There are lots of preachers who have a bee in their bonnet about "victorious Christian life." You can see them on the God Channel and endless YouTube videos. If you Google the phrase you’ll find thousands of churches where "victorious Christian living" isn’t merely a title for a sermon but a mantra for everything.

Do you know what? Those churches and preachers are right. Victorious Christian living is vital. After all what would be the point of being a Christian if you didn’t experience and embrace all that comes from being a follower of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords, the one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the one who has conquered sin and death.

The apostle Paul certainly believed in the victorious Christian life. In fact in these verses of 1 Thessalonians he tells the young converts in that important city all about the ingredients of such a life. We call it here – the bighearted life.

1. Its feeling – intense longing
At first sight it seems a bit surprising that, having spent no more than three weeks with the Christians in Thessalonica, the apostle Paul seems to be so emotionally involved in the whole thing. After all it’s not a long time to form a relational bond with someone is it?

But clearly, for Paul, there was something pretty intense about the feelings the Thessalonians aroused in him. Being separated from them was, he says, like being orphaned.

That word that could be used in Greek to describe a child being separated from his parents or, more likely in Paul’s case, a parent being separated from their child.

If you are a parent here the emotion Paul is describing is the one you get when you turn round in the supermarket and your child has disappeared. And Paul did not just feel orphaned, he also had an "intense longing" to see them and, after a while, he could "stand it no longer."

As I say at first sight it seems hard to comprehend why Paul has such strong feelings after such a short time. But, when you think about it, that’s actually quite normal. Anyone here ever had a holiday romance?

So the questions we need to ask are: what is it about the Thessalonian Christians that aroused such powerful emotions in the apostle Paul? And why is it that Paul thinks such an intense emotional response is an appropriate and good one?

Fortunately Paul tells us the answers in v19! The Thessalonian Christians matter so much to him because they are his hope. This small group of very ordinary people from a range of social and cultural backgrounds, is Paul’s joy, the crown in which he will glory in the presence of the Lord Jesus when he comes.

It’s good to pause for a moment just to ask ourselves whether other people, and especially other Christians, have the same kind of impact on us.

Here at GBC we like to think of ourselves as a friendly bunch. I’d say we do OK on that front. But, as important as it is, there is a real danger in putting an emphasis on just welcoming new people.

While it’s really important, is just not enough for the apostle Paul. If you were in a situation, as Paul was, where you had been run out of town under threat of violence, would your passion and commitment to the people in your church be so strong that you would run the risk of being beaten to make sure you could be here?

Feelings of intense longing to be together are the kind of relationships we are looking to build in this church. If a sense of passionate, heartfelt concern for other Christians is where you want to be in your life, I can’t promise you that GBC is completely there yet. But I can promise you that is somewhere we are trying to get to.

So can I just gently challenge you that intense longing to be with your brothers and sisters is what Paul sees as normal for Christians.

2. Its Focus – future glory
So why should Paul, why should we, view being in church, being with other Christians, as so absolutely vital to him that he longs to see them?

Paul believed that his divine mission was to see people of all nations come to faith in Jesus Christ, the living, loving king of the universe. So when this group of men and women from Thessalonica came to such faith, Paul was thrilled.

Every Christian believer is called by God to give their life to the task of helping people come to know Jesus. To give your life to helping Christians stick with and grow in that faith. The other Christians in your church, the people who have come to faith in Christ here, the people who are growing and being encouraged here, are a living expression of what we are to give our lives to.

Look around you. These people are your hope, your glory and your joy. That’s not to deny that Jesus Christ is the hope, glory and joy of every Christian. It’s to affirm that we believe Jesus when he tells us to give ourselves to seeing people trust and grow in him.

There are lots of Christians who seem to think that the real sign of godly strength and maturity in their lives is that they could carry on being a Christian without being part of a church family. Can I say, very clearly this morning, that belief is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Of course it is possible that some Christian believer in some unreached country might be the only Christian in their town or city. But what would such a Christian do? Surely they would try and share the good news about Jesus with some more people so they could be in a church!

