The Good News of Faith

Dr. Brian Allison

There is something about the festive season of Christmas that moves people to be a bit more kind, a bit more compassionate, a bit more giving, a bit more loving. At this time of the year, people are more inclined to get in touch with others to see how they are doing, expressing concern and care. This past week I received a call from someone from whom I had not heard for quite some time. And she said, "Well, it's just that time of year; and I thought I'd give you a call and see how you're doing, and make sure that everything is fine between you and me." I replied that everything was fine; no problem, 'no sweat'.

Also, during this time of the year, we receive little notes and cards from people, which express pleasant sentiments. It is enjoyable to receive these notes and cards, especially if they come from overseas. It is good to hear from friends and family from whom we haven't heard for some time. Proverbs 25:25 reads,"Like cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a distant land." How do you respond when you receive good news? Have you received good news recently – a card, a note, a letter? Were you encouraged? The apostle Paul received some good news at one point in his life and ministry, and he was overjoyed. 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 reads, "But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?"

Recall that the apostle Paul was in a state of intolerable suspense as he was thinking about these Thessalonian believers, his spiritual children. He and his companions had to make a quick exit from Thessalonica because of persecution, leaving these new converts behind. When he had eventually arrived in Athens, he was agitated as an expression of his pastoral concern. He was emotionally distraught as he considered the possible unpleasant situation (and the possible negative fallout with respect to their spiritual condition) of these new converts. These new believers were suffering persecution; and the burning question in the apostle Paul's mind was this: Will these believers persevere? Would they persist in the faith, or would they reject God and give up their faith?

Good news results in joy

Accordingly, Paul dispatched Timothy to Thessalonica. Subsequently, Timothy returned with a good report – "But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you" (3:6). Paul uses a rather interesting term in making reference to that which he received from Timothy – good news. Now, I say that this is an interesting term because this is the term, in the Greek, from which we get the word 'gospel.' This is the only place in the New Testament in which the apostle Paul uses this term in a general sense, rather than in that technical sense which is typically translated 'gospel.' Think about this for a moment. Paul says that what was reported to him was like 'gospel'.

The reason why Paul received Timothy's report as good news can only be explained by his deep love and affection toward these believers. Paul desired the best for them. He waited with bated breath to hear of their state and situation. And Paul was overjoyed when he finally heard about their state and situation. Thus, we read, "For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account?" (3:9). Paul was overjoyed because these believers were persevering in the faith; because they were staying true to God in the midst of suffering and affliction. Now, the application is this. We say that we love one another; but do we know what love is? You may say, "Well, I phoned up my Christian brother this past week just to encourage him;" or "I saw that my Christian sister appeared to be 'down and out', and I secretly passed on some funds to her." And, to be sure, these are expressions of love. But do we really know what the depth of love is? I think we have a prime example in this text of what perhaps could be called the 'perfection of love'.Paul rejoiced over the perseverance in the faith of these believers. Do you see what real love is? Are you overjoyed when you hear of a Christian brother or sister faithfully pressing on, getting stronger in the faith, maturing in grace. If not, then you may have some degree of love, but you do not have the perfection of love. Paul was so committed to these believers, so affectionately disposed towards them, so emotionally attached to them, that what transpired in their lives had direct repercussions in his own. That's the perfection of love. Again, I stand amazed at the depth of the love of the apostle Paul. It is utterly incredible. How could Paul love like that? What was his secret? I suspect that the secret, in part, is being on your knees in the presence of God. Notice that Paul implies this truth in 3:9. He lived before the presence of God.

Many professing Christians have not experienced this kind of love. Many can see a fellow-believer struggling in his or her faith and couldn't care less. We say, for instance, "Yes, I'll pray for you brother;" and I suspect that this gesture is more out of a sense of duty than out of heart commitment. But true love feels the pain, the struggle, and the hurt of a fellow-believer. The perfection of love is the experience of being overwhelmed with joy, ushering into worship, at the expression of God's goodness and grace in the life of a fellow-believer. As Paul asked, "For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account?" Paul could neither imagine nor contemplate how much thanksgiving would have to be rendered in order to be adequately worthy and reflective of the blessing received. Paul says, in effect, "When we heard that you were persisting in the faith, we were overwhelmed with joy, and we could not thank God enough for that joy which we were experiencing." My friend, have you had such deep joy like that over the goodness and grace of God expressed in the life of a fellow-believer that full expressed appreciation fails you, that words cannot capture and convey adequate and appropriate thanks to God?

Good news of faith and love

So, Timothy brought back a good report; and the report mainly pertained to the faith of these believers, which was the primary concern of the apostle Paul – "But now as Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought to us good news of your faith and love." It is interesting that the term love is coupled with faith. Love is the clear evidence and demonstration of true faith. Paul touches on this necessary couplet elsewhere. It is found in the triad of virtues which he mentions in the opening chapter of this epistle; he says, "Constantly bearing in mind your work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father" (1:3). Thus, with the identification of the love of these believers, Paul, no doubt, was convinced that they had real faith. And unless we have love, we have no assurance that we have real faith. The reality and demonstration of faith are seen in the reality and demonstration of love – love for God and love for one's fellow-person. It is not good enough simply to believe; we must love.

