As many of you know, I grew up in a small community with basically no towns to speak of outside of Bluffton and they are quite small when compared to even the big town of Huntington, let alone Fort Wayne or Muncie. There’s a lot of good and bad when it comes to growing up in this type of a community. Good, you know everyone around you. Bad, everyone around you knows you. I couldn’t get away with anything when I was younger because they all knew who my family was and who they had to talk to if I messed up.
I remember not long after I got my license, I came home and my dad said to me, “I hear you cut somebody off in town yesterday.” I had honestly forgotten the situation and it was a ‘lane-ending, merge’ type of situation. I hadn’t cut the guy off, I just hadn’t been very gracious in letting him come over. Unbeknownst to me, a friend of my dad’s was in the car right behind me and recognized my vehicle as Dad’s old one.
I learned that there were eyes all over watching me, whether I knew it or not. So I had to be a good representative of who I wanted to be and of my family, if I wanted to not embarrass myself or them. I want to talk today about being a representative. Turn with me now to 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10.
For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because 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. 6 And 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, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For 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. 9 For 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, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.
So let’s talk about Thessalonica. Thessalonica was a “free city” (without a military force) governed by its citizens and was more Greek than Roman in character. Its population, estimated at 200,000, was made up of Greeks, Romans, and Jews.
The city borders the Aegean Sea, providing access to the Mediterranean. Its location made it a major shipping center, second only to Corinth and Ephesus. Artisans, merchants, and trade guilds made it wealthy, although most citizens performed physical labor of all types.
Religious pluralism filled Thessalonica with all types of pagan cults, temples, and deities. Archaeological evidence indicates at least 25 gods were represented in heathen worship, including Zeus, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Dionysus, and the Roman emperor, to name a few (The Thessalonian Church, n.d.). All of that began to change when Paul came to the town on his third missionary journey.
Paul found fertile ground among the city and planted his church. From there, many Jews and Gentile people turned from their previous religions and came into Paul’s new church. However, Paul was chased out of the city by leaders of the city and other religions and he had to abandon his fairly ‘young-in-faith’ church to their own devices.
When Paul sent Timothy to check on the well-being of the church, he was delighted to hear how well they were doing and he then penned this first letter to the church. This passage is part of the introduction to the book and Paul spends time telling the people of the church how their influence has spread farther than they likely know about.
Because of the faith and the actions of this young church, and the strategic location of it being in a trade town, the message of Christ was spreading farther than even Paul had hoped that it would. They were literally changing the world because of their faith.
So how were they doing it? Paul states it pretty clearly in the passage, “9 For 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… .” They were living the story that Paul had shared with them. They were showing love to the people. They were emulating Christ. They were telling their story to all that would hear.
This was a world that was learning about Jesus for the very first time and they were excited about it. Have you ever found yourself on the ground floor of something big in culture? Maybe you saw a pilot episode of a tv show or heard a song by an artist that hadn’t been released yet. Maybe you read a book that wasn’t on the bestsellers list yet. You were ahead of the trend. One of the most popular bands in Christian Music right now is a band called The Sidewalk Prophets. Fun fact: Cheris and I went to college with these guys. One of them was in my fraternity. I remember being on campus and hearing these guys play songs in our dingy little coffee house. I still have a copy of their first CD, made and sold just by them before any record label got a hold of them. Now, they’re on the radio across the world, singing some of those same songs we heard 15 years ago.
When you find yourself on the ground floor of something awesome, you want to tell everyone you know about it. If you read a great book you want to pass it around to everyone you know that reads so they can have the same experience. That’s what the people in Thessalonica were doing. They were sharing this fantastic news about Jesus Christ to everyone that would hear about it. They were representing Christ to the world in action and in word and the gospel was spreading like wildfire.
I know what you are thinking. You think that we can’t spread the news about Jesus because basically everyone knows about Jesus in one way or another. Its old news. They’ve had this religion explained to them before and they aren’t interested in hearing it again. Spreading new information to people is so much easier than sharing old news.
So where does that leave us? We are told throughout scriptures that we are to be Christ in the world today. Christ is the head of the body of believers, as we talked about last week, but we are supposed to be the hands and the feet of Christ. We talked a couple weeks ago about how the world will recognize us by the way that we emulate Jesus. But this does not solve the problem that people already think they have the information on Jesus and they don’t need to know anything else.
We are supposed to represent Christ in the world today, but I believe that we are at the point where we need to start to re-present Christ to the world. We are in a world beyond what the historians refer to as Christendom, where the church dominated secular culture. Now people think that they know Christ, but very few of them actually know the type of relationship that we know as to be a true relationship with Christ.
Therefore, we have to re-present Christ to the people we know. People think they know how you will act as a Christian because they think they know the God that you serve. However, it is in the truth of our relationships that people can truly learn to love and know Christ in their own lives. If we can’t represent Christ to the world, then we have to re-present him. Remind people that the loving God that you serve is alive and active in your life. Show people behind the curtain of your life. Show them that times get tough and we don’t have it all figured out. People become angry and jealous of Christians who pretend like its all sunshine and rainbows in their lives. Re-present Christ to them as the God that helps you during the worst times you go through. Re-present Jesus as your trusted and closest friend when you have no one else to turn to. Re-present God as the Creator of the universe that also cares about you when things go wrong. So I challenge you this week, to go beyond representing Jesus to your friends and family. It’s time we re-present him to those that think they know. Maybe we can open a few eyes to the truth that is found in Jesus.