When we last wrote to you regarding 1 Thessalonians we were covering the subject of "Healthy Church." We were able to walk through the first five reasons Paul commended the church in Thessalonica and now we want to look at the next five he presents. In keeping with the text we see Paul's sixth reasoning for characterizing their church as healthy in verse 6 as he points out they are a body of believers who (6.) remain full of joy. Even under great affliction and oppression for the sake of Christ, this early church was able to put all things in perspective as they counted it all joy for the Lord to be glorified in their lives. This, as we had stated in the previous post is also a fruit of the Spirit. Joy should not be an added flavor to the Christian life and the church of the Lord Jesus, but it should be the very nature of who we are. Certainly life will bring its fair share of hurts, disappointments and difficulties, but Jesus is alive and well and this understanding of the Gospel should cause us to remain full of joy even when our circumstances try to dictate our thinking in another direction. Healthy churches are churches who choose joy even when it's difficult to choose.
7. Healthy churches are an example to others
Verse 7 shows us that Paul also points out how the church at Thessalonica was an example to other church in the surrounding areas. Someone has to lead and in this time the Thessalonians were the believers who led the way in being an example of a faithful, healthy church in their region. Paul knew this and explains to us in verse 7 this church was an example to all other believers and local churches in Macedonia and Achaia. The simple recipe for this success was a combination of young zeal from new believers and seasoned wisdom from their leaders and elders. The fact of the matter is that all churches are known by their members and whether we want to admit this or not, our communities are watching and following what church members are doing and teaching. Therefore, the question we should be asking in our own local churches is, "What kind of example are we to our community?" Even more introspective can be undertaken by asking, "What kind of example am I as a believer in my own local church?"
8. Healthy churches are faithful in proclaiming the Gospel
Paul says of these believers that they were continually "sounding" the word of the Lord not only in their localities, but also "in every place" their faith was "spread abroad." What an excellent testimony of faithful Gospel ministry for this body of believers (or any church) to be known for. Take note that in verse 8 Paul did not brag on their cultural relevance or sophisticated oratory skills, but their Gospel preaching and teaching. After all, we have no other message apart from the message of Jesus as Lord and our desperate need for salvation. This ought to motivate us all to proclaim the word of God and share the Gospel with all we come in contact with. In an age of elevating cleverness and trendy programs, we should be convicted by the fact the Thessalonians were advancing the Kingdom of God, not through entertaining styles, but through evangelizing sinners.
9. Healthy churches repent
As the late Adrian Rogers once said, "I've done more repenting since I got saved than I did when I got saved." We have abandoned one of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith and that is the doctrine of repentance. The Thessalonians were a healthy church because one of the noticeable fruits of their church was how they people were humble enough to repent when sin crept into their lives. Have you ever stopped to realize how self-sufficiency is actually a direct sign of spiritual immaturity? Scripture teaches that we are to humble ourselves and reflect on the areas of our lives where we could move closer to the Lord and lean on Him in all things. This requires that we must repent at times when we waver from the word of God and drift into sin. Until churches learn to repent we will never have the influence in our culture that the Thessalonians had for the Lord in their's.
10. Healthy churches look expectantly for the return of Christ
Our final point that Paul shows us in the health of the Thessalonian church is their great expectation for the return of the Lord. Certainly, this can be abused as we've seen throughout history and in our day as well. However, we must also have a healthy understanding and view of eternity. Life is short and this gift of life we've been given is not dress rehearsal. We only get one and we should live it to the fullest with the glory of God as our motive and the Gospel of Jesus as our message. With a healthy perspective on the return of Christ we can preach and teach the truth to people helping them understand the importance of salvation and the holiness of God as it pertains to the brevity of our own lives.
As I've stated earlier, there are no such things as perfect churches (not even the Thessalonians). However, we can experience healthy churches by the grace of God. My prayer is that we strive for healthy churches in our communities and we can see that happen by following the word of God, preaching the Gospel of Christ, being sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit and faithfully doing this day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.