We live in a world where things that are not churches, masquerade as churches. Many of us have loose understandings of what the church of Jesus Christ actually is. Many of us attended about 90 mins of religious gatherings. At this gathering, we were in the same space with different people, sat to listen to a talk, sang some songs, and left.
What would the apostle Paul say about our gathering? Would he say that it is the church? What would you say to him?
Paul has so much praise for this church, and it would do us well to pay attention to see what this church is like!
(A) 2 things sounding forth: the Gospel and Church reports (1 Thess 1:8)
Paul makes some geographical references to Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thess 1: 8). Reports of this church have moved out in the entire region.
We can learn something about early church practices here. Now this was in a day and age without social media. It took effort and intentionality for the message to spread.
Note also the content that is being spread – “your faith in God” (1 Thess 1:8b). These people were living in such a way as a church that those around them saw something different, and someone put it down in writing. Observations were put in writing and then also spread. This verse tells us that when the gospel is preached in a place, lives are changed and a report about it travels all the way to Paul in Corinth.
What can we learn about early church practices? It shows us that churches celebrated churches. When churches are healthy, other churches should be happy.
Paul also said that 2 things were “sounding forth from (them)” (1 Thess 1:8b). To the church, he writes “your faith in God has gone forth everywhere”. Their faith was being lived out in such an obvious manner! Our faith only goes forth if people are observing that there is something different about these people.
Also, who is the “you” being referred to here? Paul is also not talking about an individual faith. He is saying that the collective faith of the Thessalonian church has gone forth. This is exactly what we read about in the earlier verses in the previous study – love, faith and hope. They were living in such a fruitful way that this report could sound forth about their faith.
Elsewhere in Col 4:16, we are told that Paul’s letters were meant to be public and read out in the church. They were also to send the letter on to the church in Laodicea after that, and they were to receive the letter from Laodicea. Many of the churches that Paul planted were along the transport route. The apostles were teaching churches, and the apostolic teaching became the basis of our New Testament. The books in the NT were actually the letters being circulated. There were also reports of the churches that were being received. Acts 11:22 and Rev 3:1-2 were also reports.
Paul says that reports of the church are critical to watch, and we should think about what constitutes a healthy church. How do we apply this? Can you find a place in the NT where Paul’s concern in the church was addressed at an individual? All of Paul’s letters, with the exception of Timothy, Titus and Philemon, were always written to churches. If you want to practice the NT, join a church. We cannot obey verses like Eph 4:32 without the church. We cannot be kind, tender-hearted and forgive anyone if we don’t know each other and are just too polite. Our phones give us a false sense of community. We can just block people easily when we don’t like them. It’s hard to be kind, tender-hearted in such a way. How do we apply it if we don’t have any relationship.
How would you describe your church life? Would we say that there were people who gathered for 90 minutes, displayed good singing, listened to a sermon, and then we went back to Monday and that was it? Friends, church health is not about how your QT is. Church health is not about how on fire you are for Jesus. Church health is not about how much you’re giving. It’s about how much you love God’s people and how much of your life is like your Saviour.
Our churches need to sound forth the gospel of Jesus Christ and to show what it is like in communities. If you present the gospel without the container for the effects of the gospel, i.e. the church, you have ripped the Bible out of its context.
(B) 3 parts of a good report: past turning, presently serving and waiting for the future (1 Thess 1:9-10)
Paul makes mention of another report (1 Thess 1:9a). The reports of this church are inseparable from the people who brought them the gospel. What Paul is saying is that the fruit of the gospel comes from the people who preach it. There is a link between the church and the one who brings them the gospel.
We spend little time thinking about what it means to receive the gospel. Here, we want to focus on how these men and women responded to the gospel. The Church in Thessalonica was an amazing church because they responded to the gospel. They were attentive, receptive, reflective, and thus they received it well. They were able to understand the content, but also the implications on their lives as sinners. How they received the gospel was thus a crucial part of their report. How then have we responded to the gospel? When did we actually receive and respond to the content of the Bible?
Paul celebrates here a congregation that has heard and responded to the gospel. The congregation responded in 3 ways.
What they did in the past (1 Thess 1:9a): “Turned from idols to God”
What do you think is the victorious Christian life? Some of us may think that now that we’ve come to Jesus, we go to church, tithe and live in the victorious Christian life. We are confident now that we’re a Christian. But this is not what Paul says when he’s describing the church.
The essence of a Christian life is turning from idols. Saying no from the gods they used to worship. What was Timothy seeing that made him give this report? In our parent’s time, they literally had to get rid of the idols in their homes. In the 60s and 70s, one of the things they did was burnt the idols. If Timothy were in Singapore at that time, he would have observed this turning from idols.What does this mean for ourselves today? Is there any evidence in our lives that we have turned from our idols? It is harder to turn away when the idols we worship are within us. When we make our decisions on LinkedIn, on Groupon (now Fave) and on Instagram, what idols are we worshipping? What are we looking for, and what gives us joy and satisfaction?
Isa 30:1-3 shows us that we are stubborn children. In Isa 31:1-3 there is a warning to those who seek Egypt. We are reminded that Egypt will not save. Israel in that time was looking for a real solution. In this passage God says that he is offended by those seeking a solution without consulting Him. In the present day, we can substitute Egypt with any one of our idols. We still worship at the idol of approval. Someone who tells us that we are smart or pretty. Why else do we devote ourselves to our regimes? Why else do we spend money to feel secure? We all have idols — we look constantly to our bosses to tell us that I have done a good job. That I am worthy of my salary. I worry about what my boss thinks. Woe to those who go to ______ for help. How would you fill that blank?
2. What they were presently doing (1 Thess 1:9b-10): “Serving the living and true God”
When the Thessalonian church heard the gospel, they took their idols are put the idols behind them. How do we know? Because of how they presently lived, serving the living and true God. What did they do in their lives that showed this? What do we do that shows this? Just to ask where you have been today and the last 10 people you have texted. The last $100 that you spent. Would there be any indication that your idolatry is behind you and you are serving the one and true God? Many of us conceptually serve a God but He may not have any bearings on my friendship, and how I use my time and energy. Do our choices reflect that we are serving a living and true God, and show that we fear Him more than we fear our idols? If we take this seriously, there needs to be a reorientation of lives. If the truth is that there is no indication, we need to look at our lives.
3. Future events controlling present actions (1 Thess 1:10b): “Delivered from the wrath to come”
They served Jesus as though they were waiting. How are we waiting on Jesus? Are we waiting with an eye on his coming? He has a point of view on our life and a view on how we lived our life. Do we believe that there is coming wrath? That God is going to do something to the world that does not abide in him? Jonathan Edwards, while writing his resolutions, wrote this, “Resolved, every day, once a day, to think about hell.” When was the last time we thought about hell, not to scare myself into evangelising, but realising that apart from Jesus, hell is my destination. That is why the Thessalonians served the living God, knowing that the idols of their past were worthy of being put behind them.
These verses teach us that what marks their goodness is not their theology, but how they have turned from idols, served God and await his second coming.
As we read these, we are led to think about the kinds of churches we are in What kind of church members are we? Do our lives reflect a turning from idolatry, a service of God, while awaiting his coming? How would that guide our decisions? How we spend our time and money? Jesus came to the world to save it. We should sound forth the good news that brings change! Let us think about what God’s word is calling us to do today, and let us consider how can we respond to him in faith.