Monday, February 16, 2015

MARKS OF A GOD CENTERED CHURCH - 1 Thessalonians 1:10 "Waiting for the Return of the Lord Jesus Christ"

Paul’s first  letter  to the Thessalonian church is a portrait of a God-centered  church.  We have great need  to   rethink and reform our broken churches  upon  this  model  in our own day. If anything,  the  church  has a tendency to be self -centered and man  centered. This is, of course   not unique to our own age,  for this has been the  constant struggle  of the church ever since she was born  on the day of Pentecost. The Galatian and the  Corinthian churches are   examples of this.   The pull is ever  downward  – as indicated by  the law of gravitation. The tendency is always towards decay, towards  disorder – towards a state of entropy – as illustrated by the second law of thermodynamics [1].  So too  it is with the church. 
One of my favorite poets is  T.S. Elliot[2]    has expressed  himself   powerfully  on this subject :

Of all that was done in the past, you eat the fruit, either rotten or ripe.
And the Church must be forever building, and always decaying - and always being restored.
For every ill deed in the past we suffer the consequence:
For sloth, for avarice, gluttony, neglect of the Word of God.
For pride, for lechery, treachery, for every act of sin.
And of all that was done that was good, you have the inheritance.
For good and ill deeds belong to a man alone, when he stands alone on the other side of death,
But here upon earth you have the reward of the good and ill that  was done by those who have gone before you.
And all that is ill you may repair if you walk together in humble repentance, expiating the sins of your fathers;  And all that was good you must fight to keep with hearts as devoted as those of your fathers who fought to gain it.
The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying within and attacked from without;
For this is the law of life; and you must remember that while there is time of prosperity
The people will neglect the Temple, and in time of adversity they will decry it.

T.S. Elliot  says  that the church is in need of constant reformation, for she is constantly subjected   to  sin and decay. Every generation of believers must understand  this, and every generation of believers  must  rebuild her walls  that are being constantly assailed. We cannot  live on borrowed capital. We  cannot   presume that our fathers yesterday have done a good work. We  must work  today and  contend for the faith  as it  was delivered  to us  by our Lord Jesus today (Jude 3). This is why I must  preach the  Word to you. The  first letter to the Thessalonians is an example  of a  God centered church, and I must hold this model  before you  to  imitate.  

Previously we have seen  that a God centered   church  is a  church which is   in God the Father  and  in the Lord Jesus Christ  (1:1)  and in the Holy Spirit (1:5).   It is a church  “loved by God, and  chosen by God” (1:4). This church had its origins  in the preaching of  the Gospel,  which  came  to them in  “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1:4).  The characteristic marks of a God centered church  are seen   in “their  work of faith , and their labour of love , and their steadfastness of hope  in the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3).  It is  seen  in their   imitation of Paul as he followed Christ,  and also  by  their  joyful  embracing  of the Word despite  much affliction  (1:6).   It is seen  in their desire to share  the  gospel  in the region of  Macedonia and Achaia  (1:8). It is seen  in a  demonstration  of biblical  repentance  as they  turned  from idols to serve the true and living God  (1:9).

Here is  yet  another aspect that  is characteristic of a God centered church,   and it  is found in verse 10 : The Thessalonian church was waiting  for God’s Son  from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath that is to come!   

This church was waiting  for  the return of the Lord Jesus. The word translated as  “wait”  in the ESV  (Gr.  anameno -  ana - “up” and meno, “to remain”) indicates   an  expectancy concerning a future event, which is eagerly anticipated or  waited for. Think of a parent who “waits up“ at night , eagerly  awaiting the  return of a child  from a late night event. The Greek tense is present, which indicates   a present and ongoing  waiting!  This church was  waiting diligently.

In Matthew 25: 1- 13   Jesus   told  the parable  of the  10 virgins  waiting for the  bridegroom  and his bridal party  to arrive for a marriage feast .  He is, of course talking about  His second coming.    The bridegroom took his time, and so they had to wait  for a  long time. Five were prepared  for his coming and the other five  were not. The  five that were not prepared (who did not ‘ remain up’)  for His coming   missed  the marriage feast and were not admitted to the marriage feast.  Jesus  frequently reminded His disciples (and therefore  His  church)   in the Olivet discourse (Matt 24 & 25)  that they had to  stay awake, be ready , and watching  for His coming. 

So, is  this  really an important  characteristic of a God centered  church   – to  wait  for the  coming of Christ ? There are  some   who have  warned us  “not to be so heavenly minded , that we are of no earthly good“.  Others  over the  centuries have said impatiently: “The  Lord is slow to fulfill His promise” (2 Peter 3:9). For some  this impatience of  waiting for the Lord’s coming has led them to  embrace the health , wealth and prosperity gospel   which assumes  that our  heaven is on earth.  Is it worth waiting any longer ? See how  Peter  counsels us in 2 Peter  3: 8-13 ! 

