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Mar 20, 2022

Strengthened or Sidelined?

Passage: 1 Thessalonians 3:1-6

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: 1 Thessalonians

Keywords: love, faith, persecution, trials, destiny


If you've ever been concerned about the path, direction or future of someone else, you'll resonate with the heart of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 3. We all face the danger of life's pressures and trials sidelining us in life. But according to this passage, we were destined for difficulties. This passage looks at how difficulties actually strengthen the one who continues to practice faith in Jesus and love for His people.


Strengthened or Sidelined?

I Thessalonians 3:1-7

March 20, 2022


  • How many of you played sports at some point in your life? Which was harder, the practices or the games?

Which took more perseverance, practices or games?

  • If you didn’t do sports, maybe you did drama or music? Again, which required more dedication, practicing and rehearsals…or the performances? 

Those who practice the most are usually not the ones that end up sitting on the sidelines (unless the coach likes to play favorites… which has been known to happen before).

            But even in the actual games, athletes get sidelined when they suffer an injury or take a hit that is hard. 

            How many of us as parents have gotten ulcers watching our kids take hard hits on the field and either have to come to the sidelines limping or be carried off the field by the medics?  That’s not an experience any parent enjoys.

            But far more serious than a sport or artistic hobby is life itself.  How many of us have been concerned about losing a family member to the wrong crowd…or alcohol…or drugs…or homelessness…or mental illness…or to secularism humanism…or any non-Christian world-view or cult or false religion?  Watching people we love waver or stumble or fall away from us for whatever reason is a heart-rending sort of experience. 

            If you’ve ever felt that way about anyone, you will be able to appreciate the emotion associated with Paul’s words today in 1 Thess. 3.  He’s not seen his spiritual family in Thessalonica for months.  He knows they’ve been going through it and under pressure for their stand with Christ.  But he’s received no news whatsoever about whether they are getting along well and growing strong in their faith or whether they’ve gotten discouraged and given up on following God.  So, today’s passage tells us what Paul did when he couldn’t take not knowing any more. 

1 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we [Paul & Silvanus, c.f. 1:1] were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, 

and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, 

when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, 

for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

            The reality is, we’re all in a battle for either our own faith of for the continued faith of spiritual siblings.  Thousands of things seem to conspire to sideline us day after day in our faith.  Paul knew them first-hand.  And he knew that especially younger believers—those relatively new in their faith—needed help not to get sidelined in this spiritual contest of life. 

APP:  Looking over your life, has there been a period when you got sidelined in your walk with Christ?  When you either walked away from Him…or got bitter about what He allowed into your life?  Maybe you were disillusioned about people in the church, your spiritual family, who you thought you could trust but ended up violating your trust?  Maybe you saw hypocrisy in the church that really made you step back.  Or perhaps you just drifted away from God’s family or close communion with Him? 

  • Think about a time/those times you were sidelined in your faith-walk with Christ. WHAT happened?  WHAT caused you to pull back or away from your Savior?  
  • If you’ve never had that experience, think of someone you love who has. Maybe you used to have good fellowship.  But something happened and they drifted off. 

WHAT was it?  My guess is it was some sort of disillusioning trial or difficulty.  Maybe it was a temptation that got the better of you or them?  Maybe it was the cost of really living for God’s kingdom rather than this world’s stuff or our own preferences.  Maybe someone promised you something that wasn’t true and walking with Christ created new challenges you weren’t expecting? 

            Chances are that if you had someone who really took responsibility for your soul and growth in Christ, they probably intervened when they saw you struggling.  They probably came alongside and coached you.  They probably could tell you were reaching a breaking point and needed either a break or encouragement or something not to “walk off the field” and leave the game. 

            A really good coach will know the limits of every one of their players.  A really good teacher will know just how hard to push a student.  A really good parent will know when their child needs a challenge and when they need rest.  And they will be willing to forego their own comfort, safety, achievement or desires in order to insure that you keep moving forward and don’t get sidelined. 

            This is precisely what happened between Paul, Silas (Silvanus), Timothy and the Thessalonian church. Having been forced out of town by persecution, these three knew that those believers in Thessalonica could be forced out of their faith by those same people if something wasn’t done.  So they DID something.  The broke up their team, interrupted their plans, spread themselves thin and sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to check on these relatively new believers. 

            Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, 

our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith….

            How many of us have had someone at some point in our life who took that kind interest in our souls?  They dropped what they were doing…what was important to them…they took the time, effort and money to come check on us…and they let us know that our growth meant more to them than their plans or wishes? 

  • If you’ve had a parent like that, you are blessed.
  • If you’ve had a friend like that, you are blessed.
  • If you’ve had a spiritual mentor, brother/sister or coach like that, you are blessed.

Personal APP:  This is such a challenge to me as a pastor!  I wish I had the heart of Timothy all the time.  I wish I would just jettison my plans and schedule to go care for someone’s soul when God reminds me of them!  This IS what the church was meant to be.  This IS what we as more mature believers are called to live—to “establish and exhort” those under pressure in their faith. 

APP:  Do you have a child that needs that?  (My memories as a junior high teen feeling so broken inside I would just cry every night trying to do my homework.  Others saw it but were either too busy or too tired to stop and press in to my pain.)

Are we aware of another believer who needs that kind of care, encouragement or exhortation? 

Paul uses two different words here in Greek to talk about what we all need at times.

  • Sterizo = to strengthen, make firm, make stable, set fast. ILL:  We all have to stabilize things that get wobbly.  Maybe it’s at table leg on your coffee table or end table…and you just need to tighten a screw.  Maybe it’s a friend who is starting to drift and you know that if they keep doing what they are doing, chances are the wheels are going to fall off at some point.  ILL: changing my winter tires and not tightening the lug nuts enough. 

APP:  is someone near you wobbling in their faith-walk?  Don’t shrug it off.  Show the love of Christ and ask them how you can help…or invite them to take some step you know will help them. 

APP:  are you feeling wobbly spiritually?  Find someone who you know has a pretty steady walk with Christ.  ASK them for help.  Explain what is going on in your life.  Ask them for counsel and prayer.  And watch what God can do.

APP:  And if someone comes to you trying to strengthen you, don’t brush them off or get defensive.  Thank God for them… and listen, learn and DO what they suggest. 

  • parakaleō= to strengthen, encourage, instruct.  It’s used of the H.S. as the one who “comes alongside” and counsels us.  The reality is that the faith of every one of us needs instruction.  We all need strengthening.  We all need encouragement.  That is why the body of Christ…the gathered church…is SO important.  It is hard if not impossible to gain encouragement from someone who isn’t there!  We really need to be PRESENT.  We really need to have people “come alongside” and pray over us, give us a hug, look us in the eye and show compassion, kindness and interest. 

APPThis is why people drifting away from fellowship is so dangerous.  WHO haven’t you seen in a week or two…or a month or two…who used to be part of the regular family here?  How about being a Timothy towards them this week?  How about finding out how it goes with their soul?  This passage, as I’ve said, is challenging me to follow those promptings of the Spirit more when I realize that has happened with a brother or sister.  But the family of God is ALL meant to do that.  Siblings are some of THE best support in a family when a brother or sister is struggling.  This is our call as the church. 

We sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 

Now we get to the meat of today’s passage! 

            If you go to the self-help section of any bookstore today (do we still have any?), you will find a dozen books on “finding your destiny” or “living into your destiny.”  Well, God has a “destiny” for you.  He has “destined” you for certain things.  For instance, what are you “destined” for in eternity?  (Conformity to Christ, total redemption, total sanctification and holiness, to reign with Christ, to worship God eternally and completely, to take up residence in a home He’s been preparing for you since He left this earth, etc.) 

            BUT, this verse tells us we are destined for something else RIGHT NOW.  What is it?  AFFLICTIONS (VS. 3)!  That word “afflictions” in the Greek (thlepsis) is used in two ways in the N.T.:

  • [lit.] a pressing, pressing together, pressure
  • [metaph.] oppression, affliction, tribulation, distress, straits

It is the latter that Paul has in mind here.  He is literally saying, “As Christ-followers, we were destined for affliction, tribulation, distress and oppression.”  How many of us got that memo when we were invited to become a Christian and follow Jesus???!!! 

ILL:  When our daughter, Joanna, was expecting their first daughter, we asked her how the birthing classes were going.  She ‘explained’ that the coaches were talking about mental focus in birthing and how it was really all about managing “the pressure”, not really pain.  They were telling these new moms-to-be that birthing a baby was really more about “pressure” and handling the “pressure” of birth.  It wasn’t about pain or pain management. 

