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First Sunday of Advent
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, November 29, 2015

What is Lacking in Our Faith

Text: I Thessalonians 3:9-13

What if you got a letter from a former pastor saying, “I am asking God to send me to you, so that I can supply what is lacking in your faith?” We just heard Paul say that to his former flock in the letter to the Thessalonians, from which we read this morning. We don’t pay much attention when we hear him say it to them. But if he said it to us, we might take offense. I can imagine how most of us would react: Wouldn’t we say, “Excuse me. What’s wrong with my faith? My faith isn’t lacking!” But the fact is, as long as we are on this earth, living in these physical bodies with our predilection toward sin, there is always something lacking in our faith. And Paul knew that.

Let’s spend a few moments thinking about this. How is it that every person who has accepted Jesus as Savior, committed to obey Him as Lord and put their trust in His grace and love is “lacking in their faith?”

First, let me give you some background on this letter. Thessalonica was a Greek city of about 200,000. We read about Paul and Silas planting the Thessalonian church in Acts chapter 17. Paul began his ministry there by preaching in the synagogue, and telling the Jews that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Some Jews believed. They were joined by God-fearing gentiles, and that became the nucleus for the first Christian church in Thessalonica.

Paul’s stay with them was pretty brief. They got run out of town by the synagogue. They were angry at Paul for siphoning off some of their members. There was a riot in the city and Paul’s host was hauled off to jail. Paul and Silas fled in the middle of the night and went to Berea, about 30 miles down the road. The Berean synagogue received them well. But when the Thessalonian Jews heard this, they came to Berea and stirred up trouble again. Paul left there and went to Athens.

Paul couldn’t get the church in Thessalonica out of his mind. He had left there so abruptly that he was afraid things had fallen apart for them. He worried, because they were new to the faith, and they were being harassed by the locals. So sometime in that first year—we don’t know exactly when—Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica to check things out. Timothy returned with a favorable report. Paul was overjoyed that their faith remained intact, and that their love for Paul continued strong.

Paul wrote this letter to the Thessalonians just after receiving Timothy’s report. We can see his love for them. He wanted the best for them. He wanted to see them and encourage them face-to-face. But at this point he could not.

And so he prayed for them and told them in this letter what he prayed for. And that is where come across Paul’s pointed phrase, saying that the Christians were lacking something in their faith. He knew that, despite Timothy’s good report, they would always need bolstering in their faith—if not by him, then by other faithful Christians in the Body of Christ. For even if none of us has a perfect faith, we are always able to help each other, because we are all struggling with the same things.

Here are four main faith issues with which we struggle:

• Doubt

• Trust

• Thankfulness

• and Obedience

Do you always rest in the truth of God, or are there times when you doubt Him? We live in a doubting culture. So did the Greeks. Whenever we idolize human intellect, we begin to doubt God. Questions creep in like:

• Did we make up God to help us understand the mysteries of the universe?

• Are the miraculous stories in the Bible just legends?

• Is the virgin birth really true, or is it just another version of a popular myth?

There is a tragic tendency among thinking human beings to question the truth of God –

especially today. Intellectual Christians are saying doubt is a good thing. People are spreading such nonsense as, “The questions are more important than the answers.” That is why so many Christians are comfortable questioning whether Jesus actually said He is the only way to the Father. And they are questioning whether we can believe that Jesus rose from the dead. God didn’t give us the Bible for us to wonder whether or not He exists. He didn’t tell us that He sent His only Son Jesus to save the world for us to say, “Maybe He did and maybe He didn’t.” The Bible is God’s Word to us. He means it to open our eyes to Him. He doesn’t tell us everything. But He tells us a lot. And He tells us that there is such a thing as truth—absolute, unassailable truth. Once you start chipping away at the truth of God’s Word, whatever you call your faith has a big hole in it.

Another way our faith can be lacking is that we don’t trust God.

• We fear for the future;

• We cling to our possessions for fear of losing them;

• We hesitate to share our faith boldly because we don’t think we have it in us.

• We don’t visit someone who is grieving because we don’t think we’ll know what to say.

God makes promises to us so that we can be confident about the future. Jesus came so that our joy may be complete. He gives us tasks to do, knowing that He is going to empower us to do them through His Holy Spirit. When we hole up, or freeze up, or clam up, something is lacking in our faith.

Another way our faith can be lacking is when we are not willing to humble ourselves before God and thank Him for all our blessings. We seem to want the glory for ourselves, rather than for God.

• If we don’t admit we need Him,

• if we don’t admit all our blessings come from Him,

• if we make no visible sign of our gratitude, such as our tithes and offerings,

we are clinging to the illusion that we are the source of our own glory.

The great theologian, John Piper, said,

At the root of all ingratitude is the love of one’s own greatness. For genuine gratitude admits that we are beneficiaries of an unearned bequest. We are cripples leaning on the cross-shaped crutch of Jesus Christ. We are paralytics living minute by minute in the iron lung of God’s mercy. We are children asleep in heaven’s stroller. [John Piper, I Will Magnify God with Thanksgiving]

When we pretend that this is not so, it means we love our glory more than God’s glory. Something is lacking in our faith.

And finally, one sure sign that our faith is lacking is that we don’t obey God. If our faith were complete, we wouldn’t need or desire the things that God says we should not indulge in. We would prefer God to everything else. Does that sound naïve? Well, it isn’t at all naive. When you contemplate

• the goodness of the Lord,

• His promises,

• His gifts,

• His mercy,

• His sacrifice for us,

• His beauty

how could you prefer something else? And yet that is what sin is—seeking after things that at least in the moment, we find preferable to God. When that happens—and it happens all the time—something is lacking in our faith.

Doubt, lack of trust, ingratitude, disobedience: it seems that at least one or more of those gremlins is after us all the time.

But I’ve got some good news for you. God can help with that. And we can help each other with that in the Body of Christ. That is why Paul’s second prayer point is that God would “make their love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12) Notice he doesn’t just want their love to increase. He wants it to overflow. He wants God’s abundance to take over,

• like the water of life Jesus described to the Samaritan woman at the well, gushing up in the believer, so that we would never be thirsty again. (John 4:13-14)

• Like the twelve basketfuls left after Jesus had fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish. (Luke 9:10-17)

• like the great multitude from every nation, tribe, language and people, dressed in white robes and waving palm branches before the throne of God in heaven. (Revelation 7:9)

The things of God are abundant. His love is abundant. And the love He puts in our hearts for one another can be abundant if we allow Him to fill us up.

In the story of Cain and Abel, there is a question that is left hanging in the air with no answer. God came to Cain to confront him with the murder of his brother. And God said, “Where is your brother, Abel?” In a lame attempt to evade God’s judgment, Cain said, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) God did not answer his question. But the rest of the Bible does answer it. And the answer is, “You’re darn tootin’, you are your brother’s keeper.” That is what Jesus was saying when He told us, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

Here in the Body of Christ our love should overflow for each other.

• We are here to supply what is lacking in each other’s faith.

• We are here to encourage each other to obey God.

• We are here to inspire each other to do great things for God.

• We are here to comfort each other when life gets hard.

• We are here to supply one another’s needs when we are down and out.

Many of you were here on Wednesday evening as we celebrated Thanksgiving worship with First Baptist Church. When Mary asked for testimonies of God’s blessings, there was an outpouring of love between our two congregations. There must have been fifteen different testimonies of how grateful we are for the partnership that God has planted between us. God has caused our love to increase and overflow for one another in the Body of Christ. And some of the testimonies pointed to the impact our love for each other has on a community and a nation historically torn by racial division. Love that overflows is like that. It touches and blesses everyone who doesn’t get out of the way.

That is why Paul also prayed that the Thessalonians’ love for “everyone else” would increase and overflow. If we love our neighbor as ourselves, as Jesus commanded us, (Matthew 22:37-39), we will want for them what God wants for them. And so God commands us to go and preach the Gospel to all nations—because the Gospel is the Good News of God’s greatest gift for all humanity, the forgiveness of our sins, and the restoration of our relationship with Him for all eternity. To share that good news with others is the ultimate act of love.

All of that is comprehended in Paul’s pastoral prayer for this congregation whom he loved. And there is more. He says,

May God strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones.

[I Thessalonians 3:13]

Actually, this is what this letter is most noted for: Paul’s discussion of the Second Coming of Christ. Every chapter of this letter ends with a reference to Jesus’ Second Coming. Paul’s focus on the judgment day is what gave him the sense of urgency that underlies this letter. He couldn’t simply be satisfied that he had started a church in Greece among the Thessalonians. He couldn’t just think, “Well, I did what I could.” He loved them with a sense of urgency, for the stakes are life and death. One day, every human being will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account. And those who do not know Jesus, or who have not believed in Him, will stand condemned. (See John 3:18) They will suffer the alienation from God that Jesus came to heal. And they will suffer it for all eternity.

Jesus Himself told us about that judgment day. He described it in some detail. He told us He would come on a cloud with the angels. He told us there would be all sorts of cataclysmic events leading up to it. And He told us that we must be ready for His coming, even though we cannot know the day or the hour. (See, especially, Matthew Chapter 24.) The letters of the New Testament stress the urgency of being prepared for the coming of Christ.

Preparing for the coming of Christ is what the season of Advent is all about. Today is the first day of the new liturgical year. It is the First Sunday of Advent, the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. And of course, we spend that time getting ready for our celebration of the birth of the Savior in a stable in Bethlehem of Judea. But there is much more to Advent. The word “advent means “arrival.” On Christmas, we celebrate the arrival of Jesus, the Savior. But there are two other arrivals, for which we must prepare. One is the coming of Christ to judge the world on the last day. And the other, equally urgent, is the coming of Christ to each one of us in our earthly walk.

There is a commercial that shows a man sitting down at a coffee shop and being handed a note that says, “Your heart attack will happen today.” Imagine how that would affect your perspective. It wouldn’t do to say, “I’ll get my act together one of these days.” Just like the guy in the commercial, the end could come for us at any moment. Are we ready to stand before Christ?

If Paul were to send Timothy to visit us and check out how we are doing, I don’t doubt that he would come back with a pretty good report. Paul would be encouraged by what Timothy would have to tell him. And yet, Paul would also be eager to come to us so that he could supply what is lacking in our faith. It is a constant challenge. It is an ongoing series of small victories. And when we see our preparation for the coming of Christ as a matter of urgency, we can be confident that God will supply what we need.

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus proclaims, “Yes, I am coming soon.” (Revelation 22:20) May we be prepared so that we can answer what John the Evangelist answered to Jesus: “Amen. Come Lord Jesus.”

© 2015 The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar

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