Sermon Audio & Review
Pastor Tim Potter
- Category: Holidays & Special Services
- May 21, 2023
Our 75th Anniversary Celebrating God's Faithfulness.
God Is Faithful – Present Assurance Based on a Faithful Past
Seventy-five years ago, the Lord burdened Erieside Gospel Church, later known as First Baptist Church of Willowick, to expand their gospel footprint. That expansion included planting a church east of them in the town of Willoughby. A small Bible study that began on the corner of Lost Nation Road and Lakeshore Blvd. grew to be an established church, constructing its first building on the corner of Beachview Road and Lakeshore Boulevard. Grace Baptist Church of Willoughby, Ohio was established in 1948.
From its founding until 1972, Grace Baptist Church had five pastors. Having experienced some decline with the departure of their pastor in 1972, seventeen remaining members of Grace Baptist Church voted Pastor Bob Potter from Parma, Ohio to be their next pastor. Pastor Potter shepherded for thirty-four years and remains Grace’s longest-standing senior pastor. The church experienced greater growth under his leadership of faithful preaching and evangelistic passion, while Jesus continued to build His church.
In the late 1970s, more space for worship was needed. The land on which Grace stands at this time had been given to the church. A Christian company called King’s Way Builders was contracted to help design the new building. Not long after, the first auditorium on this property was constructed. In 1980, the first service was held in the new building. By 1994, the church needed more space, and with a third of the money raised, the church was able to break ground. It took a year for the new addition to be built (our current kitchen area and the lobby space next to it). Dedicated in 1996, the new addition was used for church dinners, children’s worship, and extra teaching space. Under the leadership of Pastor Potter with his evangelistic heart, the Lord faithfully filled that space as well.
The late 1980s and 1990 were some years of plateau and decline for Grace. In 1990, the church was struggling so much that she was unable to pay her foreign missionaries. Pastor Potter rallied the church in prayer. In 1991, with renewed evangelistic vigor, the church prayerfully set out to reach more souls for Christ in our community beginning with the youth. The Lord honored that prayer effort, and by the end of the fiscal year of 1991, the church was able to pay the missionaries again, including paying them for the year of financial support that had been missed.
From that time forward, the church continued to faithfully preach God’s Word with the same passion as the original founders. Grace sought to expand its gospel footprint through more church planting. Under the direction of Pastor Potter, the Lord allowed us to plant more churches throughout the country and the world. As a result, a nationwide church-planting effort out of Grace began in the early 21st century. A little over twenty years later, that initial effort has led us to network together unto global gospel efforts of planting and assisting more churches. This all began seventy-five years ago with the faithfulness of a small group of evangelistic saints.
God is eternally faithful, unchanging. God is indivisibly faithful to Himself and to what He has decreed from eternity past. His faithfulness to us is demonstrated in Christ with His burden to bring the good news to the world. God will accomplish all that He has promised to His people through Jesus Christ. This is our reality. As we go through trials and suffering and experience failure, we should find comfort and strength in the reliability of God.
The vastness of the creation points to the vastness of God’s faithfulness to His people in salvation. God’s faithfulness reaches to the skies (Psalm 36:5). It is comparable to the distance between the heavens and the earth (Psalm 103:11). This extends to His magnitude of forgiveness in His covenant of salvation, as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).
God’s Faithfulness in the Old Testament
The primary Hebrew word for faithfulness occurs 127 times in the Old Testament. The central meaning of this Hebrew word is the idea that God’s Word is true, that God is true to Himself and to His Word. This word is often used in the context of the relationships that God chooses to have with us.
Another Hebrew word for faithfulness used 49 times in the Old Testament has the idea of steadiness, or at its very nature, reliability. The first occurrence of this word in Exodus 17 is a great illustration of its main idea. The Israelites were battling the Amalekites. When Moses held up his hands, the Israelites would prevail. When Moses tired, he sat on a stone while Aaron and Hur each held up an arm, resulting in his hands remaining steady or faithful until the sun set. God’s faithfulness remains with us from morning until night. It remains with us until He comes to judge the earth in righteousness and faithfulness (Psalms 96:13).
The Lord’s faithfulness is demonstrated to His Old Testament covenant people through His lovingkindness and loyalty. The word translated "mercy" occurs 255 times and reminds us that God is faithful in the way He loves. We are reminded of this very truth by Jesus in John 13:1. Relating to the theology of understanding God’s faithfulness to His people, the Hebrew word for "remember" is mentioned 235 times in the Old Testament. This word used in reference to God does not indicate that God has forgotten or needs to be reminded but that He is going to act on what He is remembering.
God’s Faithfulness in the New Testament
The most common word for faithfulness in the New Testament is the common Greek noun for "faith." God’s faithfulness is most clearly revealed in our time, the age of the church, through His faithful Son, Jesus Christ, whose character of ultimate reliability personifies what it means to be faithful. We find Jesus titled the Faithful One throughout the book of Revelation. God’s faithfulness can help a believer overcome temptation and suffering. When God’s people are unfaithful, He remains faithful. No matter what people do, God’s faithfulness is unchangeable, for He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13).
The Lord Is Faithful in Our Past
2 Thessalonians 3:3 tells us that the Lord is faithful. He is faithful in the Thessalonians’ past and the present (v. 1), and the future (v. 3-5). The past of the Thessalonians was rooted in a wonderful experience with God’s Word. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 tells us that the Thessalonians received the Word of God, embracing it with recognition of its value.
