A Great Church

 

A Great Church
I Thessalonians 1:1-10
 
What is God looking for from the church these days? 
 
Many churches are like the airplane pilot who came on the loudspeaker and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to know that our navigational equipment has malfunctioned. We don't know where we are; and, we don't know where we're going, but we're making excellent time."
 
Most churches today are “average” churches. I have never liked the word "average." Someone has defined average as being, "One step above the worst, and one step below the best." I don't know about you, but I have no desire to be the worst; and, I see no reason why not to be the best.
 
According to Ed Stetzer in his book "Comeback Churches", 70% of SBC churches are plateaued or declining. He also found that:
 
The average church experienced 10 percent total membership growth over 5 years.
The church baptized at least one person during the last 2 years.
The church needed 35 or fewer members each year to baptize 1 new convert. A member to baptism ratio of 35-1. [1]
 
The "average" church has no idea where they are, no idea where they're going, but they think everything is just fine. 
Thus, you should understand why I have no desire to be a part of an "average" church.
Someone has written:
 
"Some churches are full of members who are as stubborn as a Missouri mule about doing church work, but sly as a fox in their own business deals; as busy as a bee in spreading the latest gossip, but as quiet as a mouse in spreading the Gospel of Christ. Many are as blind as a bat to see the needs of others but have eyes of a hawk to see the faults of a few. Some are as eager as a beaver about a barbecue, but lazy as a dog about the prayer meetings.
 
Some will roar like a lion when things do not go just to suit them, but they are as gentle as a lamb when they need the preacher of the church. Some are as noisy as a blue jay when calling on the church for advice, but as timid as a kitten about talking to the lost and slow as a snail about visiting absentees and shut-ins. Many are night owls on Saturday night, but bed bugs on Sunday morning; slippery as eels on Sunday evenings and as scarce as hen's teeth on Wednesday nights."
 
Beginning today, I want to introduce us to four factors designed to move us beyond being average; four imperatives for becoming what God wants us to be. 
 
They are:
 
A Great Church, A Great Christian, A Great Cause and a Great Commission. 
 
 
 
Today, I want to introduce to you, not just a good church, but a great church. It is the church at Thessalonica. Paul established the church at Thessalonica in Acts 17. 
 
After his version of "Jailhouse Rock," with Silas, in Acts 16, Paul left Philippi and headed for the important city of Thessalonica where he started what would become one of the greatest churches of his ministry, as well as the New Testament. 
 
I believe that the qualities Paul outlines in chapter 1 gives us what it takes to be more than just a good church, but a great church. First of all, Paul identifies that:
 
1. A Great Church is FILLED with CELEBRATION!
 
There was something about the church of Thessalonica that set it apart from any other church. These were an exemplary people, an expectant people, and an excited people. It was a place filled with celebration. 
 
For one thing, notice:
 
The WORSHIP they SENT UP
 
We read in verse 5, "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance." 
 
The key to the worship of the church of Thessalonica had nothing to do with their instruments, orchestra, choir or musical arrangements. 
 
The key was that it was "in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance." To put it simply, their worship had the touch of God on it. You could say that "God was all over the place in this place."
 
God had taken it out of the hands of men, and placed it in the hands of the Holy Spirit. As a result, they didn't leave church the same way they came to church. They came to meet with God, and God, in the person, presence and power of the Holy Spirit, came to meet with them. That, my friend, is worship!
 
Donald McCullough wrote an article for "Intercessors for America Newsletter." In it he depicted the vital connection between our view of God and our ability to offer true worship. 
 
He said, "The Bible warns us, 'Offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and fear; for our God is a consuming fire.' But, reverence and awe have been replaced by a yawn of familiarity. The consuming fire has been domesticated into a candle flame. When the true story gets told, it may well reveal that the worst sin of the Church, at the end of the 20th century, is that they have trivialized God."
 
