Summary: The young church plant in Thessalonica serves as a good example for what the witness of a healthy church looks like.
The Witness of a Healthy Church
Introduction: This morning’s message is the last in a three-part series in which we’ve looked at the characteristics of a healthy church. We’ve been looking at the young church in Thessalonica, which the apostle Paul planted almost two thousand years ago. Two weeks ago we looked at some of the essential building blocks of a healthy church. Last week we looked at some of the examples set by a healthy church. Today, we’re going to look at the witness of a healthy church.
As we look at First Thessalonians 1, verses 8-10, we’re going to see that the witness of a healthy church, such as was the case with the church in Thessalonica, is distinguishable from unhealthy churches by three definitive characteristics. A healthy church is one that echoes the gospel message, employed in God’s service, and expecting the Lord’s return.
Again, our focus this morning is going to be on verses 8-10. “In v. 8 Paul sets forth the facts behind the good reports concerning the Thessalonians, [and] in vv. 9-10 [he] summarize the contents of those reports” (Hiebert, p. 65).
Remember last week how we talked about the importance of the conduct of the messenger being consistent with the content of the message? Well, we see the importance of that premise in verse eight. Without the message, the gospel message, being reflected in the life of the messenger, it could not hope to have the effect the Thessalonians’ message had on the world around them. Once the Thessalonian church received the gospel, there was no way they could contain it or even try to keep it to themselves.
Seeing how we are associated with the Missionary Church denomination, and one of our core values is the development of other new churches, I found theologian F.F Bruce’s description of the Thessalonian church to be very encouraging. He wrote, “From the beginning [the Thessalonians] functioned as a missionary church” (Bruce, p. 16).
I’m trying to make more than just a cute comparison, here. When I read things like I just shared with you, it just reinforces for me how practical and relevant God’s Word is today and for every generation.
As we study God’s Word we must do more than just read the pages and try to remember what it says. We must apply it to our lives. If we come to God’s Word with clear eyes, directed by the light of the Holy Spirit, we will see how incredibly relevant, timely, and practical it really is.
A healthy church is a missionary church. I’m not saying that a church has to be part of our denomination to be healthy. I’m saying that a healthy church is never content with keeping the message within the walls of the church. A healthy church is one that has a biblical and effective witness throughout its community and is always looking for ways to spread the good news around the world.
For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you . . . (1:8a)
Paul tells us in v. 8 that the witness of a healthy church is a witness that echoes the gospel message. Look at the first part of v. 8.
One of the reasons Paul was receiving good reports about the Thessalonians was that they were echoing the gospel message all over the place. There has been some debate over what the phrase “word of the Lord” actually means.
Some hold that the phrase is subjective in the sense that the Lord Jesus Christ is the author of the message. Others hold that the phrase is objective in the sense that Jesus Christ is what the message is all about. I believe we don’t have to come down on one side or the other of the discussion because both are true. Jesus Christ is the author of the message and He is what the message is all about.
This may be simple enough to understand, but it’s hugely important. You see, there are many messages going around the world, even going throughout our city that neither recognize Christ as the Author nor the as the subject of the message. Some of these messages even pawn themselves off as being Christian.
There are churches that are diluting the gospel message to the point that it can’t even be recognized as the gospel. It would serve little purpose this morning to name names or describe the ways the gospel is being minimized. What’s important for us to focus on this morning is that we must always, always, proclaim the gospel in such a way that there can be no doubt that we glorify Christ as the Author and subject of our message.
Paul writes that the word of the Lord “sounded forth” from the Thessalonians. What does he mean by that? The phrase “sounded forth” comes from the Greek word exekeo, which literally means, “to sound out of a trumpet or of thunder, to reverberate like an echo” (Robertson, v. IV, p. 12).