If I chose to sleep in, or to watch church online, or listen to a podcast of the sermon, or to catch up on lectures in the Bible College course I’m doing, or to catch up on some other jobs, or was away for the weekend, or to look after visitors, or to go shopping, I wouldn’t have been at church yesterday. But as I didn’t do any of these things, I was able to share this message on the topic of “Why go to church?”.
We will see that going to church on Sunday is a good habit that has many benefits. After all, what’s more important than worshipping God or spending time with God’s people?
Aspects of life
We can picture parts of our lives as a series of widening circles. First there is our individual life, then our family life, followed by our life in the local church and then our life in the rest of our world. We can have relationships in each of these spheres of life, such as a personal relationship with God, relationships with people in our family, in our church, and in the rest of the world. This post addresses the local church and why it’s good for us to go to church.
What is a church?
The first instance of the word “church” in the Bible is when Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Mt. 16:18NIV). As this happened after Peter said that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah, it means that the church was built on the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. The New Testament uses the Greek word for “church” (ekklesia) 114 times, primarily of the local church, but this passage refers to the whole church rather than the local church.
God is building a global church of believers, which is only visible as local churches. The local/universal and visible/invisible aspects of the church are shown in the schematic diagrams:
– The visible part of a local church is comprised of believers and unbelievers. It’s all who attend the local church. Although the majority should be believers, this includes some unbelievers as well.
– Christendom is a collection of visible local churches.
– The invisible part of the universal church is comprised of all believers in the world, who will be visible when Jesus Christ returns to reign over the earth. The topic of the universal church is outside the scope of this post.
The Bible says that a “local church” is a gathering of people who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and who worship Jesus Christ; who hear the Scriptures together; and who encourage one another in the Christian faith. It’s not the building they meet in. And it’s not a denomination. So the gathered people are the local church. Gathering together is part of what it means to be a Christian.
The Christian life was never meant to be solitary. Many of the biblical metaphors for a church indicate a plurality, such as: a body (comprised of parts and organs), a flock, (comprised of sheep) a house (comprised of living stones), a household (comprised of family members), and a holy nation (comprised of people). The church is a collective group, not an individual person. In the context of church discipline, Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Mt. 18:20). One person can’t be a church! To gather together in the name of Jesus means gathering together to publicly worship Jesus, to serve Jesus, and to help others love Jesus.
The local church is like a spiritual family. The Bible says that God is our Father and other Christians are our brothers and sisters. So the congregation of a local church are spiritual siblings. An extended spiritual family.
Physical children are raised to maturity in a physical family. Likewise, spiritual children of God (believers) should grow to maturity in a spiritual family (the local church). After they are mature they can be mentors in the spiritual family, which is like being a parent.
The beginning and destiny of the church
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He told the apostles, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Ten days later, on a Sunday, the Holy Spirit came on the believers who were “all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). We will see that it’s good for believers to be all together in one place on Sunday. Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. And they obeyed.
This was the beginning of the church on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection. After this, the apostles were evangelists that spread the good news about Jesus beginning in Jerusalem and spreading out across the Roman Empire. When there was a group of believers in a town or city, the apostles established a church that met in someone’s house. There were no church buildings in those days. A local church was a gathering of believers.
When they came together, the first church at Jerusalem was devoted to (Acts 2:42-47):
– the apostles teaching, which we now have as doctrine in the New Testament.
– Fellowship, a partnership which included eating together and sharing their possessions. It says, “all the believers were together” (Acts 2:44). Fellowship is being together.
– The Lord’s Supper, which is remembrance of Christ’s death.
– Collective prayer, when they brought their needs to God.
– Praising God, for their salvation.
– Evangelism, as people were being saved and added to the local church.
The church exists on earth from the day of Pentecost (in about AD 33) until the Rapture when all true believers are resurrected, transformed, and transported to heaven. Then the church will be united with Jesus Christ, like a wife and husband at a wedding and the church returns to rule over the earth with Him and share His glory forever (Rev. 19:6-9; 14). That’s why the church has been referred to as the bride of Christ (who is the bridegroom). So the church has a glorious future.
Let’s follow the good examples of the local church in the Bible and make it a priority to be together as a church at least once a week. Remember that church is a collective activity.
Old Testament gatherings
In Old Testament times the Israelites were God’s people. They celebrated three annual festivals when the people gathered (or assembled or met) together (Ex. 23:14-19; 34:23-24; Dt 16:16; 2 Chr. 8:12-13). These were the festival of Unleaven bread (after the Passover), the festival of Weeks (Harvest, Pentecost), and the festival of Tabernacles (Ingathering, Booths). All the men were to attend these occasions. And their families often accompanied them (1 Sam. 1). Distance may have prevented many from attending all three, but most Jews tried to attend at least one festival each year. For example, “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When He [Jesus] was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom” (Lk. 2:41-42).
