Not infrequently I come across people who, when they know I’m a Minister, say, rather defensively, “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” I always give a gentle answer, but I know that they really haven’t much idea what the Faith is all about.
Christianity is essentially corporate. It’s about being baptised into a body of people redeemed by Christ and sharing oneself with them. In 1 Thess 2:17-3:13 St Paul shows a marvellous example of what relationships in this body: the Body of Christ, namely the church, ought to be like.
In 2:17 he tells the Christians in Thessalonica that when he left them he felt like an orphan (the literal translation of the original Greek). He continued “out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you.” The love of Christ which binds Christians together should (and frequently does) create an “intense longing” to meet together.
Contrast that with going to church merely out of duty or going but keeping a safe distance from other people.
Paul says in 2:19-20 that the Thessalonians are his hope, joy, crown and glory. He will glory in them in the presence of Jesus when he returns. They are precious to him. And now, as he had warned them, they were being persecuted as he himself was.
He taught them that they were destined for trials. And Christian worth his or her salt will be persecuted at times. More Christians have been and are being persecuted this century than in all the previous centuries put together. Christians who are never got at or persecuted need to ask themselves whether their lives are obviously Christian enough for potential persecutors to notice.
Such was Paul’s commitment to the Thessalonians and his concern for their welfare that he eventually sent his right hand man Timothy the 400 mile round trip North from Athens to strengthen and encourage them in their faith (3:1). Timothy reported back about their faith and love.
Paul’s relief is tremendous. “Now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.” he says. And he continues in v 9: “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?”
Contrast that with the judgmental, fault-finding attitudes of some church people. Paul really affirms the Thessalonians in this passage. They are precious to him. They are his hope, joy, crown and glory. He tells them he can’t thank God enough for them.
How we need to affirm one another, especially within the church. Our American cousins are good at it – embarrassingly so to us restrained Brits. Perhaps they overdo it at times. But on this side of the pond many of us are about as good at affirming one another as we are at speaking Norwegian. We might appreciate one another, but no-one would tell! When was the last time you simply affirmed your Minister or fellow Christians?
Instead of fault-finding Paul says in 3:10 that he prays most earnestly that he may see them again and supply what is lacking in their faith. If only we prayed for and encouraged people more, rather than grumbling about their faults.
Finally, he prays for them: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.” Let’s turn that into a prayer for ourselves:
A Prayer: Lord make our love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as yours does for us, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction