Growth in Grace

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Pastor DeYoung: Let’s pray as we come to God’s Word. Heavenly Father, we know that in Your Word you promised to give grace to the humble and to oppose the proud, so please grant us humility. Make me humble as I speak in front of all these people. And make each one of them humble as they sit under the teaching of Your Word. We so desperately need more grace from your hand and so we need more humility. Give us then an open mind and a contrite heart as we come to Your Word. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I’ll be reading this morning from 1 Thessalonians Chapter 3. I invite you to follow along as I read, beginning at verse 6 through the end of the chapter. 1 Thessalonians chapter 3, verses 6-13.

This is what God Himself has to say to us. “But now that Timothy has come to us from you and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you — for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”

We don’t watch a whole lot of TV in our house, but yes, we do have a TV and yes, it’s kind of big. I have bad eyes. When we do watch something, I watch sports, almost any kind of sport I can enjoy watching. My boys like to watch robots attack each other, that’s fun. And my wife really likes to watch Fixer Upper. Now some of you have also seen Fixer Upper and husbands, if you want to be a good husband, I suggest you sit down and watch some of it with your wife. It’s one of those home improvement shows like all the other ones: You buy a house and you fix it up. And you have an hour to watch people buy homes and then fix them up.

But this one, if you’ve seen it, is unique. The host of it, Chip and Joanna Gaines, you can actually find them online and they have a testimony of faith in Jesus Christ, but a lot of people watch them not only because they’re really talented in what they do, but people like to watch to see their interaction, to see something that is kind of unique and refreshing, to see a husband and a wife with their kids and they seem to like their kids and their kids like them, and they seem to like each other, and the husband is this very goofy guy and the wife is really talented so that all the wives out there think, “oh, I wish I could be like her” and all the husbands think, “oh, I could do that, I could be like him… I could do that.”

And I’m sure that the cable network understands that what they have is not just home improvement but they have a relationship. And the way in which they seem, and we’re only seeing them on camera, but seem to be so genuinely enjoying being married and relating to each other. And so people tune in.

There is something very attractive about people who sincerely, unassumingly, happily enjoy being together. That’s why if you listen to radio stations in the morning they want to find people who have a very loud laugh. People, they want to hear people laughing together. People enjoy listening and being around people who enjoy being with each other.

In my experience in 15 years of pastoral ministry, in welcoming hundreds of new members and sitting in on I don’t know how many membership interviews, and welcoming people as we did last week, and hearing a little bit about why they’ve joined, they do that with the elders, in 15 years of that, I can say in my experience 95% of the people joining a church say one of two things, and usually they say some combination of both. One, they will say something like “I learn a lot from the teaching” or “I really appreciate the emphasis of the Word in this church,” or “Sunday morning is so inspiring, I get so much out of the services,” something about that: Teaching, learning, worship.

And then the second thing that invariably they say is “I have met so many wonderful people who have welcomed us in, made us feel like home.” We hear that over and over.

Now to some degree we tend to hear the things that we want to hear, because the people who didn’t feel welcomed or who didn’t like the teaching, they didn’t come through the new members class. So it’s somewhat self-selecting.

But of all the things that they could say, because I would always ask “Why are you here? Why did you join the church?” Some combination of those two things is in 95% of the time. They come because of the feeding, they stay because of friends. And as I’ve said before and it’s not a line original to me but you’ll hear me say it again and again, people at a church are not just looking for a friendly church. People can do that, you can do that, and shaking hands in a few seconds. They’re looking for friends. In other words, I think most people say “I can learn here and I can love here.” And that’s why they stay.

We’ve been talking for the past few weeks about a church to be thankful for and we’ve been approaching it through the lens of 1 Thessalonians. Next week 2 Thessalonians. Seeing Paul’s prayers. What does Paul say he’s thankful for, and then as we see Paul’s gratitude, we get a picture of what sort of church we want to be. What’s a good church? What should we hope we are known for in the community when people hear about us? And so we saw week one was about the character of the people; their faith, hope, and love. That’s what they were known for. Week two, we saw their confidence in the Word. Character of the people. Confidence in the word. And now this week we see the strength of their community.