Did Jesus go to church?
The Bible says that Jesus is an example for us to follow (Appendix A). And we have seen that He attended Jewish festivals which were national gatherings required by the law of Moses. And Jesus also usually attended the Jewish synagogue on Saturdays (Lk. 4:16). But He didn’t go to church on Sundays because the church didn’t begin until after He ascended back to heaven in about AD 33.
If Jesus didn’t go to church, then what about Paul?
Did Paul go to church?
After Paul became a Christian, he became an evangelist who established new churches. So Paul revealed the truth about the church and he attended and taught at many local churches.
On Paul’s third missionary journey it seems that he stayed at Troas (which is now in Turkey) for seven days in order to attend the local church on Sunday evening (Acts 20:6-7). Apparently, the public meeting of the local church was very important for Paul and the early Christians. Paul taught them until midnight, Eutychus died when he fell from a third story open window, and they celebrated the Lord’s Supper and shared a meal (Acts 20: 7-12). Why did Paul go to church in Troas? It was:
– To celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
– To build up believers by teaching them what a Christian should know and how they should behave.
– To fellowship with and encourage the believers.
Eutychus was a young man who was asleep while God was at work. He was physically present, but spiritually absent. Are we spiritually awake or spiritually asleep? Are we away when God is at work in the local church? Eutychus shows us that it can be dangerous to miss God’s work in the local church.
Reasons for going to church
God said so
The local church belongs to God. It’s “the church of the living God” (1 Tim. 3:15). Through the Bible, God tells believers not to give up meeting together – “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25). Christians should never stop meeting together. Particularly as we approach the rapture of believers to be with the Lord. In this case they were reverting to Judaism, which is apostacy. So there is a biblical basis for corporate assembling together as Christians.
It’s significant that the recipients of this letter were under the threat of persecution. Public church attendance could open them up to abuse. The command indicates that the benefits of attendance outweigh any possible threat.
Furthermore, every letter in the New Testament assumes Christians are members of local churches. And because believers are part of the universal church, if it is possible, they should be part of a local church. After all, in the Bible the same Greek word ekklesia is used for both the universal church and the local church, with the meaning being determined by the context. Believers go to church because they are part of God’s invisible church.
Why don’t we obey this command? Are we too busy, or too tired? Would we rather sleep in?
Do we have guests visiting?
So we go to church because God said so.
To praise and worship God
The Bible says that Spirit-filled believers speak “to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (Eph. 5:19). And with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit believers should sing to God with gratitude in their hearts (Col. 3:16). If Paul and Silas sang hymns to God in a prison, they would have sung them in the local church as well (Acts 16:25).
The gathering of the church to praise and worship God is a foretaste of our worship in heaven. In eternity, believers will worship with all of God’s people before the Lord.
So we go to church to praise and worship God.
To remember Jesus in the Lord’s Supper
With regard to the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24-25). Obeying this commandment helps us remember our Savior’s supreme sacrifice for our sins on the cross. It makes us examine ourselves to make sure that we have confessed all of our sins against the Lord and against one another.
The Lord’s Supper also helps us look at the big picture of Gods’ plan of salvation. What God has done in the past and what He will do in the future.
So we go to church to remember Jesus in the Lord’s Supper.
To strengthen our Christian faith
Just as Jesus and Paul taught people what they needed to know and do, teaching from the Bible does the same for us. Church attendance builds us up. Paul said, “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (1 Cor. 14:26). At church, Christians help other Christians who struggle with their faith.
The Bible says that church attendance helps us to stir one another up to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24–25). Love is a motive and deeds are actions.
Church attendance also helps prevent backsliding and apostasy. Without regular participation in corporate worship, one tends to drift spiritually. The fellowship and encouragement experienced at the local church help to vaccinate us against backsliding and apostasy.
Church attendance also reduces exposure to false teaching which is prevalent on the internet. We can trust our teachers in church because the elders keep watch over them. And the local church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” of the gospel (1 Tim. 3:15). But there’s no quality control on the internet!
And church attendance gives us a sense of purpose. It shapes our vision of the future and gives us hope.
So we go to church to strengthen our Christian faith.
To participate and serve
The Bible says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pt. 4:10). We are to “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people” (Eph. 6:7). And to “serve one another humbly in love” (Gal. 5:13).
