A Faith That Groweth Exceedingly
April 20th, 1958 @ 10:50 AM
A FAITH THAT GROWETH EXCEEDINGLY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Thessalonians 1:1-5
04-20-58 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the second letter of Paul to the church at Thessalonica. As we enter into the depths of the revelation of God to the Apostle Paul written in this little brief letter, we shall find many marvelous and interesting things. It has an unusual apocalyptic revelation in it, and possibly by next Sunday we shall be in the midst of that. The sermon this morning is based upon the first words of introduction. The Second letter of Paul to the church at Thessalonica:
Paul, and [Silvanus], and Timothy, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus [Christ].
We are bound to give–we are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;
So that we are ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:
Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer
[2 Thessalonians 1:1-6]
And I am to speak on the text that meets us so forcefully in the third verse: “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth” [2 Thessalonians 1:3]. And I am to speak on A Faith That Groweth Exceedingly. And in the providence of God, I am most happy that we are in this place because so many of you have come into the fellowship of our church within these last few weeks.
Now, Paul loved this church at Thessalonica unusually well. If you read of the founding of the church in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts, he went to Thessalonica, to Berea, and the Scriptures say that "they who were in Berea were nobler than they who were in Thessalonica" [Acts 17:11]. Yet we have no letter of Paul to the church at Berea, but we have two here to the church at Thessalonica. He loved the people and the brethren in that capital Macedonian city. Now, he loved them because they were constant and faithful in great persecution and sorrows and tribulations and trials. And he loved them because they had a seeking heart, a spirit of inquiry. In fact, the immediate occasion of the writing of the letters was because of their eagerness to know the deeper and profounder things of Christ.
Now, in this first letter to Thessalonica, you have Paul here right at the beginning. In the first chapter, in the third verse of the first letter, he speaks of the three divine sisters that grace their presence and congregation there: “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and your labor of love, and your patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” [1 Thessalonians 1:3]. Faith, love, and hope; faith, hope and love; faith hope and charity – and they are in the bud there, but Paul is seeking for that. And where he finds the bud of faith, soon he will be looking for the flower and fruit. So he finds it there in the heart, beginning to grow in the church at Thessalonica.
Then in the second chapter here in that first letter, he is a husband in God’s husbandry. He is tilling the soil. He is encouraging the work. He says here that he was gentle among them as a nursing mother cherisheth her children [1 Thessalonians 2:7]. And then again, he charges and comforts and exhorts them as a father does his children [1 Thessalonians 2:11]. So this beginning faith and love and the grace of God in the hearts of that little church there at Thessalonica; now he is a good worker in the husbandry of the Lord. He is building them up. Now, in the third chapter here, why, he prays for them in private: “night and day praying exceedingly" [1 Thessalonians 3:10]; [that] the Lord make you to increase and to abound. Then in the fourth chapter he adds to his husbandry and to his private praying, he adds open exhortation, “Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus” [1 Thessalonians 4:1]. Then in the last chapter of that first letter, why, he adds to all of his faith and exhortation, he adds great faith. If you believe God will do a thing, God will certainly do it. That is what the Book says. So he adds finally, great faith here: “the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; . . . And your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he who calleth you who also will do it" [1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24]. Now, this church at Thessalonica is the child of his ministry, of his husbandry, of his prayers, of his exhortation, and finally, a child of his faith.
So he writes to them now a second letter, “Brethren,” he says, “we are bound to thank God pantote, at all times for you” [2 Thessalonians 1:3]. Now, he starts off that verse with a word that you would recognize – eucharistein, opheilomen; eucharistein, eucharist, thanksgiving, eucharistein, to thank God; opheilomen, "we are duty bound" bound to give thanks to God. That is you. If you are a Christian, you are bound and obligated to give thanks to God.
Well, my soul, he says over here, he is thanking God for their patience and faith and persecutions and tribulations, “that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God for which ye suffer” [2 Thessalonians 1:5]. Like those – the first apostles when they were beaten, they went out from the Sanhedrin thanking God "that they were worthy to suffer for His name’s sake" [Acts 5:41]. Now brother, that is Christianity; that is the faith. We are bound to thank God. A Christian at all times is under obligation and under duty to thank God. Praise the Lord!
