The Model Church
On this earth we may expect to find no church model in all things. Even the Twelve had a traitor, and yet they were nourished and taught by the Lord Himself.
The church which is before us today, was, however, spoken of with these words, "So that ye were ensamples (models) to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia."
It would do us all good, if in our minds we might take our journey over to Thessalonica and move along with Paul, the evangelist, as he enters into that city for the first time to give forth the word of salvation.
He wrote to the Thessalonians, saying, "For they themselves shew of us, what manner of entering in we had unto you." Let us study for a few moments something of the "entering in" and then when we have finished, we will show what manner of saints the Thessalonians became.
1. Paul entered reasoning unto them out of the Scriptures. "And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts, came to Ephesus; and finding certain disciples, he said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism" (Acts 19:1-3).
The message of Paul to the Thessalonians was argumentative, establishing the facts relative to Christ's suffering, resurrection and kingship. (Read in connection, Acts 17:7.) He opened up unto them the Scriptures; he preached unto them Christ.
2. Paul's entering in was accompanied by much persecution. Acts 17:4-7 describes scenes of tremendous opposition. Certain lewd fellows of the baser sort turned the whole city into an uproar. They even assaulted the house of Jason and dragged him and certain brethren before the rulers because they had housed Paul.
3. Paul's entering in was accompanied with the manifestation of the Spirit's power upon his message. Of this the Apostle wrote: "Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our Gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake" (1 Thessalonians 1:1-5).
The fact that persecution arose in no sense stayed the power of God, as He wrought among the people.
4. Paul's entering in led certain noble souls to Christ. In 1 Thessalonians 2:1 are these words, "For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain." Among the converts were some noted in Acts 17:4, as follows: And some of them "believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few" (Acts 17:4).
5. Paul's entering in was followed by affectionate and laborious service on his behalf. "So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the Gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the Gospel of God" (1 Thessalonians 2:8-9).
No man ever labored more faithfully and more sacrificingly than did this mighty evangelist. And none ever labored with less emphasis upon money.
6. Paul's entering in was with all holiness of behavior. "Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe" (1 Thessalonians 2:10).
There was no corrupt speeches and no carnal methods with Paul.
7. Paul's entering in was with all compassion, "even as a father." "As ye know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children" (1 Thessalonians 2:11).
Soon, however, Paul's ministry had to close for the time. The persecution made it necessary for Paul to slip away by night. However, he remained faithful in his love and prayers for the ones left behind, and he lived in anticipation that they should be his "joy and crown of rejoicing at the Coming of the Lord."
With these words before us, we will be ready to hear and appreciate, perhaps the better, the words concerning the Church at Thessalonica as a model church.
I. THESSALONICA AN ENSAMPLE IN THEIR FAITH IN THE WORD (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
There is so much said today against the Bible as the in-errant, God-given Word of God, that it is most refreshing to read that the Thessalonians received the Word as it was, in truth, the Word of God.
There is so much said today about the Holy Scriptures being filled with the best writings, of ancient storytellers, that it is again refreshing to read that the Thessalonians received the Word of God, not as the word of men.
The Thessalonians believed that the Word of God wrought effectually in those who believed. For this cause it was, indeed, the Word of God.
The Word wrought in saving power; it wrought in the cleansing of the life; it wrought in building up of the saints; it wrought in the revealing of things to come: it wrought, and it wrought effectually.
The Church in Thessalonica had no hesitancy in exalting the Word of God, as high as the Name of God. To them the Word was authoritative and final. The word was given for the obedience of faith. It was received as the Sword of the Spirit. It was acknowledged as the fire and the hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces.
We need to pattern after the Thessalonians in reference to God's Word. We need to recognize that the Word is for ever settled in Heaven. We need to enthrone the Word, as Truth. We need to build upon the Word, as an impregnable rock.
Christ, in ages past, was called "The Word"; Christ, in His earth-life, was called "The Word made flesh"; Christ, when He comes again, will be named, "The Word of God."
"Holy Bible all Divine,
Precious treasure, thou art mine."
II. THESSALONICA AN ENSAMPLE IN THE WAY THEY RECEIVED THE WORD (1 Thessalonians 1:6)
It was not an easy thing for the people of Thessalonica to receive the Word of God, for there were lewd fellows who turned the whole city into an uproar against Paul and all who consorted to him. Even Jason was, with certain brethren, dragged before the rulers for giving entertainment to Paul.
