But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.
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, 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. – 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5 (ESV)
Christ is strong; therefore the victory is certain. But we are finite and weak, therefore the day-to-day struggle is very real. Paul was a remarkable man. He may very well be the greatest Christian who has ever lived. Yet, as Alistair Begg likes to remind us: “The best of men are men at best.” And let’s be honest with ourselves: Sometimes, when we invest deeply in other people – that is, when we love them – things don’t work out the way we that we hoped. When we build a wall, we want it to stand. When we make a fancy meal, we want it to be delicious. When we sacrifice to raise our children, we want them to grow up as young men and women who love the LORD and who make a positive difference in this world, and when we invest our lives in discipling people – we want them to become faithful disciples. But it doesn’t always work out that way. And the truth is that we have a lot more control over building a wall that will stand over time and making a delicious meal than we do over the consequences of sacrificially loving other people. At first blush, that can seem like bad news. That which requires the most from us is also the area where we are most likely to be deeply disappointed. And so, like Paul, we can be filled with profound concern about those whom we are pouring our love into. Will I have invested my life in vain? Nevertheless, our lack of control over the consequences of loving other people turns out to be really good news – once we remember that Jesus is also in the picture – and our sovereign LORD is using everything that we do for our good and for His glory. Consider Isaiah. We naturally think of him as a great prophet – and certainly he was. But as Isaiah poured out his life speaking the word of God to Israel – he was told in advance that the people wouldn’t listen to him. How would you like to have that as your vocation? Yet, perhaps you feel something like this right now with your children, your husband, your job, or someone in this church. If so, please remember that the LORD would use the book of Isaiah to bless billions of people, and to bring untold millions to saving faith. Like Paul, we want the immediate tasks the LORD is giving us to thrive, but we need not fear that our lives are being wasted even if everything we pour our lives into seems to turn to dust. The God who loves you is at work – and He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that you ask and think.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 14
Q. 14. What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.