St Barnabas, October 19th 2014
If someone were to ask you, “What is the difference between a church and a club?”, what would you say? It is a good question to think about since there are some aspects of a church that look very similar to a club. Both have regular meetings of its members – and at those meetings it is possible to invite and bring along non-members. Clubs revolve around social interaction and getting together on a regular basis, the church is the same. When you are involved in a club there are financial obligations and responsibilities, the same could be said about the church. In fact if we were to sit down and think about the similarities between a church and a club I’m sure we would come up with quite a long list.
That is a little disheartening when you think about it – especially if we look at our society through the eyes of an unchurched person who is seeking to find fellowship and companionship in a larger group setting. They are looking around and there are all these settings for fellowship available. Why choose the church? What is it about the fellowship of the church that makes it stand out above all the other things?
So it is important to ask, “How is a church different from a club?” And this passage is dealing with that very issue. Indeed Paul, through his relationship to this church in Thessalonica, gives us some ways by which we can see the difference apart from the obvious … Jesus!
When you are part of a church you cannot stay detached from one another. You see this in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 which we looked at last week. You remember that Paul had to move on even though he was only in the city for less than three weeks. Paul was nowhere near being ready to move on from the church and he is incredibly worried about what is going to happen to the new Christians there.
To get a sense of the feelings Paul had, there is a very telling phrase used by Paul in verse 17 of this chapter where he says, “we were torn away”. The translation for this phrase is “orphaned”. It is a very strong and emotive word which Paul uses to describe the sense of loss which he is feeling at the moment because his spiritual children are beyond his reach. Paul is so in tune with these people that he just has an intense longing to be attached to them in some way again. Didn’t he say in chapter 2 verses 7 and 8 – “but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well because you had become so dear to us”.
All of us have been teenagers and know the strength of this parent attachment. When we are teenagers we like to go out. Sometimes we are out quite late. But no matter how late you come home and how quiet you are when you get home most parents never settle until you are safely home. In reality they don’t sleep well. They can’t truly relax until the children are under their caring eye. When my son and daughter were at the age to go out for the evening, I always left the hall light on and they left their bedroom doors open. When one of them arrived home, they checked to see if the other bedroom was shut and if so they would turn out the light, if the other bedroom door was still open, they would leave the light on. I would drift in and out of sleep until I noticed that the light was out and then I could go to sleep in peace knowing that they were both safely home.
I remember a very long time ago when my daughter Hayley went out with a group of friends including Joan White’s daughter Caroline, I can’t remember but they were probably about 20. They had gone in town and were going back to Caroline’s house after. I realised that at 1am she still wasn’t home and I began to worry just a little bit. I knew they would look after each other and I knew Hayley would not be drinking as she had her car. 2am, 3am, still awake, by 4am time I was imagining all sorts of terrible things. They were a sensible group of young people but this was very unusual. Should I ring and disturb Joan and Reg if they were still out or what sort of mother would I be if something had happened and I hadn’t rung to find out. So I rang about 4am and Caroline answered and said they were having such a great evening (or should I say morning) that they had forgotten the time and Hayley was on her way home in her car. I waited at the top of the stairs, I didn’t shout but said “Don’t ever do that to me again, please just ring and let me know”. She said she didn’t want to ring me in case she woke me up. Obviously I explained that I was not asleep! It took a long time to get back to sleep that night! Now being a mother herself, I don’t think she will ever let Katie out!!
That is the intense concern and love Paul is talking about. That is how Paul is feeling about these people. He can’t bear the detachment. It is an attitude which Paul shows to those who are in the church. It is an attitude that we should show as well. A church is different to a club because you can be a member of a club and remain very detached. It is just that you have the same hobby or interests. We in the Church have very varied hobbies and interests, we come from different backgrounds and we are thrown together or should I say called together by God because of our love of Jesus. You cannot be in a church and be detached. We don’t have the luxury in the church to be individual and uncaring. Jesus gave His life not just to save us as individuals but also to make us a part of His body her on earth.
That truth leads us to another way a church is different from a club. When you are part of a church you turn desire into action. Paul expands on that focus in our reading today. You see, it is one thing to say that you are willing to be involved in the lives of others; it is another to actually put it into practice. Paul could not go back to his people, so he sent Timothy.
Paul’s description of Timothy seems to imply that the young man needed more than Paul’s normal endorsement. Perhaps because of his youth Timothy was not as readily recognized and respected as his older fellow missionaries. Paul called Timothy our brother, suggesting equality in the Lord’s work with Paul and Silas. In relation to the Lord, Timothy was a hardworking servant, suggestive of his zeal and humility. He was a brother-servant in spreading the gospel of Christ and Paul trusted him.
So Paul did not leave them alone when he knew they would be spiritually attacked. Timothy’s mission was to be a positive blessing and help to the Thessalonian Christians. He was to strengthen them, to make them firm and solid in the faith. He was also sent to encourage them by providing what they needed to fight the good fight of faith, individually and collectively. So Paul put his concerns into action. The concern he expressed was for their spiritual state and that is where the biggest and main difference I think is between a club and a church.
