Know Your Faith

Bible Book: 1 Thessalonians  3 : 1-13
Subject: Trials; Faith; Suffering; Persecution
Ron Dunn was speaking at a conference on the campus of Colorado State University. He went into a store and bought $7.02 worth of goods and handed the cashier a hundred dollar bill. The cashier asked, "Don't you have anything smaller?" When Dunn said it was the only bill he had with him, the clerk scooped up the bill and held it up to the light, checking its authenticity.

Then he picked up a notepad and began to rub the bill vigorously back and forth against the white paper. Dunn was mortified when the notepad began to turn green. He thought, "It's counterfeit!" But then the clerk looked up, smiled, and said, "It's good. The real thing always rubs off."

The real thing always rubs off. Genuine, vibrant faith in God and His eternal purposes shows in the way we live and react when trouble comes.

Paul had been forced to leave Thessalonica under the cover of darkness because of the unbelieving Jews. He had gone to Athens, but still worried about the Christians in the newly formed church at Thessalonica. Verse 5 tells us that when Paul "could no longer endure" worrying about his Christian brothers and sisters, he sent Timothy to the city. Paul says it like this: "I sent to know your faith."

What should we know about our faith?

I. FAITH WILL BE TESTED (3:1-5)

Paul was concerned about how the Thessalonians would respond to the testing of their faith. When is our faith tested?

A. When Suffering Tribulation

In verse 2 Paul says that he had sent Timothy to Thessalonica "to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith." The word "establish" is a construction word. It carries the idea of putting a support behind a wall to hold it up. The word for "encourage" is related to the word translated "Comforter" (the Holy Spirit).

Why did Paul send his fellow-laborer Timothy to support and encourage the Thessalonians? Because he knew that suffering would come their way (3:4). It was not a question of if suffering came their way. The question was when suffering might come their way. Jesus said in John 16:33 - "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

Job 14:1 - "Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble."

Paul did not want the believers to be "shaken by these afflictions" (3:3). The word translated "affliction" comes from a Greek word which means "to press hard upon" like a grape would be trampled in a wine-press. Do you ever feel as though circumstances in life have left you trampled, bruised and broken? Our faith is tested when we suffer tribulation.

B. When Satan Tempts Us (3:5)

Satan is here called "the tempter." This is part of his evil work here on the earth. Matthew 4:3 tells us that "the tempter came to" Jesus Himself in the wilderness. Satan often tempts us to sin. He influenced the thinking of Simon Peter to the point that Jesus rebuked him by saying, "Get thee behind me, Satan." Jesus told Simon that Satan had desired to have him and to "sift" you "like wheat" (Luke 22:31). Satan "filled the heart" of Ananias "to lie to the Holy Spirit" (Acts. 5:3).

The tribulations that result in suffering and the temptations that come from Satan are a reality to us. However, our faith in God and His power enables us to bear up under great difficulty. The people of this world may respond to trouble by cursing and shaking their fist at God in frustration, but the disciple of Jesus tends to glory in difficulty simply because he knows that God uses the difficulties of life to produce "perseverance" (endurance), "character" (discernment), and "hope" (confident assurance).

II. FAITH WILL TRIUMPH (3:6-10)

Paul and Silas rejoiced when Timothy returned from Thessalonica and "brought . . . good news of" (their) "faith and love." Verse 7 tells us that Paul was "comforted" by their faith.

There is a truth in Scripture concerning faith that we need to be aware of:

We can have faith in God's faithfulness that never fails.

What was it about the faith of the Thessalonians that comforted Paul? Was it their faith in him? Was it faith in their faith? No. It was their faith in God's faithfulness.

Sometimes people say, "Faith moves mountains." Sometimes we admonish people, saying, "Just have faith." Have faith in what? Faith in what moves mountains? Jesus answered the question for us in Mark 11:22 when He said, "Have faith in God."

The important thing for us is not merely to have faith. Much of the time our faith is weak. But that's not the issue. We are not to have faith in our faith, anyway. We are to have faith in God's faithfulness that never, ever fails.

When Jesus and His disciples were out on the Sea of Galilee, a storm arose and threatened to sink the boat. They cried out to Jesus in Mark 4:38 - "Master, carest thou not that we perish?" Jesus rebuked the raging sea and then He rebuked disciples for their lack of faith. Had the calming of the seas depended on the faith of the disciples, Jesus might have said, "If your faith was stronger I would calm the sea, but because our faith is so weak, I'm going to let the boat sink." However, what counted was not the size of their faith, but Who they placed their faith in. It was in Jesus. Charles Spurgeon said, "The weakness of your faith will not destroy you. A trembling hand may receive a golden gift."

Personally, I'm glad it doesn't take great faith to activate God's power in our lives. Because sometimes it seems as though God is nowhere near us. Hebrews 11:6 tells us "But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." Is the preacher in Hebrews telling us that when we come to God we must believe that God is - that there is a God? Why would he say that? Why would we come to God if we didn't believe that there was a God?

Let me explain what I believe the writer of Hebrews left unsaid. "He must believe that God still is, even when it looks like He isn't."

Hebrews 11 has been called The Faith Hall of Fame. It lists the faith of Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Moses. Verses 30 - 34 speak of the kind of faith we all want to have. 30 "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days. 31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace. 32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: 33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens."

And then we come to 11:35. "Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured . . ."

I don't like that at all. That's not the kind of faith I want. I want the kind of faith that delivers me from trouble rather than gets me into trouble. But the faith spoken of in 11:35-37 is the same faith spoken of in the earlier verses. The same faith that enabled some to escape death by the sword enabled others to die by the sword. Ron Dunn said, "Faith does not always wear the dazzling, silky purple of triumphant deliveranceñoften it is garbed in the blood-caked rags of triumphant death. But to say one is inferior to the other is to reveal an awful ignorance of the ways of God. The same faith that enables some to escape, enables others to endure."

Would we dare to say to the "others [who] were tortured," "God was not faithful to you because you were not delivered from death"? They would laugh at us. They might say, "You can trust in God's faithfulness that never fails. You can believe that He is even when it seems as though He isn't. You can have faith in His faithfulness that delivers you through the deep waters of trouble and even death itself."

III. FAITH WILL ONE DAY BE TRANSFORMED

(3:11-13)

One of these days our faith will become sight. The Lord that we've trusted in even when we couldn't see Him; the One who is even when it seems like He isn't; the One who is with us when we suffer the trials of life and the temptations of Satan; that One will come again to this earth. Our faith will be transformed. And until that time, we can endure. We can wait patiently for His coming.