The Bible also teaches that each member of the local church has a different gift, just like a body is comprised of different parts (Rom. 12:4-8). Everyone has a purpose in the local church. In fact, the strengths and weaknesses of the members of the local church are intentional, even complementary. Everyone has something that the others don’t have, and we are stronger together than we are apart – that’s called synergy.
.Just like every part of a body has a function, so every believer has a function in the church (Rom. 12:4-8). If you are not there it’s like missing a part of a body. The body suffers and doesn’t operate as well as it should if you aren’t in attendance. It’s like missing a part of a team.
Church is also like a sports team. Missing church is like missing the weekly game. Sports teams struggle when they don’t know who will be there to play. For example, the English cricket team missed James Anderson (because he was injured) when they played and were beaten by Australia last week.
Christ gave you a gift that the church needs. Are you using it?
So we go to church to participate and serve.
To give and receive encouragement
We have been designed to need other Christians to help us keep going in the faith, and we can be an encouragement to others. Paul told the believers in Rome, “I long to see you so that … you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Rom. 1:11-12).
One of the purposes of gathering together is to “encourage one another” (Heb. 10:24-25). We all need encouragement and going to church can provide that.
So we go to church to give and receive encouragement.
To give and receive prayer
“On their release [from prison], Peter and John went back to their own people [the local church] and reported all that the [Jewish] chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God” (Acts 4:23-24). They prayed that Peter and John would continue to speak God’s word “with great boldness” (Acts 4:29). This is example of prayer in a local church.
The local church also enables us to pray for others and others to pray for us. It helps us to consider others and not just focus on ourselves. So it broadens the content of our prayers and our prayers are multiplied as more people are praying than just us.
So we go to church to give and receive prayer.
To share in Christian fellowship
In the book of Acts, we’re told that those who came to faith in the early days “devoted themselves … to fellowship” (2:42). But we can’t fellowship by ourselves! Instead, we need a Christian community.
As we spend time with one another, we become aware of each other’s needs. This gives us opportunities to help each other. We are to share with believers who are in need (Rom. 12:13).
For example, those in the early church “shared everything they had” so that people’s needs were met (Acts 4:32-35). They donated money to believers in churches where there was poverty (Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 8:1-15). Paul encouraged such generosity (2 Cor. 9:6-15). Church is the best place to learn about generosity and to practice generosity.
Everyone is looking for acceptance and a place to belong. Church is a community where we can socialize and support each other. You can make friends, feel a sense of belonging, and build a support network that you can rely on. The church community helps us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). And to “Carry each other’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). If you go to church there will be some “who will show genuine concern for your welfare” (Phil. 2:20). Also, we can practice hospitality by inviting people to a meal after church.
If you’re just watching church or preaching on a screen at home, you miss living in close fellowship with real people. You miss the unity and diversity of a church gathering.
So we go to church to share in Christian fellowship.
To become more Christlike
Church attendance helps our sanctification — our progressive growth in being conformed to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29). It is for our general “strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1 Cor. 14:3), but also in beholding Jesus together: “we all . . . are being transformed into His [Christ’s] image with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). God loves to change our minds and our hearts. Going to church encourages godly living in an ungodly society.
Church attendance also helps us express the fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23). It’s easier to show love, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, or gentleness to someone if you see them often.
Church attendance also helps us imitate Christ’s humility (Phil.2:3-8). It’s easier to put the welfare of others above yours if you see them often.
So we go to church to become more Christlike.
To show our love for God and His people
Regular church attendance shows that we love God and love His people (the church). If we say we love the Lord, but neglect fellow Christians (who are called the body of Christ), we are a hypocrite – our actions don’t match our words.
It also shows that we have eternal life. John said, “We know that we [believers] have passed from death to life, because we love each other” (1 Jn. 3:13). It’s a declaration and witness to others that you’re a Christian. When they ask, “What did you do on the weekend?”, you can say “I went to church”. And it’s a great example to your spouse and children (Lk. 6:40).
So we go to church to show our love for God and for His people.
To be involved in spreading the gospel
As the gospel is the foundation and the message of the church, by going to church we can support and be involved in spreading the good news about Jesus.
This can range from a local church ministry to the support of overseas missionaries. And it can be with children, youth or adults. Personal witnessing is also important. If someone is a new or immature Christian it’s good to encourage them to attend a church for their spiritual growth and fellowship.
So we go to church to be involved in spreading the gospel.
Look at all the reasons for going to church: God said so, Praise and worship, Remember Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, Strengthen our faith, Participate and serve, Encouragement, Prayer, Fellowship, Become more Christlike, Show our love for God and His people, and the Gospel. These good reasons are better than the bad ones listed in Appendix B.