I recently read a great definition of worship, "To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God; to feed the mind with the truth of God; to purge the imagination by the beauty of God; to open up the heart to the love of God; and, to devote the will to the purpose of God."
 
 
 
 
Ladies and gentlemen, if God is who we say He is, then He desires, He demands, and He deserves our very best when it comes to worship. More than anything else we could give Him, God desires our worship.
 
Erma Bombeck tells how she was sitting in church one Sunday when a small child turned around and began to smile at the people behind her. She was smiling, doing nothing else, not making a sound. When, suddenly, her mother whispered to her, "Stop that smiling, you're in church." 
 
Erma concluded that, from what she could see, most people come to church looking like their deceased rich aunt left everything to her pet hamster.
 
It reminds of me of the lady in a dead church service. She was accustomed to praising God, but was in a church that wasn't. Every once in a while the preacher would say something she liked, and she would say, "Amen, Hallelujah, or Praise God!" After a while the pastor asked the ushers to escort her out of the service. They asked her, "What's wrong with you?" She said, "I've got religion." They said, "Well, you didn't get it here, so be quiet!"
 
You can have well-trained musicians, and not experience worship. You can sing praise choruses, or hymns and not experience worship. 
You can bring in the best group on the road and not experience worship. But, when God shows up, shows out and shows off, you will experience worship.
 
 
 
By the way, since He is not a "God of the dead," but a "God of the living," true worship will be divine in its focus and dynamic in its format. You can go to a funeral home and be around dead things. You can go to a cemetery and find people dying to get in there.
 
I've pastored some people who say, "I'm not an emotional person. I don't think church is the place to behave that way." Yet, those same people will sit and watch soap operas and cry like a baby, because Luke left Laura; but that's all right because it considered drama. However, when someone praises God at church it's considered dramatic.
 
They will go to a ballgame and holler until they are hoarse, but that's ok because they are being a fan. But, if someone shouts at church they are being a fanatic. They will cry at a wedding but it's because they're being emotional. But, if someone let's 'er rip at church that's being extreme. 
 
It will be a liberating day when Christians realize that they don't go to church to have a funeral; they go to church to have a feast.
 
You see every Sunday is Resurrection Sunday, and every service is a Resurrection service. We come to celebrate the fact that Jesus is "He that was dead, and is alive forevermore." Thus, this ought to be the MOST EXCITING PLACE IN TOWN. 
 
Do you know why I get so excited when I come to church?
 
 It's because of:
 
The day the Lord saved me,
The moment He forgave me,
And the peace He put down in my soul.
The devil can't make me doubt it,
So I'll go ahead and shout it.
I was there when it happened,
So I guess I ought to know.
 
I'm excited because I know where I was, who I was and what I was the day God saved me by His marvelous grace. I know where He's brought me from and where He's taking me to. So, it may bother you, but that makes no difference, because you haven't done for me what Jesus has done for me.
 
Thus, even if it hair-lips the devil, I'm going to lift my voice, wave my hanky, and give my praise to God because of all He's done for me.
 
Notice that the worship they sent up was the result of:
 
The WORD they SOAKED UP
 
We get the idea that these Thessalonian believers not only enjoyed the singing, the shouting and the service; but, they also enjoyed the sermon. We read in verse 6 that they "received the word of the Lord in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost."
 
The word "received" is the Greek word dechomai. The word literally means, "To welcome." The idea is of welcoming, or receiving a guest into one's home. 
 
In other words, these Thessalonians received the Word into their hearts like you would receive a guest into your home. 
 
Although they were the recipients of opposition and oppression the Word was not something that they resented it was something that they received. It was not something that they endured it was something that they enjoyed. It was nothing something that they loathed, it was something that they loved.
 
I want to make it clear that the most important thing that will ever take place in any church is the PREACHING OF GOD'S WORD. As a result, NO THING can ever take the place of the MAIN THING. And, the main thing is the preaching of God's inspired, inerrant, infallible, incorruptible Word. 
 
