There is no easy way to say it. Ministry is difficult. You are dealing with people. Not just people at a 30,000 foot marketplace exchange. You are on the ground, in the fight with them, dealing with the core of who they are. You are working to shape their worldview. You are helping them fight sin. You are comforting them in times of trouble and loss.
Ministry is a blessing
But for all its difficulties, ministry is a blessing. It is a privilege to be used by God as His instrument to bring about lasting change in others.
The apostle Paul was an exceptional leader and intellectual. He was gifted by the Lord in many different ways. For all his gifting, he experienced trouble in his ministry. He was rejected, beaten, and jailed. Most likely he was eventually killed for preaching the gospel.
Ministry is joyful
Even though he experienced hardship as the sinful world pressed in on him, he found ministry to be joyful. Recounting his time in Thessalonica, he recognizes it was not spent in vain (1 Thess 2:1). Some in Thessalonica were changed.
“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”
(1 Thess 2:13)
The word Paul preached had an effect on the Thessalonians. It took root and changed them from the inside out. Paul was one of the ones God used to bring about this change.
Ministry is a calling
It is a privilege to be used by God to do the work of ministry. Ministry is not a job, though it does provide income for those who do it vocationally. It is not necessarily a career, even though many minister vocationally for all their working years. Ministry is a way of life. It is a privilege. It is a calling.
“For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.”
(1 Thess 2:19-20)
Ministry is difficult
Yes pastor, your ministry is difficult. There are seasons in ministry that are hard. I know the difficulties of ministry myself. I believe we need to acknowledge them. We need help and encouragement as we walk through them.
But we also need to remember that ministry is a blessing, a joy, a calling, and a privilege. The God of the universe has gifted and called us, of all people, to preach His Word, to exhort, encourage, charge, and rebuke His people. He has called us to come alongside others to help them walk in a manner worthy of God and the Kingdom into which we have been called for God’s glory (1 Thess 2:11).
What a privilege it is and what joy it should bring, when we see the Lord at work in others through us!
Christians will face persecution. It is not a matter of “if” but “when”. Our Lord was persecuted and suffered. All those who follow Him will experience the same. Believe it or not, persecution actually has benefits.
What are the benefits of persecution?
(1) Persecution forces us to turn to God and find hope in Him rather than the world.
Persecution serves to strengthens our faith in the Lord, as we are forced to turn to Him, rather than to our own abilities and the world. Steadfastness in persecution also acts as a witness to others.
(2) Persecution allows us to be a witness to the surrounding community.
While Paul doesn’t mention their witness to the surrounding pagan community, there steadfastness must have undergirded their gospel proclamation. Those who lived around them must have known that they were fully convinced of the gospel. They were suffering for it after all. They might not have agreed with them, but there was no doubt the Thessalonians believed what they proclaimed.
(3) Persecution allows us to be a witness to the church at large.
We are not sure of the impact the Thessalonians had in their city. Certainly, there were some who believed because of their steadfastness. What we do know is that their faithfulness served to strengthen churches outside of their city. Their witness — due their willingness to stand firm — spurred other churches on in the area to do the same, as they were encouraged in their faith by the Thessalonians.
The steadfastness of others should strengthen our faith as well. Right now, our brothers and sisters in China are suffering for their beliefs. We might not know them. We certainly aren’t experiencing the level of persecution they are experiencing. But knowing there are other believers who are suffering for their faith, and doing so with joy, should spur us on in our faith. It should strengthen and prepare us for times of suffering.
Jesus is worth more than anything the world can offer. He is infinitely valuable. As Christians, we are a part of His family. He is not a wise sage leading us to God, He is God who has come to rescue us. Not just rescue us but He adopts us into His family. The faithfulness of others through suffering reminds us of Jesus’ value and the relationship His suffering won for us, which should spur us on to greater joy and faithfulness.
(4) Persecution teaches us that our hope is not in this world but in the One who is to come.
This world and its idols cannot ultimately deliver us from the sinful acts of men. We might find protection in armed guards and fortresses for a time. Our money or abilities might buy us fame. We might be able to escape difficulty.
Scroll through your Twitter feed and you are bound to find a once famous person being attacked. Even if someone makes it through life without difficulty, they haven’t ultimately escaped.
We need deliverance from the wrath of God
We are reminded in verse 10 that we not only need deliverance from the world but from the wrath of God. Money, abilities, and connections can’t help us escape God’s wrath. If we hope to stand on our own merit before God, we will fall. No one is good, no one is capable of representing themselves before God. We need someone to act as our advocate. We need someone who can deliver us. The only One who can provide deliverance is Jesus.