When Scott Morrison was asked by the media after his incredible election win in May 2019, ‘what are you going to do tomorrow?’, he answered, ‘I will go to church as usual’. So the Prime Minister of Australia went to church on Sunday after a late Saturday night. And he is a busy man. Can we block out Sunday mornings (or whenever our local church meets) in our calendars to go to church? And don’t let Saturday night keep you away from church.
Excuses for not going to church
It’s clear that the Bible teaches that regular church attendance is a normal part of following Jesus. The Bible also gives examples of some who gave an excuse instead of following Jesus (Lk. 9:57-62).
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to Him [Jesus], “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man [Jesus] has no place to lay His head.”
59 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
The excuses used by these three men were:
– Lack of security (one man didn’t want to adopt an itinerant lifestyle).
– Put it off (one man wanted to wait until after their father’s death and burial). This was a delaying tactic.
– Family commitments (one man wanted to go back and say goodbye to his family, which could also be a delaying tactic, or could cause him to change his mind about following Jesus).
They were like a man plowing a crooked furrow with oxen. As they didn’t have GPS in those days, to dig a straight furrow they needed to keep aiming for a distant target. But if they looked in another direction, the plough would turn and deviate from the straight line.
And Jesus told a parable to some Jewish religious leaders about an invitation to a banquet (Lk. 14:16-20):
16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
The excuses used by these three men were:
– Possessions (one man wanted to visit a new field).
– Work (one man wanted to try out five new yoke of oxen).
– Family (one man was married recently).
Similar excuses can be given for not going to church.
Christianity is not a choose-your-own path religion. The people we are to associate with have already been chosen for us. We have a ready-made extended spiritual family in the local church.
Is church just something to do on Sunday morning when there is nothing else going on? If church is optional, we set up our family to backslide and fail in the Christian life.
If you haven’t trusted in Jesus yet, then you don’t have God’s help in your individual life, in your family life, or in your relationships with the rest of the world. What excuses are you using for not looking into following Jesus? Don’t put it off any longer, but talk to someone about it today.
When you become a follower of Jesus, you also can have the extended family of the local church to help you in all these aspects of life.
A survey on why Americans go to church found that the top three answers were: so that they will be closer to God; so their children will follow God; and so they will become more like God. In another survey, sermons; programs for children and teenagers; and community outreach and volunteer opportunities were the top reasons for attending church. And it’s been said that the three highlights of a Christian’s life should be:
– Sharing the Lord’s Supper.
– Listening to the message from God in the Bible.
– Exercising their spiritual gifts in service for Christ.
These are done best in the local church.
Disciples are those who are committed to following Jesus in the Christian faith. Marriage is another commitment. But marriages don’t always last.
In Australia about 36% of marriages end in divorce and in the US it’s about 45%. The average marriage in Australia lasts for about 12 years. Going to church can help us remain faithful to the Lord.
Don’t come occasionally to church. Don’t just come when you feel like it. Make weekly church attendance your first priority and let it be a good habit that becomes a part of who you are.
On Sunday mornings you can either make a bad habit of being lazy and doing things that have nothing to do with God. Or you can make a good habit of waking up and participating in a godly church even when you don’t feel like it.
Of course, church is not just a place to go, rather it is a living body where God wants you to become a part–for your good and for His glory. Christ is committed to the church like a husband is committed to his wife. The church is called the bride of Christ. What’s our commitment to the local church? Is it like being married, or are we just dating?
Attending church with God’s people was top priority for the apostle Paul. It should be likewise for us. If we are often absent from church, what’s getting our attention instead? Is it family, or education, or work, or hobbies, or recreation, or something else? These can be idols when they take us away from being at church.
On Sunday, let’s go to church. Going to church on Sunday is a good habit that has many benefits. After all, what’s more important than worshipping God or spending time with God’s people?
Appendix A: The examples of Jesus and Paul
Instead of being selfish, Paul put the welfare of others first because he didn’t want to hinder their spiritual growth. He said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul and Jesus are examples of people who put others first.
Appendix B: Some bad reasons for going to church
Here are some bad reasons for going to church:
Out of duty/obligation
To get my needs met
To feel good; get inspired
To find a boy/girl friend or spouse
For what I can get out of it
To find clients for my business
To be entertained
For my social life
To justify my sin
To get right with the Lord
Because the preacher is popular
So God will bless my finances
So God will bless my health
To maintain family relationships
They have lots of programs
They have a school
The number of people who attend
Because everyone else does
To make God happy
The building and facilities
Written, August 2019
Although sin separates us from a holy and sinless God, we can be grateful that our sins can be forgiven and forgotten (Ps. 32:5; 130:3-4; Heb. 10:17). Before answering the question, we should realise that there are two main types of confession and forgiveness in Scripture. One is when an unbeliever comes into faith in Christ and the other is when they confess sins committed subsequently as a believer.