But the primary concern for Paul was that of faith. That is why he dispatched Timothy – to inquire about these believers' faith – "I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor should be in vain" (3:5b). Timothy returned with a threefold report. He told the apostle Paul that indeed the faith of these believers was intact, but he also reported more, which was also a part of the good news. Timothy reported, secondly, about these believers' love for Paul – "and that you always think kindly of us" (3:6b). We are to love one another. One specific expression of that love is to think kindly of one another. Do you think kindly of your Christian brothers and sisters? Timothy reported, thirdly, these believers' desire to be reunited with Paul – "longing to see us just as we also long to see you" (3:6c). This desire was also an expression of love. I am sure that this aspect of the report must have been especially gratifying for the apostle Paul because he mentioned a number of times that he himself deeply wanted to see these believers – a marvelous testimony of mutual affection and love.

Good news brings peace

Having received this threefold report, Paul affirmed, "For this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith" (3:7). Paul was enduring personal suffering. He was experiencing difficulties. And yet the good news which he received countered and dispelled the pangs of that suffering. His heart was soothed. Can you appreciate the medicinal impact of this good news? Paul's fears were allayed. It was like a new lease on life, a breath of life. So Paul was comforted. He uses the same word (translated 'comfort') in verse 7 as he does in verse 2 in which he says, "And we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith." The term 'encourage' in verse 2 is the same term we find translated 'comforted' in verse 7. Isn't that wonderful? Paul sent Timothy to encourage, to comfort, these believers; and Timothy returned with a report that comforted, encouraged, Paul. Encouragement empowers. When you see your Christian brother (or sister) 'down and out' and struggling, the best thing that you can do for him is to encourage him. Encouragement helps us to persevere. It strengthens faith. Don't underestimate the power of encouragement.

Good news spawns a deeper love

So, Paul was comforted, encouraged. He says, "For now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord [in your faith]" (3:8). Paul, in effect, says, "I am happy. Life has meaning. Life has purpose. I'm willing to go on, if you do not abandon your faith." Could we make a statement like that – "Brother (or sister), if you persevere in your faith, then life is worth living. That's how much I love you, that's how much I'm concerned about you, that's how much you mean to me." Again, what a depth of joy the apostle experienced. And, again, the fruit of that joy was thanksgiving. Paul offers thanksgiving to the Lord a number of times in this epistle. In Thessalonians 1:2, we read, "We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers;" again, 2:13, "And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God." And so here, the apostle thanks God with these believers in view. He was compelled and impelled to worship.

Accordingly, in being overjoyed, having a heart full of thanksgiving, Paul longed to be with these believers even more. He says, "As we, night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith" (3:10). Do you remember where that phrase 'night and day' is found earlier in this epistle? 1 Thessalonians 2:9 reads, "For you recall brethren, our labor and hardship how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God." Paul worked night and day to eke out a living and to support those with him; and yet, "night and day [he kept] praying most earnestly." He was a busy man. He was busy physically, as well as spiritually. This is a rebuke to many of us, isn't it? We can say, 'Well, I'm too busy to read my Bible, too busy to pray. I'm too busy to consider the matters of the Lord." But we have no excuses. Paul worked night and day and he worshipped night and day.

We ought always to be in a spirit of prayer, praying fervently. Paul did not pray formalistically or ritualistically. He prayed with energy and purpose. He prayed with heart and soul. He obviously was a focused man. What was he praying for? – that he would be reunited with his spiritual children, with the goal of completing what was lacking in their faith. Paul wanted to be reunited with these believers, not for personal and social reasons, but rather for pastoral and ministerial ones. He did not simply want to get together to have fun. He wanted to get together to further the work of grace in their hearts. He wanted to 'mend the deficiencies' in these believers' faith. Paul wanted to be used of God to bring these believers to greater maturity, to make them more presentable to Christ, to have them reflect more of His image. And I suggest to you, my Christian brothers and sisters, that this ambition is also a specific expression of love. If you do not want to get together with your Christian brothers and sisters for fellowship and to be a vehicle of grace in their lives to bring them to greater maturity, you know very little of love. If you spurn the fellowship of God's people and you do not have a burning desire to be with them in order to bring to completion their faith, you know very little of the love of God. If you are simply coming to church to receive, coming to get your spiritual charge for the week, coming to have your needs met, you know very little of the love of God. The love of God is seen in giving to others. God so loved the world that He gave. True love ministers to the needs of others. It responds to the hurts and pains of others.

I call you to examine yourself as I examine myself. Why do you want to gather with God's people? Why do you go to church? What motivates you? I trust your first reason is this: A passion to glorify God and to worship Him. And I trust your second reason is this: To minister the love of Christ to fellow-believers. If you go to church for selfish reasons, to have your needs met, to have your spiritual batteries recharged, then you have the wrong reason. True love is self-denying and self-donating. Doesn't the life of the apostle Paul challenge you? It challenges me. It not only challenges me, it humbles me. I hope it humbles you too. God has given us grace for yet another day to hear His voice which continually says to us, "This is the way, walk in it." Will you walk in that way today, my friend? I trust that you will. Oh, thank God for His grace.