When people ask us what our Churches are like, we tend to answer in different ways. One way is to answer in terms of numbers, how many people attend. Another way we might answer would be to talk about how many programmes we have running or big events planned. We might even focus on the quality of the music or even the coffee!
I am always struck at the beginning of 2 Thessalonians by what Paul gives thank for in their lives. In verses 3 – 4 he gives thanks for three particular signs of godliness.
Firstly he gives thanks for the fact that their faith is 'growing abundantly'. He has heard of their faith and the fact that they are growing in their closeness to God. Is that something we can say of ourselves and our Church? That we are growing abundantly in our faith. In our relationship with God, in our knowledge of his word, in holiness? Are we putting sin to death and becoming more like Christ? How often is that the thing we tell people when we speak of our Church? That we are growing in our faith together.
Secondly he gives thanks for the fact that they are growing in their love. He says,
'The Love of every one of you for another is increasing.' Jesus said that a distinguishing mark of the Church is that they have love one for another. As God's family this should be evident in our Churches. That love should be demonstrated in our everyday lives and not just on Sundays. Through small acts of love as we share life together. Through hospitality and practical help to one another. Our love for one another should be seen so that when people look at us they are led to ask why we love one another so much, especially when we are so different. Perhaps there is some way you can lovingly serve a believer in Christ today.
The third and final reason that Paul gives thanks for the Thessalonians is because of their steadfastness. 1 Thessalonians 1 tells us that these people received the gospel and became Christians in the midst of affliction and difficulty. Here again we read that they continued in the faith steadfastly while they suffered and were persecuted (v4). So much so that Paul says they boast about the Thessalonians to other Churches.
There are many things a Church might boast about. I wonder how many would boast about the people in their Church who are suffering and going through great difficulty but remain faithful to God despite it all? When Churches feel pressured to keep things cheerful and chirpy, what room is there to weep with those who weep and encourage them in their steadfastness of faith?
What are we to give thanks for in our Churches? There are many encouragements to take and of course we want more people to be saved and our Church to grow and continue here as a witness for God's glory. We must make the effort to reach the world around us for him. Programmes and and other aspects of Church all have their place but are we encouraged and giving thanks for the things that Paul and the others gave thanks for? Are we rejoicing as we see one another grow in our faith? Is there a clear demonstration of love between us that points the world around us to Christ.
Let us also draw alongside and encourage those who are suffering and struggling in the mist of trial and persecution. May we learn from their example! Let all of these marks be evident in our Church.