The strength of their community. Paul gives thanks for them.

Is this a place, I think it is, where people love to be together? Let me ask you in even a different way. Is this a place marked by exuberant, explosive, unadulterated joy? Joy.

I want you to look at verse 9 for a moment. We are going to get to three points, just a second, I promise. But I want you to look at verse 9 because this is remarkable. “For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God…?” I want that. Paul is facing his own suffering and affliction. We don’t know exactly what it is in this context, but he alludes to it. There is some sort of persecution he is facing, so he’s not just having, you know, wonderfully, endless, great days. He’s suffering. And yet in the midst of that he writes to these Thessalonians and he says whatever persecution is before me, he is jumping-out-of-his-skin excited, when he thinks about the Thessalonians. He can hardly contain himself. “What thanksgiving can we return to God for you for all the joy we feel for your sake?” You make me really happy, Thessalonians, is what he’s saying.

I wonder, do you have people like that in your life? Wouldn’t it be a tremendous gift to have somebody write you a letter that says “oh, my, I don’t even know. I’m sitting here right now and now I’m standing up because I don’t even know how to possibly thank God for how happy He makes me feel every time I think of you.” You ever get a letter like that? Other than when you were, you know, dating, and you wrote all sorts of letters that you hope your children never see. Wouldn’t it be great to have someone like that in your life? And are you that person in someone’s life? Do you feel that way about someone? I bet you do. Maybe the Lord wants, maybe the one thing He wants you to take from this sermon is to this afternoon write a short note, write an e-mail, you could even do it by text, and just write and say “you know what pastor was talking about this morning? About how Paul felt about the Thessalonians? I feel that way about you. I don’t know how I can possibly thank God for how much joy it brings me just to think about you.”

That’s what Paul… Sometimes we think about Paul because he’s Paul and he’s so doctrinal and he preaches and he seems so smart (he is), and we would be very scared of him. Sometimes we think of him, he must have just been a very tight, sort of rigid person. Pay attention to his letters here. He is always exuberant, over-flowing in praise and how much he loves and encourages people. Are you that sort of person?

And does Paul’s description here of the Thessalonians begin to describe in any small way how you feel about your church? I can’t thank God enough for this church! Now Paul’s not naïve; it’s not a perfect church. He’s going to say we’ll see you in a little bit, I want to supply what’s lacking in your faith. They’ve not fully arrived. They’re not in heaven. He’s realistic. But he feels this way about this church. Do you feel this way? Do we feel this way about our church? I can’t thank God enough for this place!

A healthy church is a worshipping church, a Word church, and a one another church. And that’s what I want to focus on.

I want you to notice three things about this Thessalonian church. Three things that made them unique, made them an example to others. Three things that made them a one another church worth imitating. Or you can think of it as “Three Marks of a Strong Christian Community” because that’s what Paul’s giving thanks for in this section. They are a strong community. What does it mean? Those are a lot of, you know, nice buzzwords. Every church wants to make that one of their Cs—Community, yes. What does it mean? What does it look like?

Three points. Number one: They stand together. Not physically standing, but they stand in the truth together. Look at verse 1. Paul says “when we could no longer it, we were willing to be left behind at Athens and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.”

Do you understand what Paul’s saying? He’s been separated from them and he says “I just, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to know how you were doing because I’ve heard that you’ve had some hard things, you’re suffering.” Now in their case it’s persecution and affliction. Now we may have different kinds of suffering. You know, he may write to us today “I heard about the diagnosis, I heard about your loss, I heard about what’s going on in your family, the news you just got about your kids. I heard about all that. I know you’re struggling.” And he says “I just had to know.” Because they were facing persecution and affliction for their faith and he understood that the tempter would come and would tempt them. “You know, enough. This doesn’t work. This is not worth it. This Christianity thing, I’m through.” And he said “I’ve just got to know. Are you standing fast in the faith?”

