I have two grandsons, about five years apart in age. I have two children, about two years apart in age. One lives in Chandler, the other in Mesa. My brother is eleven years older, my sister ten years older than I am. One lives in Phoenix, the other in Sedona. We each have "distance" between us, if not because of physical location, at least in age, gender, and levels of maturity, don't we? In the family of God, the "distance" we maintain from each other is also quite "palpable", is it not? Some enter into this family relationship with great eagerness, just because they want to belong, finally feeling part of something worthwhile. Others barely edge in, afraid to get too close for fear they might be "found out" for their short-comings. Still others "enter in", but never really get beyond sharing "surface stuff" about themselves. Depending upon the "distance" we maintain between God and others, our growth is affected. If the distance is short, we tend to either "feel the heat" a little too much, sometimes pulling back or shrinking away. If the distance is too great, we never really feel connected. Either way, we are impacted by the distance we maintain. Getting connected into God's family is his plan for our lives - staying connected is tough work, but a necessary part of growing close to Jesus.
Get along among yourselves, each of you doing your part. Our counsel is that you warn the freeloaders to get a move on. Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out.
(I Thessalonians 5:13-15 MSG)
What happens when we finally make this "connection" within the family of God? We have to learn to relate to each other - not because we were "born into" this family the "traditional" way, but because we are placed into this family by being "born again" when we asked Jesus to rescue us from our sinful nature. We are placed into the family of God - much like a child who is adopted is placed into his/her new family. Within this family, there will be different personalities with which we must interact, learning how it is we relate to each other and hold each other accountable. Most importantly, we have to learn what it takes to really "lean upon" one another - where we need a helping hand, when we need to realize our potential, and where it is we need the focus of the Holy Spirit to help us put down roots so we will grow.
To this end, I think Paul was writing to the Thessalonian church. He and his two companions in ministry, Timothy and Silas, are concerned for the church at Thessalonica because they are new believers. As such, they were "fair game" for opposing belief systems. The new way of believing - that of faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice - was a threat to the way of Judaism which had a foothold in the regions into which Paul established the first New Testament churches. He is concerned because he knew of the possibilities of such opposition, remaining hopeful they would be established together as a "solid" group of believers, able to withstand the persecution they were sure to face.
So, he writes with "advice" on how to stand strong - with the underlying theme of being "joined together" as a united body of believers. This uniting together was what would give them the stability to stand strong, facing the toughest threats to their beliefs, and then to learn of the ways in which their new found faith would make them strong in character, deep in love, and firm in their convictions.
- Each must do their part. We all have a part to play in the family of God - to neglect our "part" is to leave a hole into which the enemy of our souls may enter in. This is most important because we often don't recognize where we have "gaps" in our lives - but if each one does their part, the gaps will be filled. I
- Those with the tendency to just "hang out" are to be challenged to step up their game. It cannot be emphasized enough that we EACH have a part to play in making the Body of Christ strong. Each believer is an agonist or antagonist role at one time or another in the church. Sometimes we act as the agonist, helping to create the right movements so the work of the whole accomplishes the purpose for which it was created. At others, we are kind of like the antagonist, almost resisting or pulling in a different direction. Sometimes it is not bad to be the antagonist, especially when the direction needs to be changed. We all play a part, but when we don't do our part because we find it comfortable to just "hang out", we are endangering each other, not just ourselves.
- Some will lag behind, others will get discouraged - both need what it is we bring to the table. I don't know how many times I have been personally challenged by what I see in the lives of others around me, especially at times when I have drifted into complacency or simply been resistive to the work God is doing within me. If someone had not challenged me, I would have lagged behind, totally missing what God was doing. I would have possibly fallen prey to the discouragement of missed opportunities. We need to encourage each other - almost prodding each other onto maturity. In so doing, we are fulfilling our "role" within the Body - to engage each other in the work of meeting, knowing, and growing together in Christ.
- Each have needs which differ, so we need to be sensitive to those needs. We are not all the same - this is a good thing! We would not want a whole church filled with look-alike, sound-alike, act-alike believers. Those are called "cults"! We want the uniqueness God has created in each of us to be utilized for the benefit of the whole. As different as our personalities are, we also differ in our needs. Being sensitive to the needs of those we are "partnered" with in this ministry is essential to maintaining unity and optimizing growth.
- Finally, we must recognize that each individual has the potential to be their "best" when they are related within the Body. We have the responsibility to bring the "best" out of each individual. This is an "art", to say the least. In learning to bring the best out of our fellow believers, we also will be challenged to allow our best to show. In turn, God's best is on display for the world to see. This is his plan - to use us to reveal the truth of his love, grace, and restoration to a hurting and lost world who thinks "good enough" is really "good enough". Just sayin!