In the first case, we face Jesus Christ as the judge and the penalty of our sins is spiritual death, which leads to hell. When this person confesses their sins they are forgiven by God because Christ’s death paid the penalty for their sins – past, present and future. Their destiny changes from hell to heaven and they can enjoy daily fellowship with God. This can be called judicial, unconditional or positional forgiveness, which happens once in a believer’s life (Rom. 8:1-2; Heb. 10:14).
In the second case, the person has sinned, but is spiritually alive. This is the situation in the case of the question. As part of God’s family on earth, they are separated from God the Father in terms of daily fellowship, but they are not separated from going to heaven as the penalty for their sin has already been paid. When this person confesses their sins they are forgiven by God because Christ’s death paid the penalty for all their sins and their daily fellowship with God our Father is restored. This can be called parental, conditional or practical forgiveness, which should occur regularly in a believer’s life (1 Jn. 1:5-2:2). This is the kind of forgiveness that the Lord’s disciples were to practise: “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mt. 6:12, 14-15NIV). It includes forgiving others: God cannot forgive us when we are unwilling to forgive one another (Mk. 11:25; Lk. 6:37). If we fail to forgive one another, we will miss being rewarded when we get to heaven (Mt. 18:35).
The two types of forgiveness were illustrated when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (Jn. 13:2-10). As they wore open sandals, the disciples needed to wash their feet regularly after walking on dusty roads even though they may have bathed recently. The bath was like judicial forgiveness and the feet washing was like parental forgiveness.
William MacDonald summarized the differences between the two types of forgiveness as follows:
|Judicial forgiveness||Parental forgiveness|
|Person’s status||Sinner (unbeliever)
|Child of God (believer) (1 Jn. 3:2)|
|RelationshipTo God||Judge (Ps. 96:13)||Father (Gal. 4:6)|
|Result of sin||Eternal death (Rom. 6:23)||Broken fellowship (1 Jn. 1:6)
Prayers hindered (Ps. 66:18)
|Role of Christ||Savior (1 Tim. 1:15)||High Priest (Heb. 4:4-16)
Advocate (1 Jn. 2:1)
|Means of forgiveness||Faith (Acts 16:31)||Confession (1 Jn. 1:9)|
|Consequence averted||Hell (Jn. 5:24)||Discipline (1 Cor. 11:31-32)
Loss of reward (1 Cor. 3:15)
|Outcome||New relationship (Jn. 1:12)||Renewed fellowship (Ps. 32:5)|
|Frequency||Once (Jn. 13:10)||Many times (Jn. 13:8)|
Therefore, although a Christian’s unconfessed sins affects their relationship with God, they are still a child of God whose ultimate destiny is heaven.
Written, February 2012
In this Series on 1 Thessalonians we have seen that Paul visited and preached in Thessalonica and a church was established. Because he couldn’t visit them for some time, he wrote a letter of encouragement. From 4:1 to 5:11 Paul reminded them how to please God – avoid sexual immorality and excel in holiness and brotherly love. Instead of grieving for those who had died, they were to look forward to being reunited with them and to be awake and sober as they looked forward to the Lord’s return. Paul ended his letter with practical guidelines on Christian living. He addressed godly attitudes and behavior in relationships with the elders, other believers and God.
Living With Church Leaders
“Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.” 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 NIV
These verses address leadership in the local church. The Bible teaches that each church is to be led by a group of qualified elders who share this responsibility. Several characteristics of elders are mentioned here. They are to “work hard” at caring for people. They are to be “over” the congregation, meaning that they are to maintain or rule. In other letters Paul said that they “direct the affairs of the church” and “lead” (1 Tim. 5:17; Rom. 12:8). Both Paul and Peter likened their care to spiritual parents caring for a family (1 Tim. 3:4,5,12; 1 Pet. 5:2-3). Elders are also to “admonish” or gently reprove the congregation. Paul used the same word when he told them to warn anyone who didn’t obey his instructions (2 Th. 3:15). Elders are to remind the church of God’s truths and the dangers of living a self-centered life.
In this passage, the congregation was given two responsibilities with respect to the elders. It was to “respect” them. This Greek word is translated as “acknowledge” (TNIV), “know” (KJV), “recognize” (NKJV), “appreciate” (NASB) and “honor” (NLT). The congregation needs to know the elders if they are going to trust and follow them. They are also to “hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” This means to value them because of their important work, not because of their personality, spiritual gifts, wealth or anything else.
