Summary: In Paul’s closing words to the Thessalonians, Paul offers 18 principles for healthy church life regarding leaders, ministry, worship and the Holy Spirit.
For the past several weeks we have focused on a letter that missionary Paul wrote to a young church he started in the city of Thessalonica. He wrote this letter in 50 A.D. and, of all the books in the New Testament, this one was written first.
When he gets to the last part of his letter, Paul provides this church with some practical advice for conducting church life. And his words for them still have relevance for churches today.
I want to begin, though with a few words of recognition and appreciation for the two churches that Sue and I grew up in. Both of them hold a special place in our hearts. The first was a large, rural church where our parents were long-time active members and where we grew in our faith and developed our understanding that every Christian is a missionary. And it was there that we were privileged to see a growing conviction in our own parents to reach out in mission, so that eventually they, along with three other couples, all of them farmers, were serving together on an outreach committee, and felt the call of God to extend the witness of that church into a town 20 miles away.
In the summer of 1956, they found an abandoned church building and organized a Vacation Bible School in a low-income part of town. Sue and I both helped with VBS for two summers. And we helped with the Sunday school that developed right after that project.
To make a long story short, that was the beginning of a new congregation, and 50 years ago today, on Sunday, November 9, that church dedicated its new building and my dad was installed as pastor, where he served for 20 years, and Sue’s dad served as treasurer. Ours was the first wedding there. And we were the first missionaries sent out from there. This morning, they are holding a special anniversary celebration. And I’m hoping that my parents, now 90, are well enough to attend.
That new congregation grew rapidly in those first 20 years to a 100 or more as it reached out to the un-churched and also began attracting people from other congregations who wanted to be a part of a growing church. I wish I could say that it continued to increase all 50 years, but, unfortunately, while it was growing it attracted some people from other churches who came in with a different understanding of how the church should function. And soon the leaders found that some people were at odds with others in the church and some of them left.
Let me say here that it is important for congregations to do all they can to make clear to potential members what their mission is and how they go about fulfilling it. That is why at Elm Street we don’t just say, “You want to become a member? Great. Come on in.” Instead, we provide opportunities to explore the Bible and our beliefs together so we can all be on the same page. Sue and I have prayed about and hope we can begin faith discovery sessions soon for any of you who feel that God is calling you to become committed to Christ and his body. If God has been speaking to you about that, please let one of us know.
The church in Thessalonica was going through tough times. Some of them had experienced persecution for their faith. And remember that they were a new congregation made up of people from all kinds of backgrounds, so the challenge was how to worship and share in spiritual ministry together as one body. Paul addresses specific concerns in the first part of his letter, but now at the end, he provides 18 principles for healthy church life. We have read the verses that contain these principles in chapter 5. And you can find an even shorter version of that summary on the back of your bulletin. I think it is helpful to think of them in four different groupings.
Principles for church life
Attitudes toward leaders
1. Respect those who labor among you
2. Respect those who stand before you in the Lord
3. Esteem [your leaders] because of their work.
Ministry of the body
4. Be at peace among yourselves.
5. Admonish the idle (those out of step)
6. Encourage the faint-hearted
7. Help the weak
8. Be patient with everyone
9. Do not repay evil for evil
10. Always seek to do good to one another
11. Rejoice always
12. Pray without ceasing
13. Give thanks in all circumstances
14. Do not Quench the spirit
15. Do not despise the words of prophets
16. Test everything
17. Hold fast to what is good
18. Abstain from every form of evil