Summary: Paul instructs the Church concerning their relationships with their leaders, with one another (calling them to be very patient) and with God.
So we come this week to the end of St. Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica; and I’m sure it’s worth reminding ourselves that Paul wrote this letter to the people of the church. He did not write his letter to the leaders of the church. He wrote it to the Church.
The letter began like this (1 Thess 1:1): “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.”
The letter ends with these words (1 Thess 5:27-28): “I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”
Grace and peace to you. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Paul wanted the church to be immersed in grace - the unmerited favour of God.
Perhaps we could stop for a moment and ask ourselves if we are aware of God’s grace at work in our lives, and God’s grace at work in and through his church: God’s unmerited favour. Of course, you could easily be thinking, “What’s that all about? The grace of God - God’s unmerited favour!”
I believe that God created the universe. I believe that God created us to be in a relationship with him; and I believe that God gave to men and women a good and perfect set of guidelines by which to live – guidelines by which to live in healthy relationships with each other, and in a healthy relationship with God. I also believe that many people on this planet have rejected God’s plans for human relationships, and I believe that many people on this planet have rejected even the idea of being in a relationship with God. For the most part, humankind have rejected God, and I know that there are times when I reject God.
What does God make of all this? He sent Jesus to show God’s love to us, and when we think about the things that Jesus said and the things that Jesus did, we get to know what God is like. We get to know about God’s grace towards us; we get to know about the unmerited favour of God.
God wants us to experience his grace, and as we put our trust in him, as we put our trust in Jesus, we will experience God’s unmerited favour – God’s undeserved favour.
So St. Paul finishes his first letter to the Church at Thessalonica and he prays that it will be a Church full of God’s grace. In particular, Paul has words of encouragement and words of instruction for the men and women of the church concerning their relationships with Church leaders, with one another and with God. It is therefore with a little trepidation that I approach the first of those three relationships!
Relationships with Church Leaders:
Addressing the men and women of the Church, St. Paul asks them “to respect those who work hard among [them], who work hard among [them], who are over [them] in the Lord and who admonish [them]. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work; live in peace with each other” (v12-13).
Once again we have a section from the Bible which I might prefer to skip over, because to say anything about it could suggest that I am hoping to set myself up; and yet it also applies to me in my relationship with our local Bishops for example. I may not always agree with them, but I am called to respect them, to love them in the Lord Jesus, to pray for them, and to live in peace with them.
On one occasion a Church leader was on a passenger plane and he noticed that the lady sitting next to him was praying – mumbling under her breath.
When she seemed to stop and she opened her eyes he asked, “Do you mind if I ask what you were praying about?” She replied: “I was praying about the marriages of Church leaders. I was praying that they would fail.” It turned out that the lady in question was not praying to God – she was praying in completely the opposite direction; praying for the marriages of church ministers to fail!
Friends, will you join me in praying for the leaders of our Church; for John Gladwin the Bishop of Chelmsford; for Laurie Green the Bishop of Bradwell, and for Rowan (Rowan Williams that is, not Rowan Atkinson) – praying that they will do the will of God and that they will be witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ in all that they do; and please would you pray for me in a similar vein.
Relationships with one another:
Here again, Paul addresses every Church member!