I want to charge you briefly as we celebrate this milestone in your life. The Apostle Paul pronounces a blessing on all those who follow Jesus in the ancient city of Thessalonica. In it, he offers to them and to you two safe spiritual harbors for a lifetime of meditation and reflection: God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.
2 Thessalonians 3:5 says: May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and the perseverance of Christ.
In some ways, all of you have come a long ways in your particular journey, but, in other ways, you are just beginning. John Bunyan’s in his classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, reminds us that life’s a dangerous journey with many pitfalls, perils and temptations. All of us need safe harbors along the way where we can renew our strength and perspective. Here are two that I want to commend to you: the love of God and the perseverance of Christ.
The text says that the Lord has to direct and guide our hearts into these two things. If this is so, we must assume that our hearts and minds do not naturally gravitate towards them. Left to us, our hearts gravitate towards other loves… the love of self, the love of money, the love of pleasure, the love of independence. All of these other loves turn us in on ourselves and lead us into bondage and have a way of dehumanizing us. The love of God turns us out of ourselves to love and serve others. It liberates us from the all-consuming self-consciousness and self-absorption that naturally plagues us.
My prayer for each of you is that the Lord would direct and guide your hearts into His love. Part of that directing and guiding is that He would remove all the hindrances that would arrest in you a deep, transformational experience of His love. There are lots of hindrances: The idols of your heart and mine… like people pleasing and valuing the esteem of others more than Christ’s. Many other things can hinder your experience of His love… like friends, family, boyfriends, girlfriends, ideologies, philosophies, hypocrisy in the church, and certainly cultural Christianity.
The Apostle Paul uses that wonderful word for love here called “agape.” Its first use in the New Testament is found in Matthew 24:12. In it, Jesus sadly foretells that in the last days due to abounding iniquity most people’s love for the Lord will grow cold. One of the main ways that you continue growing in your love for the Lord is to remind yourself repeated how much it cost the Lord to love you! This leads to the second safe spiritual harbor along your life’s journey.
Secondly, may the Lord direct your hearts and minds to Christ’s perseverance. Left to us, we grow weary and lose heart and courage. Rather than trying to muster up an ability to endure, let me urge you to actively call to mind all that Christ endured for you… the hostility, animosity, vulgarity, brutality… the death and hell that Jesus endured because of the joy set before him… And lose heart if you can.
Friends will betray you, but He is a friend who sticks closer than any brother or sister. Some of your dreams may not be realized in this life, but God will fulfill His purpose and dream for your life. At least that’s what Psalm 138:8 says! Others may be ashamed to associate with you because you are unashamed in your stand for Christ, but He is not ashamed to call you his brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:11). As you consider all that Christ endured for you, you will become a person who endures… a person who is “not swerved from your deliberate purpose and your loyalty to Jesus Christ by even the greatest trials and sufferings” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).
If you’re normal and you are, your journey will involve great trials and great joys. In the midst of both victories and defeats, joys and sorrows, actively call to mind the love of God and the perseverance of Christ on your behalf. You’ll find that you will slowly be transformed into a person who loves deeply and perseveres resolutely. AMEN.