As John Calvin said, "We owe to scripture the same reverence we owe to God." G. B. Duncan hits the nail on the head, "Most Christians are attempting to love a God that they do not know. The only way to know Him is to spend time with Him in prayer, and the study of His Word."
 
A churchgoer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. He had gone for 30 years now," he wrote, "and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me, I can't remember a single one of them. So, I think I'm wasting my time and the pastors are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all." 
 
This started a real controversy in the "Letters to the Editor" column, much to the delight of the editor.
It went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher: 
 
 
"I've been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this ... They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!"
 
I love Paul's assessment of it in 1 Corinthians 1: 17-18, "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to PREACH THE GOSPEL: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. [18] For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God."
 
I know that some of you think that it's your stomach that starts to growl around 12 o'clock noon; but, I submit to you that it might not be your physical stomach; it may be your spiritual temper. It might very well be your inward man that is growling. And, the only thing that will satisfy Him is the Word of God.
 
Thus, my job is not to let you come to church and hear a duet, get a sermonnette, walk outside a light up a cigarette; stop by the kitchenette and, then go home to play roulette and live like a majorette. He has called me to "Preach the Word!"
 
Why? Because every one that is saved, or anyone that gets saved will be saved, "not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever."(1 Peter 1: 23)
 
Secondly, notice that:
 
2. A Great Church is FOUNDED on DEDICATION!
 
According to Jesus, His great purpose for coming into the world was "to seek and to save that which was lost." This was, in the words of C. H. Spurgeon, "The Errand of Mercy." 
 
It would seem that the church at Thessalonica never lost sight of the purpose for their existence. They did not exist to be a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners. They did not exist to be keepers of the aquarium, but fishers of men. 
 
Thus, while they knew of, in verse 4, their "election of God," it was a message that they could not keep to themselves, because they were:
 
CONCERNED about the LOST
 
Verse 8 describes the outreach program of Thessalonica, "For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad." 
 
The verb "sounded out" is the Greek verb execheo, and it actually means, "To sound as a trumpet." They were not tooting their own horns, but they were blowing the trumpet of the gospel of grace.
In other words, they could not keep this message to themselves. They had to share it with everyone they came into contact with. They were not interesting in promoting their own name and agenda. 
 
Rather, they picked up the gospel trumpet and faithfully echoed forth the message of salvation.
 
Why? Look at verse 9. "For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." 
 
In other words, they knew what they used to be and where they used to be. They never forgot where God brought them from, and what God brought them to. They once served "idols," but because of the message of salvation, they had "turned to God."
 
The church at Thessalonica was surrounded by a pagan society. They were faced with idolatry and the false worship of many pagan gods. Thus, they knew firsthand the condition of the lost world that surrounded them, and they wanted God to do for others what He had done for them. Thus, they "sounded out" the trumpet of grace.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, the #1 priority of this church, or any church is to worship, as we’ve already discussed. But out of that worship experience flows the responsibility to do EVANGELISM. Vance Havner said, "For a church to say it's going to major in evangelism is like a railroad to say it's going to major in transportation."
 
In the next 60 minutes, 7000 people will die; and, 6000 of those have never heard the name of Jesus.  
 
It is estimated that 125,000 lost people die everyday, or 5,210 every hour, 87 every minute, and 1.5 every second.
 
Yet, while we sit here in our padded chairs and comfortable auditoriums, we have become more concerned about buildings, budgets, business and belongings than about what God has called us to do: WIN THE LOST!
 
R. A. Torrey said, "I would like to ask what right a man has to call himself a Christian who is not a soul-winner." If there is anything that we, as a church, should be concerned about, it should the condition of our lost community.
 
Someone will say, but preacher, we give thousands to the Cooperative program. We have 25 or 30 signed up to go to Malawi. Yes, and we had six at church-wide visitation last week. 
 
Is there not something wrong with that picture? Is it OK to be involved in the big international event and ignore the needs right here at home? 
 
