The Way Life Shapes Us
Every one of us are shaped by a combination of our nature, how we were hard wired by God before birth and nurture… the events that have happened to us since then.
Especially powerful in shaping us are things like our parents, (and their attitude to God and money and what life is all about); our friends and school; our choice of career, the divorce or deaths of people we love and our own personal responses to the opportunities life has given us.
Are you aware of how you have been shaped by your life experiences?
How did your choice of career and spouse shape you?
My Dad used to say borrow money, pay interest and a bit of principle… but let inflation do the work for you.
I borrowed money at 16% and 18 months later I was paying 23% interest.
That experience shaped me more than my dad’s advice.
What do you think about borrowing money… or covid vaccines… or roles of men and women… or marriage and divorce?
What’s a holiday?
Why do you think that way?
What has shaped you?
Experiences… pleasant experiences… painful experiences?
Shaped by the Gospel
As Paul concludes this first letter to the church he planted by the gospel in Thessalonica he tells them how he wants the gospel of Jesus to shape them.
He wants the gospel of Jesus to shape them into a true Christian community.
What John Stott calls “A counter-cultural community”.
The culture of our day says look after #1;
Jesus’ counter -cultural gospel shapes us to care for others through self-sacrificial service.
The culture of the day says the more you have the better off you are;
Jesus’ gospel shapes us to realise the more we give away the richer we will be in ways those who brag about money will never discover.
The culture of the day says be proud, hold your head high, look within and find yourself; give expression to what you find…
Jesus’ gospel shapes us to look to Jesus to see what true humanity thinks and does… and humbly walk with God he will tell you who you are and how you are created to live.
(Which is a life-time of shaping us).
The culture of the day says you’re the centre of your universe;
Jesus gospel, bought at the cost of loving, self-sacrificial service of others has earned him the right to be the centre of the universe forever.
It’s only as we are shaped by aligning ourselves with Jesus in loving self-sacrificial service of others that we find our place in God’s universe in right relationship with everything through right relationship with Jesus.
To be gospel shaped community means understanding the gospel of Jesus and then finding out what obedience to that shape means for your church community in your day.
Now he finishes his letter with more instructions for a community of believers whose community life is shaped by the gospel.
The story is told about a missionary who was translating the Bible into the native tongue but could not find a natural word for “obedience” in the native language.
One day as he was about to leave the house of a tribal elder he gave a whistle for his dog and the dog immediately came racing full pelt up to him.
The elder looked admiringly at the dog and said to the missionary in his native tongue.
Your dog is ‘all ear’!
Suddenly the missionary realised this was the word he’d been looking for; to be obedient was to be ‘all ear’!
Are you willing to be ‘all ear’ as we come to the commands in these final sentences of this hefty letter?
It will shape how you think firstly about Christian leaders; secondly about how the believers relate to each other and finally the shape of community worship services.
Our attitude to church leaders, v12-13
Over the centuries the Christian church has oscillated between putting their leaders on a pedestal and giving all power and deference to them... and the belief that all clergy
and probably church leadership has had their day and should be ignored.
Paul, here in 1 Thess 5:12-13 says both attitudes are ungodly.
“Respect those who work hard, who are over you and who admonish you.”
How does the gospel of Jesus shape our attitude to leaders?
The world says “IstandwithDan” or all politicians are complete idiots.
Not so in the church.
Yet how often do we refer to our Presbyteries and General Assemblies as nongs or clowns and make it plain that we have little respect for them?
1 Thess 5:12 “12 Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.”
Wow! That’s counter-cultural.
Respect those who admonish you?
Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work?
At Hamilton we had a wayside pulpit.
One of my favourite signs I put on it was “Don’t believe everything you think!”.
If your leaders are making life difficult for you… what’s shaped them?
It might be the gospel… or it could be a painful experience they endured years ago.
Hard questions if necessary.
Listen to their answers, try to understand where they are coming from.
If necessary, if you thought they were acting contrary to the gospel… try to help them understand gospel thinking.
But in the end we would respect their decision and the reality that Jesus had given them leadership responsibilities over us.
Paul says they work hard, they are over you in the Lord and they admonish you.
“Over you” doesn’t mean lording it over you, demanding respect and obedience.
Jesus made it abundantly clear that that attitude is what the world believes.
“Over you” means to go first, to lead the way.
Elders are not little Lords ordering, they are servants leading by example.
Those that do are those who work hard, lead and admonish are worthy of respect.
It is not easy!
But for a church who has that type of leadership… they will lead the church they shepherd into being what Paul says a gospel-shaped church community looks like.
Our attitude to Christian brothers and sisters
The gospel is about self-sacrificial service, doing things for the good of others.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 (NIV84)
14 And we urge you, brothers (and sisters), warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
Our culture says… “idolise the idle… they’ve got it made; ignore the timid, scorn and ridicule the weak and be patient with people who don’t cause you any problems”!
Jesus counter-culture says warn those who are idle...
I’m not sure there is anyone who is idle here… is there?
In fact many commentators point out that the word used here for “idle” could also mean “unruly” or “showing no interest or concern”.
It is used in the military of the day for a soldier who broke rank.
He wasn’t doing what a soldier should be doing… and he didn’t care.
So, perhaps we might take it to be directed at the unruly Christian that is not living up to our responsibilities as church members.
The 80/20 rule?
Everyone seems to be so busy.
Maybe here we should warn those who are over-busy!
Now PLEASE… This is not finger waving pointing out faults!
This is notice what is going on, pray hard, step out… walk alongside, show a better way… and when it has the desired effect… thank God and try again.
Test… hold… avoid…
But it won’t always, v15.
Sometimes people refuse… sometimes people are embarrassed… sometimes people are pre-occupied… sometimes people are shaped to be alone… SO… sometimes our best efforts go awry!
Sometimes people will spit in your face and walk away.
Some might find this hard to believe, but sometimes people do the wrong thing by us.
If the gospel has shaped us well, v15
The story is told about a…
cranky old woman who was a regular church attender but whose neighbours forgot to ask her to a picnic.
On the day of the event they suddenly realised and sent a young lad around to her house with a special invitation.
He knocked, explained…she snapped back at him… “It’s too late now, I’ve already prayed for rain!”
Completely natural… but not shaped by the gospel!
Our expectations for Christian Life and Worship
In vv 16-24 commentators are divided whether these are instructions to individuals about their daily walk with Christ… or the group about their community worship.
When that happens it’s normally both!