On the last day, when the Lord Jesus comes, v19, it won’t just be you and him. It will be you and him and every brother and sister together. And you will find honour and glory in being before Jesus with people you have led to Christ, people you have encouraged, people you have challenged, brothers and sisters you have loved.

3. It’s teaching – suffering
Most of the preachers who use the phrase "the victorious Christian life " part company quite drastically from the apostle Paul at this point.

For Paul the main expectation Christian people ought to have of life in this world is not freedom from sickness, success in the workplace and prosperity in the bank. Instead the main emphasis of Paul’s message to the Thessalonians was, v3, trials. What these first Christian believers were destined for was, v4, persecution.

A central teaching of the big-hearted Christian life, the life that really is saved, the life that really is following Jesus, the life that really is on its way to glory, is suffering. As Paul writes in another of his letters: everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

By the time Paul wrote this letter the Thessalonian Christians were suffering persecution for their faith. So Paul wants to remind them that this should not be a shock. Paul hadn’t gone round telling people that they ought to follow Jesus because it was wonderful and liberating and fantastic and leave it at that. No, v4, he kept telling the people who were thinking about becoming Christians that they would be persecuted, abused and rejected if they did.

4. Its cost – sacrifice.
Paul was so concerned about how the Christians in Thessalonica would cope with the pressure they were under that he sent his friend and colleague Timothy, v1, to find out how they were getting on. That was a big sacrifice for Paul. Timothy was, v2, his brother and co-worker. Timothy was vital to Paul’s ministry.

5. Its satisfaction – finding joy in the faith and love of others
There is a direct relationship between the spiritual state of the Thessalonian Christians and Paul’s frame of mind. I wonder if you noticed that the way he writes makes that very obvious – Timothy has brought good news about the Thessalonians, therefore, v7, Paul is encouraged. Paul really lives, v8, since they are standing firm in the Lord.

If you are here this morning and the spiritual progress of other people – their growth towards or turning away from Jesus Chris the source of all life – if that progress does not have a powerful impact on your thoughts and feelings you are an immature Christian.

The truth is that concern for someone else’s growth in faith in Christ and love for God and others is profoundly loving.

If you are concerned for how someone is doing as a Christian you are concerned about things that will matter to them for all eternity. And that kind of love is infectious. If you hang out with people who are deeply concerned for your true welfare, for your soul as earlier generations might have put it, it will shape the things you are concerned about for other people.

Paul’s was not always a friendship that would gratify you. But it was always a friendship that would grow you. So let me ask you this morning – which kind of friendships are you choosing?

6. Its prayer – growth in the holiness of others.
You might think that, with the report he had just received from Timothy, Paul would be well content. But, it seems, that’s not enough for Paul.

Look how he prays for them in the last verses of our passage:

• Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again.

• May the Lord make you love increase and overflow.

• May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless when our Lord Jesus comes.

Paul doesn’t just find his joy in the Thessalonians progress in the Christian life. He also gives his prayer, his time, his energy and his effort to seeing that progress increase.

Maybe you are here this morning and you would not at all describe yourself as a Christian. Maybe you are considering the claims of Christ to be the divine king who forgives our sin and can give us eternal life. Maybe you are even impressed by the Christian gospel – a message of grace, acceptance and security forever through Jesus.

Can I say to you this morning that that message is true and wonderful. It is the best news in the world.

But if that is you please do not imagine that being a Christian is a route to unruffled serenity. The invitation to become a Christian is an invitation to make your inner life, your feelings and emotions, profoundly bound up with a bunch of people who can break your heart! Or with a bunch of people who can make you rejoice in ways you never thought possible. Being a Christian isn’t just the most secure thing in the world. Properly understood it is also an emotional roller-coaster because it involves giving your heart away, and finding your grief, or your joy, in the ebb and flow of faith and love of others.

As you grow in Christ you will gain in inner strength. You will grow in your conviction that nothing and no- one can take away from you salvation and security in Christ.

Be like Paul. Experience real life. Find joy in the faith and love of others. Seek growth in the holiness of others.