"Please, Sir, May I Have More?" or No, I Do Not Appreciate the Untoward Application of Your "Heart"-Shaped Cookie Cutter to My Camembert
"How have you grown in your church?" he asked, over the desecrated cheese.
Christian jargon brain freeze. "Grow"? What about me should have increased in quantity/quality?
1 Thessalonians 1-3 so far has indicated that the authentic message, brought by authentic messengers produces an authentic church. But past performance is no indication of future merit. There have been many whose testimonies of God's grace have brought forth enough tears to wash a fleet of Hummers, who have later rejected his kingship. There has been many a church which has started out loving the God of the Bible and ended up loving only their past reputation as bible-loving church, there have been many a person touted as godly but really only any good at gaining literary insights with a Christian twist in bible studies.
The growth question was therefore valid. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-1 suggests that in the real Christian and the authentic church, gospel qualities will develop "more and more". The authentic gospel/real message, when it came "in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction" (1 Thessalonians 1:5), induced authentic believers to turn "to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come" (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10) = "work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 1:3). The real Christian and the authentic church do not move away from faith, love and hope to something else, but grow in these things, in all circumstances and in much persecution keep believing "more and more", keep loving "more and more" and keep hoping "more and more".
The work of faith on view here is hardly anything as glamorous or dramatic as calling upon God to miraculously heal the sick or cast out demons: it is about believing so much in the reality of God, of his wrath because of sin, and of the salvation that Jesus will bring that one goes on preaching this good news despite all sorts of struggles (1 Thessalonians 1); it is about knowing and trusting so much in God's character and instructions and goodness that one desires to please God (1 Thessalonians 4:1), do his will (1 Thessalonians 4:3) and heed his call (1 Thessalonians 4:7). A believer with real faith will not disregard God who gives his Spirit to us so that by knowing he who is holy, we know how to be holy and control our bodies in holiness and honour (1 Thessalonians 4:4); so that knowing that God punishes all sin, are duly warned not to transgress and wrong our brothers (1 Thessalonians 4:6)(loving God and loving neighbour being the Jesus-endorsed pithy summary of the commandments which themselves revealed the character of God); so that we have the ability to live pure lives pleasing to God (1 Thessalonians 4:7). The Thessalonians had great models of this in Paul, Silas and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 2).
Similarly, the labour of love has nothing to do with extravagant displays of affection but the mostly anonymous mundanity of being deeply concerned for the well-being of the other heterogenous members of the same body: praying for each other, strengthening each other, edifying each other, building each other up, admonishing the idle, encouraging the faint-hearted, helping the weak, being patient (1 Thessalonians 5:11,14). This love has been demonstrated ultimately by God in sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sins (cf 1 Thessalonians 1:4) and is something that has been generated naturally within us when we turned to God from idols (1 Thessalonians 4:9, fulfilment perhaps of Isaiah 54:13). The Thessalonians, being genuine believers, were already displaying brotherly love but they were to do so even more and in their context that meant not slacking about and being busybodies while depending on the handouts of others but demonstrating love in leading quiet lives and working to feed themselves so that they would not be a burden to others (1 Thessalonians 4:11), just as Paul, Silas (and perhaps Timothy) too worked day and night so that they would not be a burden to any of them while they proclaimed the gospel of God to them (1 Thessalonians 2:9) though they could have made demands as apostles of Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:6).
And all this is done with eyes fixed firmly on the future, on the coming of the Lord. But more of that distinctive Christian hope in the next chunk of 1 Thessalonians.
It is good to ask ourselves and each other if we are growing more and more:
(i) in works that demonstrate that we really believe in the existence, character and words of God,
(ii) in love for our brothers and sisters,
(iii) in hope of the Last Day,
and if we are hungering to do so.
If we find ourselves rather deficient or feeling rather uninterested in these areas, it is probably worth taking urgent action to clear the rocks, thorns and weeds from our soil, and ensure that we are being fed and watered regularly by the authentic message through authentic messengers. Before it is too late.
"Have you eaten?"
"What shall we eat?"
Labels: 1 Thessalonians