Look up first then look around
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 NIV “They tell us how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”
What a remarkable statement! What a startling reversal of values! What an example not only to their surrounding communities, but stretching across the waves of time to reach us!
Such a powerful testimony of a community who had heard of and believed in the Man crucified, vilified and discarded by so many of their peers. They bravely chose to identify with, serve, and persevere in their present distressed situation until their inevitable future rendezvous with Him. The bonds they shared with one another galvanized them into an unassailable unit – a force for the kingdom that was undeniable. Their service was in the face of “severe suffering” and their faith was “known everywhere”. They did not organize politically or protest socially. Instead their very lives of obedience to the Gospel coupled with the good news of an imminent supplanting kingdom rang out and affected the decay of their day. They had no doubt that this bent world with its rotting systems are scheduled for wrath (vengeance or punishment; strong, stern or fierce anger, rage, fury). They realized that this present arrangement of things – the strong taking advantage of the weak – is most certainly a temporary arrangement. It is scheduled to be eradicated and those promoting it are assuredly appointed to severe punishment by the One Who esteems every soul as sacred. Unyielding allegiance to the One Who had paid an inestimable price to rescue them from impending judgment empowered them to endure much suffering to live the life of love that He called them to. Culture tells us to look out for number one. With believers God Himself has that position in our lives.
What did it look like in Thessalonica? The extreme accolades written of them were by a man who himself was immovably committed to the advancement of the kingdom of God and had been violently forced out of their city because of his preaching. They had acted on their faith and it was evident to all. Paul wrote “…for we never forget that your faith has meant solid achievement, your love has meant hard work, and the hope you have in our Lord Jesus Christ means sheer dogged endurance in the life you live before God.” 1 Th 1:3 JBP It was not just theology or correct doctrine! The Voice Bible comments on this chapter by saying “Kingdom work begins at the surrender of life, by giving yourself away and expecting nothing in return. Real change is then ushered in by the loving touch of the Spirit, moving out from living transparently faithful lives even in the middle of commotion.”
What is the testimony that Christians have earned today? Perhaps not universally – there are many devout believers- is the perception that Christianity is a gathering of nice but bland (or dogmatic) people who live pretty much like everyone else but go to church on Sunday (maybe). Or Christians are thought to be total hypocrites. Or political hacks. Or frauds. Jesus still seems to be fairly popular, but His followers – not so much. The results of one campus survey reports: “… but what’s important, and so haunting, is that these students were so open to Jesus. Yet, they didn’t at all like what they have equated and understood to be “Church” and “Christianity.” They definitely liked Jesus, but they did not like the Church. …Now when I travel, I try to find a local coffeehouse where I can listen, observe, and talk to people. Eventually, the conversation comes around to their thoughts on Jesus and the Church. I hear the same comments everywhere I go. No one ever says, “The Church is after your money,” or “The sermons are irrelevant,” as you might expect. Rather, the six most common perceptions of the Church among post-Christian 20- and 30-somethings include:
The Church is an organized religion with a political agenda.
The Church is judgmental and negative
The Church is dominated by males and oppresses females.
The Church is homophobic.
The Church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong.
The Church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally.
(Dan Kimball as reported by Kelly Shattuck Outreach Magazine)
The initial spread of Christianity was like a virus- person to person contact that infected their hearts first and then changed their whole outlook towards life. It did not spawn a political movement until Constantine established it as the state religion in the fourth century. Until then it was a powerful and feared (and yes, hated) subculture. Despite brutal torture and persecution of its advocates, “the Way” attracted followers. It was said of the apostles that their teachings turned the whole world upside down.
Somehow we have tamed and micro-managed the Message. I personally think that we have put select parts of the Message before the Messenger, thus religionizing and neutering the heart of faith. Jesus was and is the motivator. Devotion to Him personally was and is the engine of love and service. Faith in Him – absolute trust – came first then impelled service to society. And hope in His future restoration of all things anchored the deeds of love for others in the passion for the Eternal One and His kingdom. Our love towards God, overflowing to our fellow men is but the grateful response to His call, the echo of God’s heart. We can impose duties of charity or acts of goodness onto society, but it does not ring true like the service of men which flows from humble gratitude.
Their community saw “..how you turned toward God and realigned your life to serve the one true living God – leaving your idols to crumble in the dust.” 1 Th 1:10 Voice
Maybe it’s time for us modern more sophisticated Christians to focus on Him and leave our idols to rot, as they ultimately will – with our without our consent. We will still be hated, criticized, persecuted – but perhaps for more genuine reasons.