The Lord Is Faithful in Our Present
Paul is asking the Thessalonians to continue to pray for their present that they may enjoy the Word of God as a church as much as they did in the past (v. 1). The most common word for prayer in the New Testament is used in this verse, meaning to talk to God on a regular basis. Paul is telling the Thessalonian believers to continue to commonly, habitually talk to God, that the Word of God would be received, enjoyed, and lived, free to have its influence among the people of God. This is the reality that they had enjoyed, and this is the reality that they were to enjoy now in their present but would only come through prayer. They were to pray that the Word of God would spread rapidly (v. 1), that it would run freely throughout the whole world. The same verb for "spread rapidly" is used in Revelation 9:9.
Paul is praying that the advancement of the Word of God would be a sprint, a constant raging river advancing its way, cleansing the hearts of men, bringing them to Christ and His way of living. The reality of the Word of God running swiftly in our lives means we are striving to be governed by the Spirit of God so as to have His illuminating work always functional in our minds and our hearts. The grammar of "be glorified" (v. 1) indicates a constant prayer that the Word of God would retain its exalted place and application in our hearts and lives as a church.
Paul normalizes prayer as necessary so the Word will remain freely running among us; as it does, we will be rescued from perverse and evil men, for not all have faith. Paul is speaking of those who call themselves members of the church in Thessalonica. The phrase "not all have faith" refers to those who give lip service to Christ but do not serve Him with their lives. The word "perverse" describes someone who is unreasonable. The Thessalonian church would have heard this to be an unusual man or woman who was not allowing the Word of God to have rapid advancement in the person’s life nor retain its exalted position in the person’s heart.
The prayer for protection is against this unusual and evil person as described by Paul. The word "evil" is the most devastating word that can be used for darkness in the New Testament. It is associated with other professing believers in James 4, the Christian Jewish businessmen who get up, make their plans, go about their business to buy, sell, and get gain, and do it without a consideration of God and His will for their lives. James calls this way of living practical atheism, and it is wicked.
People who gather crowds with their own ingenuity and creativity in the name of the Lord and yet are not skillful in their use of the Word of God are to be noted, confronted, and called to repentance. If they do not repent, they are to be removed, all in answer to this prayer so our present may be fully enjoyed.
The Lord Is Faithful in Our Future
If the Word of God continues to run freely and retain its exalted position, then we can be sure of a future to be enjoyed. Critical to the future is understanding the success of the past and the enjoyment of our present. The Lord was faithful to lead the Thessalonian church from their early beginnings (Acts 17) to their present in ways honoring to God. The key to the future is increasing more and more in love and holiness (1 Thess. 4:1-2). God will strengthen and protect us from the evil one (2 Thess. 3:3). This is done through the Word of God, a spiritual armor for the one who knows it (Eph. 6; 1 Thess. 5).
God will guide and direct us (v. 5). The word "direct" means to so influence others as to cause them to follow a recommended course of action, literally to guide and to be a leader as one guides. May the Lord cause us, His people, in our future to pick up the mantle and lead in understanding into the love of God and into the perseverance or steadfastness of Christ. May we lead each other, lead other churches of like faith and practice, and be the example.
Both love and steadfastness are mentioned in 1 Thess. 1:3. Paul is thankful for the work of God in their hearts evidenced by their work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope. The word for "labor" is the most intense word for work in the New Testament. It literally means to work so hard that the knuckles bleed. This is heavy work, grueling, involving long hours and long days. The grammar denotes that this labor is produced by love.
Love, the understanding of who God is, the understanding of what His Word says, and the willingness of God’s people to allow the Spirit of God to instruct them to live that Word will always produce among God’s people heavy-lifting gospel work. It did for our Savior all the way to the cross. The love of God compels the church together in the Lord Jesus Christ to do this heavy lifting.
The grammar for "hope" in 1 Thess. 1:3 means that which produces steadfastness. It is the living hope that we have in the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ that compels us to remain faithful as God is faithful to His promise through His Son to gather His people back to Himself. In the meantime, we abide under the pressures of life, knowing God is faithful.
Jesus is worth the hard work of the spreading of our gospel footprint because He is the demonstration of the faithfulness of God to us and our way forward as we wait for His return.
We find in Hebrews 12:2 that it was worth it for Jesus to do the hard work, to persevere unto salvation purposes, enduring the cross and despising its shame, and finally claiming His rightful seat at the right hand of God. The word "fixing" literally means to acquire definite information, with a specific focus of a process or perception, to learn about or to perceive clearly. It is used in Romans 1:20 where Paul says the invisible qualities of God have been clearly perceived -- seen, learned, being understood from what has been made.
The joy set before Christ caused Him to persevere unto the cross, and the joy set before us is to carry on the mission of the purpose of Christ’s death. This is the future of Grace: that we will carry on, that the Lord will direct our hearts into the love of God and will compel us unto hard work and into the perseverance of Christ, with obedience unto His purpose and unto His call. All of this because God is faithful who has called us and will bring it to pass as the Lord Jesus builds His church until His appearing in the clouds.
- Have you recently considered God’s faithfulness to you in your past and present, and does it confidently build expectation of His faithfulness in your future?
- Are you growing in your love for the Lord and for His Word, increasing more and more? Are you doing the hard work of sharing the gospel with those the Lord has placed in your world?
Tools for Further Study
Cross References to Explore
- The Nature of the Divine Word of God -- Psalm 119
- Jesus is Faithful -- The Faithful Witness, Rev. 1:5; The Faithful One, Rev. 2:13; The Faithful and True Witness, Rev. 3:14; He Who is Faithful and True, Rev. 19:11
A Hymn to Encourage: "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" by Thomas O. Chisholm
Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
there is no shadow of turning with thee.
Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be.
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!