1 Thessalonians 2:13-20

I want to focus this morning on verses 17-20 of Chapter 2.  

But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

As most of you know, I worked with pastors of churches around the country for 12 years. Some saw their work as a career, many as a calling and then were were some who considered it their whole identity and life. It became central to them to the point of excluding everything and everyone else.  It began as an adventure and became a responsibility but then changed into almost an obsession. It was unhealthy for everyone and in many cases ended badly because they thought they were beyond accountability or could not let go when the time came for new leadership. 

As I’ve read this passage this week I have thought about what the burden of his ministry must have been on Paul as well. I’m not talking about the passages where he recounts his personal sufferings as he does in 2 Corinthians 11:

 I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

Those are real but in this passage we see something else. We see how much Paul’s sense of the ultimate worth of his work depends on the purity of the churches when he stands before Christ. He writes about it in other passages as well. His hopes and expectations for the churches are bound up in his evaluation of himself as an apostle. 

I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.

2 Corinthians 11:2-3

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

Philippians 2:14-18

Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!

Philippians 4:1

Clearly, there is something much deeper in Paul’s heart and mind than simply encouraging or inspiring them. What must it have been like for the churches to prepare for Paul’s periodic visits? They knew how imperfect they were and how striving toward perfection he expected them to be. How could they possibly live up to what he expected of them? The days before his visit must have been filled with all kinds of cleaning up and setting things in order.

Expectations are important. Where would most of us be had we not had someone or a series of people having high expectations for us? 

Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.” 

― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Life itself has expectations of us wrote Victor Frankl:

It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”

― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

What would it be like to have lived with no expectations?

Expectations are a funny thing..When you’re born with them, you resent them, fight against them. When you’ve never been given any, you feel the lack of them your whole life.”

― Fonda Lee, Jade City

But then there are unrealistic expectations that weigh us down:

He was swimming in a sea of other people’s expectations. Men had drowned in seas like that.” 

― Robert Jordan, New Spring

I think Paul walked a fine line between putting so much pressure on the churches to be perfect, flawless, without spot and be as he puts it, like virgins, and at the same time giving them grace and patience. I have no doubt he did it, especially, when he would stay and live with them. Still, I think about how I would feel receiving letters like these knowing that his expectations of me were so tied up with his expectations of his own ministry. What if I left you every Sunday with the words, “Jesus is going to judge me based on your progress toward perfection this week.”? It’s a heavy load for Paul and the churches to bear.

On the other hand, too many of us have substituted inspiration for expectation. We look to Scripture, teaching, preaching and other sources for encouragement, comfort and uplift but not to be saddled with genuine expectations. Sometimes we come to church or turn to Scripture for release from expectations and want only inspiration. To live with only inspiration and no expectation is to be shallow and dependent on the next boost of quotes or cherry picked verses. Clearly, Paul was not as interested in the momentary relief of inspiration as he was in expectations.

Someone who inspires you is different from one who creates expectations for you. We can be inspired by stories, articles in the paper, biographies of courageous men and women, and a host of other sources we come across. But expectations are different. They are deeper and have a way of setting the course of our lives. Expectations create the sense of being accountable to someone or something while inspiration is an example or a gust of enthusiasm. 

Those few people who create expectations in our early lives have a disproportionate influence on the kind of people we turn out to be.

In his book, “A Resilient Life”, Gordon MacDonald talks about his high school track coach at the Stony Brook School – Marvin Goldberg. Gordon had great natural talent but it was undisciplined and untested. He wanted to run track for Marvin but had not impressed the demanding coach. He kept waiting for his name to be posted on the white bulletin board as someone who had been selected for the track team but weeks went by without that happening. Then one day he heard his name called. Not Gordon but Gordie.

“Upon hearing my new name, I headed in Goldberg’s direction. He was standing next to the white bulletin board. When I reached him, Goldberg put his hand on my shoulder and began to speak. As best as I can recall his words after all these years, he said,“Gordie, I’ve been watching you carefully. I think you have the potential to be an excellent runner. You have a runner’s body and a natural stride. And you are fast. But you have much to learn. If you are to compete for Stony Brook, you’re going to have to work hard. You’ll have to learn to discipline yourself, and it will mean that you have to trust me and follow my instructions. Every day you will have to come to this track and complete the workouts that will be listed on this board. Now, Gordie [the coach repeated one’s name often], don’t commit to this if you are not willing to give it everything you have.” And then he posed this question, “Gordie, are you willing to pay the price it takes to become a Stony Brook trackman?”

Marvin did the same in every area of life. I know because I was a young teacher under his influence. Talent was not enough. You had to be willing to pay the price to become a trackman or a teacher if you worked for Marvin. It was like working with a weight trainer who knew when it was time to add more weight – not too soon but never letting up.

Do you see the difference between inspiration and expectation? I want to spend the remaining time with our talking to each other about the people in our lives who have created healthy expectations for us. They did not raise the bar so high that we could never reach it and they did not make us feel that they would be failures if we were not perfect. They were more like Marvin Goldberg in reaching into some part of our life and leaving an imprint with a word, an act or a picture of who we could be. It may have been a parent, a teacher, a coach, a friend or a boss but I believe for each of us there has been someone who created an expectation that has helped shape our life. There are probably only a few in each life to whom we can point and say, “That person did more than inspire me. They created an expectation that I have wanted to live up to in one way or another.”

Who has that been for you? What did they expect of you? How did they do that?

 

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