In this context Paul encouraged Thessalonians to “live in peace with each other.” Harmony should be characteristic of all Christian relationships, as peace is a fruit of the Spirit and we follow the God of peace (1 Th. 5:23; Gal. 5:22). There is a need to value all the elders, as favoring one divides the congregation. Also, elders should serve the whole congregation, not just part of it. Paul wrote elsewhere that we should “make every effort to do what leads to peace” and “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 14:19; 12:18).
Living With Believers
“And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15
Here Paul shows us how we are to live with three types of people. We are to “warn those who are idle.” Apparently, some Thessalonians had stopped working in order to prepare for the second coming of the Lord (2 Th. 3:10-11). They lived off others, were disorderly and became busybodies disrupting the local church. Paul’s solution was that they get back to work to support themselves and their families. He warned that “anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Paul said don’t help them by feeding them; instead let them experience the consequences of their behavior (2 Th. 3:10-13). This admonition is followed by two examples of caring.
“Encourage the disheartened.” Those who are disappointed with life are to be encouraged by individuals coming alongside and empathizing with them. Circumstances can cause people to think they don’t belong and have nothing to contribute. But we all have God-given gifts. We need to help such people find their place in the church and encourage them in their work.
“Help the weak” refers to those who may not be sure of their salvation because of their past, or who may doubt God’s power. Paul also taught that we shouldn’t stumble those who are weak in the faith (Rom. 14:1-15; 1 Cor. 8:13). They need our encouragement, friendship and help.
Paul then mentioned three attitudes required when warning, encouraging and helping others: First, “Be patient with everyone.” This means trying again and again even though there may be no response from those you are warning, encouraging and helping. Second, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong.” Christians are called to forgive, not retaliate (Mt. 18:21-22; Rom. 12:17). When someone hurts us, we should not get angry and retaliate, but rather seek reconciliation (Mt. 18:15-17). Be patient and continue to show Christian kindness and love. Third, “Always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” The goal of warning, encouraging and helping others should be to achieve what is best for them in the Lord.
Living Before God In All Circumstances
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
It is God’s will that believers be characterized by joy, prayer and thanksgiving. Paul began with “Be joyful always” to encourage us not to let things get us down. In Philippians 4:4 he added that our rejoicing should be “in the Lord.” This joy is to be shown in all circumstances including suffering and persecution (Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 4:13). The Thessalonians were persecuted (1 Th. 1:6; 2:14; 3:3-4). Paul sang while in prison (Acts 16:22-25). How can this be? Their joy was an internal attitude that was not overtaken by external circumstances; it is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), with Christ as its source and subject. He controls our circumstances and through Him we have victory. We develop joy by focusing on God’s promises and spending time with joyful believers. Joy is contagious.
Then Paul urged them to “pray continually” – at regular times and as needed. When trials come we need to pray our way through them. For example, when Peter was in prison, the believers prayed and he was released (Acts 12:1-19). We should “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests … and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Eph. 6:18).
Paul also told believers to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Believers should be “overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:7) even in the trials and difficulties which mature us. We don’t have to give thanks for everything that happens to us; it says “in” our circumstances, not “for” them. But we shouldn’t complain or grumble. Thanking God is not a feeling, it’s a choice. Daniel prayed three times a day, “giving thanks to his God” even though his life was in danger (Dan. 6:10-12). We can develop an attitude of praising God in all circumstances.
Living Before God As He Guides
“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire” is a metaphor for hindering or extinguishing the operation of the Holy Spirit in an individual or the church. This may be caused by sin, disunity or suppression of the Spirit’s gifts. Instead, we are to keep the Spirit’s fire burning by following Paul’s instructions to be joyful, prayerful and thankful, and by following the Spirit when He prompts us to do what is right or stop doing what is wrong.
“Do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything.” The early Church did not have a completed Bible so the gift of prophecy was God’s way of getting His message to His people. Now that the canon of Scripture is set, this takes place as His Word is taught and preached. Instead of despising prophecies, the Thessalonians were to evaluate them. Paul also said that those listening to prophets should discern or “weigh carefully” what they say (1 Cor. 14:29). They were to test them against the apostles’ teachings. Then they could accept what was good and reject what was bad. In Acts, Luke told the Jews in Thessalonica to learn from the Bereans who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).
