There are many temptations that we face throughout our lives. Some Temptations are apparent. Perhaps it’s an addiction to substances or pornography. Or maybe it’s the love of money. It could be bowing down to idols in our lives and sacrificing our families for the sake of a career or ministry. These temptations can be easily recognized, and the sin is easily demonstrated. But it is the sins and temptations that rest in the shadows, those that can be easily self-justified, often are the most dangerous.
The context of 1 Thess. 3:1-5 and the sending of Timothy is preceded by Paul’s desire to be with the Thessalonians, specifically to help them in the face of afflictions. Just as Christ is the glory of the Father [Jn. 17:1], Paul encourages the community in Thessalonica by stating, “You are our glory and joy [1 Thess. 2:20].” And Paul was all too familiar with the afflictions of the Thessalonians. As the book of Acts recounts, Paul and Silas’s laboring for the Thessalonians was not without its own afflictions [Acts 17:1-9]. The trial of Christians at Thessalonica is what first drove Paul and Silas away in the night. Nevertheless, Paul recognizes that despite his earnest desire to be with the Thessalonians, his present mission and circumstances at Athens impeded his return [Acts. 17:16-34].
1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 then serves as a great reminder of the temptation that persists among ministers and laity. God has provided believers with an assortment of gifts and talents, which are to be used to bring glory to God in the community of believers [1 Cor. 12]. Analogously, we are as tools, created for a specific purpose, and we feel and experience the fullness of that purpose when we use God’s gifts in the way they were intended.
The emphasis here ought to be placed on the term gift, for a gift is something given to us not born out of ourselves. Its’ purpose, therefore, is sourced in the Giver, and its expression is for the encouragement of others.
But we, being sinful, have a proclivity for abusing the gifts God has given us and not always in the most obvious ways.
One way that can be easily hidden from our spectral view is the lie that we alone can perform the gift we have received. This skewed perspective of our gift comes from an elevation of the gift over the Giver. And any elevation of self-breeds insecurity. We fear to lose the position or status that we feel we have gained, and we restrict others whom God has gifted and placed within our communities from performing their own gifts. Furthermore, we fail to disciple others who share similar gifts because we view them as threats rather than co-laborers of the Gospel.
And we are masters at deception. We deceive ourselves, and we deceive others by justifying our position and status as being to the glory of God because it is in the context of ministry.
Even in our theology, Bible reading, and ministry, we are never truly free of the charge of idolatry. We always must be guarded in these things to remind ourselves of the God who bestows his gifts out of the richness of his grace and his absolute Aseity.
Paul’s sending of Timothy [1 Thess. 3:1-2] reveals a godly example of not only the importance of discipleship but of our willingness to allow others gifted in our areas to perform the necessary work of the Gospel. In recognition of his present mission, Paul opted to send Timothy instead of himself. Paul could have forced an opportunity to be in Thessalonica. He could have kept Timothy in Athens rather than sending Timothy. Instead, he sends Timothy, whom he had personally discipled, and he had a unique relationship. Elsewhere, Paul describes Timothy’s character in the following way: “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel [Phil. 2:20-22].”
The selfless examples of both Paul and Timothy in ministry reveals how our ministry ought to flow from the gifts of God and ought to glorify Him and not ourselves.
We all have temptations in our lives, which Satan can use to divert our devotion and the gifts which the Spirit has bestowed upon us. The point of the body of Christ is to edify and be in community with one another. As Travis encouraged us this past week, we may need to seek help. And that help looks differently for each person. It is confessing an unconfessed sin in our lives to a mentor. Maybe it’s taking a moment and allowing ourselves to speak to God and ask him to reveal our blind spots in our ministry. Perhaps it is signing up for biblical counseling. Our culture has a negative stigma that views counseling as the epitome of human weakness. This negative stereotype carries over into the Church; however, it is expressed differently. The Church can sometimes think that the transformation of the Gospel ought to nullify any need for counseling. But if anything, our sanctification will at times require the outside guidance of someone who can provide sound wisdom and categories for understanding deep-rooted issues. Therefore, as Paul echoes in 1 Thessalonians 3, being in true communion with one another means pointing each other to the God who proclaims, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest [Matt. 11:28].”