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Quitting Church

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Quitting Church

1 Thessalonians 2.17-3.13

November 16, 2008

This past week I read a book called, Quitting Church.  The author, a religious page newpaper reporter, and an Episcopalian, writes that churches are out of touch.  Much of her analysis concerns conservative, evangelical churches, both independent and denominational.  Frankly, I found it hard to read.  Many of her criticisms were accurate, revealing and tough to take. 

However, as I continued reading the book, I thought a better title for the book should have been ‘Dumping on the Church.’ 

Nevertheless she is a Christian, and while she did quit going to church, I’m glad to say she’s back involved in a church. 

The apostle Paul is concerned with the life of churches as well.  No more so than the fledging church plant in Thessalonica.  Its founding came at considerable cost – the book of Acts describes Paul’s ministry which resulted in controversy, arrest and physical intimidation not only to Paul, but to his team of missionaries and his hosts in the Greek city of Thessalonica, a city of 100,000 and is now called, Thessaloniki.

Trouble came quickly, only allowing Paul a few weeks there.  From Thessalonica, he went to Berea, another town where he was run of; then to Athens, and then from Athens to Corinth.  While in Athens, he was still very concerned about the vitality and health of this church. 

Last week, we saw that Paul felt it necessary to remind the Thessalonians of his boldness in bringing them the gospel – his motives and his love for them  For all of these were being brought into question.

He believed this was necessary since opposition to the gospel is often done through subterfuge – undermine and discredit the messenger and you will undermind the message as well. 

In chapter 2.17-end of chapter 3, Paul picks up where he left off, because he is concerned that that the Thessalonians will quit church, not however, for the reasons given in the book, Quitting Church, but for two main reasons - for the presence of deception – both human and demonic; and pressure from outside the churchfrom a culture hostile to Jesus Christ.

What can we learn about church health from these verses?

Point One:  Paul’s Concern for the Church  2.17-3.2

We need to understand Paul’s perspective.  In each chapter of the letter, Paul mentions the 2nd coming of Christ.  As we will see in chapter 4 & 5, there was considerable misunderstanding concerninig this.  Yet even here, in

1 Thessalonians 2:19 (ESV)
(19) For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?

1 Thessalonians 3:13 (ESV)
(13) so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Paul is interested not only in the immediate life of the church; but the life of the church until the coming of Christ.  So far, that has been 2000 years, so our perspective needs to be the same.  American culture is all about immediate gratification.  We want what we want, and we want it now.  This mentality sets up for the health and wealth gospel which teaches that so long as we are faithful, God will reward us materially and also enable us to escape trials of any kind. 

Of course, if you live long enough, you will face health problems, and other problems as well.  But when you look at today only, you forget about that kind of thing.

It is this teaching, (the promise of health/wealth and overcoming all adversity) however, which leads people to quit church – since it is false, and as you can tell from 1 Thess the opposite of what Paul actually did teach.

Paul insists in 2.17-20 that even while he was in Athens he wanted nothing more than to return to Thessalonica, but he was prevented – he says that Satan hindered him in returning.

In fact, he sent Timothy from Athens to Thessalonica to encourage them and to bring back word to Paul as to how they were doing.

Verse 19 seems almost over the top. 

1 Thessalonians 2:19 (ESV)
(19) For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?

Crowns or wreaths were given to winning atheletes.  Paul looks forward to the day of Christ’s return when he, Paul, will ‘boast’ over these people whom he has had the privilege of bringing to faith in Christ. 

So their continuing in faith also affects Paul’s faith (1 thess 3.8)

So Timothy is sent to to establish and exhort you in the faith.

Church was never designed to be a solo event.  Paul was accompanied by teams – a group of people working. 

Ex.  I remember a church which was so crowded that everyone had to park bumper to bumper.  So, no one could leave until everyone left.  (Baltimore’s old stadium was the same.)  You came to church, then you left – in fact, you had to leave immidiately or no one left. 

I’m not saying that you aren’t a good Christian if you don’t stay for the coffee hour; only that that parking lot symbolized what many people do think about Christianity – it’s about me and my relationship with God – and if you think it only about me, you are in for a big disappointment – because it isn’t.

An apocraphal story is told of a famous minister who was listening to a lot of complaints about this and that.  Then he answered the complainer.  Actually, it is not about you stupid.  It’s about God, and Christ and it’s about loving other people.

Point Two:  What Was Paul Concerned About 3-5

1 Thessalonians 3:3-5 (ESV)
(3) that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. (4) For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. (5) For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

The problem was the effect of afflictions on the church in Thessalonica.  This word means trials or distress brought on by external circumstances.

It is an interesting that that trials or afflictions can either be the source of new strength, or the reason why people either quit church or lose faith in the Lord.

Early Christians were taught that suffering for the faith is part of the Christian life.

A few years ago, a Kenyan bishop told us that Americans suffered from not suffering enough.  Our metal (so to speak) hadn’t been tested.  We were not in proper shape.

Philippians 1:29 (ESV)
(29) For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,

1 Thessalonians 1:6 (ESV)
(6) And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,

Matthew 5:8-12 (ESV)
(8) "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (9) "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (10) "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (11) "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (12) Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

When Jesus said, Take up your cross and follow me.  He didn’t mean that we should go looking for trials; but as they come our way, we are to continue to follow him.

People speak about a future triubulation; however, the perspective of the New Testament, and also of the Old is that we are in a time of trials and tribulation – they mark the times we live in. 

The difference between the present tribulation and its future phase lies not in its nature but in its extent.  The beginning phase is marked by selective persectuion and false teaching, whereas the culminating stage will witness universal persecution and worldwide heresy.

So how do we respond to tribulations which come our way – health, job, family – and especially those which come to as because of our faith in Christ.  We will face trials; the question is, will we be faithful in confronting them.  Indeed, were it not for such trials, we would not grow in our trust and dependence upon the Lord.

Actually, trials can be and are often the mark of faithfulness. 

Also, notice that Paul says Satan hindered us.  Exactly how?  We aren’t told.  But one thing remains:  the devil and the world try to knock God’s people down when they stand high for him.

 Point Three:  Paul’s Encouragement 6-10

 

Good News!  This is the only instance of Paul’s using the phrase, Good News as referring to something other than the death and resurrection of Jesus.  And the Good News that Timothy reports is their faith and their love

The marks of the believer.  Faith and love and (hope.) 

How is so and so doing?  We’ll answer.  Pretty well – meaning, they are working, making good money or perhaps that their kids are doing well.

But what’s doing well for Paul?  Just this.  Faith in Jesus; love for others, especially Christians, and hope – confidence in the future with the Lord in heaven.

So next time someone asks you how you are doing – fine – faith, love and hope.

Look at 1 Thessalonians 3:8 (ESV)
(8) For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.

This is really living.  Knowing that the Thessalonians’ faith is unflagging, even in difficult circumstances.  Life, here, is life in Christ. 

This phrase expresses confidence because they are standing firm in the Lord and have not been moved from their commitment to Christ.

God’s continuing work in the lives of his readers is a lift in his life in Christ. 

All of this leads to his final prayer in verse 11-13

Final Prayer 11-13

1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 (ESV)
(11) Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, (12) and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, (13) so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

A look at some of Paual’s prayers is very interesting..  No laundry lists of things we need – (although we are bring every concern to him in prayer) – no praying that our needs be met – but…

Col 1:  11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

 

And here:

That the Lord make us increase and abound in ….love for one another and for all.

That he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness.

How long will are we to love and be blameless in holiness?

Before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.

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