1 Thessalonians 2 v 18 (2) Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again
Don’t we love it when a plan that we have made comes together and works out smoothly? Are we not pleased when our arrangements and desires fit neatly into place – what satisfaction and pleasure there is?
On the other hand when our plans are thwarted – when some hindrance forces us to give up the projected scheme – that is a different matter! We become disappointed and even frustrated and angry. We see circumstances as setbacks and sometimes they are hard to take.
The apostle Paul had a setback in his plan to return to Thessalonica. He identifies Satan as the hinderer – nevertheless his desire to go back to the young church burned strongly. He loved these new believers. He had said so earlier in this chapter –
7 But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: 8 So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.
He felt responsible for their suffering that in some way the glorious gospel message that he had brought to them, and which had so profoundly affected their lives, was the reason for their suffering. But Paul was under an obligation to preach the truth as it is in the Lord Jesus Christ – he said in 1 Corinthians 9 v 16
For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
Paul was driven by a high sense of duty to the Lord Jesus Christ knowing that one day he would give an account of his service for Christ.
He had a specific commission – it is in Acts 9 v 15
But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: 16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.
These are Christ’s words delivered to Paul by Ananias in Damascus shortly after his conversion. “Bear my name before the Gentiles” the Lord had said – and plant churches, assemblies, gatherings of Christ’s precious sheep in many places. Paul confirmed this in Ephesians 3 v 8
Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; 9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
We live in days of quality assurance. In virtually any job today we are required to give evidence that we are doing a good job. What was the evidence of Paul’s job done well? The Thessalonians and others like them from Philippi, Ephesus, Asia Minor, Greece and even Rome – who had been drawn by the love of Christ the saviour through the preaching of the Apostle Paul – Christian believers saved by grace and living transformed lives – they would be in heaven! This would be the ground of Paul’s eager expectation as he stands before the Lord – he would have evidence of his faithful stewardship and productive labour. They would be in the presence of Christ their Saviour when He comes again. This is what Paul is saying in these last 2 verses of Chapter 2
19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? 20 For ye are our glory and joy.
Paul imagines himself standing before the Lord, not with any boasting, but rather with fruit.
There is nothing quite like the joy of harvest time is there? There is the gathering of the fruit from trees or bushes or fields. Seed that had been sown had disappeared and died in the ground. But now it has sprung up, grown, matured and bore fruit itself. And the harvesters go out to gather. There is a Psalm that has this thought in its last verse –
Psalms 126 v 6 He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
Paul was a man who went forth – at his master’s command. He was a man who took the precious seed of the word of God and faithfully sowed it with tears. Why tears? They are tears of pleading – with men to be reconciled to God – and with God that He will save His people from their sins. They will be tears of grief when there were those who could hear the seed being sown but their hearts were hard, stony or corrupted with the weeds of this world – its riches and diversions. What moves us to tears my friends? Do we weep at people’s unbelief and rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ their creator? Do we weep at the futility of lives without God?
We should do – and Paul had his own share of weeping.
But then there is the promise in Psalm 126 –
he shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
Here is Paul’s fruit – sheaves! Bundles of ripe grain on their stalks. Good seed sprung up and harvested by the angels from all over the world. There they would be – as evidence of Paul’s diligent work – he sowed, others watered, but God gave the increase – and now they are in heaven and on display before the Lord Jesus Christ the Master.
Notice how Paul puts it. He has 2 questions and a statement.
We can call it Paul’s RHETORIC and REJOICING.
Rhetoric strictly speaking, is the art of eloquent public speaking. In the Greek a RHETOR is a public speaker. One device used by skilled orators is to ask a question for effect, which does not require an answer. Paul often says that he was not eloquent – like some others were in his day. Nevertheless he uses 2 excellent questions which in effect make two statements.
1. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing?
2. Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?
1. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing?
Paul asks ‘What will my reward be in heaven?’
If you were Paul what sort of reward would you be looking forwards to? Could it be that we ask -
Will I occupy a throne next to the other apostles?
Will I be in charge of many cities or groups of saints in heaven?
Will I be in the Cabinet of Christ’s government of kingdom in heaven?
