Summary: Last in a series on encouraging the local church to remember Christ’s call to spread the gospel. This sermon asks what a church looks like that is willing to be Christ’s beacon in our dark world.
MARKS OF A CONTAGIOUS CHURCH
There is a story told about a hunter walking through the African jungle who found a huge dead elephant with pygmy standing beside it. Amazed, he asked, “Did you kill that elephant?” The pygmy said, “Yes.” The hunter asked, “How could a little bloke like you kill a huge beast like that?” “I killed it with my club,” the pygmy answered. The astonished hunter asked, “How big is your club?” The pygmy replied, “There’s about 60 of us.”
For many of us evangelism is like a huge elephant. As an individual, you look at your own abilities, gifts or aptitude for doing evangelism, and it feels like you are armed with a solitary little toothpick and someone is shoving you forward saying, “Go kill the elephant.” You can imagine going up to this beast, you start poking away, and you can see one of two things is going to happen: it will ignore you like a pesky fly or sit on you.
Take a lesson from the pygmy: Evangelism is not a solo event. God never intended that you or I should take on this task alone. The mission of sharing the love of Jesus Christ was given to the body, the church, to do together. On your own this is a monumental and fearful task. But together we find the courage and the giftedness and support to take down the elephant – the huge task of changing our world.
As we consider becoming contagious Christians and as we plan and vision to grow as a church, this is one unmistakable truth we should be aware of: We are more effective together than on our own. That is how God made us. One friendly person alone does not make a friendly church. One evangelistic person alone does not make an evangelistic church. One radical follower does not make a contagious church that spreads the life-changing infection of Jesus.
So it is not enough to be a contagious Christian, we must also be part of a contagious church. What does a contagious church look like? It looks a lot like the church Paul wrote to in Thessalonica.
1. A Contagious Church Knows Its Purpose
What marks a contagious church is its reason for being. A contagious church knows its purpose in the world and tirelessly works towards that objective.
We can easily be trapped in the Vulcan ideology of our times and think that our purpose is to “Live long and prosper.” Is that what we are here for? Are we here to make the most out of an unjust life until Jesus comes to rescue us? Of course not. Jesus established his body, the Church, on the earth for one obvious purpose: to continually proclaim his good news till he says “stop”.
Bill Hybels said this, “God wants us to become contagious (believers) who will first catch his love and then urgently and infectiously offer it to all who are willing to consider it. This is his primary plan, the one Jesus modeled powerfully: to spread God’s grace and truth person to person until there’s an epidemic of changed lives around the world.”
That appears to be what happened in Thessalonica. Paul commended the Church for their dedication to this purpose: “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Note that Paul does not say “works producing faith” but work produced by faith. That work, I am convinced, could only be one thing…evangelism. They were doing a work which clearly expressed how the Spirit of God had changed their lives. Paul had said to the Galatians, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” The greatest work of faith is to share God’s love with people who don’t know that God loves them.
This theme is continued in the next phrase, your labor prompted by love. The word “labor” suggests that they were enduring hardship for love’s sake. It is no easy thing to love some people. We talked earlier in this series about loving unpleasant people. Jesus modeled that in his invitation to Zacchaeus to build an unlikely relationship. That is our labor and sometimes our hardship. For the Thessalonians it meant loving people who persecuted them. For us it may mean less in pain, but the same in purpose.
The last phrase “your endurance inspired by hope” supplies the urgency to the purpose of their church and ours. This contagious church had two letters written to them by Paul. Both deal with the imminent return of Jesus Christ. For the Thessalonians there was no time to lose in sharing the gospel with their neighbors. They could endure any hardship for being Christian if it meant that they could help someone know Jesus. The time was short whether Jesus came or some plague ravished their community. Why do we think that we have all the time in the world? Do we know our purpose?