Summary: The church is very different from a club. In these verses Paul teaches us four distinctive ways in which the church ought to be different.
Club or Church?
The church is very different from a club. In these verses Paul teaches us four distinctive ways in which the church ought to be different.
Congregation in the Lord,
If someone was to ask you, “What is the difference between a church and a club?”, what would you say? It is a good question to think about because there are some aspects of a church that look very similar to a club. Both have regular meetings of its members – and at those meetings it is possible to invite and bring along non-members. Clubs revolve around social interaction and getting together on a regular basis, the church is the same. When you are involved in a club you have financial obligations and responsibilities, the same could be said about the church. In fact if we were to sit down and think about the similarities between a church and a club I’m sure we could come up with quite a long list.
That is a little disheartening when you think about it – especially if we look at our society through the eyes of an unchurched person who is seeking to find fellowship and companionship in a larger group setting. They are looking around and there are all these settings for fellowship available. Why choose the church? What is it about the fellowship of the church that makes it stand out above all the other offerings?
So it is important to ask, “How is a church different from a club?”. And this passage before us is dealing with that very issue. Indeed Paul, through his relationship to this church, gives us four distinct ways by which a church is different from a club.
The first way a church is different from a club is that when you are part of a church you cannot stay detached from one another. You see this coming out in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 and there is a very specific history behind what is happening here. That history is found in Acts 17. In the context Paul has arrived at the city of Thessalonica and preached on three Sabbath days. As a result of that preaching this is what happens:-
“Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women. But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd … As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. (Acts 17:4-5, 10).
The actions of the Jews in Thessalonica meant that Paul had to move on even though he was only in the city for less than three weeks. Paul was nowhere near being ready to move on from the church and he is incredibly worried about what is going to happen to the church. To get a sense of the feelings Paul had there is a very telling phrase used by Paul in verse 17 of our text were he says, “we were torn away”. This phrase is often used in the context of parents being deprived of children. It might come through a bereavement. It might come because the children have been taken as slaves in order to pay a debt. It might come because the parents cannot have children in the first place. Whatever the case may be it is a powerful and emotive word and Paul uses it to describe the sense of loss which he is felling at the moment because his spiritual children are beyond his reach. Paul is so in tune with these people that he just has an intense longing to be attached to them in some way again.
Those of us who are teenagers, or who have been teenagers, know the strength of this attachment. When we are teenagers we like to go out. Sometimes we are out quite late. But no matter how late you come home and how quiet you are when you get home your parents always hear you. In reality they didn’t sleep. They can’t truly relax until the children are under their caring eye.
That is how Paul is feeling about these people. He can’t bear the detachment. It is an attitude which Paul shows to those who are in the church. It is an attitude that we should show as well. A church is different to a club because you can be a member of a club and remain very detached, you cannot be in a church and be detached. You can see the effect of being detached by entering a club which has poker machines. Each person will find there favourite machine and stay there all day if necessary. I have even heard stories of people relieving themselves at the machine because they do not want to move. They are among many people but they remain detached no matter what.