May be blind; well then, God has a great purpose in him; we are to thank God for blindness. May be halt and may be crippled and feeble; sick, bedridden, invalid, then a Christian is under obligation to thank God for his invalidism and because he is halt. God has a purpose in it. May be poor; do not have anything. May be in debt, having a hard time; then a Christian is to thank God for his tribulations, for his troubles and his trials. We are bound to thank God. It is meek and comely for a Christian to praise God. May be old and feeble and tottering to the grave, and then he thanks God; he praises the Lord; my course is nearly run. A Christian is to thank God.
Now, I want us to look at what Paul is thanking God about. For the reason he thanks God, because it is meet, it is comely, it is right, it is good. Because he says that your faith groweth exceedingly – huperauxanei, huperauxanei; augmented greatly, vastly, exceedingly – “because that your faith groweth exceedingly” [2 Thessalonians 1:3]. Now, wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing for people who love you best and know you best to say about you, “I thank God that your faith groweth exceedingly.” What a fine, unreserved, splendid commendation that your faith groweth exceedingly. Brethren to be men of great faith; to be strong in the Lord is a virtue unspeakable.
Now, I had you read together, all of us read together, that story about Simon Peter walking to the Lord on the water. And he did fine, but when he began to look at the winds and the waves, took his eyes off of the Lord, he began to sink. And Jesus walked over to him and took him by the hand and called him a name – oligopiste [Matthew 14:31]. Now, you have it translated, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” Now, that is just English, “O thou of little faith.” When Jesus walked over there and took him by the hand and lifted him up, He called him a name – oligopiste, “little faith; why did you doubt Little Faith?" Well, Little Faith is saved, barely. Little Faith is raised out of his sinking, yes; but oh how much better to walk on the water; how much better it is to have wonderful persuasion that God is able; how much better it is for a man to be strong in the Lord. It glorifies God. It ups the church.
Little Faith is slow and feeble and halt, and in him the church stumbles and barely moves along. But Great Faith, he lifts the banner high. He is at the front of the march. He meets the foes head on. He puts the enemies to flight. He destroys the walls of Jericho. He raises up the walls of Zion. He smites the Philistines hip and thigh. He is a great soldier in the army of the Lord; but Little Faith, he just barely creeps along. Little Faith, he is always languishing there behind. Little Faith, he is always unsure.
He is going to heaven, but he does not know it for sure. He is saved, but he thinks himself unsaved half the time. He is just creeping along, filled with all kinds of fears – Little Faith. When the Lord Jesus makes up his jewels in his crown, while the little pearls are going to have a place in his diadem like the big pearls, a diamond is a diamond if it is just a chip of a diamond, and faith is faith even though it’s a little faith. Little Faith is going to be saved. God loves him. His name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. He was chosen before the foundation of the world. God has got a mansion waiting for him up there in glory. He is bought by the blood of the Lamb, but he does not realize all those things. He is filled with fears.
Why, he thinks as he goes along, “Oh," you know, "I do not know whether I have come to Jesus right. I do not know whether I have repented right. I do not know whether I have done this thing right. I do not know if the wrath of God is still upon me. You know, I may still fall into hell.” And Little Faith just goes along so crippled and feeble like. And if you slay a thousand of his fears today, he will have a whole host of them arise out of his soul tomorrow. But Great Faith, he amounts up to Pisgah’s height, and he looks out over the Promised Land, and he sees the foundations and the walls and the gates of the celestial city of God. And he hears the angels singing, and he is strong in the Lord and waxes valiant in the journey. But Little Faith, he just creeping along, scared to death, just slow, just so cautious, just almost afraid to put one foot out in front of the either.
Let me tell you something I read. This is the funniest thing to me. There was a hunter in Canada in the dead wintertime with his gun. And he came across a frozen stream. And he got down on his hands and knees and fearfully began to crawl and creep across that frozen stream. And while he was out there creeping and crawling so cautiously on all fours across that frozen stream, lo and behold, down the mountainside came rolling a lumberjack driving big draft horses with a heavy wagon loaded with big logs, down the mountainside onto the creek and across the stream, and that guy on his all fours creeping across, looking at him. I could just see that. I could just–and when I saw it, I thought, “Isn’t that a picture of the kingdom of God?” Little Faith out here, he is just crawling – he is scared to death and Great Faith roaring down the mountainside with a heavy-loaded wagon driving across and over. Oh, what a way to live.