Jesus provides the deliverance we need
Jesus took the wrath of God in our place. We know His sacrifice was sufficient because God raised Him from the dead. He didn’t deserve the curse of death, so He was given life. All those who believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior are connected to Him, so that His death becomes their death and His resurrection becomes their resurrection.
Jesus’ deliverance begins in this life and continues into the next
We are resurrected now to new life in Christ, which is evidenced by steadfastness in the face of persecution. We will be ultimately resurrected to a brand new way of life in the future at Jesus’ return.
According to Open Doors, a non-profit committed to helping the persecuted church, in just the last year, there have been:
Over 340 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination.
4,761 Christians killed for their faith.
4,488 churches and other Christian buildings attacked.
4,277 believers detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned.
Reading these statistics should give you pause. It should also spring you into action, praying for our brother’s and sister’s in other countries living out their faith and experiencing persecution for it. Prayer should be your first reaction.
We are human. We often associate oppression with a lack of power and care. Thinking about the persecuted church might cause you to wonder and ask:
Does God care?
If He cares, does persecution mean God is not powerful enough to do something about it?
Or is persecution a means of God’s punishment?
I am sure the Thessalonians were asking similar questions. After all, they were the one’s experiencing persecution. In an effort to encourage the Thessalonians and help future Christians who experience persecution, Paul reminds us of several truths.
(1) God’s love causes us to live for Christ
Paul is encouraged by the Thessalonians. He gives thanks for them as he prays to the Lord.
“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess 1:2-3)
Paul is encouraged by their faithfulness. He sees them loving one another. As well as he is aware of their steadfastness even in the face of persecution.
Faithful Christians live for Christ no matter the circumstances they find themselves in. It might be dealing with a difficult brother or sister in Christ. It might be caring for others by sacrificing time, resources, and emotional capacity. It might be the choice between freedom and imprisonment. Faithful Christians seek to live for Christ in every situation in which they find themselves.
Christians are able to live faithful lives because God’s love permeates their lives. Paul thanks God for the Thessalonians. Specifically, he thanks God for the life they live. He thanks God because it is God who causes them to live for Christ.
(2) God’s election evidences His love
Paul assures the Thessalonians of God’s love starting in verse 4 when he writes:
“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess 1:4-5a)
God’s love is evident by His choice of them. God elected, He chose the Thessalonians because He loved them. God’s choice is irrespective of their actions. It is not based on anything they did or did not do. God chooses us simple because He wants to. There is no other reason.
How do we know we are chosen. Paul tells us we know because the gospel affects our life.
The good news of Jesus comes “in power” and changes us, raising dead men to life.
The “Holy Spirit” sanctifies us, causing us to put away sin and walk in the freedom of Christ.
We are convicted, we repent, and we believe in Jesus “in full conviction” even in the face of persecution.
These are not the actions of quasi follower of Jesus. We don’t naturally change our entire way of life and remain steadfast even when persecuted. Man naturally moves away from pain not towards it. What has happened to us and the life we now live is evident of God’s gracious and loving election, which provides assurance that God has not abandoned us.
(3) God’s love led to Jesus’ affliction
“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” (1 Th 1:6–7)
Jesus was afflicted. His suffering didn’t occur because He was powerless. Instead it occurred according to plan. God’s electing love is lavished upon us because Jesus suffered. Jesus’ suffering made a way for us to become a part of God’s family. Believing in Jesus connects us to His death, burial, and resurrection, so that His death becomes our death and His new life becomes our new life.
Affliction and persecution doesn’t mean God is not in control. It doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us. It’s not His punishment for our sin. It is the opposite. In God’s upside down kingdom, affliction and persecution are markers of strength, a plan, and His eternal pursuit of His elect.
We are fiercely independent people, but if we want to grow in Christ, we can’t do it alone. We must depend on others to help us, which means transformation is based on interdependent relationships.
We need to get to a place where we believe we need each other in order to grow in Christ. A place where we see that we need more than just Jesus, a Bible, and a quiet place. Don’t get me wrong, we need Jesus, a Bible, and a quiet place. We need our time in the Word and in prayer, but we also need one another. We not only need another, they need us.
How do we develop interdependent community?
