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1 Thessalonians 3 v 11 Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. 12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: 13 To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.

Please read John 15

We began last Lord’s Day to think about the last few verses in 1 Thessalonians 3 which are about

4. PRAYER THAT PREVAILS. V 9 –10

The Apostle Paul is speaking –

9 For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God; 10 Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?

We saw three aspects of Paul’s response

1. Thankfulness
2. Joy – and
3. Prayer

All three are prayer.

There were needs in the church – and Paul could not go personally, though he desired to – yet he could pray.

This morning we think of

Paul’s Pastoral PRAYER.

11 Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.

12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:

13 To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.

Someone has said that this prayer at the end of Chapter 3 marks a major turning point of the whole letter. Why would this be said? Because up until now Paul has been thanking the Lord God for issues in the past and the present. He rejoiced in what God had done for the believers in Thessalonica, and he was thankful for what God was doing amongst them at the time of his writing.

This move from the past and present and a concentration from now on to the things of the future is significant.

We have seen so often that, as well as Prayer being Praise and thanksgiving to God, prayer is also intercession – the making of requests either for oneself or on the behalf of others. In verses 11 to 13 we find Paul making 3 requests.

1. He asks that the Lord would enable him and the other missionaries to visit Thessalonica again.

11 Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.

2. He asks that the Lord will increase the believers’ love for each other, and for outsiders of the church.

12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:

3. He asks that the Lord will strengthen their hearts towards holiness.

13 To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.

Three themes then this morning which are instructive and encouraging to us at this church.

1. In the first theme of Paul’s prayer he encourages us to think about the Sovereignty of God in His world.

2. In the second he encourages us to dwell on the need for abundant love amongst believers in this Gospel Age.

3. And in the third he points us in the direction of Holiness of Heart as the end of the Age approaches.

Let us begin straight away with the first of these themes

1. He requests that the Lord would enable him and the other missionaries to visit Thessalonica again.

11 Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.

“I think that I will spend my day off this week tidying the garden!” Who is sovereign in that statement? Me! I make the decision to use my own time to be in a certain place and engage in a certain activity. I determine what will happen. And if the weather is good and nothing distracts me; if I am well enough and there are no other pressing responsibilities then I hope to be in the garden tomorrow.”

Please forgive this personal illustration – but it is very much the way that human beings plan their time in everything – we exercise our wills to do what we as sovereign beings desire or wish to do.

What is wrong with that? You may ask.

Now notice what the Apostle says in this prayer. He did not say, “I am planning to come to Thessalonica in 3 weeks time.” Nor does he use the conditional sense of the word Hope by Saying “I hope to come to see you soon.” No, No.

Paul makes a direct request to God whom he recognises to be in Sovereign control of every aspect of his life!

Now God himself …direct our way unto you.

He speaks of God DIRECTING him to the believers at Thessalonica. Paul believes that God rules in the affairs of this world. This expression reveals to us how much the Sovereignty of God meant to the apostle.

He does it firstly by speaking of God as OUR GOD AND FATHER. A personal relationship is expressed here. It is God’s nature to be a Father to His children – not indiscriminately to all people – rather He has made arrangements, provision for people to become sons and daughters by adoption. Out of the mass of humanity, estranged from the Father by sin and rebellion, their natural disposition, He adopts children and they become members of His family by faith. Paul explains this in

Romans 8 v 15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. 16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: 17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;

And in

Galatians 4 v 4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, 5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. 6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. 7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

But there is more than this. By his carefully chosen words Paul joins very closely his references to God his Father and to the Lord Jesus Christ. There are those that would say that this verse DISTINGUISHES God the Father from the Son. The words in front of us and their construction in the sentence teach very clearly that God is One and that The Lord Jesus Christ is God. Paul does not set out to teach the unity of these 2 persons of the Godhead in this passage. But naturally, as he prays, his words flow and show us his understanding of the nature of the Godhead.

What proof is there in these few words? It is in the way that Paul makes the Father and the Son the joint subject of the verb that is in the singular. It is the verb direct. In many languages words have to agree with each other. Simply in English we would say about a Traffic Warden that he directs lost motorists when they ask for help. The ADDED ‘s’ is proper in our language – it tells us that one Traffic Warden directs. If there were more than one we would say “Traffic Wardens direct lost motorists” – no ‘s’.

You have to take it from the Greek text that Paul is using the SINGULAR form of the verb to direct when ordinarily, where 2 or more persons are the subject, it should be PLURAL. Thus Paul understands, and he is leading the Thessalonians to understand, that The Lord Jesus is one with God the Father – just by stating it in prayer! It was natural to Paul to speak of the Lord Jesus Christ as God – co equal and co eternal with the Father.

Paul’s prayer is addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ conjointly with the Father. The Lord Jesus Christ is united directly with His Father with respect to the Godhead, but of course with respect to their persons and personality, they are distinct.

Paul believed that God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ the Son was the controller of the ways of men. WE Vine suggests that properly the verse can be translated replacing ‘and’ with ‘even’

Now God himself EVEN our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.

We have the authority to say this because of the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself in

John 5 v 19 Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

May we marvel again at the Bible, the word of God, that gives us these precious insights to His person! May it give us worshipful confidence in God in the face of our own godless generation. And may it lead us to have right thoughts about our Dear Lord and saviour – the God who died for us on the cross!

But let us come back to God’s Sovereignty and God’s control of Paul’s life. Paul believed with all his heart that nothing happens by chance or outside the sphere of God’s Providence. But this does not prevent him from praying that God will clear his way to the Thessalonians. The verb DIRECT carries with it the idea of MAKING STRAIGHT or even making LEVEL. There is some imagery that appears here in this word – that of smoothing the pathway to make access available. If we can remember some weeks ago we thought of how Satan hindered Paul and the others. The hindering we saw was obstacles being put in the way by the evil one. Paul requests that God removes the obstacles. Paul had earnestly and strenuously tried to get to the believers at Thessalonica – but it had been in vain. Satan had been successful in opposing him. But God is over all – and the apostle in this prayer makes his final appeal – he did not make any further reference to it again in this or the next letter to the Thessalonians.

My friends, God is mightier than Satan.
And God is wiser than His servants.

9 A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.

Jeremiah 10 v 23 O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.

Are we the people of God ready to be directed by the Lord God? Are we ready to believe with all of our hearts that nothing happens by chance or is outside the sphere of God’s Sovereign Providing?

Are we ready to believe that God has absolute Sovereign control over our lives, even when he permits us to sin, or even make wrong decisions? Paul believed that God’s control over his life extended even to the practical matters of travel plans – so it was right to pray about them. Do you ask the Lord for safety when you go on a journey – and then thank Him when it is finished?

All the affairs of our lives are ultimately in the hands of our loving God. But there is one more thing to be said – Clinging dependence upon God does not rule out legitimate efforts on our behalf. But self – effort alone cannot ever guarantee any course of action. James tells us in James 4 v 13

Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: 14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. 15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

May we see these things and constantly trust in our Sovereign God in every aspect of our lives here on earth – as much as we trust him for our lives in heaven in eternity!

Nothing will show what really matters to us so effectively, as our prayers. When we pray for others it will often speak volumes about our sense of values. We can now learn from Paul about his values.

2. He requests that the Lord will increase the believers’ love for each other, and for outsiders of the church.

12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:

Paul now encourages us to dwell on the need for abundant love amongst believers in this Gospel Age.

What a prayer this is! What a request he makes! How weak our English words are to express how much Paul has in mind as he prays for the Christians at Thessalonica. INCREASE means to be extended or be enlarged. Did he mean that they were not loving each other enough? Not at all – the report from Timothy bore adequate testimony that they were a loving community of believers. But love can increase can’t it? Don’t we sing in William Cowper’s words?

Lord it is my chief complaint,
That my love is weak and faint;
Yet I love thee and adore,
O for grace to love thee more.

There is always room for improvement and increase of love!

But Paul uses a further word – ABOUND. This word means to exceed or to go beyond. So together Paul’s petition is of this nature -

The Lord make you to increase in love, in order that you will abound in love – that you will go beyond the norm for love – that you will exceed what could naturally be expected in love.

Does this sound idealistic or impossible? Is it reasonable that Paul should pray to God in this way?

Well perhaps if we are honest, and look inside our own hearts, we recognise such selfishness and self interest that we cannot hope to express such largeness in love.

But is not this the problem? Love is unable to flourish where self is on the throne! Self needs to be crucified and love, the very nature of the Christ Himself, must be enthroned!

You will not be surprised to find that this word LOVE in verse 12 is AGAPE. The word, and its corresponding verb, is used in the New Testament to describe different aspects of love.

1. The General attitude of God towards the human race –

John 3 v 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

2. The Particular love of God towards those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ in particular – God’s chosen and adopted children –

John 14 v 21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.

3. AGAPE is used to convey God’s will to His children concerning their attitude towards one another – as Jesus said in

John 13 v 34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

More than this love for the children of God is evidence of the new birth in the soul.