And remember, with technology, he can’t just FaceTime them, he can’t send an e-mail, he can’t just call them on the phone, he can’t read their blog during the week, follow their Twitter feed, see how they’re doing. So he sends Timothy, one of his trusted coworkers. And he has to travel probably over 200 miles, 10 or 11-day trip by land, they’re probably in Athens and sending him over to Thessalonica. He probably stays there for several days, a week, so round trip he’s waiting a month. Just waiting, waiting, waiting. When is Timothy going to come back?

That’s why verse 6 begins “But now that Timothy has come to us and has brought the good news of your faith and love” and then he just begins to overflow in praise. You see in verse 6? “Brought us the good news” could be translated even using our English word evangelize. It’s the only time this word is used in the New Testament without reference to preaching the gospel. Usually evangalizo or evangelizavi is to preach the Gospel, the evangel, the Good News. But here it’s not a reference to that per se but rather the good news that they are continuing to walk in the Good News. He says “I hear that you’re still knee-deep in faith and hope and love.”

And look at verse 7. Paul is then comforted by their commitment: “For this reason, in our distress.” So now Paul is transitioning to talk about his own suffering. “We have been comforted through your faith.”

And then you come to verse 8. Verse 8 seems almost over the top. Paul says “For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.” Paul’s talking about a kind of spiritual resurrection. It wasn’t that he was dead and now he’s alive. It wasn’t that their faith, you know, put an end to his persecution. What he meant was “when I heard that my children in the faith were still walking with the Lord, and they hadn’t turned around because of suffering and temptation,” he said, “I felt like I was reborn. I felt like I could face the next day. I’ve had a resurrection of sorts just to hear the good news about you.”

Calvin says “he shows here, by another argument, by what an extraordinary affection he was actuated towards them, in as much as he was transported almost out of his senses by the joyful intelligence of their being in a prosperous condition.” That’s exactly right. Paul was almost out of his mind, so excited to hear that they were walking in the faith.

“If you’re standing fast,” he says, “I can make it another day. I can face whatever I have to face if I know that you are walking in the Lord.”

Pastoring is a form of spiritual parenting. That’s why Paul feels this way towards them. “You’re my children in the faith.” For Paul, very literally because he had led them to the Lord, and now it is so incumbent upon his head and heart that they continue, that he can hardly contain his enthusiasm when he hears the good report.

And would that it would be so among us as we hear. Do you get excited when you hear about testimonies of conversion? Do you get excited when you hear about kids going on work trips? Do you get excited when you hear about what campus outreach is doing to reach students? Do you get excited?

And do you understand? Let me just talk to kids here, so this could be anybody, you pick if you want to listen to this right now. Okay? You have to understand, young people, that this is how, if you have believing parents, what Paul is saying here in verse 8, it’s how your mom and dad feel about you. “Why do we have to go to church?” Because they live to know and to do whatever they can to see that you would be walking in the faith. They rejoice in it. And there is almost no burden as heavy that a parent or a grandparent has to carry as when they have a son or daughter or grandchild who’s wandering wayward from the Lord. And if that’s you, or if some years from now that is you and maybe perhaps you’ll think back and you’ll remember some little thing about this sermon, and you’ll just remember this: That your mom and dad feel this way about you, verse 8.

That’s why even as we stumble and falter and then we’re annoying and obnoxious and we sin and all the dumb things we do…this is what we so much want for you. That’s what we want as all of the children’s ministry here, all of the youth, all of the people who are doing such a good job here…we want to see you walking in the truth.

So every parent can understand verse 8. “Now we live.” If I could just hear that when you go to college, when you move away, if I could hear that you found a good church, that you’re going to marry someone in the Lord, that you’re not going to compromise, you still believe the Bible, all of the Bible, even the parts that our culture says you can’t believe anymore…. We live.

