Hold the Line
Text: 1st Thessalonians 3:6-10
By: Ken McKinley
Before we get too far into this sermon lets re-cap a little bit, so that we can get the context of this passage. Paul had sent Timothy from Athens back to Thessalonica, about 200 miles, probably a week and a half’s journey in those days, to see how the new believers were doing. Most scholars figure that Timothy was probably gone about one month or so before he caught back up with Paul in the city of Corinth. When Timothy joined back up with Paul he told him the good news; that the Christians at Thessalonica were standing firm in their faith, despite the persecutions of the world and the temptations of the devil. And this is what verses 6 and 7 are all about.
Paul says that Timothy’s good report brought him a great deal of joy and encouragement. Now remember Paul himself had been attacked on more than one occasion, beaten, and jailed in Philippi, and he had been chased out of town in both Thessalonica and Berea, and he had suffered persecution in Athens. He had gone through hardship, riots, and faced the every day dangers of traveling in the ancient world, and in 2nd Corinthians chapter 11 he says that even beyond all of those things, there was the daily pressure on him of his own anxiety for all the churches. So when Timothy brought back that good news I betcha’ Paul felt like celebrating.
The most rewarding thing a pastor can see in this life is someone come to faith in Christ through his ministry; the second most rewarding thing he can see is someone staying strong in the faith after time passes. And we see that here, Paul was pretty happy when he heard Timothy’s report on the Christians in Thessalonica. In-fact he even uses a redundant expression for the sake of emphasis, look at verse 9, “For all the Joy with which we rejoice…” But then look what Paul writes in verse 10 – “We’re rejoicing for you, but night and day we continue to pray for you, and pray that we might see you again so that we can encourage you in your faith and bring your faith to maturity.”
Remember Paul had to leave the city in a hurry, so he wanted to return to them so that he could instruct them further, and in chapters 4 and 5 he seems to hint that there were at least a few things that they might not have taken to heart (we’ll get to them probably next time).
Now maybe its just me, but it seems like the older I get, the more things pop up to remind me that I’m not as young as I used to be. I’ve been subbing at the Christian Academy, and the other day one of the Kindergarteners asked me, “Were you in the Army?” I said, “Well yes I was.” Then she asked, “Did you know Abraham Lincoln?” And then, not too long ago (on my birthday), my cousin sent me an email that said, “Hey, did you know you’re 12 years away from a quarter of a century old, and only 13 years from a half century old?” Nothing like a well meaning family member to put things in perspective for you. But the reality is that life is short, the Bible says its like a vapor, and so hopefully we focus on what’s important in life, and live life with a deep sense of purpose, rather than just trying to make it day to day. And hopefully we are making worthwhile investments in life. I’m not talking about financial investments; I’m talking about what Paul writes in verse 8 of our text.
He says, “For now we live…”
In-other-words, he’s saying, “This is what makes life worth living; this is what its really all about… IF YOU STAND FAST IN THE LORD.”
Now when I was at OPSU, I was a student assistant football coach. I coached linebackers and special teams and on defense, the team had a saying, HOLD THE LINE! And what that meant was stand firm and do not be moved. And this is a concept we find over and over again in Paul’s letters. In 1st Corinthians 16:13 he says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith.” In Galatians 5:1 in the context of Christian liberty, Paul wrote, “Stand firm therefore, and do not be entangled again in a yoke of bondage.” Philippians 1:27, 2nd Corinthians 1:14, 2nd Thessalonians 2:15, over and over again Paul tells his brothers and sisters in Christ to stand fast, to stand firm, to hold the line! It’s also a term or phrase that you hear in a military context. If you ever watch any of the old war movies you might hear it, or if you watch the movie Braveheart, or the Patriot, both of them have scenes where Mel Gibson is urging his troops to hold the line.
So here, in the middle of Paul saying, “Hey I’m thankful for the good news that Timothy brought to me of your faith and love,” and, “We give thanks for you, and rejoice for you, and pray for you…” He’s saying, “Stand firm… Hold the line!”
You see, Paul had amazing insight into human nature. He is after all the one who by inspiration wrote the book of Romans. He knew the Old Testament, he knew that the heart was deceitful above all else. He knew that the Lord had taught that the deceitfulness of riches and the cares of the world can choke out the Word and make you unfruitful. He knew that Christians would struggle against sin.
Now I would be willing to bet, or at least assume, that each one of you could tell me privately something you tend to struggle with over and over again. I’ve had seasons in my life when it seems like a particular sin would lay me low, over and over again. So let me ask you – have you developed a plan for how you’re going to think and act the next time that sin and situation arises? Well if not, let me help you out a little bit. Get into the Bible! David said it this way, “Thy Word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.” When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness He used to Word of God to combat the tempter. Do you have God’s promises, and God’s warnings, and God’s statements of love and blessing in your heart and mind, on your tongue?
I mean we have the very Words of God Himself right here at our fingertips compiled neatly for us in book form. Knowing God’s Word is one of the best ways that we can stand fast in how we think, and speak, and act in any given situation we might face.
But there’s one other thing that we need to look at here.
This idea of standing fast… notice that we are to stand fast “IN THE LORD!”
You see, we’ve got to remember that these Christians in Thessalonica had never personally seen the Lord, they have that in common with you and me. But Paul is emphasizing their personal connection to Him. Their union with Him. You see by nature we were in Adam, we were enemies of God, but God the Son loved us and gave Himself for us by willingly putting Himself under the wrath of God so that we might have fellowship with Him.
You cannot stand fast, unless you’re in the Lord.
So this evening I want to close with this idea. If you’re relationship with the Lord is sporadic or cold, or even lukewarm, then go back to the starting point of that relationship. Think long and hard on what it was like when you first became a Christian.
Before you can stand fast and persevere in the Christian life, you have to be solidly rooted in the Gospel, and you need to understand who you are in the Lord, and Whose you are.
The great theologian and reformer, John Calvin, put it this way:
“Christ has been so imparted to you with all His benefits that all His things are made yours, that you are made a member of Him, indeed one with Him, His righteousness overwhelms your sins; His salvation wipes out your condemnation; with His worthiness He intercedes that your unworthiness may not come before God’s sight… We ought to hold fast bravely with both hands to that fellowship by which He has bound Himself to us… That condemnation which we of ourselves deserve has been swallowed up by the salvation that is in Christ.” (Institutes, 3.3.34)
We stand fast in the Lord, we hold the line by knowing God’s Word, by getting our wisdom and understanding and strength from Him and His Word, and by unconditionally surrendering our hearts to Him.