What Have We Done with His Word in Our Congregation?
O Lord, how shall we meet Thee, how welcome Thee aright?
Thy people, long to greet Thee, my Hope, my heart’s Delight!
Oh, kindle, Lord most holy, Thy lamp within my breast
To do in spirit lowly all that may please Thee best! Amen.
Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:14-16
Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the faint-hearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always!
In Christ Jesus, whose second coming we eagerly await, dear fellow redeemed:
He’s coming! Yes, Jesus Christ is coming again. He is not coming this time, however, as an infant in a manger, but rather as a King in glory and for judgment! For that day we all wait. How shall we prepare for this second advent of our Savior King? Last week we considered how we as individuals are to use His Word personally. It is through Jesus’ Word that the Holy Spirit leads us to sincere repentance, renewed faith, and loving service. It is through a study of that Word that we as individuals can both discern and apply that Word effectively within our lives.
Let us not make the mistake, however, of thinking that any individual can be a spiritual island to himself or herself. There may be times when Christians will find themselves isolated from fellow believers who share a true, biblical confession and so must remain separated from local congregations for confessional reasons. This is right and proper. Jesus promises His presence and blessing to all who openly confess His name and remain true to His teachings. Let us recognize, however, that proper preparation for the coming of our Lord and Savior involves the use of God’s Word as a congregation. All of us, who are privileged to live near our home congregation, and even those living at a distance should remain as active as possible in congregational life.
In our text St. Paul speaks of a proper use of God’s Word in a congregational setting. This evening we want to consider this thought—HE’S COMING, together with this question—WHAT HAVE WE DONE WITH JESUS’ WORD IN OUR CONGREGATION? St. Paul suggests we do two things with Jesus’ Word by way of preparation: 1) We are actively to use Jesus’ Word as we deal with those inside our congregation; and 2) We are actively to apply Jesus’ Word as we deal with those outside the congregation.
How can we do this? St. Paul writes, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the faint-hearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.” St. Paul wrote these words to the believers in Thessolonica, whose congregation had only recently been organized. St. Paul established the congregation during his Second Missionary Journey. This letter was written from Corinth only a few months later. St. Paul was concerned about these new Christians. He had received reports from Timothy that there were some individuals in the congregation who, expecting Jesus’ return very soon, had quit their jobs. They were lying idly about and beginning to live off of the generosity of their fellow Christians. St. Paul urged the Thessalonians to “warn the unruly.” These individuals were to get to work and use their talents to help others rather than to hinder them! In addition, unbelieving Jews were persecuting the new congregation. These unbelievers had driven St. Paul out of Thessalonica and were now attempting to intiminate the Christians into giving up their faith. St. Paul urged the Thessalonians as a congregation to “comfort the faint-hearted”—those who feared the persecutions they were undergoing for their faith. St. Paul had also been told that some congregational members were teaching that Jesus would only return to save those who were alive when He returned. This led many in the congregation to worry about friends and relatives who had or would die before Jesus’ return. St. Paul urged the congregation to “uphold the weak” in understanding. He assured them that Jesus had died for the whole world and would raise those who had died in faith when He returned. Finally, St. Paul urged the Thessalonians to be “patient with all,” recognizing that when dealing with each other they were dealing with sinful mortals who were by nature frail creatures.
Upon what basis were they to do these things? They were to do them on the basis of Jesus’ Word, which reveals God’s grace and forgiveness, and which serves as a guide for doctrine and life. St. Paul would later write Timothy, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
In the same way, St. Paul urges us to use Jesus’ Word in our midst as we deal with each other in our congregation. It is not enough to be a well-informed Christian individual, when the need to share Jesus’ Word is so great in the midst of our congregation. The congregation in Thessalonica was not the only one to have unruly members, faint-hearted members, or weak members. Every congregation has such individuals and will continue to have such individuals until the end of time, for we are all subject to such frailties in view of our sinful flesh. We are all at times unruly, faint-hearted, and weak. That is why it is so important to be “patient with all” as we strive to work together to instruct, to reprove, and to correct. When issues come up, dear friends, and we become irritated and are tempted to think the worst of a fellow believer, let us remember St. Paul’s exhortations to warn, to comfort, to uphold, and to be patient! This is why it is so important for our congregation to elect to the various offices of the congregation individuals, who are committed to Jesus’ Word, and who will encourage the called servants of our congregation to fulfill their individual responsibilities faithfully. That is why it is so important that all of our members become involved and seek ways in which they might assist with our congregation’s God-given ministry. It may be in the classroom teaching Sunday School or Vacation Bible School. It may be in individual homes or in the hospital visiting the sick. It may be in the multi-purpose building or on a hike while helping with the youth. There are dozens of ways whereby we may all serve as we use Jesus’ Word in preparation for His coming. Yes, HE’S COMING! WHAT HAVE WE DONE WITH JESUS’ WORD IN OUR CONGREGATION?
St. Paul, however, addresses himself not just to how we use Jesus’ Word when dealing with each other inside the congregation, but he does so as well when considering our corporate dealings with others outside the congregation. St. Paul writes, “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.” Remember the situation in which the Thessalonians found themselves. They were new Christians, who were uncertain of themselves and persecuted by others. It would be quite natural for there to be disagreements among the members as well as resentment towards outsiders, but St. Paul told them not to repay “evil” with “evil.” Don’t follow the attitude of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:24). Rather, “pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all!” Notice that they were not just to "do" good, but rather actively to “pursue” it—to strive to be positive, forgiving, understanding, and helpful in the midst of persecution and suffering!
St. Paul here is simply following the will of Jesus as expressed in His Sermon on the Mount. Jesus tells us, “I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). There is no room for vengeance within the hearts and lives of God’s believing children. St. Paul would later write to the Corinthians, “Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure it; being defamed, we entreat” (1 Corinthians 4:12-13). St. Peter likewise wrote, “Let us not return evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to do this, that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).
It is in that final thought that we find our motivation to so use God’s Word both in our relationships with fellow believers and with those outside the church. Jesus is coming! He is coming for a second and final time not to live on this earth, or to suffer and die once again, for this He did once to remove our sins and regain life for us all. Rather, Jesus is coming in glory and for judgment to end this present wicked world and to establish for all who believe a “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). This is our future. It is a vision we want not only for ourselves as individuals, but which we want to share with each other and all others so that we might be properly prepared for the second coming of our Savior. HE’S COMING! WHAT HAVE WE DONE WITH JESUS’ WORD IN OUR CONGREGATION? Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting