I have fallen in love … with First Thessalonians! I’m preaching through this letter for our church and thought you might also enjoy some of its riches. There is so much more here than I imagined! We begin today where Paul began, the topic of a model church. Are you in one?
From a survey of our church landscape, one can rightly conclude there is much confusion over what makes for a model church. I’m sure most pastors and church members desire a church that is exemplary, but given the diversity of prototypes out there, how do we know we are on the right path?
There’s the Innovative Church. Cutting edge, these churches are always pushing the envelope. They change for the sake of change. Tradition is a dirty word. They boast, “this isn’t your grandmother’s church.”
At the Leveraged Church they pipe in a livestream of this year’s celebrity pastor to multiple satellite campuses. Leaders dress like the late Steve Jobs and the celebrity pastor talks in CEO lingo. Where did we get the idea that a pastor can appear on a screen for an hour each week?
At the Experience Driven Church worship incorporates social media during the service or, at the other end of the spectrum, a return to icons, stained glass, candles and incense. Or powerful music and perfect mood lighting. It’s all about the experience, the buzz, the feelings achieved.
Is the Model Church the “expect a miracle today” church? Or is it the niche marketing church, like the Biker Church or Cowboy Church or Tatoo’ed Church or the Church of Young Professionals? I mean, how far do we push this marketing craze?
In the midst of the insanity, someone needs to call timeout and ask once again, what does the Bible say? What kind of church gets God’s stamp of approval? I Thess 1:1-10 provides a clear and compelling answer.
First some background. Paul and company were exceedingly thankful. God had brought true revival to the large city of Thessalonica from their gospel preaching and apparently many pagan Gentiles plus a few Jews were brought to saving faith in Christ. So in a constant and comprehensive way, Paul would often go into God’s presence and say thanks for what only He could do.
It’s in Paul’s gratitude that we discover three marks of a model church that transcend time and location.
First, a model church must possess the big three of the Christian life: an active faith in Christ, love for God and man, and an enduring hope in the return of Christ. Whether we are looking at the individual Christian or an assembly of such people, this triad is essential and primary. A vibrant, growing trust in Christ leads to love for people that builds a body of work to be examined at the judgment seat of Christ when He comes.
This faith looks to Jesus and His Word, not self and man’s fallen wisdom.
This laboring love sacrifices and toils for the sake of others.
This growing hope kindles patient endurance thru pain and suffering, trials and difficulties, awaiting the return of Christ. Faith, love, hope; the triad of the Christian’s existence.
Life can be long and hard. We easily get down and discouraged, lazy and lifeless. The calendar says Spring, but the soul says Winter. Our hibernation becomes stagnation. But rising from the ashes, faith works and love labors and hope endures to the end.
Second, a model church gives evidence of God’s election (cf. vv.4-5). The bedrock foundation of all our deeds of faith, toil of love, and endurance of hope is what God has done in electing love and sovereign grace. We have faith, love and hope because of God, not us.
What a timely word of encouragement this is as these new believers were being rejected by their society because they had rejected their pagan gods for the Lord Jesus. So Paul writes, “knowing, brethren beloved of God, His election of you” and this makes all the difference! It turns out that God’s election leads to the world’s rejection. To be loved by God means the world will hate us.
Third, a model church both imitates and exemplifies Christian virtues (cf. vv.6-10). Like a giant chain, stretching endless miles across countless ages, these believers were both imitating previous examples and setting an example for those who would follow.
This chain begins with Jesus, who imitated the Father and became an example to the Apostles. The Apostles imitated Jesus and became examples to the first generation of Christians, who imitated the apostles and became examples to the next generation of believers. And here we are. The chain continues.
Find Christ-like examples to imitate and in this way you will become an example worth imitating. Congregate people like this and wahlah, you have a model church.
The New Testament doesn’t recognize a private, disconnected kind of Christian not in close fellowship with a local assembly. If you are a believer, some church somewhere needs you! And you need it.
Every believer can in some way exercise faith, love and hope in the context of a committed church membership as we provide ample evidence that God chose us for salvation and in doing so, become worthy of following by the next generation.
Unless otherwise noted, all posts are written by Pastor Chris McKnight