True Christian living - Christian relationships
- Christian relationships
I thought I’d share with you a joke I heard during the week.
ILLN – a man sailing his ship is beset by a storm and he ends up marooned on a desert island. It’s not a very big island – about 1km long by 0.5 kms wide. And so it doesn’t take him long to get around the whole island and work out that he is all by himself. No one else on the whole island. Well he works out how to survive on his island, but every day he scans the horizon looking for a ship that might rescue him. Day after day no joy, no relief anywhere. Until one day, after he’d been there 5 long years he sees a ship. Frantically he waves up and down, and the ship sees him. And the ship sends some people ashore in a little rubber duckie to rescue him. And of course he rushes up to them, gives them a huge bear hug, and asks if they can take him somewhere safe.
No problem says the captain, but can I see around your island first. Sure says the man. And off they go along the beach. And soon the captain sees 3 buildings set back just off the beach above the high tide mark. ‘What are they?’ asked the captain. Well this one, says the man pointing to the first building, is my house. And they go in and have a look around – very nice says the captain, admiring the polished floorboards and wooden bed and table and chairs. And they walk towards the next one – what’s this one asks the captain? That’s my church says the man – and they walk in and there’s a few pews and a table and a cross, beautifully carved.
And out they go. And what’s that other building asks the captain. Well, says the man, that’s the church I used to go to.
In the last section of his first letter to the Thessalonian Christians the apostle Paul tells them how their relationships should look as the church of God. There are tremendous lessons for us to learn, if we’re going to continue to avoid the real dangers of disunity and division and people leaving St Mark’s for the wrong reasons. And there are 3 areas of relationships for them to consider – relationships with their leaders, with one another and with God. As we consider the quality of these 3 relationships in our own life, let’s pray. PRAY.
- With leaders?
If you were with us last week, you’ll remember how Paul reminded the Thessalonian Christians that they were to live as sons and daughters of the light, and of the day, and to encourage one another and build one another up. But what does this mean? What does this new-age Christian lifestyle look like in detail? How do we live together in Christian community – for that is what the church is – the body of Christ in community.
It will show in relationships, to which Paul now turns. Ands I think he spells these out because they are so different to the world’s way of interacting. Paul addresses 3 areas of relationships and the first one is the relationship between the church and her leaders. Vv12-13 – READ.
We’re not sure what formal structure the leadership of the church in Thessalonica took. It may well have been based on the synagogue model with a group of elders exercising oversight, but we’re not told. Whatever it was there appears to have been early on some form of authority and leadership. We know from v13 that they had at least 3 roles – working hard among the Christians, over them in the Lord, that is leading the church and admonishing others. Not necessarily easy tasks – Christian ministry is always hard work.
How were others in the church to relate to them?
Appreciate their work, and therefore their worth, rather than their office – love them, respect them, v12, and hold them in the highest regard, v13.
It’s so different from the way our society views leaders isn’t it – think of how we treat politicians, mock them, scorn them, resent them, seek to knock them down with our ‘tall poppy’ syndrome. Not so with the church and its leaders.
600 pastors quit the ministry this year
How do we show regard for our leaders in the church?
Effective leadership requires effective following.
Peace – right relationships between the leaders and those under them.
Leaders – me, Marty, AJ, ministry leaders, home group leaders
- With one another?
The second area to which Paul now turns are the relationships with other people.
Many different people within the church, at many different stages of Christian life, experience, etc.
These instructions are given to the whole church, not just the leaders, nor even some other special group of believers – hence the use of the word ‘brothers’ in v14. Everyone has a part to play in mutual pastoral and spiritual care. We all have a responsibility to one another, which comes from being part of the one family of God. The church will only grow as every member does their work, not just the leaders. God uses each one of us.
Idle – given up jobs to wait for Jesus’ return; people who are loafing around, not just enjoying legitimate leisure. Warn them, and admonish them to mend their ways. They may think they are being super-spiritual but really their actions are a drain on the church and discredit the whole church.
Timid – these are the faint-hearted, the ones who are easily discouraged or scared or frightened or feel inadequate. The ones who may be on the verge of giving up – especially in a persecuted church. Comfort them, help them and not reject. Encourage them. Value them.
