In our neighborhood group we are studying through the book of I Thessalonians together. Last week spent the time reading it out loud together as if we were the church receiving the letter ourselves (this week we were able to spend a little time looking at the background / culture / life of this church which helped us understand it a bit better from a historical perspective). Of course, there is no way to really “put ourselves in their shoes” because we are so far removed from that culture. But we took our best effort and we had some great conversation tonight about what it means to be a missional community (read the first chapter of I Thess and you will see a great example of this) and what it means to be a people from whom “the word of the Lord is ringing out to people everywhere” and that wherever we go you find people telling you about our faith in God.
Here are a few things we discussed (I am sure I will miss a lot of stuff here):
– It was amazing that this church was able to have this wide impact. It was so much more than what they said, it was how they lived. in fact, Paul didn’t even feel the need to preach in some places because of the testimony the Thess. church had. What an amazing statement about a community.
– There is an amazing tension in being a community that is “of the world but not in the world” like this church was (this seems pretty clear because they were known both in words AND deeds…this implies having a missional calling and not being detached from the world). David Bosch talks about this not being two separate movements but one movement. In this, he says the idea is not balance but tension. “Rather the church’s being called out of the world send her into the world; her being sent into the world calls her out of the world.” One single movement.
– The church of Thessalonica was a great example of repentance (they turned from idols and chose to follow Christ). We learned from a little background study that for them to do this was like “giving up automobiles, computers and telephones” (NT Wright). We talked about how to do this means to let God control you, let Jesus be what controls the way you live and relate to the world.
– Piggybacking on this last thought, someone brought up that this is true, but there is such a struggle for even him (and all of us!) to do that – allow Jesus Christ to rule our thoughts, actions, feelings, etc.
– For us to be missional, we have to be controlled by Christ. Through the work Holy Spirit, we have to work hard to have Christ control how we live every aspect of our lives. Its pretty easily thought that the Thess. didn’t “have it all together” and they probably struggled with this same thing. There were probably regular occurrences of people falling back into idol worship, but they were still used by God to be a witness to the message of Jesus.
I was so encouraged tonight by our discussion because it made me realize again how we are called as a community to be a public witness to the message, person and work of Jesus. While this is a huge calling, it starts in the hearts of each of us bringing our whole lives to reign under mission and kingdom of God (in reliance on the supernatural work of the Spirit). We cannot be a public witness without being people who are transformed by Jesus.
May God transform our hearts, help us to truly repent and have the message of the Kingdom control our lives so that the hope of Jesus can be known throughout the whole region. That’s my prayer. I look forward to us spending more time in discussion on what this practically looks like on day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year basis for our Neighborhood Group and entire church community.