At the start of his sermon, Wyn talked of a Pioneer that had believed it was part of God’s plan that communities of Christ’s followers be formed. These communities would have an impact on the wider community and would show what God’s kingdom should look like on earth. Paul often risked his life in forming these communities, which we know today as Churches, and once he had planted these churches, he often had to flee for his life. However, he liked to keep in touch with these churches, usually via letter, or through a trusted friend. Wyn spoke of pondering one of Paul’s letters while planning for a Bible study, when a catchphrase came into his mind:
“I love it when a plan comes together”
It was this catchphrase that led him to imagine the bizarre image of Paul in more modern times, reclining, halfway through writing one of his letters, saying this, while blowing out smoke from his cigar.
He went on to say that there were some letters that were painful for Paul to write; that were occasions when he might have asked himself, “Where did it all go wrong?”, but some, like the one in the image above, were a joy to write. The Church that would give Paul great joy, was the community that he left behind in Thessalonica. The reports that he was receiving back from this church were of a church that was functioning exactly as it should, following Christ’s teachings, and shining out as a beacon in the darkness.
As we think of Paul writing that letter, we are led to ask what it was about that church that gave it such a glowing reputation. The truth is that they turned from idols, and fake, god substitutes, and faced the one true God. They had a reputation for being a community of changed lives, and this is something that makes people sit up and take notice. The other reputation it had, was that of being transformative. Speaking about why this church in particular is so highly commended by Paul, Wyn explained that success leaves footprints and fingerprints. He said that it is possible to spot the similarities and differences of success and failure.
Wyn then spoke of three fingerprints: three ingredients that the church in Thessalonica had.
These are Faith, Love, and Hope.
Faith: Words can often lose their original meaning during translation. In truth, there are no accurate words to describe faith if we are to translate it from the original pistis, and pisteuo. We are stuck with the words ‘faith’, and believe, which are often inadequate to describe the true concept of faith. When used in the Bible, faith refers to a trust and reliance on God or Christ. We are called to surrender our will to God and to act in a way that shows this surrender. Nowadays, the word faith is often linked to doctrinal beliefs, which can become more important than following Christ, and behaving in a way which is Christ-like. In the days of the Thessalonians, there were no specific ‘doctrines’, and ‘rules’ created by people. Faith was simply acting on the words and promises of Jesus, and following His example. The Thessalonians, by acting like this, were actually publically declaring their beliefs.
Love: This is absolute. It is a command. If we do this, even when it is easier not to, then everyone will know that we are his disciples. The word Agape elevates love to a whole other level. It is a love that keeps loving even when the one being loved is un-reachable, and un-lovable. Agape, as we heard from Eirwen last week, desires nothing more than the good of the one being loved. The truth is that the conditions that the early Christians lived in were not loving conditions. The Roman world had little, to no humanity. The Church was birthed into a world that was utterly opposed to Christian beliefs. It was a male dominated society. The people were persecuted, and yet they still expressed Agape love. The Romans couldn’t grasp how the early Christians loved one another. Here, Wyn told us of a man named Arthur Forbes, a truly unlovable man, and yet his church pastor, visited him at home, while he was unwell, and loved him in a way that only a follower of Christ could do.
Hope: This is another word that has lost its original power, largely because of how we use it. It’s common use nowadays is in wishful thinking. We ‘hope’ it doesn’t rain tomorrow, or that the bus won’t be late. In order to define this word properly, Wyn looked at the words, opposite to the meaning of hope. These are hopeless, and despair. The situations that the church in Thessalonica found themselves in, were situations of despair, and yet they were positive. Wyn asked us, what it was that gave them hope in these situations. The answer is Christ’s death (the ultimate example of Agape love), or, more accurately, the fact that He rose again. Without Him, there is only a hopeless end. With him, there is an endless hope. This is not wishful thinking. This is the reason for their hope. Jesus Christ, risen and victorious. The ‘hope’ expressed by the Thessalonians had a far firmer foundation than wishful thinking and crossing fingers.
These are the necessary ingredients for a healthy church. Wyn asked us whether it was possible for a church to become ‘good for nothing’. The answer is ‘yes’, if faith, hope, and love are missing, then it is more than possible. Matthew 5:13 says:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” and so it is with the church. If we lose the three basic ingredients, what good are we? We are called to be the living ‘body’ of Christ, and so, we must behave in the way that Christ would have. If we don’t do this, then what are we good for?
The Thessalonian church was the living embodiment of that scripture. It was ordinary people living it out in a way that made them the most stunningly different people that the Romans had ever seen. They lived a life that caused the Romans to question them.
In closing, Wyn encouraged us to live a questionable life; one that shines out the three ingredients for a healthy church, and the three ingredients necessary to live out a Christ-like life.
Scriptures: 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, Matthew 5:13, Matthew 5:14-16