Healthy Church (part 1)
Nothing in life is perfect, but that doesn't mean something can't be healthy. I'm sure you've heard it said before, "There's no such thing as a perfect church." While that statement does hold water, I think it's much more biblical to set our sights on healthy churches as opposed to the always coveted "perfect" church. Simply put, perfect churches don't exist because perfect people don't exist. However, we can have healthy churches because healthy churches are comprised of healthy saints. Over the next two posts I want to unpack the first chapter of 1st Thessalonians and see how Paul commends the church at Thessalonica on their healthy church. We'll look at 10 key fruits of what a healthy church can and should look like.
1. Healthy churches are separate
Paul addresses the believers of the Thessalonian church by acknowledging they are "in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thess. 1:1). This signifies a church which is separate from the world. They belong to the Lord and have abandoned their old nature. These people were now accountable to God and one another, but no longer slaves to the world's system and culture. This is a hallmark of true, healthy churches as we are to be set apart from this present age while living for the glory of God and the eternal truths which He has proclaimed.
This implies that healthy churches should have some family resemblance. Spiritually speaking, the church should reflect our heavenly Father, not our earthly culture. For example, I've always been told I look like me dad. This shouldn't come as some major surprise seeing that he is, well, my dad! What would make no sense at all is if I looked more like a total stranger than I did my own father. The same is true of healthy churches. We should look like we belong to the family of God and not of this world. When churches begin to resemble this carnal, sin-sick world more than followers of the Almighty then we've ventured from healthy to hurting.
2. Healthy churches have a work of faith
Paul goes on to point out in verse 3 the Thessalonian church's work of faith. This undoubtedly left a profound impact on the Apostle as he remembered this robust faith "without ceasing."This is absolutely essential in the Christian life and the health of any church. We must not only operate by faith, but ultimately this should be what all bodies of believers are known by. Hebrews 11:6 states, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him." We bring glory to God by our active faith and healthy churches are no exception. After all, what good is doubting group of Christians. It's almost an oxymoron to even speak in those terms. We must operate by faith and any church which does not have a "work of faith" is anything but healthy.
This faith which Paul recognized in the Thessalonians was devotion to the Lord in spite of circumstances. In the face of persecution, these believers trusted God and took Him at His word. They were convinced of His sovereignty and lived their lives accordingly. What a beautiful picture of the Gospel in all its fullness being played out in the body of Christ through these faithful Christians. This is pure sign of a healthy church.
3. Healthy churches labor in love
Sticking with the words of Paul in verse 3, he goes on to point out the biblical love the Thessalonians displayed. We must appreciate the fact that Paul does no simply refer to this love in terms of feelings, but in the "labor" which accompanies true, genuine, Christ-exalting love. This love is costly, but it's also worth our efforts. When we live out the Gospel inspired love which has been showered on us by our Lord each and every day, we can't help but spread it around to others. Paul witnessed this in the healthy church of Thessalonica and couldn't refrain from encouraging them to continue in that worthy endeavor.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, "Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up." We need one another in this walk of life and the Lord has established the family and local church as the means for which we carry this out. The fact of the matter is we are not in this alone. Therefore, we must live and ineract with one another on a regular basis. Doing this requires loving one another and loving one another isn't always easy or pleasant. This mandates a dedicated, laboring approach but through submission to scripture and a clear focus on the Gospel we can do this and bring great glory to God while we serve our brothers and sisters in the faith. To put a bow on this section, laboring in love is what healthy churches do well.
4. Healthy churches are patient
Paul concludes his admonitions in verse 3 by pointing out the patient hope in Jesus the Thessalonians displayed. They understood the return of our Lord was promised, but at the same time they also understood they must be patient with God's perfect timing. Often overlooked, patience is a sign the Holy Spirit is in control of our actions and emotions (Galatians 5:22). This is a direct fruit in the lives of Christians which reflect a sound understanding of scripture and a good hold on our own selfish desires and opinions.
The fact of the matter is that nothing great is ever accomplished in a hurry. This is true not only in our personal sanctification, but also for local churches as a whole. This is why Paul was so impressed with the body of believers at Thessalonica in their patience not only with the Lord's return, but also in their own spiritual growth.
5. Healthy churches follow Christ
The fifth sign of healthiness in the local church is centered on who we follow. Paul goes on to praise the church of Thessalonica as he mentions in verses 4-6 how they are true children of God who produce biblical fruit and became "followers of us and of the Lord." This speaks volumes of these young converts as they received and honor the instruction and preaching coming from Paul and other church leaders, while at the same time applying that instruction through ultimate obedience to Christ. These Thessalonian disciples lived a genuine "Jesus only" and not "Jesus and..." life.
Nothing is more hypocritical or confusing to the world around us than professing Christians who serve God in word, but not in action. The church of Thessalonica was certainly not sending mixed signals. Paul observed their dedicated allegiance to Christ above all and they knew that in order to further the Kingdom God they could not afford to confuse people by proclaiming a Gospel they did not practice. This an excellent reminder that healthy churches are fully known by who they follow. As basic as this may sound, who we follow speaks loud and clear about who we worship. In a world where the number of "followers" we have tends to dictate our social status and mental health, Jesus teaches us that it's actually who we follow that says the most about the health of our souls.
Be sure to check back in for part 2 of our look at healthy churches and how Christians in the Thessalonian church gave us a model and biblical standard for local churches to follow.