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“Essential Christianity: Real, Relational, Righteous”

Dec.2/12 Jer.13:14-16; 1Thess.3:6-13


So, what’s this church thing all about? What words might you use to describe to someone the ESSENCE of Christianity – what’s most basic about our faith, when you get right down to it? A few quotes to get you thinking...

    William Laroe: “The Church is the only institution in the world that has lower entrance requirements than those for getting on a bus.” (Makes you stop and think about it, doesn’t it?!)

    A little more profound – early Protestant Reformer John Calvin, being honest: “Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, there a Church of God exists, even if it swarms with many faults.” Not sugar-coating it, is he? “SWARMS with many faults”? I guess he was being realistic! Certainly admitting churches aren’t perfect.

    Or take this one by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “What matters in the Church is not religion but the form of Christ, and its taking form amidst a band of men [people].” Not about religion, you say? Surprise! Unfortunately many people have mastered “religion” but are most un-Christlike. Bonhoeffer seems to be saying truly being “Church” has more to do with people becoming like Jesus.

    In today’s lessons at the outset of the church year, we find the Bible hinting the essence of Christianity involves at least three things: being Real, Relational, and Righteous.


Reading Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica, you almost feel like you’ve opened someone’s personal mail. It’s very intimate and honest, the apostle is being very REAL with the church. It reads more like an email to other family members than a formal sermon to a whole church. 1:2 “We always thank God for all of you;” 1:4 “For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you;” 2:8 “We loved you so much...you had become so dear to us;” 2:11 “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children...” Then in chapter 3 we find v8, “For now we REALLY LIVE since you are standing firm in the Lord.” For the apostle, being “fully alive” / “really living” can only happen when he is assured the Thessalonians are doing all right. His happiness and contentment depends upon, is contingent upon, their standing firm in Christ. He’s that bonded to them, his state is inextricably linked to how they’re doing. Their faithfulness (or fickleness!) affects Paul and his companions. Paul from Athens had sent Timothy to check on them and continue the work that had been interrupted abruptly when Paul and Silas were driven out by hostile Jewish opposition climaxing in a mob (Acts 17:5-10).

    3:9 Paul gushes,  “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?” Paul rejoices BECAUSE of them, SINCE they’re standing firm he “really lives”. They “make his day”! Yet he can also be honest that there’s more to be done, they haven’t yet reached perfection. 3:10  “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.” This isn’t criticism, just open and honest acknowledgment that they have more growing to do towards maturity. New Living Translation: “asking God to let us see you again to fill the gaps in your faith.” The terms in the Greek behind “supply what is lacking” mean to adjust, outfit, or furnish; “to bring to completion or perfection by repairing or furnishing what is faulty and/or lacking”. John MacArthur says Paul is “acknowledging that they had not yet reached their full potential.”

    Whatever else it may be, church OUGHT to be a place where we can be REAL, honest, authentic with each other, “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15) - kindly, yes; respectfully, yes – but most of all, honestly. To be so fully connected with others that we “really live” when we hear how they’re progressing in their walk with the Lord.

    Unfortunately, over the centuries the church has become renowned for its hypocrisy rather than its honesty. This week our daughter Emily blogged about what she called “the anorexic church.” She pulled the veil back on some of the pretending that goes on within the church, and yes, even within a pastor’s family...

    “Church wasn’t safe for me growing up.It was a place where we all had to pretend to be something we weren’t.On the drive home each Sunday, we would all be so cranky and tired, Dad would often have to pull over and spank one of us.I whispered my first swear word on a Sunday in that rusted old van.I felt very powerful, as though no amount of spanking or panty-house or hard-backed pews could reform this messed up girl.Because I’d seen what church could do.It could make a person be someone they weren’t and I didn’t respect that, from a very young age.I couldn’t listen to my father standing up there at that pulpit because I knew the silent force he was in my home, the way he put ministry before family and for a long time, I lived to please him, and then I just lived to make him mad.Because then at least I could get a response from him.And if church was God’s house then I didn’t want anything to do with God either because his house was cold and impersonal.And I think this is where we go wrong.Church should be one of the safest, most inviting places in the world...Shouldn’t church be a place where the homeless find a home, where the wounded find healing, where the hurting find forgiveness, and the hungry find food? Shouldn’t it be the most comfortable, heavenly place on earth? So much of what the gospel tells us is upside-down to the way we Christians actually live.So much of what Jesus says about dying to self and serving the least of these is opposite what we find in the chandeliers and glass of today’s mega-churches.One of the most powerful ways we can reach our parishioners, I believe, is by needing grace as desperately as they do. By being open about our brokenness...Jesus was fully human. And you are too.And the people coming to your church know this; they know you are human, that you are not divine, so don’t feel you need to put on any special airs or clothes or use different words, or hide your emotions.Be fully human—but do not sin in your humanness.”

    (End quote) In other words – be REAL.


Another essential aspect of Christianity is that it’s RELATIONAL. Now, granted, this 20th-century buzz-word only occurs once in the New Testament, and that in connection with God not people (Romans 2:17). But aspects of relationship such as loving and caring and kindness practically scream from its pages.

    As I mentioned earlier, reading Paul’s correspondence to the Thessalonians almost makes you feel like you’re prying into personal mail. Listen again to the terms of affection in 2:7-9:  “but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.” Love issued forth in hard work, Paul and Silas toiling as craftsmen to sell products so they wouldn’t be a burden to the new believers.

    3:1&5, “When we could stand it no longer...When I could stand it no longer...” Paul sent Timothy to find out about their faith – how the baby church was standing up against the persecution that was sure to be happening. Read between the lines of 3:6 to gauge the level of relationship:  “But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love.He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you.” Do you sense the magnetism and mutual concern attracting Paul and the believers?