We can start by looking at what took place in the early church. When we look at what the early church did, we learn that they:
Immersed their lives in God’s Word together.
Shared each other’s burdens — They laughed, they cried, they parented, they ate together.
They celebrated the Lord’s Supper together, proclaiming in a visible way to the world that Jesus is their Savior.
They served each other and the community.
They sacrificed for one another.
They made sure each other’s needs were met.
They extended hospitality to those around them.
They were on mission together, seeking to win others to Christ and helping each other grow in their Christian walk.
These are the things the early church did. But why did they do those things? What was behind those activities? Why didn’t they just stay home? Why did they press into community and these activities?
I believe it is because:
They saw themselves as a necessary part of the body of Christ.
They knew that they were missed if they weren’t there. More importantly, they knew that they were hindering the church’s growth and mission when they failed to participate in the life of the church in a real and meaningful way.
Knowing they were a necessary part of the body of Christ led them to share their lives with each other.
There understanding of church as a body that depends on one another for growth and godliness, led them to be open and transparent. It is what led them to share more than their physical needs with one another but also to share their spiritual needs.
Those you attend church with should know how to pray for you, not just physically but spiritually. They should know your fears, your struggles, and your joys.
I know hearing that probably sounds a bit invasive. But that’s what it takes to live in interdependent community with one another that is transformative. If we always keep one another at arms length, if we never let anyone in, we aren’t really depending on them, instead we are depending on ourselves. When we depend on our self alone, we are not going to see the transformation we might desire and certainly the transformation we need. Transformation takes place in community.
Transformation takes place in community
Think about your body for a moment. Your arm doesn’t depend on itself. It depends on the rest of the body to work. We must do the same. We must depend on one another. We must live in interdependent community. When we do, we will see our lives being transformed to be more like Christ as we learn Christ together.
That is how you develop authentic and interdependent community that results in true transformation. You must see yourself as a necessary part of the body of Christ.
Do you see yourself as a necessary part of the body of Christ?
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Disagreements, conflicts, and wars take place every day on a global scale. Some gain our attention more than others. The war in Ukraine is one such war that has the whole world glued to the TV and constantly refreshing their Twitter feed. Not to lessen the devastation of other battles being fought, conflict and loss of life are terrible no matter how small or large. The war in Ukraine, however, effects the world, so we watch with anticipation.
But can we do more than watch?
I believe we can do more. I have two activities in mind.
(1) We can hope and worship with the Ukrainians
While innocent lives have been lost and I am sure more will be lost, the response of the church has given me hope. Ukrainian pastors are not running. They are staying and ministering to the needs of the people. I read an account on Saturday night of one pastor who was preparing his sermon for the next morning. He planned to hold service the next morning, if his church was still standing. In the middle of a war, this pastor is preparing to preach and lead his people in worship!
These reports remind me of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. He writes commending them for their faith and encouraging them with their witness. They received the Word of God under must affliction. Despite persecution and hardship, they were full of joy. They continued to remain steadfast, finding their hope in the Lord (1 Thess. 1:6-10).
What an encouragement the Thessalonians must have been to Paul. What an encouragement the Ukrainian Christians are to us. Not only an encouragement, but a witness to the power and truth of the gospel. I know I am encouraged when I read of their faithfulness. I know I am driven to a greater hope in Jesus. I am driven to worship the Lord for the salvation He provides through their faithfulness.
(2) We can pray for the Ukrainians
While I am hopeful and driven to worship, at the same time, I am burdened. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are facing a life and death situation. While we might not be able to fend off the physical enemy for them, we can still do battle on their behalf through prayer.
What takes place in this world is not solely a matter of flesh and blood. There is a spiritual war raging all around us. One that spills over and is played out in the physical.
We might not be able to do anything except pray.
We know from Scripture that the prayer of a righteous man has great effect, so we should pray.
Be encouraged, hopeful, and driven to worship by the faithfulness of the Ukrainians. But also be burdened for them. Be in prayer for their safety, their joy in times of trouble, and their faithfulness to the gospel of Christ in these trying times.
Transformation is what we are after as Christians. At least it should be our goal. As Christians, we should want to grow not just in knowledge but in Christlikeness. Transformation doesn’t happen without teaching, it doesn’t happen without counsel, it doesn’t happen without prayer. As we learned last time, transformation doesn’t happen if we aren’t willing to be authentic with one another. Part of being authentic is depending on another person.
We are fiercely independent people, but if we want to grow in Christ, we can’t do it alone. We must depend on others to help us, which means transformation is based on interdependent relationships.
