1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
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How would you respond to a letter from someone that said, “I want to come and see you so that I can supply what is lacking in your faith?”
It’s possible that the fist reaction might be from your sinful nature. You might be tempted to say, “What do you mean? What am I lacking? My faith is just fine. I’m in church every week. I read my Bible. I’ll tell you who has some things lacking in their faith, those people who don’t come to church, those politicians who claim to be good Christians, but support things God clearly says are sinful. They are the ones you need to talk to about things that are lacking in their faith. My faith is just fine.” How easy it is for us to become prideful, to become Pharisees!
This first Sunday of Advent is about humility. A humble response to a statement like the one Paul made to the Thessalonians would be, “thank you. I know I can always grow in my faith. I can’t wait for you to come so that we can study God’s word together and you can show me things in God’s word that can correct any misunderstandings I may have and help my faith to become even stronger.” Jesus loved the man who said to him, Lord, I believe, help me overcome my unbelief.
No matter how strong we think our faith is, as long as we live on this earth there will always be something lacking. There will always be something more we can learn. Our faith will never be complete until we get to see Jesus face to face. Only then will we know as we are known. Only then will our faith be complete.
Sometimes we have the wrong idea about what it means to be humble. Sometimes we think humility means that we keep to ourselves and never talk about what we believe because, if our faith is lacking something, we might say the wrong thing. But that’s not what Jesus wants. He has called us to let our light shine, to be like a city set on a hill. We aren’t to think that in order to be humble we have to hide our light under a bushel. We are to be humble and yet we are to be confident in sharing what we do know.
Humble confidence seems like an oxymoron. But it is what Jesus demonstrated. He is described as righteous and victorious, and yet at the same time, lowly and riding on a donkey. He accepted the praise of those who welcomed him as he rode the lowly donkey into Jerusalem. When some Pharisees tried to rebuke him for accepting the praise from the crowd, he confidently rebuked them saying if these people would be silent, the stones would cry out. Yet the reason he rode into Jerusalem was to humbly submit himself to betrayal, unjust trials, and crucifixion. He was confident enough in who he was that he was willing to endure humiliation. The confidence he had was founded on the promises of God which then enabled him to endure the cross, scorning its shame as he looked forward to what his humble suffering would accomplish, the salvation of many souls.
What is our humble confidence? The Bible says that we can be absolutely confident about our salvation. We can say with confidence that all our sins are forgiven and that we have a place waiting for us in heaven. We can say with confidence that when the Lord Jesus comes with all his saints, all those who have died in faith, we too will be found blameless and holy before our God and Father. If someone asks us where we will be when we die, we can answer with absolute confidence that we will be living and reigning in heaven with Jesus.
Most people who might hear us say that would think, “that’s hardly a humble attitude. It sounds like you are bragging. It sounds like you are saying that you are better than most other people. But whether it’s bragging, or a humble confession of faith depends completely on the reason for our confidence.
If we were saying that we are blameless and holy before the Lord and that we will be in heaven when we die because we are such good people who never miss church, who give generous tithes and offerings, and do many good things for the needy, then we would be bragging. We would have no reason to be confident of eternal life in heaven because God could list all kinds of things we had done that had broken his commands, not to mention all kind of things we had thought or said that were sinful, and all kinds of opportunities he had set before us to serve others and witness about him that we had failed to take advantage of. If the reason for our confidence has anything to do with us it is false confidence, and we deserve to be accused of bragging.
Humble confidence is admitting that we have sinned, that we continue to sin, that we are by nature sinful, that we have sinned not just in our actions, but in our thoughts and words; not just by things we have done, but by things we have failed to do. Humble confidence is admitting that we don’t deserve even the air we breathe much less eternal life in heaven with Jesus. Humble confidence points not to ourselves but to God and his promises. We can be 100% confident of our salvation, not because of anything we do, but because of all that Jesus has done for us, because he entered Jerusalem in humble confidence, because he faced the Sanhedrin and Pilate with humble confidence, because he went to the cross with humble confidence, because he did everything perfectly in our place, because the Father raised him from the dead as proof that our confidence in Jesus is not misplaced, not false confidence.
Humble confidence is saying, “I will stand blameless and holy before God when Jesus comes again not because I have lived a blameless and holy life myself, far from it. But because Jesus lived a blameless and holy life in my place and because his holiness is credited to me as righteousness through faith.
What does our humble confidence in Jesus move us to do? Like Paul, it moves us to think, “I can never thank God enough for the joy I have as I think about my fellow Christians, especially those who, like the Thessalonians, are enduring persecution because of their faith and have set for all a wonderful example of humble confidence and perseverance in the faith. As the world around us continues to become more and more ungodly and more and more hateful of Christians, we can’t afford to think that we will never experience persecution. We need the encouragement of fellow Christians who have demonstrated humble confidence in Jesus and have stood firm in their faith in the midst of persecution.
Humble confidence in Jesus allows us to accept rebuke and correction based on God’s word. It allows us to say with confidence, “I know I have eternal life in Jesus, yet I confess that there is always more I can learn from scripture, there is always more I can add to my faith.”
Humble confidence in Jesus moves us to pray that our love, and the love of our fellow Christians would increase and overflow to others, and not just other Christians, but all others. As we are enabled to show true Christian love, even those who might hate what they think is Christianity will be drawn to us and have the opportunity to learn that what they thought, or what they were taught, or what they learned from the media, about Christianity was wrong. Ture Christians aren’t hateful, judgmental, unloving people, but people who love others enough to tell the truth that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all justified freely by his grace through the redemption won for them by Jesus. Christians aren’t perfect. Nobody is. We are forgiven and not because we have earned or deserved it. We are forgiven only because of God’s undeserved grace to us in Jesus. That Grace is offered freely to all.
When Paul wrote the Thessalonians that he wanted to see them in person so that he could supply what was lacking in their faith, their response was, “thank you. We can’t wait for you to come. We can’t wait for you to show us what we are lacking and then fill us up with instruction in the word.” May God always grant us such humble confidence, such willingness to receive instruction in the word. May we always be able to join in Paul’s prayer for each other. May the Lord increase your love and make it overflow for each other and for all people, just as ours does for you, so that he may establish your hearts as blameless in holiness before our God and Father, when our Lord Jesus comes with all his saints.