To be a pastor is to be a spiritual parent, and to be a parent is certainly to feel this grief and also this exhilarating joy.

I’ll never forget one of the first times that I left home for a long time to go and study somewhere over a summer and was going to be time zones away from my family for the first time, and my mother had ripped off, you know, she had a little verse-a-day calendar and she ripped off the day that I was getting on the plane to be gone for three months and it just happened to have one of these verses, Paul writing to Timothy, or was it from John? I forget, but it just said “what great joy I take to see my children walking in the truth.” I folded that up, kept that in my wallet for years and years and years just to know that my mom felt that way. And so do all of you moms and dads out there, for all of your kids.

Paul can keep going, he says, because they will keep going. When they stand, it helps him stand. Now here, for young people, this is where we’re going to all learn from you, because when we see you facing pressures that we didn’t face when we were your age, and I used to be able to say “our age” but now I have to say “your age” because we’re not the same age, we can take such comfort, such inspiration from seeing some of the things that you’re going to face in a school perhaps, or going way to college, or wherever your friends, no matter how you’re schooled, you still live in this world and you’re still going to run into things. You’re going to have this entertainment put before you. Will you stand fast?

All of us will have temptations in the years ahead to compromise, and we will need each other. You can’t just stand firm by yourself. We need each other to stand firm. Listen, your flesh wants you to fail. The devil wants you to fail. The world wants us to fail. Will you stand firm? When you’re tempted with sexual sin or sexual compromise? Or to believe that what the Bible says so plainly about sexuality and the Church has believed for two millennia about sexuality, suddenly doesn’t apply anymore? Will you stand firm when you’re bombarded by a thousand different entertainment choices? All of the world says “it’s not that bad. I almost walked out of the movie five times, but I didn’t.” Or just honoring the Lord’s day, making worship a priority. All of us will have temptations to fail. Just because we don’t face the same kind of persecutions they did in Thessalonica doesn’t mean that there aren’t real pressures in our day.

The Gospel will always be a scandal. And if we have found a way to make the Gospel scandal-free, then we’ve made the Gospel something other than the Gospel. Because if we really get to, in every culture there are going to be some things that people say “oh, yes, I love that: forgiveness, mercy, love… Great.” And other parts, “hmm, marriage, sexuality, hmm, I don’t like that.”

You can reverse it in other parts of the world. They’ll say “I love what the Bible says about ethics and morality, but I don’t know so much about forgiving each other.” There will always be those cultural points.

The Gospel will always be offensive to the natural man or woman.

And so Paul says if you’re a strong community, we need each other to stand firm in this faith, to be established in holiness.

Verse 13 says “ready for the coming of our Lord Jesus.” We stand together.

Here’s the second thing that a strong community does. They stand together, they grow together. They grow together. See verse 10? Paul says “I want to supply what is lacking in your faith.” As much as he loves them, as much as they’re an example to others, he understands that they’ve not arrived. They have more to learn; so do all of you. So do I. There’s bound to be gaps, gaps in their theological knowledge, in their ethical instruction, in their Bible knowledge. You need to be growing.

It should not be the case that we look back and those amazing days of growth in the Lord were always, well, high school and college. Now those are unique times when God really gets a hold of us often, and we see a lot of dynamic growth because we’re really making the faith our own for the first time. But it concerns me if I’m looking at my own life and think “you know, oh, boy, I really used to be into prayer” or “I remember when I was really growing.” Now, you know, your momentum can only keep the same trajectory for so long, we understand that. You kind of reach some sort of equilibrium. But an equilibrium, I hope, is not the same thing as complacency. Where you think “I get up, I go to church, I put something in the offering once in awhile, I wear nice clothes, I stay out of trouble. What more do you want?” Well, it doesn’t matter what more your pastor wants. What more does God want?

