There has been a growing realization that church culture does not always line up with the Word of God, and this is most evident on a Sunday. Worldwide millions of churches open their doors every Sunday morning and “do some church.” Where church culture is caught lacking is that many Christians who are attending a gathering are not aware of the monumental significance a gathering has for one’s spiritual life. Leo Durocher (worth a Google search if you do not know baseball) once wrote, “Baseball is like church. Many attend few understand.” Sadly, many attend a weekend gathering and few understand the monumental importance of why we as believers gather.
1. Why is a weekend gathering important to you and your family?
Paul’s main reason to write the letters to the church of Thessaloniki was to encourage them in their walk. While Leo “The Lip” Durocher may have a point, many who “go to church” do not understand. I do not believe a Christian should ever leave someone in a place of not understanding. I also think it is dangerous to base understanding on time. I feel the church’s job (reminder the church of Jesus Christ is any professing believer, not just staff members) is to ensure that every person understands the reasoning and importance of all that we do to praise and glorify our risen Savior.
I love digging into God’s Word to find the truth. If we dig into three verses of 1 Thessalonians, I believe we can pull out what ought to be our central focus when we gather together. We need to break down a few key truths.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20, Paul writes, “But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you - I, Paul, again and again - but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.”
2. Who does Paul say hindered him?
Key truth number 1 - The devil opposes the work of the Lord.
I believe that the devil loves living behind the confusion. Jesus says the devil, has “no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). The devil will use any opportunity to attempt to slow down the furthering of God’s Kingdom through His bride. The devil is no creator, the devil is not omnipotent, omnipresent, or omniscient. However, the devil delights when a believer feels too hindered to move closer to God.
3. How can a believer be hindered from growing closer to God in a gathering?
4. How is James 4:7 (“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”)an encouragement from being hindered?
Therefore, if we know the scheme of the enemy is to hinder us from gathering, we now can look at what a gathering looks like.
Again, 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20says, “But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you - I, Paul, again and again - but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.”
5. What is Paul’s desire for the church of Thessaloniki?
Key truth number 2 - An important aspect of a gathering is people.
I love that God preserved and inspired Paul to pen this truth that we can read 2000 years later. Paul’s desire was to see people face to face.
6. How can the devil hinder us from wanting to see people face to face?
The devil is not on the same power tier as God. God is the creator. The devil is not. So all the devil can do is use (or misuse) the creation of God. I hope the poetic irony that the greatest hindrance and enemy of God’s Church has to play by God’s rules and use God’s creation. Satan loves to use people to drive us away from gathering.
7. How can we make sure the devil does not use the people we should have an earnest desire to see as a hindrance?
8. Why is it so easy for Christians to be “good with” not seeing each other face to face?
Disclaimer - I am a literal person. I operate in black and white. The one thing we must realize is we live in a different world than Paul. Paul did not have internet, Smartphones, Zoom, or live-streaming capability. God has blessed us with technology, but the devil can and will corrupt it. Live-streaming a gathering is a great means to reach new people; however, it also can become an excuse to not have to become an active part of the Body of Christ. It is not for us to judge a person’s heart, only God gets to do that, but do not be hindered in your walk with Jesus because you believe in a lie.
To bring this lesson to a close we have to look for one more truth. If we know Satan is attempting to hinder us from gathering face to face, we now have to unlock the focus of believers when they meet.
One more time, 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20says, “But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you - I, Paul, again and again - but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.”
9. Who does Paul say is his hope, glory, joy, and the object he will boast about before Jesus at His coming?
I struggled with this last verse for a bit. Like He always does, God showed me an amazing truth. The last verse in chapter two could create some horrible theology if we are not careful. If we begin to think that Paul is advocating the worship of man, we run into a whole bunch of sin. Read Romans chapter one if you would like more details about worshiping the creation rather than the Creator.
We first have to understand that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). We can draw the conclusion that Paul is encouraging the Christians of Thessaloniki, and God is not defamed or upset by this. There is nothing bad about a pastor encouraging his people. We also have to draw the conclusion that these verses are also God speaking to His Church.
Since Paul was not an idolater, we cannot conclude that his heart was in the wrong place with this adoration to the Church. To add to that, God would have never allowed Paul’s sin to creep into His Word. We also know that our Lord is “is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Psalm 95:3; Go read all of Psalm 95, you will not regret it). So we can draw the conclusion that God is not in fact worshiping us either.
10. So how can Paul say a person is his glory and joy and God allows this in His Word?
Key truth number 3 - We do not boast about a person; we boast about what Jesus has done inside that person.
We can get swayed into forgetting that every person who steps into any of our locations is there because Jesus is doing a work in their lives. We should never worship the number of people who are coming, but we praise God because of the work He is doing in their lives. Paul let out such a bold exhortation to the church because he knew that inside the church is where we all cling to an amazing truth, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” ( 2 Corinthians 5:17).
11. Where was Paul’s joy focused?
12. How can we un-hinder ourselves and focus on the work of Christ during a gathering?
“Baseball is like church. Many attend few understand.” Let us strive to understand that we are called to be a church that is unhindered, people-loving, and Jesus worshiping.