Weak – perhaps morally weak, perhaps spiritually weak. Don’t let them drift away and vanish. Stand alongside them, and hold them up, cling to them – like to a life raft, encourage them, rather than rejecting them or belittling them. The church should not be an Australian Idol elimination race, nor Survivor Church, but the place where everyone is a winner; and where the strong care for the weak, and not boot them off.
All – forgive and love, not retaliate. It goes against all our natural instincts doesn’t it – when someone wrongs us what is the first thing we want to do? Get even, get back at them, make them pay. That is not what Jesus did. Nor what we are to do. Rather Paul says - be patient - especially with those you think are fools – for that is how God is towards us; don’t put your won interests first nor seek to satisfy your own ego or stand up for your rights, but seek restoration and reconciliation. Not evil for evil but be kind to others whether they are Christians or not. To do this is far from easy, but God gives us the power to live this way.
APPL – who did you think of when I talked about the different sorts of people? What action is God calling you to take with them? Then do it! Don’t let problems drift on but be pro-active. Spend time on improving the quality of your relationships.
We do have responsibilities to one another. To fulfil these responsibilities means that we need to get to know people. We need to be involved in each others’ lives, in love, if we are really going to obey God in this matter. I urge you to seriously consider joining one of our home groups – it’s the best environment we’ve got for getting to know other people, for ministering to one another, and for caring for one another.
- With God?
And the final area of relationships Paul addresses is the relationship with God and its expression in a church setting. These are behaviours not just feelings, and nor are they optional extras.
Joy – not = happiness. Can’t be happy all the time – happiness is dependant upon circumstances, but joy through knowing Christ, and especially what Christ has done for me, and won for me, which can never be taken away. Jesus is ultimate reality, and knowing him, having a living relationship with him, brings true life and joy. Being miserable is not possible if we really know God’s overarching goodness to us in Christ.
Prayerfulness – not just in speaking to God, but here suggests a whole elevating of the heart to God, and of our thoughts to God – ever aware of being in the presence of God and growing in openness to him, depending on him for all things. Starts with basic disciplines – spending time with God, listening to God, speaking to him, especially doing it first thing in the morning, helps orient our day to him.
Likewise thankfulness – flows from our joy and unceasing prayer, that brings us to know that God is working for good in the lives of his people. Life is not a game of chance, but a time where God is working his purposes out in our lives, even through events we don’t like, and so we can really be thankful. Thankful not necessarily for all circumstances, but in all circumstances. So Ps 42 – v5 – ‘why are you so downcast O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.’
Paul says these 3 things are God’s will for us in Christ.
And in the church to live by the Holy Spirit – and so in v19 – not to quench the Spirit. Which may tie in to the instructions just given – the way we live may quench the Spirit, if we don’t relate to one another in the love that comes from the Holy Spirit, or if we deny joy, prayer and thankfulness we will quench the Spirit’s fire, these things harden our hearts. Or it may relate to what comes after – that is listening to prophecy but making sure we test it as well. And so hanging on to what is good, what is of the Spirit, and rejecting what is not of the Spirit, and therefore evil. So a word to those who want to stifle spiritual gifts – don’t. And a word to those who think anything goes – test everything. How? By reference to revelation already given, especially by reference to Scripture.
Prophecy – hang on to word of God, take it seriously but do need to test it. It’s why we keep saying to you to weigh up what is preached by the Bible. So much we can get led astray by – need to keep going back to God and his word.
- Being sure?
When you look at all this advice Paul gives to this young church, you wonder if anyone will make it. When you look at our church after 100 years you wonder how anyone makes it. But they do.
Only though God.
Yes we need to make every effort to walk in a manner pleasing to God, but we are not alone on our journey. God is with us. And ultimately these things will only be achieved through the power of God.
This work of peace and sanctification is God’s work, it is God’s goal, and he will do it. He wants us to stand blameless before him on that last day. And he will supply the grace and power to make it happen, and he will complete what he has started.
At the end of the day my confidence is not in me, nor in you, but in God! In the character of God – he is faithful, and he can be depended on, for he is active and effective and powerful.