Summary: the Church is a divinely instituted community with a task to carry out: to share the gospel with the world. If we’re to be a church that reaches people with the gospel we’ll need to be a church that not only receives the gospel but exemplifies it and then
Last week at our meeting to vote on the merger, Geoff spoke about the need for us to give more attention to the sharing of the gospel as a congregation and today I want to take up that issue as we begin a series on 1 Thessalonians. I’ve called the series the Gospel and the Church, because this short letter is all about the effect of the gospel on the church and vice versa. In fact as we’ll see in these first few verses of the letter, the church comes from the gospel, it exemplifies the gospel and it spreads the gospel.
But first, what is it that makes a church a Church? Is it the building you meet in? We’ve been thinking about having our first service as a new Parish in another place, probably not a consecrated church. Does that matter?
Is it the fact that you have an ordained person to lead you? Would you still be a church if I left and you only had lay people to lead you? It’s interesting that that was the situation in China a number of years ago when the foreign missionaries were all thrown out and the church there was left with just the local people to lead it. And I guess you know that when that happened the church continued to grow. In fact some people would suggest it grew much faster when that happened.
Is a church just a group of people who gather together because they believe the same things about God and Jesus? Or people who gather because they like the same sort of music, or ceremony or whatever?
Well none of those definitions are sufficient are they? I hope you can see that they all have holes in them. No, let’s look at the first verse here and see what it suggests: "To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Can you see the suggestion Paul gives us there?
A. A Community that lives in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
He suggests that a church is defined by its relationship with God the Father and with Jesus Christ. A church is a Community that lives in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Now that’s an odd phrase isn’t it? Not ’lives through God’ but ’lives in God’. He seems to be saying that the life we have, the spiritual life that is, has it’s existence in God himself. Our life derives from God and its strength and stability comes from God.
For a church like Thessalonica this was an important truth to remind them of. You may remember from when we studied Acts a couple of years ago, that Thessalonica was one of the places where the Jewish officials started a riot and had Paul thrown out of town. So life was tough if you were a Christian there. In 2 Corinthians Paul talks about their generosity despite their extreme poverty. So economic security was a big issue for this newly established, persecuted church. They needed to know that their life was centred in God where nothing could shake them or challenge them.
Now if you think about our situation there isn’t much comparison is there? We rarely experience persecution - of that sort at least. We’re fairly secure - perhaps even very secure. We live in a stable society with a predictable future. So does this expression have any relevance to us?
Let me suggest it does, because it actually challenges that very sense of security. It makes us ask where do we find our security? Does it come from democratic rule or economic success or educational and scientific achievement? Or do we, just like the Thessalonians, need to derive our security from our place in God, from the life that derives from the life of our Lord Jesus Christ?
B. Faith, Hope and Love
But let’s read on. Not only does the church derive its existence from God but it also exhibits the characteristics of God. Paul says he always gives thanks for them. Why? Because he remembers their response to the gospel. Look at v3. "Constantly 3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." I’m sure you’ve seen these three characteristics before. Here are the three preeminent Christian virtues: Faith, hope and love. But notice that they’re not just passive character traits. They’re not like redheads, blondes and brunettes or the different temperaments that people exhibit: phlegmatic, choleric, melancholic, etc. No these are active expressions of their Christian faith. These are characteristics that result in action, in behaviour that points outward; and we’ll see in a moment that this is critical to the Church’s task of spreading the gospel.