You see: there is my passion. I long for the day when we are as excited about building the church here and seeing it reach the lost as we are those overseas. I’ve been told all of my ministry, let people go overseas and be involved in missions, and they will never be the same. 
 
To be honest, I’ve not found that to be true. Maybe in some individual circumstances. 
 
I’ve been told, raise the money to send missionaries and the church will be blessed financially. 
But we are consistently behind budget in receipts.
 
 
 
Here’s the deal: What I find in the life of the Thessalonians was that they were concern for the condition of the lost, was because they were:
 
COMMITTED to the LORD
 
Listen to this quote by a well-known church growth specialist: "Today's church has the best materials, media and methods, but we lack spiritual power. Christians of the apostolic era had none of our advantages; they didn't even have the New Testament. Still, they turned the Roman Empire upside down. What good does any of these things do if we do not impact our communities by the power of God?"
 
Notice, in verse 8, that they "sounded out the WORD OF THE LORD." 
 
In other words, the commission of Christ became the mission of the church. They were committed to carrying out the Great Commission.
 
We find an interesting connection between verse 4 and verses 8-9. In verse 4 they were reminded of their "election of God." However, in verses 8-9 they were involved in evangelism. Election and evangelism go hand in hand.
 
The person who says, "God will save who He wants to save and He doesn't need my help," understands nothing about election or evangelism.  In the Bible, election is always in regards to a purpose. 
 
God elected the nation of Israel for the purpose of witnessing to the Gentiles. 
 
In the same way, God has elected the church for the purpose that we might win the world to Jesus Christ. Election is not a release from evangelism; but, it is the greatest reason for evangelism. 
 
 
That is the reason that all 4 gospels end, and the book of Acts begins with commissions for the church today. In the New Testament, the entire congregation was involved in sharing the gospel of Christ. 
 
EVERYBODY told ANYBODY that God's grace could take a NOBODY and turn them into SOMEBODY!
 
Someone has well said that, "We are beggars who go tell beggars where to find bread." Can I put it this way? We are saved beggars who should go and tell lost beggars where to find the Bread of Life.
 
I once read the story of a Civil War soldier by the name of Peter Apples. One day in battle, the command was given to "Charge!" Peter Apples along with the rest of his unit charged. They came under such heavy attack that retreat was sounded, but Peter Apples didn't hear it. He kept charging into "No-Man's Land;" right into the heart of the enemy.
 
He came upon a ditch where the enemy soldiers were lined up one behind the other. He took hold of the first one in the ditch, hit him two or three times, grabbed him by the nap of the neck, dragged him out of the ditch and started back toward his unit. The enemy soldiers took aim and started to shoot, but were afraid they would hit their own soldier.
 
 
Peter Apples continued to drag the soldier and finally dragged him back to his unit and dropped him at the feet of his commanding officer. The officer looked at him and said, "Where in the world did you get him?" Peter Apples said, "I got him over there in that ditch. There are plenty of them over there, and everyone could have had one if they had wanted one."
Ladies and gentlemen, there are plenty of sinners outside of these 4 walls, and everyone can go get one if they want one.
 
The fact of the matter is that it matters not what else we do, how well we do it, or how nice it looks. If we are not reaching men, women, boys, girls, red, yellow, black and white for Christ, then it means absolutely nothing.
 
Finally, notice the:
 
3. A Great Church is FOCUSED in ANTICIPATION!
 
I love how Paul describes this church in verse 7. He describes them as "ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia." The word "ensamples" is the Greek word tupos. It was often associated with the impression made by a hammer-like instrument. It referred to "the impress made by the blow." [2] Later, the word seemed to identify with a stamp, or the visible impression made by the outline of a stamp. 
 
In other words, God made such an impression on the Thessalonian church that the Thessalonian church made an impression on others. Paul left a mark on them, and they left a mark on their society. 
 
The truth of the matter is that this church will leave an impression on our community. Whether we realize it, or not, we are leaving an impression by what we practice, preach, promote, prioritize and pursue. 
 