We are assured that Paul did not ask ANY of these questions – his anticipated reward was of a different nature! So he asks – What will my reward really be?
Before we notice his answer let us be sure that Paul is not speaking in some proud and self interested way when he asks this question. Rather he speaks in a correct and proper thankful attitude of deepest joy.
We once met an elderly lady at a Christian conference whose son was one of the main speakers. After a little while in our conversation she revealed who she was – the mother of the speaker – but she was quick to tell us that she was not proud – just thankful!
Paul has spoken so often AGAINST pride, that it is inconceivable that he is speaking proudly or boastfully now about what would happen in heaven.
Rather he is saying that it will be his deepest joy and reward JUST TO SEE THEM THERE with the Lord Jesus Christ. He will not want it announced that these were Paul’s sheaves – no he just was glad to see them there! He was denied the pleasure of seeing them in Thessalonica again – but nothing and no-one would stop him from seeing them in glory! Paul knew that they were there only because they were the elect of God chosen in Christ from the foundation of the world. He had not ensured their presence in heaven – he had merely been a tool in the master’s hand – and His mouthpiece and messenger and most of all Christ’s servant! ‘What is our hope?’ Asks Paul. You are!
HOPE – in the New Testament describes the happy anticipation of something good. It is favourable and confident expectation. The use of the word hope in our day has altered the certainty somewhat. W.E. Vine says “The element of uncertainty with the consequent possibility of disappointment, which is the essence of all hope amongst men, has NO PLACE in the HOPE of the Christian!”
Every time we see the word hope in our New Testaments we must think CERTAINTY not uncertainty!
Just after I became a Christian I went home to tell my parents of the remarkable thing that had happened to me. My joy was keen, my heart was full and my excitement was real having come to the Lord for forgiveness of my sins. They were gone – my guilty burden had been lifted and I was a new man.
Sadly my parents did not share my enthusiasm – they thought that I had been caught up in some extreme group of religious people, despite the fact that I had been saved in the very denomination in which they had brought me up! In our conversations over the next few days I remember them both saying that “no one is allowed to say definitely that he is saved, that he is a Christian”. They believed that would be a terrible presumption to claim personal salvation. According to my parents, what we could say was this “I hope I am saved!” If anyone asked, “Are you saved?” you just could reply, “I hope so.” There seemed to be some terrible reticence in their minds that there was a possibility that they could arrive at the gates of heaven and not be admitted – so they just hoped that God would let them in!
Oh my friends, that is not Biblical hope – that is NO hope!
Paul was sure and certain that those who had been truly saved in Thessalonica would definitely be there – in heaven! Do you have this hope this morning my friend? Are you certain that you are saved? Or are you perhaps clinging to some religious notion that you might be – but you can never be sure? Oh my friend, if you are only hoping to seeing the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven one day but you are not utterly convinced – then seek the Lord with all your heart this morning – and ask Him to make you absolutely, without any doubt, cast iron SURE of the certainty of your salvation.
Not only were the Thessalonian Christians his Hope – they were also Paul’s JOY.
What is or who is our JOY? You are!
No doubt we are familiar with the expression that someone is a JOY. It conveys a feeling of delight in someone who evokes glad sentiments. Paul does not only use it here in this letter – but also in Philippians 4 v 1
Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.
Of course Paul’s principal cause of joy in his heart was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This is why he tells the Christians at Philippi to “Rejoice in the Lord” – in 3 v 1 and 4 v 4. Angels told the shepherds that their news about the birth of the Saviour was good tidings of great JOY.
In Acts 8 where there is the account of Philip preaching the gospel in Samaria, and many being converted Luke remarks in verse 8
And there was great joy in that city.
When the 2 Marys came to the tomb in the garden on the first day of the week in Matthew 28 and were told by the angel that Jesus had risen
they departed with fear and with great joy!
Christian joy is delight and gladness that is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5 v 22). Since this is true then true Christian joy is independent of circumstances. Natural joy always is stimulated by things going on around you or people who give you pleasure and delight in some way.
