“We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3).
Seems people are always looking for a church pattern in the New Testament.
Some look in the book of Acts, after all, that is where Luke records the earliest days of the church. What were they like? What did they do? What was their mission priority?
Some look at the gospels, after all, if the church is the second incarnation of Jesus it should be patterned after the first. What was He like? What did He do? What was most important to Him?
While both approaches deserve consideration, it helps to remember that Jesus was perfect, without sin, and the early church was far from perfect. Surely that must influence our choice of patterns.
As I read Paul’s opening lines to Thessalonica, I wonder why I have never heard them mentioned as a possible pattern for the church?
Faithful work. These folks had a kind of faith going beyond talk, penetrating the mind and heart, and overtaking the entire person to produce faithful work. We don’t like to talk a lot about works of faith, probably an overreaction to the preaching of works-based salvation. But we need to remember that Paul, in the very passage about salvation by grace through faith, writes that we were “created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2:1-10). Saved by grace for works. The church at Thessalonica was living out their faith. The church today could use some of this faith to accomplish works humanly impossible. The kind of works that can only be accomplished by God.
Loving labor. This church was known for their loving deeds. Not only were they doing faithful works, they were doing them for the right reason. They were motivated by loving hearts. Faith reaches up to God. Love reaches out to others. Love does not demand a return on the “investment.” Love just gives. A church loves when God fills their hearts to overflowing with His love. Some churches seem to be fueled by anger and labor out of fear. The church at Thessalonica labored out of love. Faith provided a platform for work. Love provided the fuel.
Hopeful endurance. You can do the right things. You can do the right things for the right reasons. But you still have to put up with things going wrong. Not everyone is going to be receptive to the kingdom message. Not everyone who begins the journey will complete it. Not everyone will be tolerant of existence of church and the presence of Christians. Bad things happen. Good people suffer. But Jesus is coming again! And the church filled with second-coming hope endures, come what may – apathy, opposition, even persecution.
So if you are looking for a church pattern, may I suggest consideration of these verses? As patterns go, this could be a helpful one (see also: Romans 5:1-5; Galatians 5:5-6; Ephesians 4:1-5; Colossians 1:1-5; 1 Peter 1:1-8; Hebrews 6:10-12, 10:22-24 and, of course, 1 Corinthians 13).
Faith, hope, and love provide a pretty good template for any church, not because they were found in Thessalonica, but because they reflect Jesus.