In Berea, Paul had a better reception, because they, as a people (not as a church), were more noble than those of Thessalonica. The populace in Berea searched the Scriptures to see whether Paul's message was true to the Scriptures. The populace in Thessalonica were like the populace who stoned Stephen given to putting their fingers in their ears, and refusing even to give audience to the Truth.
This condition in the city made the ones who truly believed the more praiseworthy. They received the Word in much affliction, and yet they received it in the joy of the Holy Ghost.
Let us learn a lesson here. Sinners need not come moaning and groaning to confess Christ. Why not come with joy to drink water out of the wells of salvation? At Pentecost it was they who gladly received the Word who were baptized.
The ungodly may well moan over their sins, but they should shout with joy over the good news of redemption. Isaiah of old gave this testimony: "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters." Then that, "Ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace."
The Thessalonians received the Word in affliction. Persecution did not keep them from their good confession. They believed and were ready to pay for their faith with their lives.
God give us more saints of this cast!
"Oh, wonderful, wonderful Word of the Lord!
Our only salvation is there;
It carries conviction down deep in the heart,
And shows us ourselves as we are.
It tells of a Saviour, and points to the Cross,
Where pardon we now may secure;
For we know that when time and the world pass away,
God's Word shall for ever endure.
Oh, wonderful, wonderful Word of the Lord!
The hope of our friends in the past;
Its truth where so firmly they anchored their trust,
Through ages eternal shall last."
III. THESSALONICA AN ENSAMPLE IN EVANGELISM (1 Thessalonians 1:8)
Our verse says, "For from you sounded out the Word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to Godward is spread abroad."
A church that moves under God's blessing will be busy in carrying or sending the Gospel to others.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "We are come as far as to you also in preaching the Gospel of Christ." Then Paul added, "Having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly, to preach the Gospel in the regions beyond you."
The church that is not missionary will be a dwindling, dying church. As the church presses its way in evangelistic endeavor to others lying beyond its bounds it becomes enlarged in its efforts at home; and God begins to add abundant blessings.
The rule, "Give and it shall be given unto you," applies in evangelism and missionary endeavor as well as in financial gifts.
It is so easy to hold back our testimony to the lost who lie beyond our own doors, thereby impoverishing ourselves.
"God so loved the world," shall we love less? Christ said, "Let us go into the next cities also, for therefore am I sent." Shall we seek to preach in one city alone?
The church at Thessalonica sounded forth the Gospel in Macedonia and Achaia. It was of this, in particular, that the Holy Spirit bore witness, "So that ye were ensamples" (models).
If we are interested in others, we are patterned after the heart of Christ. He left Heaven and came to earth to seek and to save that which was lost. God enable us to do as our Lord did.
"Seeking the lost, yes, kindly entreating
Wanderers on the mountain astray;
'Come unto Me,' His message repeating,
Words of the Master speaking today.
Going afar upon the mountain,
Bringing the wanderer back again, back again
Into the fold of our Redeemer,
Jesus, the Lamb for sinners slain.
Seeking the lost, and pointing to Jesus,
Souls that are weak, and hearts that are sore;
Leading them forth in ways of salvation,
Showing the path to life evermore.
Thus would we go on missions of mercy,
Following Christ from day to day;
Cheering the faint, and raising the fallen,
Pointing the lost to Jesus the Way."
IV. THESSALONICA AN ENSAMPLE IN THEIR OBEDIENCE OF FAITH (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)
Three things are said about the Thessalonica saints. These three things express what we are calling the obedience of faith. That is they express what their faith led them to do.
1. They turned from their idols. When Paul entered into Thessalonica he preached three Sabbath days opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suffered, and have been raised from the dead, and that Jesus was Christ.
We have sometimes thought that the first Sabbath Paul preached that Jesus Christ must have suffered. It was under the power of that message that the Thessalonians turned from their idols. They saw their sins laid on Christ; and they left their sins.
When they had seen Him, what had they to do any more with idols? He was their all-sufficiency and their Saviour from sin. They had no cause to look for salvation to gods of wood, or iron, or stone who see not, neither do they hear or know.
2. They served the True and the Living God. This second step in the faith of the Thessalonians followed their hearing Paul on Christ risen again. They realized at once that the God of Paul was not linked to idolatry and to religious forms dead to all vitality and life. Christianity as Paul preached it, and as they accepted, centered in a risen and ascended Lord, seated at the Father's right hand.
