1 Thessaloninas 5:12-28
Well here we are. This is the fifth and final week of our series on 1 Thessalonians. We have been on a journey to discover what it means to be the church. We have parsed out what Paul says in this letter to, what we can determine from the language is, one of his more beloved churches. We can see a deep sense of care in Paul’s words, because we look at a church that needs care and encouragement in a time of hardship. Not because the Thessalonians have done anything wrong, but because of how they are being treated by the Romans and Jews, as well as how they beat themselves up in ways. We hear words of encouragement to “keep your heads up” from Paul.
Paul’s final words as he wraps up this letter are a look back at what he has said throughout most of the letter. In his letters, Paul, follows good writing procedures and recovers the themes from his letter again as sort a recap of all he has said. This came especially in handy so readers wouldn’t have to keep flipping through the letter to find things.
So let’s take a minute and look back at three themes we have covered in this letter. In the first week I introduced the series and we talked about the church, and we looked at how we are the church and what it means to live into that promise. We talked about growing as Christians and growing who we are as the church. We looked at doing it through three avenues. We looked at study, missions, and witnessing, and how these three concepts form us as a church and help us to grow.
The second week we built upon that and talked about our ministry. We discussed what it means to be in ministry. Who we are in ministry for. We asked questions like: What is our understanding of ministry? How do we do ministry? Who do we do ministry for? These questions continued to mold and form how we think about reaching out as the church and being there church in general . We looked at Spiritual gifts and what roles they play in ministry. The fact we take what God gives us and use it to his glory for transformation of the world.
In week three we took a hard look at holiness. What does it mean to be holy? We looked at the concept of perfection and how difficult it is to expect perfection because we are susceptible to temptation. However, we cannot doubt that we will one day be made perfect. We must continue to seek growth and maturity in holiness. God does not want us to forsake him, but wants us to live as the creatures we have been called to be. Therefore, we read how Paul sets forth three ideas to help us live a holy life. He called his readers to abstain from the unholy act, control their urges, and protect not only themselves but their brothers and sisters in Christ as well.
And last week we looked at eternal glory, and the promise of this eternal glory that Jesus gives us. We looked at our justified grief in the loss of loved ones in our lives. However, we examined how while grief is not a bad thing that we must couple that grief with the hope in the promise of resurrection Jesus has given us. We looked at how we can be that beacon of hope for the church in times of grief. We help others understand that hope that is offered in Jesus.
All of these concepts, while not explicit, are there in Paul’s final remarks to the Thessalonians in this letter. As we read through Paul’s remarks here we see a list of sorts of things he is taking this final moment to remind the Thessalonians of before he finishes. This list walks through how Paul views our job as the church. For the better part of this book Paul has focused on addressing the issues of what makes the church the church. From growth and maturing to ministry to Jesus’ promise are what make us the church. However, in these final verses Paul breaks all of that down and gives the two levels of where the church is focused.
We can see that this passage can be broken into these two sections which address the different levels of how we have looked at the “tiers of the church,” as I have called them throughout this series. This again reiterates the idea that the concept of church is a both and when we talk about personal vs. social. There is both this inner, personal force and this social force that work on us towards that idea of sanctification we have discussed in the past. You all have been hearing me talk about these two tiers and probably have questions about what each of these tiers mean. Well as we read here through Paul’s words and we look through the words in our past and present denominational tradition we will begin to pick out how these two levels are essential in being the church not only for yourself, or here in this community, but to the global community.
John Wesley talked about this in terms of the ideas of personal piety and social holiness. From Wesley we gathered this understanding that we are not a faith that should merely be focused on personal piety, but that along with growing in that personal realm we must also have that social holiness and look towards the world in need of help. Those are the points Paul addresses here in these final remarks. Paul addresses both sides of this idea of how we are to be the church.
Our tradition states, “United Methodists insist that faith and good works belong together. What we believe must be confirmed by what we do. Personal salvation must be expressed in ministry and mission in the world. We believe that Christian doctrine and Christian ethics are inseparable, that faith should inspire service. The integration of personal piety and social holiness has been a hallmark of our tradition. We affirm the biblical precept that “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17).”
