December 4, 2022
2 Thessalonians 1
I love the varieties of music we use in worship. We do a beautiful blend of balance. Classic praise songs…contemporary…centuries old hymns…we close the door to nothing. God provides depth and breadth of music for His praise. The same goes for instruments. We utilize however God has equipped us. We've got wonderful people with hearts for Jesus and God-given musical ability. I especially love, during the Advent season, to have the piano and organ included in our worship. It all goes to the glory and honor of God.
I recently read an article about how, in the last generation or so, a lot of people thought you needed to draw in the unchurched through a more contemporary music and message style. It was part and parcel of the seeker sensitive model. But there was one glaring flaw. While the musical style might have attracted some, it didn't retain them or grow them spiritually. If anything, all it did was entertain. And it neglected the need to
disciple the whole Body of Christ.
What I love about Covenant Church is we take seriously our worship music. We're not trying to please everyone's musical tastes or make it easy or difficult to sing praises to God. We want to glorify God in song, deepen our understanding of our Christian faith with song, and unite us as we worship. I love the way we worship.
But that's not the most important thing about a church. Worship music and style and quality are not the main things to be satisfied with about a church.
Neither are church size or structure or space signs of a great church. I read stuff all the time about models for successful churches. Or what are touted as signs of a great church.
One such church boasted of its 18,000 worshipers and almost one-million square feet of buildings on forty-two acres. Shazam! That's an impressive amount of building. Another church proudly proclaimed their rejection of
traditional worship, where you can be anonymous, promising, "You don't
have to say anything, sing anything, sign anything, or give anything."
And so it goes.
Some churches are proud of their buildings. Some are proud of their history or heritage. Some churches are proud of fluffy features like stained-glass windows or bell towers. Some are proud of their wealthy members or well-known members or endowment funds. Some are proud of their famous pastors. And so it goes.
But what kind of church is pleasing to God? If God were to boast of a church, what kind of church would that be?
We can find clues in 2 Thessalonians 1:1-5:
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering.
In his greeting, I want to highlight four things Paul says he's thankful for about the church at Thessalonica. None of them have to do with any of the things we might use to measure an exemplary church. It's all quite simple. Which suits me just fine. While it is never a bad thing to be a prominent church or a successful church, there are other, simpler reasons to be thankful for our church. I have always desired the simpler things. To quote the old Shaker hymn, "Tis the gift to be simple."
Here are four things to be thankful for.
1. Authentic Faith.
The Thessalonica church was in God and in Christ. They weren't simply a
church of God or a church of Christ. They weren't simply saying the right
things. They were in God and Christ. That's rooted. That's planted firmly. And then Paul says, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." This was a church of genuinely converted believers. They weren't simply going through the motions. They were real.
Here's where that point is most profoundly made. In Paul's first letter, he wrote, "God, the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." But here, it 's "God our Father." I think he changed to the personal possessive pronoun "our" because of their already firm and genuine faith.
Here's where they're at. It's captured in Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
How telling is that? We are in Christ. It is a real, living faith. And it expresses the reality of the incarnation. In God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. That's Christmas. The Father and Son on equal footing. The Son is placed alongside the Father. Bethlehem is about the Word made
flesh. A church to be thankful for is a church rooted in the deity of Jesus Christ. That exemplifies a strong and grounded faith.
2. Increasing Faith.
In verse three, Paul says we ought always to give thanks to God for you. The word used for ought is one that carries with it the sense of being bound or driven to do something. We can't help but give thanks to God for you. Notice he's not thanking them for their faith. Because faith is from God and God alone. God has done His work in them. God has made them what they are. Clearly they are the elect of God. In our Christmas worship, we joyfully thank God for what He did for us in Jesus Christ because He has called us to do it.
So Paul says they have fuller, stronger, huger faith because of God. He says their faith is greatly enlarged. In fact, in verse three Paul uses one of those compound words he likes to use. "Hyperauxanei" is the word. It's easy to break down. "Auxano" means to cause to grow. And we all know hyper. So God is growing faith in them beyond what could be expected. Especially considering the persecution they're under.
What ought to be our biggest goal during Advent? What should be at the top of our Christmas list? To grow in our faith, like the Thessalonians.
Here's something really important to remember. As we've already seen the Thessalonian church was greatly persecuted. But their faith has grown in the midst of persecution. And why is that? The reason is something you might want to write down:
PERSECUTION DESTROYS FALSE FAITH.
Trouble destroys false faith. Trials destroy false faith. Disease destroys false faith. Pandemic lockdowns destroy false faith. Hardship destroys false faith. None of those things can ever destroy true faith. As Paul said, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Thessalonians had real faith. They had genuine faith. And:
3. Growing Love For Each Other.
How beautiful of a thing is that here at Covenant Church? I get a wee bit mushy when I think about the genuine love that is shared here. It is kind love. It is sacrificial love. It is encouraging love. The joy Paul wrote about is
the joy we feel here. Here's how Jesus put it in John 13:34-35:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
A true church embraces and gathers in love. Amen?
Finally, a church to be thankful for:
4. Has A Strong Hope.
They have a steadfast endurance. Or, if you prefer, an enduring steadfastness. Even when you don't get the healing you pray for, you persevere. You move forward in faith. Even when things aren't going well, you endure. One of our favorite lines from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is when Sally says, "All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share." We love it, because it ironically expresses the exact opposite of what Christmas is all about! Even when you don't think you're being treated fairly or kindly, you persevere because God's grace and mercy are really all that matter in your life.
Here's one last thing you might want to write down:
GOD ALWAYS ANSWERS PRAYER WITH PERSEVERING HOPE.
Paul is thankful for their perseverance and faith in the midst of all kinds of difficulties and hardships. I think we all want the same to be said about us.
One last observation about the maturity and depth of the Thessalonians faith.
Their faith increased under trials. Their love for each other kept growing under trials. Their hope endured under trials. Their trust in God's coming Kingdom never wavered under trials. And they knew that no matter what happened to them in the physical realm, God was using it all to prepare them for future glory.
I love how Leon Lamb Morris, an Australian New Testament scholar, summed things up about our Thessalonian friends:
"The very troubles and afflictions which the world heaps on the believer become under God the means of making him what he ought to be. Suffering, when we have come to regard it in this light, is not to be thought of as evidence that God has forsaken us, but as evidence that God
is with us."
I think we can claim those words for ourselves, as well.
FATHER, THANK YOU FOR THIS CLEAR LETTER FROM PAUL. EVEN THOUGH IT WAS WRITTEN NEARLY 2,000 YEARS AGO, IT SPEAKS RICH AND VIBRANT TRUTH TO US THIS MORNING. OUR HEARTS ARE TOUCHED AND OUR SPIRITS ARE REFRESHED AT ITS READING. THANK YOU FOR GROWING US DEEPER IN OUR WALK WITH YOUR SON AS WE PREPARE TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTH. WE GIVE ALL THE GLORY AND PRAISE AND HONOR TO JESUS. AMEN.