No wonder they worshiped and served a Living God and a True God. The resurrection played a most important part in their faith. The God they knew was not a God buried and entombed, but a God alive from the dead, holding the keys of death and hell.
3. They waited for God's Son from Heaven. Paul preached that Jesus was the Christ; he preached that there was another king than Caesar, one Jesus. They believed in this Christ and waited for Him to come down the skies.
As we close this part of our theme, we would suggest that every model church, and that every model Christian, believe in a threefold testimony concerning Christ Christ Crucified, Christ Risen, and Christ Coming Again.
"He dies! He dies!' the lowly Man of Sorrows,
On whom were laid our many griefs and woes;
Our sins He bore, beneath God's awful billows,
And He hath triumphed over all our foes.
He lives! He lives! what glorious consolation!
Exalted at His Father's own right hand;
He pleads for us, and by His intercession,
Enables all His saints by grace to stand.
He comes! He comes! Oh, blest anticipation!'
In keeping with His true and faithful word;
To call us to our heavenly consummation
Caught up, to be 'for ever with the Lord.'"
V. THESSALONICA AN ENSAMPLE IN THEIR FAITHFULNESS TO THE FAITH (1 Thessalonians 3:5-6)
Paul had been torn away from Thessalonica by the persecution that befell them there. He knew that they had made a good confession; yet he longed to know of their faith, and whether they had remained true, lest the tempter might have beset them by the way. For this cause Timotheus was sent to inquire of their lot.
When Timotheus returned and brought good tidings of their faith and love, and showed unto Paul that they had always remembered him, the Apostle was greatly rejoiced. Paul even went so far as to say, "For now we live, if we stand fast in the Lord!"
We tarry a moment to express Paul's tender solicitude. When he first entered Thessalonica, he moved among them "as gentle as a nurse." He was not only willing to impart unto them the Gospel of God, but his own soul also, because they were dear unto him. Now that he was away from them, he the more abundantly desired to see their face, with a great desire.
Thus it was when Timothy returned with the news of their faithfulness to the faith, Paul was overjoyed before God. His only desire was that he might see them again, and perfect in them anything that was lacking in their faith.
The model church of today cannot be one which is lax in doctrine. It is all right to be ardent, and filled with fervor, and fire, and service; but this is not enough. Fire and vigor should be displayed along lines of Bible truth.
Paul once described the wrestlers in the games, and he said that they should strive lawfully. So should we "rightly divide the truth," and work according to the faith once delivered, lest we be brought into the condemnation of the adversary.
"Firmly stand for God, in the world's mad strife,
Though the bleak winds roar, and the waves beat high;
'Tis the Rock alone giveth strength and life,
When the hosts of sin are nigh.
Firmly stand for right, with a motive pure,
With a true heart bold, and a faith e'er strong;
'Tis the Rock alone giveth triumph sure,
O'er the world's array of wrong.
Firmly stand for Truth! it will serve you best;
Though it waiteth long, it is sure at last;
'Tis the Rock alone giveth peace and rest
When the storms of life are past."
VI. THESSALONICA AN ENSAMPLE IN HOLY LIVING AND SERVICE (1 Thessalonians 1:3)
In our verse Paul is remembering the Thessalonians in their work of faith, their labor of love and their patience of hope. Throughout the Epistle he speaks time and again of his prayer for them concerning their godly walk and service. He charged them even as a father charges his children, that they should walk worthy of God who had called them unto His kingdom and glory.
Paul prayed that their love might increase and abound one toward another, and toward all men, to the end that God might establish their hearts unblameable in holiness.
The appeal of Paul was that the saints might bring their walk up to a par with their confession. For said he, "This is the will of God, even your sanctification * * that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour." Paul also exhorted them "as touching brotherly love." He urged them to be quiet, and to attend to their own business. He pled with them to walk honestly toward those who were without. They were taught to abstain from all appearance of evil.
We are sure that the saints in Thessalonica heeded these pleas from the one who taught them the ways of God, because he wrote of them: "We have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you."
Every church modeled after this church, will find itself a separated people laboring in love and serving one another with pure hearts and faithful lives. We believe that the greatest need of the church today is purity in the daily walk. To be sure, the apostasy from the faith is a great bane and sorrow to us all, but the laxity in Christian living is even more a grief.
VII. THESSALONICA AN ENSAMPLE IN LOOKING FOR THE LORD'S RETURN (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2)
There is something strikingly beautiful in the two Epistles which Paul wrote to the saints at Thessalonica something which is not found in any other part of the Bible.