“May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
The Thessalonians couldn’t live like this in their own strength, so Paul prayed for them as only God could make their efforts successful. There are different aspects to sanctification (holiness), and here he addressed progressive sanctification. Paul prayed that their sanctification would extend to their whole being – spirit, soul and body. The spirit is our link to God, the soul is our mind, emotions and will, and the body is the physical part housing the spirit and soul.
It is God who makes us holy, and Paul was confident that He would complete what He began (Phil. 1:6). He is faithful to keep His promises. The end of this progression is the coming of our Lord, at the judgment seat of Christ, when each Christian’s life will be reviewed as he/she stands before Him.
“Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:25-28
After he prayed for them, Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray for him. The kiss was a normal greeting of that day, similar to a handshake in western countries. It expressed friendship with fellow believers. Paul wanted “to have this letter read to all” brothers and sisters, a statement not found in any of his other letters (5:27); he thought it was that important. We should read it with this in mind.
Three keys to living together as Christians alluded to here are prayer, fellowship and Bible reading. Paul ended this letter with a benediction of grace for the Thessalonians – God’s unmerited favor through the saving work of Christ.
Lessons For Us
Let’s develop godly attitudes and behaviors in our relationships with church elders, with other believers and with God. Get to know the elders of your church, and value them because of their work. Obey them and encourage them in their work. The same principle applies to ministry leaders within the church. Believers should serve one another through encouragement, practical help, patience, peaceable living, and by treating everyone as equals in Christ. Our attitude toward God should be one of joy, prayer and thanksgiving in all circumstances. We should not stifle the work of the Holy Spirit in an individual or in the church. The standard by which we should test all preaching and teaching is the Word.
May we use the resources God has provided to live for Him until the Rapture when Christ returns to take us to be with Him forever.
Published, June 2009
See the next article in this series: Encouragement during trials and suffering (2 Thessalonians 1)
From The New Zealand Landscape
We enjoyed a family holiday in New Zealand last year. Most of our time was spent as tourists travelling around the countryside and admiring the scenery. While I took photographs and did some hiking, my wife made teddy bears and visited craft shops, and our teenage children socialized and did some in-line rollerskating whenever possible. We also renewed friendships with our relatives and other Christians.
In many areas of New Zealand white wooden crosses along the roadside mark the site of fatal accidents. These are memorials to those who have died, but they can also remind drivers of the dangers they face. For example, upon seeing a cross, drivers may check their speed and drive more carefully. Of course, vehicular accidents happen despite road safety campaigns and warning signs. Similarly, couples and families have accidents in life despite warnings in the Scriptures.
The landscape of New Zealand is characterized by mountains, lakes and sheep. These three features remind me of three things that healthy marriages and families need: enduring partnerships, power for each day, and Christian fellowship. We can also view these three needs as commitments – to our spouse, to God and to a local church.
New Zealand’s Southern Alps feature snow-capped peaks and glaciers. At Mount Cook National Park climbers prepared to scale the alpine peaks. Some advertised for climbing partners as the terrain was too dangerous to explore alone. Those climbing alpine mountains require reliable team mates and proper equipment. Connected by ropes for hours each day, this is not a place for weak commitment. In such situations, if you stopped and did your own thing you would be endangering yourself and others. In this way, climbing reminds me of marriage.
Paul referred to Titus as his “partner and fellow worker” (2 Cor. 8:23), which is an ideal description of the relationship between husband and wife. At times those who are married will need to depend on the endurance, strength and patience of the other partner. But if both are committed to Christ, then He is part of the team and promises to help through difficult circumstances (Mt. 11:28-30).
God invented marriage (Gen. 2:24-25), and Jesus endorsed the importance of marriage between one man and one woman when He said that no one should separate a couple that God has joined together (Mt. 19:4-8). Christians are commanded to always be faithful to their marriage partners (Heb. 13:4). This means that marriage is a lifelong commitment, which is consistent with God’s command that the love between a husband and wife be like that between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:22-23). Therefore it is wise to count the cost beforehand rather than to leap into such a commitment too quickly. Do not be deceived. The idea of a marriage only lasting as long as it “works” or until one finds a more attractive partner comes from Satan not from the Scriptures. Similarly, the idea of living together as a couple outside of marriage shows a lack of commitment to each other and lack of obedience to the Scriptures.
Two other great dangers that can destroy a marriage are sexual immorality and selfish ambition (Gal. 5:19-20). It is good to have ambitions as long as these are shared and agreed upon. But when little regard is held for the views and/or the welfare of the spouse, then the marriage is in danger of breakdown. Likewise sexual immorality or unfaithfulness always hurts the marriage relationship. One reason for this is that unfaithfulness to one’s spouse indicates unfaithfulness to God. Building a lasting, faithful partnership with your spouse improves your relationship with God as well as with each other.