            Sandy and I smiled, nodded, got in the car and said, “Oh boy, is she in for a rude awakening!”   And you know what?  After the birth, we didn’t even have to ask how the “pressure-management” went.  She blurted out, “They LIED!  It’s painful!” 

            It’s time we stopped lying to each other about what this life in Christ is going to feel like at times.  Sure, there is amazing joy.  Sure, there is peace that people without Jesus don’t know.  Sure there is a depth of love and security in Christ that you will never find in the best spouse or friend. 

            But there is also PAIN… “affliction”, “tribulation” and “distress.”  There is a “pressing” and “pressure” in this life in Jesus that we need to stop minimizing.  I’m not advocating we scare people with the reality of affliction in Christ.  I’m advocating that we prepare people and equip each other for victory WHEN afflictions come our way. 

ILL:  Military training—the training is meant to be harder than war itself (if that is possible). 

We don’t do each other a favor when we present either in our songs of our preaching or our teaching or our plastic smiles that life in Christ is heaven on earth.  No, this is the most of hell we will ever experience. 

            Christianity 101 for new believers should include a course on what it means to “die with Christ.”  We should teach new believers what it means to “take up our cross and follow Him”.  Because according to the Bible, if we are actually following Jesus, we will suffer persecution!  We will suffer afflictions!  We will have more problems of a different nature in being Christ-followers than we had as being followers of this world.  Because this world is going to hate us since it hated Jesus, our Master. 

ILL:  This week I read an article from some Chinese Chr. brothers about what we, the Western church, needs to learn about persecution from our Eastern, Chinese breather.  Let me read you just a few excerpts from this article.  They write,

“In recent years—especially since the start of the Covid pandemic—many believers around the world have contacted us to ask if we can share insights or do interviews into how Christians can survive persecution, as they see the storm clouds of persecution gathering on the horizon in their countries.

First, we point out that we have written more than a dozen books on the Church in China, each containing principles and testimonies of how God has not only helped His children survive six decades of persecution, but has caused them to thrive, so that China is still experiencing the greatest revival in Christian history.

When we try to help church leaders and believers in the West prepare for persecution, after more dialogue it usually emerges that they are not really looking for straight answers. Often, what people mean when they ask these questions is: “How can we survive persecution in our current church structures, so we don’t have to suffer or change?”

The answer to this is... you cannot!

True, physical persecution (e.g. when Christians are being arrested, beaten, imprisoned, or even killed) will not leave most current church structures intact. It will completely dismantle them!

Gone will be the denominations, emphasis on church buildings, Reverends, division between “clergy” and other believers, and all kinds of church traditions and outward imagery that are not found in Scripture. They will be swept away.

This pattern is what happened when persecution was ramped up against believers in China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and other countries we work in.

We don’t know if severe persecution is coming to your part of the world soon, but we must be prepared. The Lord Jesus said, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9), while the Apostle Paul told Timothy that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

We would like to conclude by sharing [some] important truths about persecution, which we hope will bring encouragement and focus to our fellow believers:

  • God is always in control! If He allows persecution to come, it’s for the good of His kingdom. In China, believers only experienced the full joy of intimacy with Jesus when they were in the furnace of affliction and after they came out the other side.
  • Persecution is the last thing our flesh desires, but our faith must rest on the fact that the Lord Jesus will not let us down, and He will never leave nor forsake us. Persecution cannot destroy our relationship with Him: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Romans 8:35).
  • Importantly, when intense hardship comes, we shouldn’t see only the hand of Satan in persecution. In China, God’s people looked back later and realized that it was actually the Lord Jesus overseeing the entire process out of love for His children. He is zealous to remove the dead religious structures that trap people in bondage and keep millions of unbelievers from being able to see the true Gospel.
  • Persecution is a pruning process, when the Holy Spirit removes half-hearted believers from among the flock. In China, when fierce persecution first broke out in the 1950s, around two-thirds of churchgoers fell away from the faith. The Lord Jesus told us this would occur: “When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word, they quickly fall away” (Mark 4:17). Friends, if two-thirds of Chinese Christians fell away at the onset of persecution, how might things be in your part of the world?
  • For those who do not give up, persecution often brings great revival. In China, the number of Christians has grown from less than one million to over 100 million after 60 years of brutal Communist persecution! All glory to God. When that realization dawned on believers, many learned not only to grimly endure persecution, but to embrace it as a special blessing from God.

