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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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. 

God May Postpone Your Relief for His Glory

The beginning of Exodus overflows with the oppression of God’s people. The Egyptians employed slavery, torture, and murder to keep the Hebrew people under foot.

But God’s compassion is equally evident in those chapters. It’s striking to read how God identifies with his people.

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. (Exodus 2.23–25)

Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land…” (Exodus 3.7–8a)

The details of this story are familiar. God enlists Moses and Aaron in his rescue mission, and by the end of chapter 4 they have traveled back to Egypt from Midian. They are ready to confront Pharoah.

Because God is in control and cares for his suffering people, we might expect Pharoah to fold immediately. God snaps his fingers, and the Israelites drop their bricks and follow Moses out of town.

But that’s not how the story goes. In fact, Pharoah makes his slaves’ lives worse because of Moses’ intervention (Exodus 6). God told Moses that he would harden Pharoah’s heart, and it happens before our eyes.

Why is this? Why doesn’t God give immediate relief to his people?

God is the Lord

When we investigate the Biblical text, we see God is motivated by a concern for his glory.

Before God brings the first plague against Egypt, he tells Moses he will harden Pharoah’s heart. This message isn’t new, but this time we hear God’s design in the hardening.

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 7:3, NASB)

And what’s the purpose of these signs and wonders?

The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst. (Exodus 7:5, NASB)

God wants the Egyptians to know that he is the Lord. He says he will accomplish this for Pharoah when the Nile turns to blood. (Ex. 7:17)

Instead of an immediate release, God will bring Israel out through great judgments (Ex. 7:4). These plagues will bring glory to God by showing the Egyptians (including Pharoah) that he is the Lord.

Do you feel the tension? As the plagues stretch on, Israel is still in slavery. They still have backbreaking work and unreasonable quotas in front of them every day. I can imagine the people asking, “How long, O Lord?”

Waiting and Faith

God’s deliverance for Israel doesn’t follow our timeline. But this isn’t an issue only for his ancient people.

Consider the young woman struggling with chronic pain. Or the teenager overwhelmed by depression. Or the middle-aged man trapped in a soul-sucking job or a loveless marriage. These people of God cry out for relief. They get no answer and God seems distant and uncaring.

But the beginning of Exodus teaches that God’s compassion isn’t bound to time. He can be full of love and “slow” in providing relief. Before Moses returned to Egypt, it had been 40 years since Israel cried out to God. But Israel had probably been under Egyptian rule for hundreds of years.

God is vitally concerned about his glory, about humanity recognizing him for who he is. This includes the people around us, observing us as we wait for deliverance. It also includes we who wait. Waiting on God is the essence of faith.

We shouldn’t be surprised. After all, Jesus didn’t get relief when he requested it. He didn’t get relief at all. The greatest display of God’s glory (the cross) involved God refusing relief to his own son. God was glorified in not showing compassion to Jesus so that his compassion could be multiplied to the nations.

As you ponder God’s delay, as you wait for his answer, remember that he is with you. He will glorify himself in your waiting.

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Links for the Weekend (4/19/2019)

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

You’re Dead, Start Acting Like It

Chris Thomas exhorts and encourages his readers from the book of Colossians. He tells us (as Paul does) that we’re both dead and alive. Check out the post at For The Church.

Paul’s concern, and what should be our concern as well, is that we’re not acting like dead people should — at least, we’re not acting like dead “Jesus-people” should. We’re still chasing the cheap candy that we thought would nourish our wasting flesh. We’re still enlisting in extra-curricular activities we thought would bolster our chances of winning the game. Paul says, “Quit dancing in the shadows while you disregard the substance.” Deep down we know it; this shadow-game is unfulfilling. The only way out of this shadow theatre is through death. The trouble is, though, we prize life so highly that we don’t want to embrace the grave. But that’s not the way of the gospel. There can be no victorious Sunday without the humiliation of Friday. There is no crown without the cross.

The Brave New World of Bible Reading

How are we influenced by the form our Bible reading takes? Whether we read a print Bible, use a Bible app, or listen to an audio Bible, A. Trevor Sutton argues that we need to slow down and reflect on the technology we’re using.

These affordances provide unique, practical benefits but also powerful, subtler influences. Having your Bible just one tap away from Facebook influences how you experience God’s Word; toggling between an envy-inducing newsfeed and the envy-indicting New Testament creates internal dissonance. Hyperlinking Scripture to the internet can affect your theological understandings, sending you on meandering rabbit trails that can complicate or distort a passage’s meaning. A sea of unfamiliar words on an austere page conveys a certain visual message.

Waiting Time Isn’t Wasted Time

As a people, we’re not great at waiting. But what effect does waiting have on a society? What effect might it have on the church? Ashley Hales has some helpful thoughts to share.

Impatience with waiting is nothing new. From the antsy Israelites who built a golden calf because they were tired of waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain, to the biblical cries of lament (“How long, O Lord?”) and calls for justice, to the early church’s and our own longing for the redemption of all things—we are a waiting people. Waiting ultimately reorients our stories: We are not the primary actor on a stage of our own making or choosing. Rather, God is the hero of the story. Will we be content to wait on his work? In these in-between times, what character will be formed in us as individuals and as a culture?


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