The Thessalonians left an impression, and their example motivated others, because:
 
They LABORED in the WORK of God
 
What a beautiful tribute Paul gives to the Thessalonian church's work ethic. They labored in the work of God sacrificially
 
We read in verse 3 about their "work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." They didn't seem to be interested in being applauded on Earth, only to be accepted in Heaven.
 
But they also labored in the work of God sincerely. 
 
In verse 9, we are told that they "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." The word "serve" is the Greek word douleuo, the verb form of the word doulos, which speaks of a bondslave, or servant.
 
The word indicates "to be given to another's will and interests." In other words, we get the idea that these Thessalonian believers weren't interested in promoting their own agendas, opinions, or preferences; they wanted to serve God's plan, purpose and program. 
 
 
It is because of what Christ has done for us that we should sacrificially and sincerely do all we can do to labor in His vineyard. No pastor should ever have to plead, beg or implore anyone to serve God. 
 
If you have been saved, then laboring in the work of God should be something that you look to do, something that you long to do and something that you love to do.
Finally, they labored in the work of God, because:
 
They LOOKED for the SON of God
 
I believe that verse 10 outlines the entire motivation for everything these Thessalonian believers did. They labored for God because they looked for God. We see them as they "wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come."
 
The word "wait" implies "patience, or confident expectation." In other words, although these believers may not have understood all the details concerning Christ's return, they believed that He would keep His promise to come again. Thus, while they labored in His work they looked for His return.
 
One of the very foundational doctrines of our faith is the rapture/return of Christ for His church. JESUS CHRIST IS COMING AGAIN! However, if we will really believe that it will be evidenced by what we preach, what we practice, what we pursue and what we prioritize. 
 
A church that truly lives in the anticipation of seeing the Lord Jesus Christ at any time will be a vibrant and victorious group of people. 
We will not be looking for the signs; we are listening for the shout and longing for the Savior.
 
D.L. Moody said, "The devil does not want us to see the truth concerning the return of the Lord, for nothing would wake up the Church so much. The moment a person takes hold of the truth that Jesus Christ is coming back again, this world loses it hold upon him." 
 
A crumbling old church building needed remodeling, so, during his sermon, the preacher made an impassioned appeal looking directly at the richest man in town. At the end of the sermon, the rich man stood up and announced, "Pastor, I will contribute $1,000."
 
Just then, plaster fell from the ceiling and struck the rich man on the shoulder. He promptly stood back up and shouted, "Pastor, I will increase my donation to $5,000."
 
Before he could sit back down, plaster fell on him again, and again he virtually screamed, "Pastor, I will double my last pledge." He sat down, and a larger chunk of plaster fell on his head. He stood up once more and hollered, "Pastor, I will give $20,000!" This prompted a deacon to shout, "Hit him again, Lord! Hit him again!"
 
What the church needs today, more than anything else, is for the Lord to hit it again! 
 
 
 
 
 
In the words of Charles Gabriel:
 
Lord, send the old time power,
The Pentecostal power;
Thy flood gates of blessing
On us pour open wide.
Lord, send the old time power,
The Pentecostal power;
Let sinners be converted,
And Thy name glorified.
 
Someone has said that if:
 
All the sleeping folk will wake up,
All the lukewarm folk will fire up,
All the dishonest folk with confess up,
All the disgruntled folk will sweeten up,
All the discouraged folk will cheer up,
All the depressed folk will look up,
All the estranged folk will make up,
All the dry bones will stir up,
All the gossipers will shut up,
All the true soldiers will stand up,
And all the members will pray up; then,
YOU CAN HAVE CHURCH!
 
I'm talking about a place that is saturated, dominated and illuminated by the person, power and presence of God on every parking space, every walkway, every class room, every seat, every aisle, and every square inch of its facility.
 
Let a church get filled with celebration, let a church get founded on dedication, and let a church get focused in anticipation; and, ladies and gentlemen, that would be a great church!
 
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