    Skip down to v12:  “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.” What a beautiful word picture – God’s agape-love increasing and overflowing, spreading out first within the Thessalonian church and then spilling out to those beyond – reflecting the apostle’s love overflowing for them. Wouldn’t that attract unsaved people who are hurting, broken, and bitter?

    John MacArthur comments, “With over 30 positive and negative ‘one anothers’ in the NT, love appears by far most frequently.It is the overarching term that includes all of the other ‘one anothers’.” For example:  “...you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.” (1Th 4:9) “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” (Ro 12:10) “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” (Used that one in the Citizen article this week! Ro 13:8) “...love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1Pe 1:22) “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” (1Jo 3:11) “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” (1Jo 3:23) “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (You can sense this pulse or heartbeat of loving relationship is intrinsic to God’s very being; the Trinity has forever been relational! 1Jo 4:7) “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1Jo 4:11) “I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning.I ask that we love one another.” (2Jo 5)

    Loving relationship entails solidarity and sacrifice, standing in for another when there’s hardship. After the USS Pueblo was captured by the North Koreans, the 82 surviving crew members were thrown into a brutal captivity. In one particular instance 13 of the men were required to sit in a rigid manner around a table for hours. After several hours the door was violently flung open and a North Korean guard brutally beat the man in the first chair with the butt of his rifle. The next day, as each man sat at his assigned place, again the door was thrown open and the man in the first chair was brutally beaten. On the third day it happened again to the same man. Knowing the man could not survive, another young sailor took his place. When the door was flung open the guard automatically beat the new victim senseless. For weeks, each day a new man stepped forward to sit in that horrible chair, knowing full well what would happen. At last the guards gave up in exasperation. They were unable to beat that kind of sacrificial love.

    Rather a violent story – but isn’t that a picture of what a loving Christian fellowship should truly be like? Who’s getting “beat up” amongst our brothers and sisters? What’s it going to look like to step in alongside them and bring relief? Isn’t that what Jesus’ love for us looks like? That’s exactly what He did at the cross. RELATIONAL.


Paul also stresses that the church should be exhibiting righteous living. In this area Paul and Silas were examples when they lived in that city, and exhorted the new believers to grow into the kind of quality of life God called them to. See 2:10-12,  “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”

    Our passage from the prophet Jeremiah highlights the righteousness of the “Branch” from the line of David God would one day install as ruler. Jer 33:15f, “I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; He will do what is just and right in the land...This is the name by which it [or He] will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.” [NIV 1984] Literally, YHWH-tsidkenu; NIRV “The Lord Who Makes Us Right With Himself,” MSG “God Has Set Things Right For Us.” Certainly, when we come to faith, it’s as fallen and repentant sinners NOT on the basis of our own righteous deeds. We are justified or put right with God on the basis of what Jesus has done for us, it’s all about HIS righteousness, innocence, and perfection. But then His Holy Spirit comes to indwell us, and He calls us to walk in righteousness, holiness, being sanctified or “set apart” – DIFFERENT from the world.

    Note carefully 1Thess 3:13,  “May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” That last part - “holy ones” - isn’t just talking about angels; it’s referring to those who have died believing in Jesus beforehand, as the New Testament in general refers to all believers as “saints” or “holy ones”. When Jesus returns, we want to blend in with Him and His crowd in holiness and righteousness, not stick out like a sore thumb on account of persisting in unrighteous behaviour.

    It seems Paul particularly has sexual behaviour in mind when he’s talking about being “blameless and holy”, for shortly after he writes in 4:3-8:  “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God...The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.”

    We need God to strengthen our hearts, to give us character, so we can be blameless and holy especially in our sexuality. Last Sunday I was trying to find the Grey Cup game streaming online for my dad. I clicked on a link and suddenly there was a photo of a woman completely naked, legs positioned to conceal nothing, and she was typing inviting me to chat, saying, “Talk dirty to me.” Isn’t that enough to induce a struggle about holiness in any man? Sin inside me wanted to stay longer on the page – I stayed on it too long staring as it was – but I eventually managed to close it up without typing anything in response. But how many times has my mind flashed back there in the following week?! In the internet age, we desperately need God’s help, both as men and women, to have strong hearts so we remain “holy, righteous and blameless.”

    I can think of other examples of young men in the area posting videos of females on Facebook that give me pause to consider whether I should even play them. What is it in me that even has to dally and deliberate so long before moving on? Purity is more precious than yielding more brain cells to be sullied by images that would grieve God.

    A wealthy couple wanted to hire a chauffeur. The lady of the house advertised, the applicants were screened, and 4 suitable candidates were brought before her for the final selection. She called the prospective chauffeurs to her balcony and pointed out a brick wall alongside the driveway. Then she asked the men, “How close do you think you could come to that wall without scratching my car?”

    The first man felt that he could drive within a foot of the wall without damaging the car. The second felt sure that he could come within six inches. The third believe that he could get within three inches. The fourth candidate said, “I don’t know how close I could come to the wall without damaging your car.Instead, I would try to stay as far away from that wall as I could.”

    Which man would YOU hire?

    The fourth candidate had a different focus. He understood that true skill in driving isn’t based so much on the ability to steer the car to a narrow miss as on the ability to keep a wide margin of safety.

    Like the brick wall driving quiz, there are many aspects of human nature, such as sexual temptation, that are best dealt with by keeping a wide margin of safety. When we decide what to do in a doubtful area, such as going to a particular movie or clicking a link or surfing questionable channels, we should be as wise as that fourth man! Let’s pray.