Turn to Serve and Wait: Our Christian Calling

The late author and theologian John Stott introduced me to the wonderful phrase, “holy gossip.” In contrast to gossip that wounds people and splits churches, holy gossip happens when news spreads about the work God is doing.

In the apostle Paul’s ministry, he heard holy gossip about the Thessalonians, and he wrote about it in his first letter to that church. In the process, he gave a memorable description of the fundamental calling of the Christian life.

Early Christian Growth

Paul began his first letter to the Thessalonians by thanking God for his work within these people. When the letter was written, the church was only a few months old, and Paul had seen and heard convincing evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit among them.

Paul described how the Thessalonians began their Christian lives. They first received the word of the Lord with joy, though with much tribulation (1 Thess 1:6). In this way the people became imitators of Paul, his companions, and the Lord (1 Thess 1:6). Believers in nearby areas pointed to this church as an example (1 Thess 1:7).

Though the church was young, God was using them mightily. The word of the Lord “sounded forth” from them, and news of their conversion and faith was the holy gossip of the day (1 Thess 1:8).

Verbs for the Christian Life

Here is what Paul heard regarding the Thessalonians.

For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:9–10)

Paul’s verbs in these verses give us a compelling summary of a Christian’s calling.

Turn

First, the Thessalonians turned to God from idols. Conversion always involves a turning around, whether from a life of violence and addiction or disinterested religious observance.

The word “idols” may evoke images of carved, wooden figures, but we’re better off thinking of an idol as anything we worship instead of God. Comfort, success, relationships, health—these can all be idols.

A turn to God from idols might not be immediate, but it is decisive. Once we realize the water glass at our lips is full of sand, we can’t help but run to the fountain of living water.

And though this decisive turn happens at the beginning of our Christian lives, the implications reverberate through our remaining years. Walking faithfully with God means developing a habit of turning to him from idols.

Serve

The Thessalonians didn’t just change their religious allegiance. They turned from idols to serve the living and true God.

Conversion is not merely a shift in our religious thought life; it is coming alive from the dead. And the clearest evidence of our new life is our service to our new king.

The order here is crucial. Our service to this “living and true God” does not gain us his love. We are not loved because we serve; we serve because we are loved. When we wake from the dead and see how we have been bought with a great price, we cannot help but love and serve our God and Father (1 Cor 6:20). Of course, this service to God also involves loving our neighbors (Matt 22:34–40).

Wait

The most surprising verb in Paul’s list might be the last one. The Thessalonians turned to God from idols to serve and to wait. This is a hard command for impatient people.

Faith in God always has a forward-looking element. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we have great hope for the future. We long for our true home, our true family, our true king, and the glorious end of the curse. And since the future is not the present, we must wait.

This is not a thumb-twiddling, foot-tapping, bored-and-yawning sort of waiting. We’re waiting for a person—the Son of God! Paul describes this Son in verse 10.

First, he is in heaven. He is on the throne, in power, having ascended to his rightful place. Also, he has been raised from the dead. He was crucified and shut behind a stone. But death could not triumph over Jesus.

Finally, Jesus is the one who delivers us from the wrath to come. Wrath is coming, and we all deserve it. But Jesus will rescue those who are his from this terrifying end. We wait for the one who experienced wrath in our place.

Look to Jesus

This summary of our Christian calling might sound like an impossible task list. And if we separate this summary from the gospel of Jesus, that’s exactly what it is. But God never intended that separation.

We will fail to turn, serve, and wait perfectly. But Jesus has turned, served, and waited in our place!

Jesus never worshiped an idol (1 Pet 2:21–25). He turned away from idols toward God without fail.

Service was the foundation of Jesus’s life (Mark 10:45). He served the living and true God through obedience, love, and sacrifice.

Finally, Jesus waited. While on earth, he longed to return to his father (John 17:11, Luke 9:51), and he waited three days for his resurrection. He looked toward the future with hope like no one ever has.