In each chapter of both Epistles there is something definitely spoken relative to the Lord's Return. Let me show this to you:
In the First Epistle
1 Thessalonians 1:10 They are found "waiting for His Son from Heaven."
1 Thessalonians 2:19 They are declared to be Paul's joy in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ at His Coming.
1 Thessalonians 3:13 They are urged to stablish their hearts "unblameable in holiness, * * at the Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints."
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 They are told to comfort their hearts concerning their dead, because, "the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air."
1 Thessalonians 5:10 After they are told of the times and seasons of the Lord's Return, they are told that they shall "live together with Him."
In the Second Epistle:
2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 They are told that they will rest with Christ, when the Lord is revealed in flaming fire taking vengeance upon the ungodly; * * "when He shall come to be glorified in His saints."
2 Thessalonians 2:14 After the Lord's Coming is discussed in its relationship to the destruction of the antichrist, they are told that they are called "to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."
2 Thessalonians 3:5 They are instructed thus: "And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ."
Whatever else may be said, this model church was a church fully instructed in and awake to, the blessed hope of the Lord's Return. May God grant that our churches may all pattern themselves after the same model!
"He is coming, surely coming,
For His promise cannot fail;
And the scoffers shall behold Him,
And before Him they shall quail!
He is coming, quickly coming!
But" His Coming we shall greet;
We have waited for His Advent,
And have listened for His feet."
Let each of us weigh well our lives in the light of God's message concerning the model church.
Here is what a Christian said he dreamed:
I sat down in an armchair, wearied with my work. My toil had been severe and protracted. Many were seeking Christ, and many had found Him. As for myself, I was joyous in my work. My brethren were united. My sermons and exhortations were evidently telling on my hearers. My church was crowded.
Tired with my work, I soon lost myself in a sort of half-forgetful state.
Suddenly a stranger entered the room, without any preliminary "tap," or "Come in." He carried about his person measures, chemical agents, and implements, which gave him a very strange appearance.
The stranger came toward me, and extending his hand, said, "How is your zeal?" I supposed that the query was to be for my health, but was pleased to hear his final words; for I was quite well pleased with my zeal, and doubted not the stranger would smile when he should know its proportions.
Instantly I conceived of it as physical quantity, and putting my hand into my bosom, brought it forth and presented it to him for inspection.
He took it, and, placing it in his scale weighed it carefully. I heard him say, "One hundred pounds!" I could scarce suppress an audible note of satisfaction: but I caught his earnest look as he noted down the weight; and I saw at once that he had drawn no final conclusion, but was intent on pushing his investigation. He broke the mass to atoms, put it into his crucible, and put the crucible into the fire. When the mass was fused, he took it out, and set it to cool. It congealed in cooling, and when turned out on the hearth, exhibited a series of layers or strata; which all, at the touch of the hammer, fell apart, and were severally tested and weighed, the stranger making minute notes as the process went on.
When he had finished, he presented the notes to me, and gave me a look of mingled sorrow and compassion, as without a word, except, "May God save you!" he left the room.
The "notes" read as follows:
Analysis of the zeal of Junius, a Candidate for a Crown of Glory Weight in mass, or total weight, 100 lbs
Of This, on Analysis, There Proves To Be,
Bigotry 10 parts Personal ambition 23 " "Wood, Love of praise 19 " Hay, Pride of denomination 15 " and Pride of talent 14 " Stubble" Love of authority 12 " Love to God 4 " Pure Love to Man 3 " Zeal. 100 I had become troubled at the peculiar manner of the stranger, and especially at his parting look and words, but when I looked at the figures, my heart sank as lead within me.
I made a mental effort to dispute the correctness of the record. But I was startled into a more honest mood by an audible sigh from the stranger (who had paused in the hall). I cried out, "Lord, save me!" and knelt down at my chair, with the paper in my hand and my eyes fixed upon it. At once, it became a mirror, and I saw my heart reflected in it. The record was true! I saw it, I felt it, I confessed it, I deplored it, and I besought God to save me from myself with many tears; with a loud cry of anguish, I awoke.
I had once prayed to be saved from hell, but prayer to be saved from myself now was immeasurably more fervent; nor did I rest or pause till the refining fire came down and went through my heart, searching, proving, melting, burning, filling all its chambers with light, and hallowing my whole heart to God.
When the toils of my pilgrimage shall be at an end, I shall kneel in Heaven, at the foot of the Divine Alchemist, and bless him for the revelations of that day.