Yes,  waiting  for Jesus  is an essential characteristic of a God centered church!  The fact of the matter is that  we must  live with our eyes on the return of Christ  amidst  the often harsh  realities  of  our earthly existence.  I, as a pastor for one would not know  what I would do  if I  did not possess the “hope of heaven”. Brothers and sisters , the one thing that keeps us  going in the midst  of  so many challenges and trials  is  precisely  the fact that  we know that there  is a heaven ahead of us. There is a place of  rest (Hebrews 3 &4)  waiting for  the people of God (Hebr. 4:9). There  is a city that has foundations whose Designer and Builder is God (Hebr. 11:10)… a homeland (Hebr. 11:14)… a better country that is a heavenly one (Hebr. 11:16). The Bible  for this reason  sometimes  calls  believers  pilgrims, aliens, strangers, or sojourners because  they are  not going to  stay here! They  are on their way to their heavenly city.

We need to compare this to the attitude of those who do  not have this view. There is a  category of people  in the book of Revelation  who in the Greek text are literally called “earth dwellers[3] . Their whole lives are centered on this life on this earth  without any thought  of  the future.  The Lord  Jesus  warned  His disciples about being  overly anxious with respect  to  their “earth dwelling needs”,     such as   clothing or food. He warned  such  that   excessive  attention paid  to the pursuit  of food and  clothes  was  tantamount  to  accumulating “ treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal”. He exhorted them  to accumulate  treasures in heaven, … “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt  6:19-21). Where is your heart rooted?  What  is  your  future desire?   These questions  will tell you much as  to whether  you are waiting  for God’s Son from heaven or whether  you are an “earth-dweller” .

The Bible has much to say about the future state of man. Jesus  regularly spoke about  man’s eternal prospects in one of two  destinations : heaven and hell.  We must take Jesus’  teaching very seriously and prepare ourselves  accordingly. The Thessalonian Christians were  waiting  for  His Son from heaven… who delivers us from the wrath that is to come!  

Now  there is a real danger that you  would misunderstand  the  focus  on heaven, without the centrality of the Lord Jesus  Christ. There are many people who set their hope on heaven  simply because they cannot bear the thought of hell. Nobody likes the thought of hell , but this does not necessarily  mean that we  seek heaven.  
Here is the corrective statement which I now wish to make:  There can be no proper hope of heaven without  a living hope  in the person  of  the  Lord Jesus Christ!   The Thessalonians Christians weren’t just waiting for heaven. They were waiting for God’s Son  from heaven,  who would take them to heaven  (John 14:1-4)!  The focus  is on Jesus  who  takes us to heaven – who makes it possible for us to go to heaven!  Verse  10  is full of important  information  as  to why it is possible for us to go to heaven :  

We can go to heaven because  He  is  the Son of God  and  He is  Jesus , the son of man.  In the incarnation  He  is   both God and man in one person. These two natures of Christ are  important to understand.[4]    As a man He could experience  manhood. He could represent us on the cross and die for our sin.  As a man He could  be tempted, but  as  God  He could  not give into temptation and therefore He would not  sin. As man He could  experience the pain of death and the agony of  soul in his separation from God , but as God  death could   not keep Him in the grave. As a man He was raised,  and  He is  the basis for a living hope (1 Pet. 1:3) for in His resurrection is the hope of our resurrection to eternal life. As a man He went to heaven because He was  the eternal God.    In heaven He sits as our representative  and from  heaven He comes again  to judge the living and the dead. 

He is Jesus  who delivers us   from the  wrath that is to come. The wrath of God will be poured out on  all who  have not  trusted in Christ  in this life[5] . The great white throne judgment  will  be that  occasion (Rev. 20:11-15).

In our day one of our greatest needs is  to  disengage ourselves from being mere  ‘earth dwellers‘   and to  live in greater anticipation of our  meeting of  the Lord Jesus Christ, whether by our death or by His  second coming. This is a vital part of  being a God centered Christian , and it follows the long history of the church  in which faithful men and women  have  longed  for  the return of Jesus in their own generation , and have said, “ Maranatha” – Even so , Lord Jesus , come !   This is a normal  Christian desire , and if it is not there , you have every reason  to question yourself  as to whether  you are “in Christ”.

[1] The Remarkable Birth of Planet Earth, by Henry Morris: (p. 14) All processes manifest a tendency toward decay and disintegration, with a net increase in what is called the entropy, or state of randomness or disorder, of the system. This is called the Second Law of Thermodynamics.Scientific Creationism, edited by Henry Morris:  (p.25) The Second Law (Law of Energy Decay) states that every system left to its own devices always tends to move from order to disorder, its energy tending to be transformed into lower levels of availability, finally reaching the state of complete randomness and unavailability for further work.
[2] T.S. Elliot : Chorus from the Rock
[4] See  the definition of the Council of Chalcedon ( 451 AD)

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