Even these Thessalonians, who had been through so much, Paul says there are still gaps. “I will want to see you grow in your faith.” Praise God that he still knows how to teach old dogs new tricks. And he’s not done with any of you. If you’re nearing retirement, if you’ve been retired, if you say “I don’t know what the Lord’s going to do with me.” Well, He certainly can use you to pray. He can use you to encourage. He can use you to make things with the yarn club that’s in there; I heard all the amazing things that those folks make. Oh, He’s got a purpose for you. He’s got a reason for you. He’s not done with you. You still have things to learn. There are still more things about the Lord Jesus that he wants to show you.

Both people and pastor always have room to grow. So it’s not just you, it’s also me.

Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:15, “Practice these things,” Pastor Timothy, “immerse yourself in them to that all may see your progress.” Your progress—that verse has always been both an encouragement and a bit humbling to me. It means that as a pastor you should see me grow. You should see progress in my faith, in my prayers, in my preaching. That’s humbling because it means there’s things I’m doing right now that I’m not doing as well as I should…and I don’t know what they are. But you’ll tell me. And we’ll grow together. And somebody will say five years from now, “Pastor, your preaching has sure gotten better.” And you’ll mean it as a compliment and I’ll try to take it as one.

So I need to make progress. So it’s humbling, but it’s also encouraging because it means I don’t have to be perfect. It means your pastors, your elders, they’re going to learn and change and mature and develop just like all of you. There never is a point in the Christian life where we shouldn’t still be seeing progress.

To that end, Paul prays in verses 11 through 13: “That their love may increase,” verse 12, “and abound.” Now you notice he’s already said something in Chapter 1 verse 3 about their labor of love. And then in verse 6 he mentioned again their faith and their love. So they’re loving. But he wants to see their love abound even more. And he wants to see it abound in two different directions, well, overlapping directions. He says first for one another, so there is a priority placed on the Church. I think we all understand that as much as we want to love all people, you have a specific, particular responsibility to love and to care for your family. Paul says if you’re able-bodied and you don’t care for your family, then you’re worse than an unbeliever. That’s what you have to do, so we understand there is a priority placed on the family. And it’s the same with the family of faith. He says I want you to love one another.

Galatians 6:10: “Do good to all people as you have opportunity, especially to the household of faith.” So that’s what he says in verse 12: Love for one another. But then he says “and for all.” That’s the first part of Galatians 6:10. “Do good to all people as you have opportunity.” So we don’t just, you know, stop loving people when we walk out those doors and we get done on Sunday, and we say “oh, good, man, I don’t have to love anybody ’til next week.”

You have all sorts of opportunities to love people. This is the priority, the family of God, but all the ways that you can show kindness or just civility in the workplace or a note that you’re going to write, or a conversation you’re going to have or asking somebody how you can pray or participating in some sort of mission or good work that’s going on in the community. Love for all.

And apparently the prayer here was answered because in the next book, 2 Timothy 1 verse 3, he says “their love for one another was increasing,” so it was happening.

It would be certainly encouraging if we see the church here, Christ Covenant, grow by numbers of people. Numbers are not a bad thing. Numbers represent people made in the image of God. People who we want to know the Lord Jesus. So that could be encouraging, to see more people. But even more so, the growth in numbers is not nearly so important as the growth in godliness. Churches can grow in numbers and not grow in godliness, and I’ll take the latter over the former any day. Have people growing in their love for one another. Filling in, as Paul said, what they’re lacking in their faith. Growing in the knowledge of the truth. To be firm in it, to use their gifts through it, to love one another and exercise that love, and send forth people to speak the name of Jesus.

So absolutely we want to be a growing church. There is no other option. If you’re a healthy church, you’re a growing church, but you leave it to God if that means numbers or not. But certainly growing in godliness.

They stand together, they grow together. And here’s the final point. Number three. They liked to be together. They liked to be together. This is the simplest point, and I’ve saved it for last. It may seem obvious but it may actually be the hardest aspect of community to truly foster. Stand together, grow together, and they liked to be together. Because you can find families that do the right things, you know? They’re good, decent people. They don’t get into trouble. They try to help. They’re nice people to be around. You can find families that seem pretty mature in how they relate to each other. And they’re, you know, talking politely and they know how to put on a good front when you come over, and they seem like nice, decent folks.