The first church lived in interdependent relationships with one another.
“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
What I want to draw your attention to in these verses is the word “together”. It appears in verses 44 and 46. While this word is translated as the same word in English, it’s actually two different words in the Greek. As you can guess, these two words mean two different things.
In verse 44, the Greek is epi and it has to do with physical location. What that tells us is that these early Christians lived in the same place. In other words, they lived in close proximity to one another.
We are to live in close proximity to one another.
This wasn’t a small community. In verse 41, we learn that 3,000 people were initially saved at Peter’s preaching during Pentecost. Some, I presume, went back to their towns, but others stayed there in Jerusalem. Along with those who initially believed, we also learn in verse 47 that others were being added to the church each and everyday. So this was quite a large community of Christians living together with one another. I’m not exactly sure what that first community’s living quarters looked like. But what I do know is that they sold their possessions and moved so that they could live in close proximity to one another.
Now, I don’t think this means that we all have to sell our houses, secure a plot of land somewhere, and build our own community.
What I believe that we, as 21st century Christians, are to take from this is that:
The church we are members of should be one that is local to us.
In other words, it should be in the same community in which we live. We should be able to “run into” other church members while we are out and about.
That means we shouldn’t be members of a church that is located outside of our community just because it is the popular church in the area or we like the speaker. We must live in proximity to those with whom we attend church. That makes sense if we are going to genuinely devote our lives to one another. That’s hard to do if we don’t ever see one another. Or if it is a burden or hassle to get together with one another. We must live in close proximity to one another, just as those in the early church did. In other words, the church we attend must be local.
That idea that we must be a part of a local church gains even more traction when we consider the second “together” used in these verses.
It is found in verse 46. It is the Greek word homothumadon. Literally this word means to have the same fiery passion. It’s to be intensely unified with another like fans who cheer on their home team.
I know most of you like football. Even if you don’t, being from Dallas, you probably still cheer on the Cowboys. If you were to buy an overpriced ticket and watch the cowboys in person, you don’t watch half asleep. No, you engage, you cheer, you root for the Cowboys. If you were to take a step back and get a birds eye view of the stands, especially if the Cowboys are driving down the field for the winning touch down, you would see a fiery passion, a sense of unity among the fans. That fiery passion, that unity that draws you together is the idea that this word is trying to convey. This is why some translations translate it as “one accord.”
But this word doesn’t just carry the idea of being in one accord with other spectators at a sporting event. It goes much deeper than that. It carries the idea that we are to be together, in one accord with one another, on a deep spiritual and emotional level. What this word tells us then is that
We are to live interdependently.
Living interdependently means that we are together in both proximity and in dependent community.
Think about the example of the Redwoods a couple of posts ago. They exist in proximity to one another, as well as they depend on one another. They live in interdependent community.
That’s how the first church lived. That’s how we are to live as well. We are to live in interdependent community.
Living in interdependent community not only means we live in proximity to one another. But interdependent community takes us much deeper than proximity. To a certain extent living in proximity is easy to attain. All it takes is for us to live in the same community and attend the same local church on a regular basis. Proximity is really nothing more than seeing one another, saying hey, shaking hands, sitting in the same Sunday School class and sanctuary together. Achieving proximity is not all that difficult. But it is the first and a necessary step to living in interdependent community.
We can’t just stop at proximity, we have to keep going until we also are living lives that are depending on one another for growth and godliness.
We need to get to a place where we believe we need each other in order to grow in Christ. That we need more than just Jesus, a Bible, and a quiet place. Don’t get me wrong, we need that. We need our time in the Word and in prayer, but we also need one another. We have to recognize that or we will never live in interdependent community with one another. We will never see the value of asking someone else to pray for us. We will never see the value of asking another to hold us accountable. We will never see the value of getting together with one another in Bible Study. We will never see the value of serving one another by using our spiritual gifts.
The first church saw that need, and that’s what drove them to sell everything, to move in with one another, and to gather together on a daily basis so that they might be transformed as they learn Christ together.
They saw their need for one another. Do we see that need? Are we willing to be open and transparent so that others can fulfill that need? If we want to be a growing vibrant church that is making disciples, we must see that need and we must allow others to meet that need.
Developing interdependent relationships can be difficult. It cuts across the grain of who we have been shaped to be by our culture. Next time we are going to explore a few ways we can develop interdependent relationships next time.
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