1 THESSALONIANS 1:1-10
1Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
2We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. 6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 9For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.
While we were in LA for the Azusa Now weekend, we had some time to visit Fuller Seminary and a well-loved used bookstore called The Archives Bookshop. There I bought a book entitled, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission, by Michael J. Gorman. Overall the book is about how the Apostle Paul understood mission, not just as an activity of the church in spreading the gospel, but more comprehensively as a way of understanding the God of the Bible -- the God of mission -- the God who is always moving forward with purpose. This "missional hermeneutic [theory of interpretation]" places mission not on the periphery of the church's calling but at the very center of understanding what God is like and what the church is called to be.
You can perhaps see how this missional perspective is supported by examining the underlined portions above.
The good news of Jesus Christ -- the gospel -- has certain elements that can be identified: (1) the message itself, i.e., the words that testify about Jesus; (2) but beyond the words themselves, the gospel comes "in power and in the Holy Spirit" and "with full conviction." Thus when the gospel is heard rightly, there is the attendant supernatural experience along with the deep sense of truth (i.e., "full conviction"). When this "full gospel" is heard and experienced, there follows a transformation of the person. Not all at once of course. But a gradual but discernible and evident transformation of persons who accept the gospel of Jesus the Messiah. Hence one becomes an "imitator" of the Lord, not by will power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit working within oneself.
Michael J. Gorman begins his book with two quotations from two theologians to introduce their observation that the gospel is heard by the world primarily by how believers live, how believers become the gospel. It's worth quoting:
From theologian John Colwell: The gospel story ... defines the life of the Christian and the life of the Church, while the life of the Church and the life of the Christian is, correspondingly, a retelling and reinterpreting of that gospel story. The world has no access to the gospel story other than as it is narrated in the life, worship, and proclamation of the Church .... Through its service and being as witness, the Church is a rendering of the gospel to the world.
From Lesslie Newbigin: I have come to feel that the primary reality of which we have to take account in seeking for a Christian impact on public life is the Christian congregation. How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross? I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic [means of interpretation] of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.
These observations, along with Gorman's exegetical [scriptural interpretation] work, form the basis of Gorman's larger argument that, for Paul, the gospel must be lived out. Paul never thought of the gospel as merely a verbal message for people to hear. But people "heard" the gospel by how this gospel became a transformative power in the lives of people who follow Jesus.
We are thus encouraged to walk the walk not just talk the talk. That is God's intention and desire as well. So, as we turn to the Lord with our desire for greater transformation, we are assured that the Spirit will indeed bring about that transformation by helping us become the gospel.
Let's pray: Father God, we come in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, seeking a greater transformation of our lives -- the way we think, the way we feel, the way we act, the way we interact, the way we pray, and the way we hope. May the gospel of Jesus take full residence in our hearts. May the narrative of Jesus become incarnate in our lives. May the story of redemption in Christ become so ingrained in our lives that we become earthly representatives of the good news that's found in Jesus, so that the unbelieving world might find hope for themselves as they turn to Christ. We thank you that we are not left alone to do our best. We are thankful that the Spirit of God is at work in us and that the divine power of transformation is already at work. In Christ's name, amen.