As church planters, one of the key questions we need to be able to answer for our missional communities is this:
“What is the Church?”
The premise for being able to answer this question lies on the fact that, most people who have gone through some sort of negative experience with an institution will fall into a distaste and a mistrust in the organizational part of the church.
Therefore, if we aren’t able to deeply and meaningfully answer this question for ourselves and in the context of that which we love, Jesus and His Kingdom, then we’ll fall prey to our own experiences and emotions, and perpetuate distaste and mistrust, until that becomes the very culture we create.
I believe that this is a pivotal part of our lives we need to nail down and be comfortable with, not just for healing and health, but more so because this is just as important as knowing the Full Gospel, having a daily personal connection with Jesus, and having a true heart for the one over the ninety nine, because it has so much to do with Christ’s heart. Christ loves His bride, and we’re called to love her too.
Starting with Thessalonica
My church community began with looking at the church in Thessalonica, primarily because of its demarcation as being known as an example church to all of Macedonia, Achaia, and their “faith in God has gone forth everywhere (1 Thessalonians 1:8b).”
The church, the people who made up this portion of the bride of Christ, His body, was established to be emulated in order to answer our question.
“remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 1:3
Work of Faith
These people were known for their work, or ergon, which is better translated as occupation, productivity, creativity, the work of their hands, basically the physical and social culture created by them. And their ergon, the way in which they produce culture around them, is produced via faith.
So, what’s faith? We read through Hebrews 11 line by line and sat in the great cloud of witness who were all commended for their faith, and in particular, defined it by two things from verse 6: the belief that God exists – that God is who He says that He is and is the only One to be worshipped; and that He rewards those who seek after Him first – that He commends those who chase hard after Him.
Faith is basically believing who God says He is and therefore, out of that definition, running hard after Him. These people were known for the culture they created out of their worship and seeking hard after the one and only God. A people who lived by faith.
Labor of Love
The church in Thessalonica was known for their labor, or kopos, marked blatantly by love. Kopos is better translated as intense labor united with trouble or toil that produces nothing but weariness. That’s coupled with love.
We read through 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 and were humbled and astounded by what love actually is – that at the heart of it, the definition of love boils down to the utter opposite of selfishness – the laying down of one’s own rights, privileges, and life for the sake of another.
We talked about how much in history, the church made a mark and was noticed by earthly authorities because of the way in which they loved and gave themselves up for the flourishing of others – at their own expense. These people were known for their willingness to engage in the suffering of others because of their deep sense of selflessness. A people who were known by their love.
Steadfastness of Hope
The Thessalonians were known for their steadfastness, or hypomones, inspired by hope. And, again, a far better description than steadfastness or perseverance is being unswerving from a deliberate purpose and allegiance, and this unswerving determination is laser focused on the hope by which they lived.
We studied through Romans 5:1-5 and looked at the nature of hope – that it 1.) rejoices because of the glory of God and 2.) comes through a succession from suffering, to perseverance, to character, and then to hope. Hope does not shame or disappoint. It does not leave us as fools. We looked further at what it is that, if it were not true, would leave us to be fools, and we came to find ourselves looking straight at the hope we have in Jesus and His Kingdom. It’s the hope in the Kingdom of God.
These people were known for their unswerving allegiance and devotion to the hope they clung to that Jesus’ Kingdom is both eternal and at hand, and is here and now. A people who were the voice of hope to the world around them.
What is the Church? The Church is a people who are grounded. It’s a people who live by faith, are known by love, and are the voice of hope to the world around them. In other words, a people who create culture around them and make decisions out of their singular worship of God and God alone, are known for their unfathomable selflessness towards one another and others, and is sounding out that Jesus’ reign is not only true but is more good and more for your very own good than you could ever imagine.
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