But the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ who is filled with the Holy Spirit can experience joy in the darkest and most dangerous of situations. Notice what James says in James 1 v 2
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations (multiple and varied trials); 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
Adversity is part of God’s school for the children of God. We learn to trust, we learn to glory and we learn to endure WITH JOY through the tough things that the Lord permits for us as His precious children. This is confirmed by the Psalmist David in Psalm 119 v 71
It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.
Only the true believer in the Lord Jesus, who is the God who works all things together for good for those who love God and are the called according to His purpose, can understand this and submit to trials – with joy – knowing that they are good for us.
It maybe that your life feels like one long trial day in day out, but have you noticed, dear believer, that the Lord in the midst of it all, does not allow you to be crushed – but gives you joy? The world cannot understand it. Why are you so joyful when all these things have come upon you, some may ask. And your answer is – My joy is full because Jesus is my joy, His Spirit within generates genuine joy in me amidst all the trials. There are many examples of God’s believing people suffering and still rejoicing. One example is in Acts 5 when a group of Apostles were arrested and brought before the ruling elders in Jerusalem. They were treated shamefully – imprisoned and beaten. But notice their response in verse 41
And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
What a remarkable emotion Christian joy is! May we have the same in our lives every day – joyful when we hear the gospel preached; joyful when we suffer for the Lord; joyful when sinners are converted; joyful when we submit to God’s admonition of us when we lose our way; joyful as we meet together in the assembly for worship; joyful when we receive tokens of love and fellowship; joyful when others are growing and are honoured; and joyful, like Paul, when we contemplate those who have been converted through our efforts for the saviour, that they will be assembled in heaven at the great day of Christ’s return. Someone has said that “the joy of success in soul winning will be among the highest rewards of the future.”
For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing?
Before we look at the 2nd question connected to joy, is Paul’s use of the next phrase
“crown of rejoicing?”
Crown is the word STEPHANOS and indicates a victor’s crown which was the symbol of triumph in the Greek games or other contests. Crowns are still used in modern presentations for those who succeed in various areas of sport or achievement. Crowns in the New Testament are promised to the Christian as rewards for patient endurance or faithful service. Paul has in mind here what the converts would be to him – his crown at the judgement seat of Christ. He did not want the laurel wreath to be placed as a crown on his head as an earthly victor or winner would have – his glory would be the line up of believers in heaven. They would be his crown of glory – of exultation. In Romans 15 Paul says that this exulting in others was not his idea – he had a precedent to look to – the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Romans 15 v 7 Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.
The Lord Jesus also sees us as His crown – even the jewels in His crown. And Paul’s glorying is a glorying in what the grace of God has done through his ministry in the believers at Thessalonica through the Gospel.
The second question in Paul’s rhetoric follows -
2. Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?
With harps and with vials there stand a great throng In the presence of Jesus, and sing this new song: Unto Him who hath loved us and washed us from sin, Unto Him be the glory for ever! Amen. All these once were sinners, defiled in His sight, Now arrayed in pure garments in praise they unite: He maketh the rebel a priest and a king, He hath bought us, and taught us this new song to sing: How helpless and hopeless we sinners had been If He never had loved us till cleansed from our sin! Aloud in His praises our voices shall ring, So that others, believing, this new song shall sing: Arthur Tappan Pierson, 1837-1911
What a gathering there is going to be in heaven!
But first there is going to be that glorious and wonderful event – the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Greek word translated COMING here is PAROUSIA. Paul has a play on words here by using a different word which means the same thing. Presence is EMPROSTHEU an adverb which means “in the presence of.” Coming can also be rendered “to be present.”
When I am called for something and I reply “I am coming” it means that I am about to be present somewhere else. So the connection between the 2 words is this.
Surely you will be present before Christ in His presence when He comes again!
Paul looks forwards to that day of Jesus’ return which will be in the nature of a wonderful entrance into the world. PAROUSIA in Greek literature is also used as a technical expression for a state visit to a city by a sovereign. He is not a sovereign, but just 2 weeks ago we had a PAROUSIA in England when the President of the US came to visit. Gifts were given to Mr Bush when he visited the Queen as is usual when these things happen.
They are usually expensive gifts – in the order of the value of a costly crown.