1 John 3 v 4 We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.

And

1 John 4 v 7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.

4. AGAPE is used to convey God’s will to His children concerning their attitude to all men –

Romans 13 v 8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. 9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Love looks for opportunities to do good to all men –

Galatians 6 v 10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

Imagine what it would be like if Paul had prayed for our society? That the Christians in our communities today were enlarged and abounded with God’s love – firstly towards each other and then towards the people around them?

In its essence sin is selfishness and we are born selfish.

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.”

That is selfishness. Selfless love is the opposite of the selfish lust that satisfies itself at the expense of others.

Love is the opposite to sin. Love is unselfishness – love seeketh not her own. Love is the fulfilling of the Gospel as well as of the law. Growing more and more in love is growing in grace – in other words more like the Lord Jesus Christ – the epitome of true love.

How do we obtain this deepening of love that Paul prayed for, for the Thessalonians? Firstly By the same means that Paul used – prayer! We pray for each other – that we may love more and more. And we pray for ourselves – that we become less and less selfish and more and more like Christ. As we pray we submit ourselves to the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ will enable us to grow in love. Secondly it is hard work to love as Jesus loved. So it will be by strenuous endeavour to learn to love the unlovable, the unlovely and those who do not love in return. This is why we need to pray for ourselves and each other – for those whom we seek to reach outside of the church are becoming harder and harder to love. Therefore we need to be closer and closer to the Lord Jesus Christ – more in communion and fellowship with Him, more meditation on His loveliness and perfection and more devotion to His Kingdom than ever before. Are we up to it my friends? Am I? Are we ready to put ourselves out and take second place so that others may benefit?

Perhaps we can also recall those who have loved us for Christ’s sake and with Christ’s love. Paul mentions this, humbly, in this prayer

12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:

He appeals to the believers’ memories of the way that the missionaries loved them with Christ’s love – and to the fact that they continued to love them. Matthew Henry points out that “the more we are loved by others the more loving we should be.” It sounds then that love is infectious! This must be our role then in this community – that we shall lead by example in the ways of love, Christ-like love, so that others may be drawn in to see. Not us, but Christ living in us. Are we ready for this application of scripture?

Finally as we move to a close the last verse concludes Paul’s prayer in which

3. He requests that the Lord will strengthen their hearts towards holiness.

13 To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.

There is a colon at the end of verse 12 – so the thoughts of love and growth continues in verse 13 with Paul using the term “to the end” – with the intention or with the aim. Love is not an end in itself – but a means to an end – and the end in this case is HOLINESS. The exercise of love builds up the Christian’s character towards becoming like the Lord Jesus Christ not only in love but in holiness and holy living. In the Christian life there is ever the ultimate end or aim of perfection of character. Paul’s sentence can be paraphrased like this

“The Lord enable you more and more to spend your lives in the interests of others, in order that He may so establish you in Christian character now, that you may be vindicated from every charge that might possibly be brought against you at the Judgement seat of Christ.”

The Lord Jesus Christ has the aim of making His believing people ready to face the judgement, which He has ensured that they will come through – unblameable in holiness. Love strengthens our hearts to be holy. Holiness is ultimately a work of the Lord Jesus Christ in us, but it is a work which demands our active cooperation. Paul in Philippians 2 says

12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings: 15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;

Do we my friends have the desire to have our hearts established in holiness before God – and to be preserved safe for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ when we will be presented before the throne?

The Lord Jesus Christ is coming again and He will come in His awesome glory! He will bring with Him angels and Christians who have died – called Holy ones – saints. Not one who has died in Christ will be left behind. He will come to gather the rest – those still alive on earth – so that all may be gathered together, to receive their resurrection bodies in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.

Who will be unblameable in that day? Only those for whom Jesus died – who have learned how to love and have grown in holiness in heart – and who have been made ready through godly living to meet the Lord Jesus when He comes.

Are you one of those people my friend?
Is your life characterised by love and holiness?

To be more precise have you been born again and are you one of God’s children? Have you come by faith and repentance to surrender to Christ and receive eternal life from Him? Have you identified your grave shortcomings and rebellions in your soul? Perhaps there is a corner of your heart where dislike, resentment or even hate for someone dwells. You need the love of Christ through His Spirit to remove that. Perhaps there is an area of your life that is reserved for your own selfish indulgence no matter what it costs others around you. Perhaps sin still reigns in your life – the very opposite to Holiness.

My friend, I need to be frank and tell you that if your heart is like that then it needs to change. It can never be established unblameable and holy while those things prevail. Repent this morning! Turn from these things – turn to the Lord Jesus Christ who can change you in the miracle of a conversion experience. Own up to your sin and abandon it. And come and trust the Lord Jesus Christ and His work on the cross for sinners. Receive the cleansing pardon of His blood and have your soul washed clean – so that you too will be ready for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints!



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