Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Model Church

The Apostle Paul was forced to leave the Greek coastal city of Thessalonica after only three Sabbaths because of intense persecution and violent opposition (Acts 17). In spite of that, a church was born! Timothy had been sent to Thessalonica so that he might check up on the infant church. When Timothy returned to Paul with a glowing report of the church’s growth and stability Paul was exceedingly encouraged (1 Thessalonians 3:6-7). Timothy’s uplifting report prompted Paul to write a most complimentary epistle. According to Paul, the congregation at Thessalonica was an exemplary church (1 Thessalonians 1:7).

1 Thessalonians, particularly chapter one, provides instruction as to what God intends and desires every church to be. 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 describe six characteristics which every church should have. (Please note the lack of reference to congregational size, buildings, programs, or the average offering amount; tangible measurements that men use to declare a church successful are clarifyingly absent from God’s list.)

#1 – The Model Church is a Saved Church

That is not something to be taken for granted. According to (Matthew 13:24-30), Satan sows tares among the wheat. Satan has always sought to infiltrate Christianity. Churches are often filled with unregenerate people. Although Baptist churches claim that they insist on a saved membership, there are frequently unsaved church members. It is entirely possible to arrive in hell from a church pew instead of a barstool. A person may walk the aisle, shake hands with the pastor, make a profession of faith in Christ, be baptized, become a church “member”, but never truly be born again.

Paul identifies the Thessalonian’s position as being “in God” (v. 1) and “in Christ” (vv. 1, 3), and “in the Holy Ghost” (v. 5). Paul’s wish for them to fully experience “grace and peace” (v. 1) is only possibly for someone who is saved. In verse 2 Paul is thankful for all of them, another hint that the entire membership of this church was redeemed.

In a practical sense, Paul refers to the Thessalonians as “brethren” and “beloved,” which are titles for saved people (1 Thessalonians 1:3-5). Paul remembered their “work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope”; all of which is clear evidence of their salvation. According to 1 Corinthian 13:13, faith, hope and love are the foremost Christian graces. The Thessalonians had a faith that worked (James 2:18), a love that laboured (1 John 3:17-18), and a hope that endured (Romans 8:25).

The exhortation of 2 Peter 1:10 is to diligently “make your calling and election sure.” In other words, make sure that you are saved. The Thessalonians had heard the Word; had demonstrated the working of the Spirit in their hearts, and therefore Paul knew that their calling and election was sure (vv. 4-5).

This was a saved church.

#2 – The Model Church is a Submissive Church

The church at Thessalonica followed the Lord and they followed their leaders (v.6). The Greek word translated “followers” in verse 6 is "mimetes", and it is from this Greek term that the English language obtains the word “mimic”. A follower is an imitator of his leader. A follower submits and surrenders his own will to that of his leader (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1). Submission is a critical aspect of church life; because, and this is true of any organization, it is necessary for some to lead but most to follow.

The pursuit of each individual Christian should be to imitate Christ, to be like Jesus. And that is the key to church unity and harmony. If all the church’s members were striving to be like Christ, there would be no problem getting along with each other. When church members are not in tune with one another it is usually because they are not following Christ. Unity in the church is not a result of running around and adjusting to everyone else. Rather, unity is a result of everyone becoming like Jesus Christ.

A model church is one that is submissive to Jesus Christ, and to the Christ-like leaders He has set in leadership.

#3 – The Model Church is a Suffering Church

There was “much affliction” at the time when the Thessalonians “received the word” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; Acts 17:5-10). True churches can expect suffering (2 Timothy 3:12); however, they must be careful that their suffering is not because of sin (1 Peter 3:17; 4:15-16). And model churches, like the church at Thessalonica, will experience suffering as a result of fidelity to Jesus Christ, but will also “count it all joy” to “suffer shame for His name” (James 1:2; Acts 5:41). A saved and submissive church is going to antagonize the world. Not because they are annoying jerks, but because of what Christ said in John 15:18, 20.

The small church in Smyrna knew this to be true. Life was not easy for them (Revelation 2:8-11). They were weary from incessant persecution. "Thilpsis" is the Greek word translated “tribulation” in Revelation 2:9, 11. That word literally means, “to be crushed.” That is interesting because the word Smyrna is derived from the word “myrrh,” an ancient and aromatic residue extract from the balsa tree.