So to bring the illustration to bear on the text – Paul in contrast to an earthly crown says that the Thessalonians themselves would be Paul’s gift – his crown of rejoicing when the sovereign King came in his PAROUSIA. They will be presented to the Lord at His coming.
To be in the presence of the Son of God is to be in the presence of the Father. Even though Satan had hindered Paul from returning to the Thessalonians he could not in any way prevent his hope of seeing them again when the Lord Jesus Christ returned in the air. They would recognise each other in their changed bodies – as Paul explained to the church at Philippi in his letter to them –
Philippians 3 v 20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: 21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
They will all be there – not one will be missing.
Oh my friend – will you be there when Jesus comes again? Will you be amongst that great company of people who know their saviour by faith now, but will know Him by sight then?
Will you be there by virtue of the fact that God the Holy Spirit has come upon your soul in such a remarkable way that you now know that He is yours and you are His?
Are your sins forgiven, this morning? Are you rejoicing in the cross of Jesus Christ, the place where your sin was dealt with by substitution? Have you repented turning from your sins and trusting in Christ alone? He commands all men (people) everywhere to repent – have you obeyed that command?
If you have not then you cannot look forward to being in Christ’s presence at His coming. Instead you can only anticipate a fearful judgement at his feet and banishment to eternal darkness for ever in hell. Is that what you want? To suffer for ever in hell? That you would choose to do nothing, to refuse to repent, and take your chances? My friend, think again – and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ today – he is so ready to forgive and to pardon all those who honestly come to Him humbly and honestly for salvation.
Finally there is a statement in verse 20. After the Rhetoric of verse 19 there comes the
2. Rejoicing of verse 20
For ye are our glory and joy.
As we know Paul has been seeking to discredit the false accusations of the Jews by showing the strength of his feeling for his beloved Thessalonian Christians. He moves from the future tense of verse 19 – You will be there at Jesus’ second coming as our glory crown – to the present tense in this 20th verse – You ARE, even now, our glory and joy.
Perhaps we can with a little licence, think of Paul’s feelings like this – The believers in Thessalonica are his JOY NOW in this world, and will be his glory in the next!
But Paul, you cannot see these converts!
Ah, but they are my joy!
Why Paul, you do not know if they have gone on with the Lord that they have persevered in their Christian walk – how can they be truly your joy?
And the Apostle answers with the words of His saviour the Lord Jesus Christ in Luke 15 v 10
Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
If there is joy in heaven over ONE sinner that repents, how much more joy for Paul over a church full of sinners who have repented under his preaching! And that kind of joy is really only a little taste of the joy to come when ALL of the redeemed sons and daughters of God will be presented before God the Father, in the presence of Christ the Son and the Bible tells us what sort of joy it will be on that glorious occasion – EXCEEDING JOY!
Jude 24 Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, 25 To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.
In all his labours Paul the Apostle kept the end in view. His aim was to present every man perfect in Christ – for this he prayed in Philippians 1 v 9
And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; 10 That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;
For this he worked – Colossians 1 v 28
Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: 29 Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.
And in this he followed His beloved Master the Lord Jesus Christ John 13 v 1
Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.
What a joy it is to know that the Lord Jesus Christ loves His own and He loves them to the end. May each of us know this morning that Christ loves us, and that with joy He will greet us at His coming again. May we be ready for that day! May we be found doing His will in that day. May we be not ashamed at his coming. Let us make sure that we are behaving ourselves when he comes. Let us be guarding our speech, our tempers, our words of criticism, our mumblings and grumblings, our lack of confidence – in case he comes when we least expect Him and we will be found out! What a challenge this is to our daily living my friends! If only we lived each moment of our lives as if the Lord Jesus was about to come in the next moment.
The Lord is coming! Husbands – be sure that you are speaking kindly to your wives – in case the Lord comes and catches you being unkind. Children – make sure you are showing respect to your parents and teachers – in case the Lord comes and discovers you in rebellion.
Workers – make sure that you are giving your employers good value for your wages – in case the Lord comes and finds you idle! And may we all be living so much in the light of Christ’s coming that He may come with joy and rejoicing.