Out in the West Texas town of El Paso it wouldn’t be hard to find a cowboy church. We have them in my neck of the woods too; I met a guy the other day who started one down the road. It made me think of our local biker church and other boutique churches popping up – though one doesn’t usually find cowboys, bikers, and boutique mentioned in the same sentence.
Aside from such specialization and moving from boring monikers like Baptist Church, we now have Community Church and House Church. We have descriptors like Mega-Church and movements like Simple Church. And for those of us who are trendy we don’t call ourselves church at all. We are Journey or The Edge. I’m looking for that church sign that says we are Devo.
Now, if I could get my tongue out of my cheek and say quickly I’m not offering critique of the boutique or the chic, though in some sense I’m having to bite it, I want to say something with which we can all agree. Regardless of how we label ourselves we want the local church of which we’re a part to be a good example – so good that God would say so.
Who wouldn’t want to be part of a church that God Himself says is an example to other churches? Such a church would be characterized by work, labor, and endurance combined with faith, love, and hope. It would be a church that received the word with joy despite suffering for it and in turn sounded forth that word all over the place. This church would be known for its faith in God, its great service of God, and its rejection of idols. It would be a church that expectantly waits for Christ’s appearing. Of course, that’s what Paul said about the Thessalonian church (1 Thes. 1:2-10). They were, in a word, exemplary (v. 7).
That said, how do we get there?
At first glance it would seem we simply need to focus on working, laboring, and enduring. We need to make sure we have faith, love, and hope. We must focus on the truth, evangelism, serving God, and guarding our hearts. Here’s a church that wasn’t merely ropin’, riden’ and rawhiden’. They certainly weren’t sitting around drinking coffee looking for the Christ figure in various pagan cultural events of the day. These people were busy as bees in gospel activity and Paul highlighted the things they did that made them examples to churches everywhere.
But Paul’s eye was on something other than those things. His starting point was not the church but God Himself. He thanked God for them (v. 2); affirmed God’s choosing of them (v. 4); and pointed out the gospel came to them in the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 5-6). It was God’s work in them that resulted in them becoming examples (v. 7). While it may even appear that Paul commends the church for their work of faith, their labor of love, and their patience of hope (v. 3), he’s actually thanking God for producing those things in them. The original language is explicit: their work was produced by faith; their labor was produced by love; and their patience was produced by hope.
Let’s sharpen the picture. From where does our faith come? Do we conjure it up ourselves? Not really: the bible says our faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9). From where does love come? The bible says the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom. 5:5). From where does hope come? Again, the bible says from God: He has given us hope by grace (2 Thes. 2:16).
Paul wasn’t really focused on the church’s activity per se. Nor was he focused on niche marketing or promoting the brand. Oh sure, details are important but they fall short of what’s ultimate. What we really need to do is start with prayer (v. 2). We need to ask God to put faith, love, and hope in our hearts; to increase those things in us; to stir them up. When He works in us we will work, labor, and endure. When He works in us we will love the word no matter what it costs us and that word will radiate from us. Our commitment to God and our works of service will create vast ripples in every direction. When He works in our hearts idols will be shattered. When He works, we become – exemplary. And that’s reason enough for any of us to shout yippie ki-yay.
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