As we look to Jesus, let’s help each other to identify and turn from our idols, to serve God and our neighbors, and to wait for his Son from heaven. Living this way will generate more holy gossip than we could imagine.

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The Right-Now Blessings of the Kingdom of God

Christians have a sure hope of heaven. Because Jesus has paid for our sin and we have received his righteousness, we are children of God who will be with our Father forever.

That’s wonderful! But, some might ask, what’s in it for me now?

Though most Christians don’t ask this question in polite company, many have wondered. Aren’t there some tangible, present-time benefits of being a Christian? Or must we wait entirely for heaven?

We Have Left Our Home

Jesus addresses this matter with his disciples on the heels of his interaction with the rich ruler in Luke 18. The ruler wants to do something to inherit eternal life, and Jesus pokes his finger where it hurts.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)

The ruler leaves in grief because he is so wealthy, and Jesus notes how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. This doesn’t rule out the possibility of prosperous Christians, however, because “what is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).

Peter then says, “See, we have left our homes and followed you” (Luke 18:28). Peter must be thinking back to Jesus’s words in verse 22. We have done what the ruler did not. What does that mean for us?

Jesus’ reply is stunning.

And he said to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29–30)

There is eternal life to come, but the blessings of the kingdom of God start now. And those blessings are abundant.

Blessings in this Time

We can almost hear the gears turning in Peter’s head. What is it that we receive now?

Jesus is not talking about wealth. That wouldn’t make sense in the context of leaving house and family, and it doesn’t fit after the warning about material riches.

There are probably hundreds of gifts we could discuss, but let’s focus on three.

The Freedom from the Grip of Idols

If an idol is anything (even a good thing) that occupies a commanding place in one’s heart, then the ruler made an idol of his wealth. Jesus told him to sell everything—not because this is a universal command to all believers, but because Jesus wanted the ruler to confront his idol. Sadly, the ruler was devoted to his riches.

When we follow Jesus, we start down the path of freedom from our idols. Jesus calls us to this freedom and gives us the power to make this freedom happen.

To determine the idols that occupy our hearts, we must ask ourselves: Where do I turn for refuge, safety, comfort, or escape? What brings me hope or causes me despair? It could be family, reputation, achievement, politics, or work. It might be a dozen other things.

If you’ve identified one or more idols here, don’t despair. It simply means that you are a human being. Jesus is eager to help idolatrous humans like us!

The Church

In the first century, a disciple who left his family (Luke 18:29) was leaving virtually all of his friends and contacts. With a few exceptions, he probably didn’t know any other disciples, but he was so compelled by Jesus that it didn’t matter.

We may lose family and acquaintances when we follow Christ, but we gain so much more. Christians who have joined a healthy, local church know the joy of belonging to a new family (Matt 12:46–50).

The people in the church are our brothers and sisters (Rom 8:29). They care for us; they help us with physical, emotional, and spiritual needs; they share a mission and a vision with us. In prayer, in gathering around the Scriptures, they point us toward the most important things in life—loving God and loving our neighbors.

The Presence of God

The disciples walked the same roads as Jesus. This was its own blessing—they learned from and were cared for by the Son of God! This is the very gift Jesus wanted to give the ruler in Luke 18.

And this gift is just as present for us. We have the Holy Spirit, and Jesus said that in some ways we have it better than his first-century followers.

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

The presence of God—lost in the garden of Eden, accessible to a select few in the tabernacle and temple, described and promised in the psalms and prophets—is a real, glorious gift for Christians right now.

Not Just in the Age to Come

The best earthly blessings resonate with us because they offer a foretaste of heaven. Freedom from sin, the fellowship of believers, the presence of God—we long to have these gifts in full!

But the good news of this passage is that leaving everything to follow Jesus has benefits now. These present-time blessings strengthen us, encourage us, and develop our affections for eternity.

