“God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.” II Thessalonians 1:6-7
Last night, we continued our Bible study on “The Little Books of the New Testament.” We’ve covered 2 and 3 John and Jude, and we moved to a much longer 2 Thessalonians last night.
It is obvious, from the first chapter, that the Christians in this church were being persecuted for their faith. Paul sends them a word of encouragement, noting that he boasts about their perseverance and faith in the face of persecution. He gives them the reassurance that their continued faithfulness will bring God’s wrath down upon their persecutors. He makes the point that this will not necessarily occur immediately, since even those who persecute the church are still given a just and fair chance to repent and to be drawn into the Kingdom themselves, a concept that human beings have no end of difficulty understanding. But he does say that those who do not know God will suffer punishment, while those who have believed, and have suffered for it, will share in the day that God comes to be glorified in his people.
“We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” II Thessalonians 1:12
So our purpose, then, is to live so that the name of Jesus is glorified in us.
I wonder what would happen if the Christian church in this country were ever to face the kind of persecution that most of our spiritual ancestors did in the early days of the church. And even more than that, I wonder what would happen if my local church experienced the same level of persecution. Upon close observation, I think we might be able to guess the answer to that question.
Within our church culture, a way of thinking has developed, based on several sources, that the church must operate under our particular expectations and guidelines. Our buildings must be nice and look nice, they must be comfortable, clean, and all the chairs and furnishings must be in the right place when we enter the room. The lessons must sound good, yet avoid a serious spiritual challenge that might make us uncomfortable. The preaching must be nice, academic, intellectual, yet void of a prophetic voice or a spiritual word. The staff must be neatly and properly dressed, working hard on our behalf, not offending anyone or making demands, yet sensitive and quick to act on whatever demands we may have.
We reserve the right to express our anger and our disappointment when things are not right. We also reserve the right to threaten to leave if anything happens that does not please us, or meet our every need. It is not that we might actually go, but that we leave the impression that we might if things are not done to suit us. The worship must be done in such a way that not only pleases us, but so that we “can get something out of it.” Volunteering is fine up to a point, but we must be careful not to do too much, lest the pastor and the staff be deprived of doing something that we are paying them good money to do themselves. We’ve “hired” them to “serve” us, and we need to make sure that is exactly what they do. We also need to make them feel that if they do not serve us as we think we should properly be served, their job, and their family’s livelihood, might be on the line. Changes that occur, such as a favored pastor or staff member’s departure, are grounds for leaving the church. We must be clear about exactly who we come to church to follow, so that when they leave, we have justification to leave, too.
Let’s keep in mind whose name Paul calls upon us to follow. In fact, in the entire New Testament, I can see only one name that we are instructed to glorify in the church. I don’t see any instructions about marshalling the resources that belong to God’s house for our own glorification or edification, or to develop some kind of loyalty to those who are called to be the vocational servants of the church. If you are coming to the church I serve because of me, I’ll just let you know in advance that I will disappoint you and let you down. You need to be here because the Spirit led you to bring your spiritual gifts to this body to be used to glorify and honor God, and serve Jesus by serving others. And no matter what happens, whether something takes place in the church that you don’t necessarily like, or whether you are singled out and you suffer for bearing the name of Christ, as few people in our culture today actually do, you are to remain faithful. Faithful. Reliable. Accountable. Someone you can count on. Someone God can count on.