Power For Each Day
New Zealand has many lakes that have formed as a result of volcanic and glacial activity. Much of the water in these lakes is harnessed to generate hydro-electric power. Because electricity cannot be stored, the power generated must, on a moment-by-moment basis, exactly match the power demanded.
Similarly, God’s power and strength for the believer cannot be stored; it needs to be available for use on a day-by-day basis. This power comes from the Holy Spirit as we participate in the divine nature (Acts 1:8; Eph. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3-4). It relies on God-given faith, the truth of the Scriptures and prayer (Eph. 6:10-18).
In a Christian marriage the order of priority should be God first, spouse second and children third. Do not neglect your relationship with God as you need His divine power in your marriage and your family. Those who pray together are more likely to stay together. When both partners are committed to God, they have a solid foundation for their marriage. It also shows children what is really important in life.
According to the Old Testament, parents should remind their children daily about God’s promises and how He is working in their lives (Dt. 6:6-7). This can help children realize that God cares for them.
Our top priority should be to build a strong, lasting relationship with the Lord. Communicate with Him daily. Read and apply the Bible to your life. Ask God for guidance by praying about the needs in your marriage and family. Share the vision God has given you and help others in your family to develop their gifts. If God has put you together, then you should complement each other. He wants you to work together as a team in your mission for Him. Know what you are to do day by day and God will provide the power for you to do it.
New Zealand has lots of sheep. They are kept in flocks and follow one another as they move around the countryside. One day we spent about five minutes attempting to drive through a flock of sheep that was travelling on a road. This reminded me that God sees us as His sheep (Jn. 10:11; Heb. 13:20). He puts us in local churches (or flocks) because we need ongoing relationships with other believers. Just as children are to grow up within families, believers are to grow up within local churches.
The local church is where we are to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Th. 5:11). We are to talk regularly with local believers and not be isolated from them (Mal. 3:16). God said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). Likewise, neither couples nor families are meant to be isolated. Instead we should “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24-25). Unfortunately, some give up the habit of meeting collectively with other believers, which leads to a lack of mutual encouragement, and increases the likelihood of being deceived by sin and hardened against God (Rom. 1:12; Heb. 3:13).
Marriages fail when communication ceases and people who once worked together as partners begin to lead separate lives. Some believers also give up on Christian fellowship and choose to isolate themselves from other Christians. For various reasons they may drop out of the local church, not realizing the importance of ongoing fellowship for their spiritual health. Did you know that statistics show that married people are physically more healthy than unmarried people of similar circumstances? This research not only promotes marriage, but it also indicates the benefits of companionship and fellowship.
Some couples and families stop attending a local church when they move to another city. Since one of the purposes of marriage is to raise children to become believers (Mal. 2:15), if the family does not attend a local church, the children will miss out on Christian fellowship. It is clear from Scripture that parents should endeavor to pass on the Christian faith to the next generation. For example Timothy’s mother and grandmother were believers (2 Tim. 1:5) who passed on their “sincere faith” to him in such a way that it was evident to Paul. To hear that their children are “walking in the truth” should give parents great joy (2 Tim 2:2; 3 Jn. 4).
Communication of the Christian faith should begin in the home and be supported by the local church. Is your home used for Christian fellowship such as Bible study and prayer? When Peter was in prison “many people had gathered and were praying” in Mary’s house (Acts 12:12). This kind of home fellowship is a great witness to your children and to the community.
Couples and families should build lasting relationships in a local church. This means sharing your lives with your Christian brothers and sisters (Mt. 12:49-50; Jas. 2:15) and praying collectively about your situations and needs. Stay where you can experience spiritual growth; where there are those you can learn from and follow and those you can help and encourage. How can you expect to have a lasting relationship with God if you cannot have a lasting relationship with other Christians (1 Jn. 4:20-21)?
Healthy Marriages And Families
Hopefully, New Zealand’s mountains, lakes and sheep have reminded us of the foundations of strong marriages and families. The health of your marriage and family depends on the strength of your commitments to God, your spouse and believers in the local church. These are important in a day when it seems difficult for many to make and keep commitments.
Keeping your marriage together affects your spouse, children, co-workers, friends, neighbors, fellow Christians – your whole life!
We began this article by mentioning the white wooden crosses that mark the sites of auto accidents in New Zealand. You may drive carefully to survive, but do you live to survive? Don’t back out of your commitments. God doesn’t want you and yours to become another marriage/family accident statistic along life’s highway.