One of the most discomforting of Scriptural statistics is that when the Lord Jesus speaks to the churches in Revelation 2-3 five of the seven have something of which they need to repent. It is a helpful caution for us against the complacency that says we must be OK. It is a reminder as to why, as we considered recently in Isaiah 57, the church must be marked by humility, contrition and lowliness of spirit as opposed to a complacent self-righteous.
However, I’ve quoted the above statistic in sermons a number of times over the years. So let me redress the balance and point this out- in six of the seven churches the Lord Jesus finds something to commend. He is at work in them by His Spirit to produce good fruit. You see something similar in the writings of the apostle Paul- in the majority of cases he has a sense of thanksgiving for what he sees in the church. Having a humility that recognizes we haven’t made it alongside a thanksgiving for what God has done seems to me to be vital as we consider the church. Occasionally I’m on the receiving end of complaints about the church- many of which have some truth in them. However, I often ask the person doing the complaining what they are thankful for in the church- it helps to retain that biblical perspective that as well as us falling short God is at work amongst His people.
There is one particular passage about thanksgiving that always strikes me when I consider Woody Road. It is from the beginning of 1 Thessalonians:
“We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (NIV)
I posted yesterday about the hard work ahead of us in connection with our building project. What I omitted to mention was the huge amount of hard work that has already been undertaken by the Building Committee in particular. It has been enormous and come at significant personal cost. And then I think of so many others working hard in church life- deacons, Sunday School teachers and youth leaders are simply examples of this. I could list many other roles that are undertaken sacrificially. However, I am increasingly aware that a lot of the labour of church life is undertaken outside of “official positions” in sacrificial care for those in need. Then there is the endurance of hardship that is evident in the church family. There are many who struggle with poor health, painful circumstances and hidden internal pain. And yet there is a willingness to cling to Christ and serve others.
For all the above I want to thank God. And as we think about the work, labour and endurance ahead of us in the coming weeks let’s remember the source of these things. Let’s think much about the hope before us that keeps spurring us on. Let’s keep trusting in Christ and so find the energy to work. And let’s love one another and so be prepared to keep serving.