We are currently looking at the first letter that Paul sent to the newly formed church in Thessalonica on Sundays. We are spending 7 weeks preaching from the book, but there is much more that could be said than even in 7 sermons. Rather than extending the series or preaching even longer sermons I am looking to supplement the sermons with blogs. The sermons are available from our website once they have been preached.
The themes of the letter are introduced at the very beginning.
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 1v3
The most recent sermon looked at labour prompted by love. The effect of such love should be that “your daily life may win the respect of outsiders.” 4v12
These are quotes from John Perkins in his book, Dream with me, where he talks about how the church in America is not seen as loving and is not winning the respect of outsiders. Perkins is a well-respected, veteran civil rights leader. I find his comments challenging and relevant to our situation in the UK but was unable to include them in the sermon.
Sadly, when many look at the church in America today, they don’t see a group of disciples characterized by love for one another. Instead, they see (and hear) a group of people making a lot of noise about issues—abortion, homosexuality, and other social and political hot topics.
A recent nationwide Barna Group study looked at positive and negative contributions that Christianity has made in society. On the negative side, this is what they found: “When asked to identify what they thought were the negative contributions of Christians to American society in recent years, the most frequent response was violence or hatred incited in the name of Jesus Christ. One out of five Americans mentioned such vitriolic attitudes.” On the positive side, “One out of every five adults (19 percent) mentioned how Christians in the United States have helped poor or underprivileged people to have a better life.” Of course, that positive statement thrills me. But the two taken together remind me of something the apostle Paul wrote: “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3).
According to that recent Barna Group survey I already mentioned, the second most frequent response in the negative contribution category was “the opposition of Christians to gay marriage.” I personally am not in favor of gay marriage. However, I think it is significant that the way in which Christians have approached this issue is viewed as a negative contribution to society. So much hatred finds its way into discussions about this issue, and I often feel the need to apologize to the gay and lesbian community for the church’s inability to find the right language to affirm gay people as human beings. Yes, people have different opinions and beliefs about this topic, but there must be a way to discuss it and demonstrate love at the same time.
When I talk about love being the final fight, sometimes people are confused about what that means. When we think about fighting, we usually think about inflicting physical or emotional harm on one another—we punch, we shoot, we yell—we are violent. When we think about love, we get an entirely different picture in our minds—we think of gentleness, perhaps, or romance or kindness. So what does this love fight look like?
Love is action; it is truth; and it is sacrifice. Love is being willing to give our lives for and to one another. It is sharing what God has given us—whether that means material possessions, wisdom, or anything else He has entrusted to our stewardship.
My most unshakeable belief is in God and His love for me. Whatever else I think I know, I am certain that He loves me, and I believe Paul’s statement that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39). Because I am convinced of that love, I am committed to spending the rest of my life fighting the good fight by being a conduit of God’s love to those who desperately need to experience it.
I say amen to all that. May we fight the fight of love.