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Links for the Weekend (3/13/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Anxiety, Waiting and the Coronavirus

It’s hard to have any conversation these days without talking about the Coronavirus (COVID-19). As with everything in our lives, trusting God should make a visible difference in the way we approach this. This pandemic can stir up a lot of anxiety, so I thought it would be helpful to link to this article from Christian counselor Alasdair Groves.

It’s an easy parallel for us to make today, isn’t it? A virus is seeping across the world and has reached our shores, and we don’t know how treacherous it’s going to be. God is calling us to continue forward in love of neighbor and service to his kingdom, but all we can see are public surfaces potentially covered in germs and neighbors who may be walking vectors of disease. 

Where’s Your Treasure? Three Questions to Ask Yourself

If you’ve been around the Christian church much, you may be familiar with the language of idolatry. This doesn’t just refer to worshiping little figurines of wood or stone, but rather when we put anything other than God in the place of God. These are often good things! But discovering our idols can be difficult. Cindy Matson offers three short, helpful questions to ask yourself to uncover some of your idols.

The truth is we’re all completely obsessed with treasure. We’re actually wired that way. God designed us to be active worshipers, and treasure is simply shorthand for the object of our worship. Since our hearts are always actively worshiping something, they’re not neutral; nor do they accidentally stumble into worship. They choose it. And, as Captain Jack points out, treasure is far more than just material wealth. For this reason, the Sage of Proverbs warns, “Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it springs the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23) Likewise, Jesus warns that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). The question I want you to think about today is, Where is your treasure? To answer, carefully ponder three questions and invite the Holy Spirit to examine your heart.  

Practicing What We Teach

Here’s an article which helps us think about loving our neighbors in practical ways. This article focuses on material poverty, but its principles are broader. There’s a great success story at the end; make sure you read the whole thing!

As we “put off” sin and “put on” righteousness, the church should be the place where this transformation is encouraged and supported by a community of God’s people. If you’re struggling with slander or lust, you don’t just need to be told not to do those things. You need to be surrounded by a community that helps you reimagine what life will look like if you no longer practice those things.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article by Sarah Wisniewski called Book Review: Labor with Hope: Gospel Meditations on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Thanks to Phil A for his help in rounding up links this week!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (3/6/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Confessions of a Recovering Political Idolater

About 20 years ago, Jared Wilson realized he had an idolatry problem. The way he paid attention to politics was unhealthy, and it was not honoring to God. I commend this article to you, because Jared talks about his repentance in ways that are specific and helpful (whether your idolatry problem is with politics or with something else).

My repentance consisted of a few practical things. I swore off all cable news, realizing how much the constant bombardment of news both real and speculative was eroding my joy and buttressing my anxiety. In the twenty years since, I haven’t watched but a handful of hours, usually when at other people’s homes when it is the background noise of choice. But other habits die harder. Here are some symptoms of my ailment I need to stay in constant vigilance about. Maybe you do too.

Marriage Was Never Supposed to Fill the Empty Spaces

Sometimes God uses hard situations to teach us important lessons. Lauren Washer has found herself in just such a situation, apart from her husband while he is deployed in the military. She’s learning a lot about trusting God and the design of marriage during this hard season.

Yes, he’s helpful, trustworthy, and loves me enough to be honest, rebuke me, and walk me through my struggles.  His wisdom is invaluable and I’m a better person having been married to him for the past thirteen years.  But he’s not God.  And try as I might to make my marriage relationship fill my soul, it never will.  Neither will anything else.

No Condemnation

Kristen Wetherell writes about her sense of inadequacy, the way she wonders if she’s disappointing God. She shares two questions she asks herself in those moments. I’m guessing these will be helpful for you, too.

Rather than buckling under the dark cloud of condemnation and listening to your fears, you can speak back to them. You can confidently confess your need for a Savior––”Jesus, I need you!”––and desperately seek him for change. His grace wasn’t just for the moment you believed by faith, but is for each and every moment of faith, for your every failure and every need.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here.