But to find a family that honest to goodness just likes to be around each other, and when the kids are there they’re having fun, and the parents like to have them around, and the mom and dad like to be with each other, and they like grandparents. They even like the in-laws! They just like to be together. That’s something that people see and marvel. And people can tell over time whether you’re just nice people who know how to be polite for a meal or whether day in and day out, not perfectly but consistently, you’re a part of a family that really enjoys to be around one another.

And that’s the aim and the prayer for the Church, for the family of God. Look at the affection that is exploding in this Thessalonian congregation. You see Chapter 2 verse 8. Paul says “being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel but our own selves,” that’s how affectionate he was.

Verse 17. He says “we were torn away from you for a short time.” He can’t stand to be away from them.

Verse 19. “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus? Is it not you? You are our glory and our joy.” Verse 20.

And then chapter 3 verse 1: “We could not bear it any longer but we had to be left behind in Athens.” He can’t stand to be torn away from them.

Verse 6: “You always remember us kindly. You long to see us and we long to see you.”

Verse 10: “We pray night and day that we might see your face.” We’re praying, we’re praying, we’re praying.

And just note here, constancy in prayer is an expression of love for one another. You love for people when you pray for people. And you pray for people when you love those people. One of the best ways you can love one another is to pray. And Paul says night and day.

Verse 11: “Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.” How many ways does Paul have to express it? “I’m so sorry to be torn from you. I want to be with you. You want to be with me. If only God would bring us together again.” This is a church. This is a people that wants to see each other. Not just by letter; he’s thankful for the report from Timothy, but not just by report. Face to face.

We see here on very good authority that virtual community is not enough. We see it right here because he had Timothy, he had Timothy coming back to him. Timothy was giving him a report. Timothy was saying “Paul, why’d you send me out? Just check on Facebook. You can see how they’re doing.” Paul says “I don’t want that. That’s not enough.” That’s helpful for me as a pastor to spy on people, but that’s not enough. Virtual community won’t do it. I want to be with them. I want to see them face to face. I want us to inhabit the same physical space, to be able to see each other, touch each other, look each other in the eye, shake a hand, give a hug, work side by side.

Paul’s ministry here among the Thessalonians was relentlessly focused on people. Now it should go without saying, but sometimes we need to be reminded. That’s what the Church is. Relentlessly focused on people. You say, “well, pastor, you get to hide away in your study and you get to work on sermons.” Well, yes, I do that for part of the day, but hopefully it’s because of a love for people that I have something to say and to serve. Whatever ministry you’re doing in the church, the aim is on people.

There was a book that came out a number of years ago and there has since been a sequel to it. I think some of you have read it. It was a very good book called The Trellis and the Vine. And the best part about the book is just that image. So you know, if you’re into gardening, you have a trellis, that sort of lattice-work thing, and then you have a vine that needs to grow on the trellis. That’s how you get fruit from the vine. It needs to have something to grow on. So the argument in the book is that a church is both trellis and vine and you need a trellis. You need people to balance the books. You need people to make sure that the air conditioning works and the lights are on. And you need people who have committees, and you need to have minutes for those committees, and you need to have reports, and the committees sometimes need to have committees, because we are Presbyterians, after all. You need to have all of those things.

And I’ve been around churches that are poorly organized and it’s not fun, okay? Decency and order, we joke about that, but it is, it matters. So the trellis matters.

But the point of the trellis is not to have a trellis. I want to say, “hey, everyone, come, come look. I got a trellis. Come to my garden. There it is. Beautiful.” “What are you doing with it?” “I just look at it. It’s a great trellis.”

The whole point of a trellis is that something grows on it. To have a vine.