Little Faith is always afraid that God’s grace is not sufficient. God says, “My grace is sufficient for thee” [2 Corinthians 12:9]. But he does not think of that. He does not realize that. You know, in this pilgrimage of life, like those people back there in the wilderness in their journey to the Promised Land, they–God said, “Your shoes are not going to wear out.” But Little Faith, he was always afraid his shoes were going to wear out. God says, “Your garments are not going to wax old.” Little Faith, he’s always afraid his garments are going to wax old. God said, “Your feet are not going to blister.” He’s always afraid he’s going to blister the sole of his feet. God says, “You are going to have bread to eat, manna from heaven.” He is afraid he is going to starve today. God says, “You are going to have water to drink.” He is afraid he is going to thirst out there in the dry desert land. Little Faith, filled with fears live all of his life, scared of everything under the sun. Say, no wonder Paul had cause, “I thank God,” he said, “it is meet that I do it because your faith groweth exceedingly.” My, my, no wonder he thanked God; these people with their faith growing every day, every day.
Now, I want to continue saying a word about that. I am not saying you’re not saved, Little Faith, little timorous soul, little, wee, timorous beastly. I am not saying you are not saved. I am not saying you are not going to heaven. I just told you you were. But that is a poor way to live, isn’t it? Oh, my, how sorry a pilgrim, how poor a soldier.
Now, you can be a Christian and be weak and anemic and poor and frail and crippled and drag along. You can be a Christian like that, I know. Lot was a Christian. [The] Bible says so. There in Sodom he was a Christian; a sorry one, a weak one, an anemic one. Abraham, up there in the mountains with God, the great man of faith; and Lot down there, he thinks he has got to do all these things in order to live and thrive and to prosper. You can be a Christian and be a weak, anemic one, I know.
Just like that Frenchman’s horse. He thought he would save, so every day he just gave him a little less straw and a little less straw and a little less straw, until finally he got his horse to live on one straw a day, and then was overwhelmed and surprised when his horse suddenly died. Well, you can be like that, a soul that is starved and wizened and live on almost no spiritual food and share in hardly any spiritual life. You can be that way; but oh, come along with me. Man, man, there is a banquet table spread. Eat, grow. There is a fellowship to enjoy. Be glad in it. There is a great pilgrimage to meet. Come journey by our side. There is a magnificent war to be won. Come and put on the uniform and fight with us, and be a soul and a heart growing and growing and growing and a giving cause for the pastor and everybody that knows and love you: "to thank God that your faith groweth exceedingly."
Now, in the little moment or two that is left, I want to speak of how that faith groweth exceedingly. All right, here is one way. It grows exceedingly, and I mean greatly, by looking to Jesus, by coming to Jesus, by laying hold on Jesus, by looking up there, looking to the Lord. As long as Simon Peter looked at Jesus, kept his eye on the Lord Jesus, he walked on the water. But when he began to look at himself and what he was doing and began to look at the winds and the waves around him, he took his eyes off of the Lord, he began to sink.
You will be that way. As long as you look to Jesus, oh, my, how things are; they are always right with him, always. May be dark down here, brother it is always light up there. May be confused down here, brother there is no confusion up there. It may be devious and dubious down here, and we are lost in the way. Brother, He knows where He is going, and He knows all about it. There is no deviousness and serendipity up there.
Boy, man a-living, get your eyes up. Lift them up! So many people got their eyes around. "Look at that old hypocrite there. Look at that old guy there." Then they say all kinds of things about the church and they think all kinds of things. Man, don’t look at that broken down fellow. Why? Why? Tell me why. Why make that fellow the inspiration and guide for your life? Tell me why.
Man, lift up your face, look at Jesus. Look at Jesus. That is the way to grow in faith. Look to Him. It is the way to be saved. Keep your eyes up there, looking to Jesus. Then some of you look at yourself, and you are so weak and you say, “Well, I do not believe I am in shape. Look at me – sorry no account such as I am.” Well, that is true with all of us. There is nothing in us but weakness and frailty and carnality. There is nothing in us but the seeds of sin and death. Just give us time and we will all meet that inevitable hour. That is us. That is we. But say, do not look at yourself. Keep your eye on the Lord. And if you will do it, you will be a great, strong Christian, walking to Jesus, keeping your eye on Jesus; maybe walking on the water, maybe walking over the mountains, maybe walking through the valley. Keep your eye on the Lord.