We talked a while ago at a Gift Group about what we defined as friendship and we began to talk about having non-Christian friends and family. Some of us had longstanding non-Christian friends, I have quite a few, and told of one friend who I met when I was 11 at High School and we are still close and I can honestly say that we trust each other completely and even though she doesn’t know the Lord, I would never stop loving her or seeing her. We know we are always there for each other and I do pray that one day she will come to know the Lord and be saved. The same can be said of belonging to a club, be it a keep fit, slimming club, tennis or whatever, good friends are made and kept. BUT and I say BUT, the big difference is spiritual and this is what Paul is talking about. We can be concerned about each other’s welfare, physically and emotionally and I am sure we do and this happens in a club too but as well as this we need to be concerned about each other’s spiritual welfare. We should work with each other to evaluate our spiritual lives and help one another if one is struggling.
When was the last time we talked to each other about our faith, how we were doing apart from at a gift Group?
Paul’s concern was not so much their safety or happiness, although he cared about that, but their faith, their spiritual life. The word “faith” is used five times in this chapter.
2” We sent Timothy who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ to strengthen and encourage you in your faith”.
5 “For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith”.
6 But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love.
7 Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith.
10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
We talk about all sorts of things when we are here in Church, about the world news, about the building, perhaps about the service, the music etc., about our lives in general. We are concerned about each other and about the world but what about our spiritual life, our faith? Are we growing? Do we hear the mention of God or Jesus in our lives after the service or during the week?
How would you evaluate your spiritual life?
This spiritual evaluation follows similar physical examinations a doctor would perform checking for problems:
The temperature of our zeal
The definition of zeal is eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something.
What happens when we lose our zeal? We lose focus, we lose our very vitality. The enemy is about attacking Christians in the area of zeal. If that is accomplished we lose our effectiveness to win others.
The pulse of our faith
The pulse is the indicator of the strength and regularity of the pumping of the heart. When a person is unconscious, a trained individual will first check breathing and pulse rate to determine what’s happening within. The pulse of our spiritual lives that keeps us functioning with constancy and vitality is faith. We need to keep a check on the pulse rate of our spiritual lives. A strong, consistence faith enables us to survive crises and live stable lives.
The strength of our moral purity
The apostle Paul was concerned about how the enemy had come against the Thessalonian Christians. As Christians, we’re to have strength to live holy before God. We’re to regularly keep a check on our strength in this area. Sin is deceptive. Sin is the infection that sickens and kills the soul. God’s power, his Holy Spirit flowing through us is the only antibiotic that can thwart the spreading of sin’s infection. We need to use His power more so we can faithfully fight off Satan’s attacks.
Paul was over the moon when Timothy returned to him and told how strong the Thessalonian Christians were in their faith despite opposition. Verse 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?” The Church there was still alive and kicking and he was giving thanks to God for the joy that they had given them in keeping the faith.
The two-fold ministry of the Word of God and prayer is what establishes a church. If there is all teaching and preaching and no prayer, then the people will have light but no power. If there is all prayer but no teaching of the Word, you may have a group of enthusiasts who have more heat than light! The minister, reader, Sunday school teacher, missionary, or Christian worker who talks to God about his people, and then talks to his people about God, will have a balanced and established ministry. Christ’s ministry consisted of both the Word and prayer.
There are some of us here who cannot do anything practical anymore because of age, we have some in their 90’s and some in their 80’s, some in their 70, and some reaching 70 in the not too distance future, but if you cannot do anything physical you can still pray for each other and the life of the church and the parish and that is so important and vital for our growth here.
Satan is the enemy of our faith, for if he can get us to doubt God and His Word, he will rob us of the enjoyment of every blessing we have in Christ. Prayer is a great weapon against the enemy.
Paul wanted them to have mature faith (v. 10). “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.” Faith is not a deposit that sits within the heart and never changes; it is like the grain of mustard seed that looks small, but contains life and is able to grow. Paul wanted to see these people abounding in love, established in hope, and growing in faith – Love, hope and faith and these three are the theme that runs through this letter from Paul.
Before I came to prepare this talk, I looked at the gospel reading and asked Tim if I was missing something as I could not see any connection to our reading from 1Thessalonians. He explained that he had just chosen the lectionary reading for today, but now I do see a connection. We as Christians with a spiritual life live in this world but still have to abide by the authorities and rules of the country as did the Pharisees when they tried to trip Jesus up with the familiar talk of paying taxes and the coin used for such a purpose. Jesus’ reply was Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. We have to abide by the rules of the country as we live in this world but we are not of this world, we belong to the kingdom of God.
Yes we are similar to a club in many, many ways but the fundamental difference is spiritual, not just loving one another abundantly, caring for one another, but encouraging one another in our faith and we can only do this with the help of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.
In all five chapters of this book, Paul talks about Jesus’ return and that is his urgency and concern in preparing those he has taught to live holy lives. Look again at this letter when you get home, go over it all again and see what I mean. It is a wonderful letter with so much in it not just for the Thessalonians but for us as well. Read it again and discuss it with each other as to how God spoke to you in it in order to help us grow in our faith and love for Jesus so that our relationship with Him will deepen as well as our love and concern for each other’s spiritual lives. The result will be that people will then be able to see the difference between a Church and a club and come to know the Lord Jesus for themselves. As I said Paul mentions Jesus’s return in all five chapters of this book. This is urgent business!
As we think about all that we have heard, let us just keep a few minutes quiet when we can reflect on what God has said to us this morning, both individually and as a Church and then I will read v 12-13 to end:
“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones”. Amen