Our Book of Discipline, which is our governing doctrine for what the church believes and tells how the church is to function, says, “Finally, we emphasize the nurturing and serving function of Christian fellowship in the Church. The personal experience of faith is nourished by the worshiping community. For Wesley there is no religion but social religion, no holiness but social holiness. The communal forms of faith in the Wesleyan tradition not only promote personal growth; they also equip and mobilize us for mission and service to the world.” So we see from our own tradition and our own Discipline this want to cover both the personal side and the social aspects of the lives of followers of Christ.
But why is this? Why must we incorporate both aspects of our lives in our faith? Why must we be a church that views a both and understand of personal and social living?
The answer to that is simple. It is because our whole lives are encompassed by faith. As we heard from that passage from James a moment ago that faith alone is dead, and even Wesley believed that our faith is shown by our actions. With God faith is the singularly important ideal. Faith covers our whole lives, because, as we have discussed, when we live by faith our works should be shown through that faith.
So we take these two concepts of personal piety and social holiness and we attach them to how Paul talks about the church and what do we come up with. 1 Thessalonians 5. We see here that Paul addresses the ideals from these concepts we have coined here in our own theological thinking.
So lets start with personal piety. This is the concept of faith itself. Who do we believe in, and how do we treat our personal relationship with God? This is the second half of our passage today. Paul writes, “Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t suppress the Spirit. Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good. Avoid every kind of evil.”
We have these instructions from Paul that address the personal side of our faith. The work that we are called to do in terms of our relationship with God. Paul is calling us to be right with God. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks…” These are all things we do to strengthen and grow our connection with God. 2 Peter 3:18 says, “Instead, grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Our faith must be founded in Christ Jesus we hear this from both Paul and Peter. God must be at the center of our faith and we must be continually growing in our own spirituality.
How do we do this?
You think about your quiet time, your prayer time, or your personal time with God. Where you spend time studying scripture and praying to God and listening for his response. It is about opening your life to times where you can grow in your own personal faith. In going to bible studies or joining a small group or accountability group. In worshiping and learning about God through word or song or at the table. These are the ways we grow our faith to understand how important something like social holiness is.
In James chapter 1 the writer writes, “Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like.”
John Wesley not only believed we had to have faith, but that we need to be examples of that faith in the world as well. This passage from James shows us the importance of showing faith by our actions. This is Wesley’s becomes concept of social holiness. As we look at this concept of social holiness side we look to Paul and see that he writes, “Brothers and sisters, we ask you to respect those who are working with you, leading you, and instructing you. Think of them highly with love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are disorderly. Comfort the discouraged. Help the weak. Be patient with everyone. Make sure no one repays a wrong with a wrong, but always pursue the good for each other and everyone else.”
This is the first part of this passage for this week and it is where Paul starts. We have heard throughout the book the good job they had been doing in terms of reaching out and helping people. Caring for their brothers and sisters not just in their close community, but in the global community outside of their faith. Paul wants the Thessalonians that help does not stop in the community but extends to all who need it.
Social holiness lies in what we do for other people. It is about going outside of focussing on our own personal piety and focussing on how the world needs help. This is our concept of mission and going out and helping people.
Most of you may be thinking, “Oh I do that.” You either down pat the idea of either personal piety or social holiness. And that is good, but as we hear from Wesley and we read from Paul it is not about one or the other, but it is about both working together. It is about growing not only in ore personal faith but in our call too be out helping others. That is a place I feel the church falls away sometimes. They either focus on one or the other and forget whichever one is not prominent to them.
So as you depart today I want you to think about the presence of both of these aspects, and what they look like in your life. Are you focussing on one more than the other? Are you more personal piety focused or do you look more at the social holiness side of the coin. If you find that one is more pronounced than the other I encourage you to find balance. I encourage because it helps you to grow and strengthen in God while also doing his work in the world.
When you think about being the church. Think about the people and the work that they do. The way they grow and the work they do in the world. This is where Paul’s message in being the church lies because being the church means having faith and sharing it with others by showing them that faith that you have.
2 2012 BOD para 102 p. 52
3 CEB James 1:23-24