So the aim is not to get a thousand of you maintaining the trellis. People got those gifts, people need to do it. We’re very thankful for them. The aim is that there is enough trellis going on that all of you can be doing the vine ministry, the one another ministry, the relentless people ministry. Do you know you don’t need your elders’ or your pastor’s permission to love people? To invite someone into your home? You don’t have to have a spotless home. You don’t have to have a big home. You can have paper plates. You can have them over. You say, “would you come over?” You can take them out for coffee. What do you do? Ask them how you can pray for them. Read a book. Go through a book of the Bible. All of that vine work that happens in a healthy church. And much of it will be fostered on those trellises, and here are the opportunities, and here are the groups, and we praise God for that.

But we want to be a church relentlessly focused on ministry toward people. Paul here is giving and receiving ministry. It was not a one-way street. They wanted to see him and he wanted to see them.

Again, I like what Calvin says, I usually do. He says “by this, all pastors are admonished what sort of connection ought to subsist between them and the Church—that they reckon themselves happy when it goes well with the Church, although they should be in other respects encompassed with many miseries, and, on the other hand, that the pastors pine away with grief and sorrow if they see the church which they have constructed now in a state of decay, although matters otherwise should be joyful and prosperous.”

They just wanted to be together. The people did, the pastor and the people did. They loved one another.

Now some of you may be thinking, “well, Pastor, but love and like are two different things.” There is some truth to that. Yes, love is a choice, love is a verb, love is an action. It’s how we treat one another even when sometimes we may be upset with one another. That’s all true. But let’s not put such a chasm between love and like that we, you know, create this excuse where in the church we just barely tolerate to be around one another. I know that’s not the case with you. I’ve seen how you enjoy one another. We don’t want to be as Marlin said to Dory in Finding Nemo: “Of course I like you. It’s because I like you I don’t want to spend time with you.” It’s a complicated emotion.

Paul here with the Thessalonians said “you love one another, your love is increasing,” and you get the sense that they not only loved, they really liked each other. They wanted to be together. There was a love and there was a longing. A commitment to the Word of God and a commitment to the people of God. They were eager for both. Eager to hear the Word, eager to hear from their brothers and sisters.

Now I understand God has wired us all differently and you can take the tests and some of you are off the charts extroverts and some of you had to do all you could to get the courage to come here this morning and the fellowship hall or the lobby afterward is the worst part of the week. That’s true for some people, it really is. We’re all at different places on that scale and we have different gifts. But for each one of us, no matter our personality, God is calling us to a relentless focus on people. We need reports and agendas and minutes and committees. But we need that trellis. That upon that trellis we might have a fruitful, luscious, growing vine.

And so you come here on Sunday morning to hear the Word and hopefully to be fed, all of that, but you come here to do ministry, too. Even if you come just thinking maybe there’s just one person you need to talk to, one person you just want to say “how’s your week?” One person maybe you just think “I’m going to meet one person I haven’t met before” or “I’m gonna ask one person how I can pray for them.” Focus on people. Because you love people and you like people.

What will we see in a church like this? That stands together, that grows together, that likes to be together? I think you will see smiles. And you’ll see tears, and hugs, and laughter. And lots of people getting together for coffee during the week and lunches and play dates and gathering at the pool. And people going to the beach together. And there will be notes and there will be a hand on the shoulder. And there will be meals. And there will be heads bowed together in the Bible in prayer. As we strive in God’s grace to be a godly people and a Bible people, and a one another people.

Let’s pray.

Our Father in heaven, we are so grateful that when You called us out of darkness into your marvelous light, You didn’t call us into the light alone, but You called us into a community. We love that word from the psalmist: “He puts the lonely into families.” There may be some here who are particularly lonely and maybe feel like everybody here knows somebody, they’ve got a friend, they’ve got a family member, and they need to know that they’re welcome, that they belong, that they’re included. Lord, we pray that You would continue to make us into this community which you have already done so well for so long, that we would show forth the character of Christ, be committed to his Word, and we would love one another just as You have first loved us. We pray all of this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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