Another way we grow in faith. We grow in faith by knowledge and by experience. We grow in faith by learning what God has to say to His children. Why, you read here in the Bible and you will read there the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints that you cannot be lost once you have been saved. You cannot perish utterly once Christ has come into your heart. You cannot ever fall into hell once Jesus has set your feet on the road to heaven. The perseverance of the saints, you will read that in the Bible, all through the Bible. There is nothing else but that in the Bible. God “saves to the uttermost them who come by faith unto him” [Hebrews 7:25].
And you will read in there about those two natures that are on the inside of you. You will read that you have got a pig nature, a hog nature on the inside of you, and you’ have got a lamb nature, a God nature on the inside of you. The flesh and the spirit, and they war against one another all the time. And you will find all that in your life just like it says here in the Book. Everything that happens in your life, you will find an explanation for it right here in this Book. And when you read it and see it and understand it, then you have come to the place where then you are not disheartened by it, why this old evil nature rises up and just leaves you.
Well, I know he is there. I know this old flesh is here, and will be ’til I die, but this is no reason to be discouraged. God tells us all about that in the Book and a thousand other things I haven’t time to mention. Listen–by prayer and by meditation, by looking at the Word and looking up to Jesus, we grow in faith. These things do not discourage us. We have got a victory, and we can see it in His blessed hands.
And then may I say this last–Paul mentions here in his text – and then I have to close; we grow in faith by these tribulations and these trials and these sorrows that Paul mentions there that I read in the text. Isn’t that the strangest thing? We grow in faith in our trials, in our troubles, in our heartaches, in our persecutions, in our tribulations. The Book says so. Well, when you get to thinking of it after all, the Lord has a great, great message there for us because you are going through those waters by and by. And you may not be in them now. You are going through them by and by. You are going through some deep valleys by and by. You are going to have trials by and by, and sorrows are going to multiply by and by.
I stood by a dear sainted member of this church two days ago. And I never saw on one poor soul in a long time, troubles heaped like they are upon her right now; death and other things that I do not mention. And I said to her, I said now, “Mostly life is that way. Mostly life is that way. You are not going to have just one trouble. When you have one, chances are they will be one another right on the heels and right on the heels and right on the heels.”
All right, how does that fit into the Christian experience? Well, God says that in the faith, our faith groweth exceedingly" [2 Thessalonians 1"3]. So when you get to thinking about it before the Lord, in the time of wind and storm and rain, you have a time of growth. The oaks grow in the wind and the rain and the storm. The more Pharaoh oppressed Israel, the more they multiplied.
Trials and troubles to a Christian are like the bush that prospers in the flame unconsumed. It is like Noah’s ark. As the waters grew deeper and deeper and deeper, the ark rose higher and higher and higher in the grace and safety and refuge of God. And the more God’s people are afflicted by trouble, the more they are amalgamated to the Lord Jesus. The more they are beat, the more they become one in Christ. The more they are hammered, the more they are welded to the Lord.
And that is the difference between us and the world. When trials and troubles come to the world, they are like quicksilver. They fall into factions. They fall apart. They do not have any God. They do not have any prayer. They do not have any hope. They do not have any refuge. To them that is the end, the night, the grave, the tears, the sorrows, the heartache, the separation, the bereavement; finale. But not to a Christian; he lifts up his face and there he beholds God our Savior.
And someday – I cannot – but someday God can make every trouble and trial you have ever known clear and plain. Why? Why? He will tell you why some of these days. I cannot, because I do not see it lots of times. It baffles me, but it does not baffle God. No sir, He has got a reason. He knows why, and some of these days in His will, when we see Him, He will make it plain, and we will understand. In the meantime, these trials but make us cling the more earnestly and helplessly to Jesus. No other refuge, just clinging to the Lord, believing in Him. And that is why Paul says to the church at Thessalonica in their tribulations, “I thank God that your faith groweth exceedingly” [2 Thessalonians 1:3].
Well, we must close. While we sing our song, somebody to put his life in the heart and hand of Jesus, would you come and stand by me? Somebody put his life in the church; a family you, would you come and give the pastor your hand? As we sing this song of appeal, anywhere in this balcony around, down these stairwells, here at the front, there at the back; come down those stairwells up here to the pastor. "Here I come, preacher. Today I give my heart to Jesus. I give you my hand in token of that commitment." Or putting your life in the church, while we sing, would you come and make it now, while we stand, and while we sing? Brethren,pantote, at all times f