“Walk and Please God”
1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
Two weeks ago I went to a couple of educational events while I was on study leave. The first was an event in Glace Bay where a church planter from Europe was brought in to share with us his experiences of “being church”. The second event was a lecture series hosted by Acadia Divinity College, which had the theme of “Christian Witness in an Age of Change”. Both were very interesting and hit on things I have been thinking about the church for a number of years now.
Both are also appropriate for us to consider as part of the season of Lent. A time when we intentionally focus on Jesus, his life, his death, and also his resurrection. A time when we are invited to reflect on what we believe and how it affects our faith and our life.
And if these things have an affect on our faith and our life, then it must have an affect on our churches. For we are those who are the church as living, breathing family.
In our reading from 1 Thessalonians today, Paul encourages these Christians who make up the church in Thessalonica to continue to resist the temptation to do as the world does around it. He urges them to continue to live pure and holy lives.
Which would then mean that the Thessalonians would stand out from the crowd, they would be abstaining from the immorality in the community around them, and be seen as “different” than the norm which the community has embraced.
Over my study leave I saw some interesting statistics on church membership decline in mainline protestant denominations. I heard how the evangelical churches are growing over the same time period. All interesting stuff, and as one of the few mainline protestants at both events hosted by evangelicals, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself.
The mainline churches, for the most part, have lost their ability to stand out from the rest of society. We’ve watered down our messages, we’ve lost our connection to the world around us, we’ve stopped trying to reach out to the people in our streets.
In the sessions in Glace Bay, our speaker (Ian Green) challenged us greatly about who we are as people who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. He said (I’m paraphrasing here), “You pray for people to come into your church. How is that working for you? Are there people standing at your doorsteps banging on the doors crying ‘Let us in!’? Get out! What are you doing to make them want to come?”
And he’s right. We pray for people to know Jesus Christ. We pray for the lost in our community, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But we are God’s hands and feet, so if we aren’t willing to be part of the answer to our own prayers, then what is ever going to change?
When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, do you think he was writing to some great cathedral. Some huge ornate building where people came to gather and worship?
No, Paul was writing to a home. He was writing to a group of people who met regularly to pray, to read scripture, to share stories and grow in faith together. To hold one another accountable to what they were doing in their lives outside of this small circle of friends. And they worked together to plan what they would be doing when they left the house. This was the early church. This is what led the church to grow. It grew because it built community. It built trust among the members. The church grew because the genuinely believed in and that they were sharing with the world outside its doors.
They were building relationships.
At one point over the weekend we were challenged with “What are you going to do?”
It’s kind of ironic actually. Because I was considering a number of options for the Sunday morning. I could start my journey to the Valley for the lectures at Acadia. I could go to church at Grace Fellowship and hear Ian Green speak one last time, or I was thinking about going to the rink with a pocket full of change to sit and buy some coffee for people.
I ended up at Grace. My trip to Acadia delayed for 24 hours. My opportunities to go to the rink could be any time.
But what could we do to show others that we are interested in knowing more about them? Could we go sit in the rink and enjoy some kids playing hockey? Could we get a shovel out and help clear some ice from a neighbour’s yard? Could we invite someone over for dinner? We are not trying to convert, we’re just trying to be friendly. No ulterior motive. Just reaching out a hand in friendship to show we care about our neighbours. If we happen to plant a seed of faith in someone, that’s wonderful! We can look forward to seeing how God makes that seed grow.
Paul says, starting in verse 9:
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12)
Paul praises the church for reaching out to their neighbours in love. He tells them they are doing a great job. But then he is asking them to do more. To seek out more ways in which they can connect with the people who are not part of the church. To work alongside them as an example for how one should live a Christian life. Show them how we walk as followers of Jesus Christ and are separated from the temptation of society.
I’ve encountered some churches which say they will have nothing to do with the community around them. They have strict rules about how their members will act, including activities they will not partake in. These churches have completely disconnected from society. Their recruitment strategy is simply to “preach” and expect people to come.
I’ve also seen churches that have completely rejected any attempt at connecting with the wider community. They want nothing to do with outreach. Why? Because someone in power sees new people as a threat to the status of the church. Something might have to change if new people came to the church!
These are examples of churches I’ve encountered, some are United Churches some are not. But they all have something in common. Membership has plummeted and no one is willing to serve or give. Some are even on the brink of closure.
Look again at what Paul is saying to the church about being careful of the world that surrounds you, don’t get caught up in the sin, guard yourself from the evil acts people are doing. But what does he say next? Walk beside them. Love them more!
In this season of Lent, we are encouraged to examine our walk with God. To grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus Christ. To reflect on what his presence in our lives means in how we live. Does it mean we have to give something up? Does it mean we need to take on more? Does it mean we need to rethink our approach to being faithful Christians?
Not just in worship, but in service and everything we do and say, from Sunday mornings, to meetings, to shopping for groceries. How does such a relationship with God define who we are?
What does it mean for you?
What does it mean for the church?
What does it mean for the kingdom of God here on earth?