Myrrh is frequently connected with the life of Christ; it was present at his birth (Matthew 2:11), at his crucifixion (Mark15:23), and at his burial (John 19:39). Myrrh yields its fragrance by being crushed, and the more it is crushed the sweeter it smells. Like myrrh, the church at Smyrna was being crushed with persecution, and the more it was crushed, the sweeter its fragrance. Smyrna produced a sweet-smelling aroma to God and a precious testimony to the world.

The church of Smyrna lived inside a pressure cooker, and they were given two options: stand firm for their Savior, or surrender to Satan. The believers at Smyrna chose the former, and it cost them; because standing firm for Jesus Christ will always bring worldly persecution on the believer (Philippians 1:29; John 16:33; 1 Peter 4:12). The church that confronts the world is going to suffer. Smyrna was willing to suffer for the One who had suffered for them. How about you and your church?

#4 – The Model Church is a Steadfast Church

The Thessalonian church stood firmly on the Word of God. Paul said, “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit…and ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction” (vv. 5-6). Paul also told them in 2:13, “Ye received the word…not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God.” And he said in 3:7-8, “We were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith: for now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.”

Standing fast in the Lord requires two things: not wavering doctrinally and maintaining a steadfast love. A church can be doctrinally sound but spiritually dry. The church of Ephesus from Revelation 2:1-7 is a perfect example. A church, and therefore the members who make up a church, must be doctrinally pure and also totally passionate about the Lord.

Sometimes I will hear Christians lament a lack of excitement in their life or church. Nothing is more exciting than a steadfast church; a church that is doctrinally pure and committed to love one another!

#5 – The Model Church is a Soulwinning Church

The Lord Jesus Christ came, “To seek and to save that which is lost” Luke 19:10. The Head of the church has given His churches a commission to “Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” Mark 16:15. The Lord of the church was a Soulwinner, and His churches should be soulwinning churches.
Christ’s churches and Christ’s people are to be witnesses. Not everyone is called to be a missionary with a capital “M”, but everyone has been called to be a witness with a capital “W”! An effective witness has a twofold ministry.

What the World Sees - WORKS

The first way a model church spreads the gospel is by living exemplary lives. This is the testimony of a changed life, and the Thessalonians had this (vv. 7, 9); having turned from serving dead idols to serving the living God. It is not programs, organization, or creativity that gives a church a powerful testimony. It is the corporate example of each member’s Christlikeness.

What the World Hears - WORDS

The gospel must be declared by works and by words. According to (v. 8), the “word of the Lord” was being “sounded out” in Thessalonica, in Macedonia, in Achaia, and in “everyplace.” The Greek word for “sounded out” is "execheo", from which the English word “echo” is derived. A Christian’s personal testimony and a Church’s corporate testimony should never be independent of God’s Word, but simply an echo of His truth. Churches are not called to reinvent the gospel, but to faithfully and boldly echo the “faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).

Every model church will follow the soulwinning pattern that Christ delivered to that first congregation in Jerusalem (Acts 1:8), and will only proclaim the inerrant truth of God’s Word.

#6 – The Model Church is a Second Coming Church

Jesus Christ promised (John 14:1-3) that He would come back and gather His people to be with Him forever. Therefore, a model church eagerly anticipates the Second Coming of Christ. This is a major theme in both Thessalonian epistles. However, there are those who scoff at the Second Coming. Peter describes them in 2 Peter 3:3-4. But every congregation that desires to be a model church will be aware of and awaiting the return of Jesus Christ. The last recorded words of Christ in scripture are “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be,” Revelation 22:12. Anticipation of the future motivates Christians to live Godly lives in the present.

Believing that Jesus is coming again and coming soon does two things for the Christian; it generates a sense of urgency in evangelism, and it increases the commitment to the work of the Lord. A church that does not look for the Second Coming of Christ has no sense of urgency to lead the lost to Christ. The Lord wants His churches to live and function in anticipation of His imminent return.

The characteristics of a model church cannot be measured solely on the basis of average attendance, average offering, the number of missionaries supported, the number and the credentials of the paid staff, the size and beauty of the buildings, or the innovative and contemporary programming. Unless a church is comprised of saved, submissive, suffering, steadfast, soulwinning, Second Coming people; then that “church” is nothing but an religious organization.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was certainly interesting for me to read the blog. Thank you for it. I like such themes and everything that is connected to them. I definitely want to read a bit more soon.