Summary: How to be a gospel church; how to live lives that are appropriate for people who are waiting for Christ to return to take us to be with him forever.
We’re going to be thinking today about how to be a gospel church; how to live lives that are appropriate for people who are waiting for Christ to return to take us to be with him forever. In the previous section of this letter we were reminded that even if we don’t know exactly when Jesus will return, he is coming and that coming will be without warning, suddenly like a storm that blows up in summer and takes us by surprise; or like labor pains for a pregnant woman. So how are we to live so we’re ready for Christ’s return?
Well, it seems to me that there are 2 extremes of behaviour for Christians who are living in the last days, in the days between Jesus’ ascension and his return. The first is to make the mistake that some of these people were making. That’s to think that the last day is coming any minute and to just sit around idly waiting, or perhaps having one last fling, doing all those things we’d always put off doing. It’s the sort of thing someone who’s diagnosed with a terminal illness might do. The news suddenly changes their priorities. So they decide to spend more time with their family, or to go on that overseas trip they’ve always planned but never done. There was a guy in the news a couple of years ago who was suing his doctors because he’d been told he only had 6 months to live; so he’d gone off and spent every cent he had enjoying life while he could and then he’d discovered they’d made a mistake, there was nothing wrong with him. Or perhaps they set out to heal broken relationships. All because they know their time is short. Well that’s how some of those living in Thessalonica were behaving. So one of Paul’s instructions is to admonish the idlers, to tell them to get back to work.
But the other extreme is one that’s more likely to happen today. That’s to begin to think that it’s been so long that it’s never going to happen. I mean, after 2000 years of waiting it’s easy to simply forget that Jesus’ return is getting closer every day. Then the temptation is to begin to blend in with life around us; to take on the behaviour patterns of the culture in which we’re immersed; to forget that we’re a people set apart for God, sanctified by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
You might like to think about your own life. Is the way you live different from those around you who don’t love God? Think of your non-Christian friends and neighbours? How does your life differ from theirs? Are you living, as we saw earlier in this letter, with the imminent return of Jesus as the motivating factor in your life? Or is that an irrelevance to you? Are you motivated by the love of God and by the expectation of Jesus’ return to take us to be with him in eternity?
Well, let’s look at the sort of behaviour that Paul encourages us to adopt if that is our perspective.
First he talks about the way we relate to our leaders. He says "respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13esteem them very highly in love because of their work." Now notice that there are three elements to the role of leader or pastor that make this important.
First, leaders are those who labor among you. It’s not easy to be a leader in the church. It actually takes hard work. Whether or not you’re an ordained leader, you’re the one who’s responsible for promoting the health and growth of the congregation. You’re the one where the buck stops. You’re the one who hears all the complaints and criticisms. If you’re the vicar you get into trouble no matter what happens. If you’re a lay leader you get into trouble for letting the vicar cause whatever it was that happened.
In fact I’m not sure how many people realise just how stressful it can be to be the minister in a parish, even a small one like ours. Peter Drucker, well known as a management guru, when asked to comment on the most stressful jobs in America, listed being the President of the United States as number one. That’s fair enough. And being a police officer I think was number 2. But do you know what the number three was? It was being the pastor of a church. So Paul is right in encouraging us to respect those who work hard among us.
Secondly your leaders are those who are over you in the Lord. This doesn’t mean some sort of authoritarian leadership. Christian leaders are first and foremost servant leaders. Our model is Jesus Christ who lowered himself and became a servant for our sake. But nevertheless, God does place leaders in the church to guide, to teach, to show the way. As we saw back in chs2&3 the leader is like a parent, set in place to act as guardian over his or her family, to model discipleship to the church.