I’ve heard from some that many Chinese underground or ‘secret’/undocumented churches teach as part of their new believers training techniques for jumping out of windows when the police arrive, for enduring pain when tortured, for not betraying other believers under torture, etc.  But look what God is doing! 

NOTE:  As much as China is turning out to be one of the greatest potential threats and enemies to America, we must never forget that our first allegiance is to God’s Kingdom, not the U.S. of A.  One of the tragedies of war, should it come, is that we may well have Christ-followers in our military killing brothers/sisters in China or Russia’s military. 

            But back to vs. 3—Paul’s concern was “…that no one be moved by these afflictions.”  And HOW are we “moved” in the wrong direction by afflictions?  Vs. 5 gives us a partial answer:  5 “For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.”

Q:  What are the temptations that ‘the tempter’ uses to ‘move’ us off of Christ in suffering? 


  • Job—prolonged, severe, unrelenting suffering combined with the silence of God: this moved Job off a belief that God was just and good, righteous in all He does, free from evil.  It moved Job to believe that he was right and God was wrong, that he knew more than God, that he could sit in judgment on God.  Suffering can move us to an inaccurate understanding of God.
  • Mark 4—The Parable of the Sower & Seed. Was reading this parable in my devotions this week.  Listen to what happens to the word of God that comes into a person’s life that “doesn’t have root”, i.e. enough depth in their heart for a Gospel/Good News that demands suffering.  16Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”  Notice, these are the “happy-happy” Christians.  They “receive it with joy.”  They seem to be all about maintaining an upbeat, smiley Christianity.  But when ‘trouble or persecution’ come because of this Word, they are done!  A belief or attitude that this Word will always bring you joy will be a belief that will “move” you off of Christ when this word brings you trouble or ridicule or opposition or loss of a job or loss of friends. We must replace the shallow joy of happy-happy churchianity with the deep joy of suffering because we go public with our love of Jesus. 
  • Silencing our witness: Satan moves us off of Christ in times of persecution/affliction when we allow our witness to stop, when we stop talking about Jesus to the unsaved and when we shut down ‘the word of our testimony.’ 12:11 tells us that the saints in the tribulation “…triumphed over him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb 

and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”!!!

  • Unfulfilled, unbiblical expectations: John the Baptist—Matt. 11--“Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”  Jesus pointed him back to Scripture in Isaiah 35:4-6 that said the “eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.  Then the lame will leap like a deer and the tongue of the dumb will shout for joy.” 
  • Getting us to forget or not believe the already-revealed word of God. Romans 8—Q:  What shall separate us from the love of God?  A:  NOTHING in life or in death, heaven or earth, etc. 

Which leads us to one final thought from this text today. 

What is it that will STRENGTHEN US in our times of ‘affliction’? 

But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.

            Here’s the antidote to being moved off of Jesus in times of trouble and suffering:  FAITH in God…and LOVE for God’s people.  Those are the 2 legs God has given us on which to walk through suffering—faith in the Father and love for His family.  Let’s end with thinking just about the first:  FAITH.  It means…

  • Taking God at His word.
  • Believing what He says about
  • Confronting our doubts with truth and FAITH.

ILL:  (Jim Cymbola’s illustration of [hypothetically] being called into his daughter’s school where the principle and teacher explained that she just wasn’t learning.  Why?  After a conversation with her, he found out she was worried about not being picked up after school…of not being fed…of being kicked out of the house…of being abandoned. 

            This is how we act towards God when we don’t exercise faith. 



  • Where is your faith being tested by suffering? That’s God’s way of strengthening, not destroying you.  Don’t believe the lies of the Tempter.  DO believe the promises of God.
  • HOW will you press into His word, His promises, His people?
  • What do you need to stop doubting God about? He’s already proven Himself more-than-faithful to you.  Stop doubting and commence confessing the faithfulness of the Father.
  • Have we come to grips with life’s troubles and persecution being our calling/destiny/means to knowing God?

God is in the process of dismantling what has been holding the American church back for 50 years of more.  Let’s trust Him to use our temporary discomfort for His eternal glory.