Introduction to a Holy Life for the Church Life, Life-Study of 1 Thessalonians, Message One, pp. 1-5
INTRODUCTION TO A HOLY LIFE
FOR THE CHURCH LIFE
Scripture Reading: 1 Thes. 1:1-3
The two Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians may be considered the earliest of Paul's writings. Thessalonica was a city of the Roman Empire in the province of Macedonia, north of the province of Achaia. After the Macedonian call, which Paul received on his second journey of ministry, he and his co-worker Silvanus visited first Philippi and then Thessalonica (Acts 16:9-12; 17:1-4). The apostle stayed and worked there for only a short time, probably less than one month (Acts 17:2).
WRITTEN TO NEW BELIEVERS
The two Epistles to the Thessalonians were written in the early days, while Paul was still on his second journey of ministry. In the course of this journey, Paul stayed in Thessalonica for less than a month. According to Acts, Paul worked there for three Sabbaths, for about three weeks, not long after his visit to Philippi. The Epistle to the Philippians, a wonderful book, was written much later, during Paul's imprisonment.
No doubt, when Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, the church in Thessalonica was still very young. I doubt that the believers there had been in the church life for even a full year when these two Epistles were written. Thus, in 1 and 2 Thessalonians we see certain points that are not covered in Paul's other Epistles. Because the church in Thessalonica was so young, Paul's Epistles to the Thessalonians are more or less to those in a childhood stage. Some of what Paul says to the Thessalonians is different from what he says to other churches that were more experienced. It is worthwhile for us to study 1 and 2 Thessalonians in order to know the situation and condition of a young church. By reading these two books we can know the young Christian life and the young church life. If we keep in mind this aspect of the background, we shall be helped in our reading of these Epistles.
The books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians were not written to experienced Christians. They were written to young believers, to those who had been saved for less than a year. Most of them had been typical Gentiles. Therefore, in writing to them, Paul surely viewed them as young believers. These Epistles are very precious, for they render us particular help concerning the young Christian life and church life.
THE ORGANIC UNION
First Thessalonians 1:1 says, "Paul and Silvanus and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace." This Epistle and the second were both addressed to the local church in Thessalonica, composed of all the believers in Christ in that city. Such a local church is of the believers and is in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This indicates that such a local church is born of God the Father with His life and nature and is united with the Lord Jesus Christ organically in all He is and has done. Hence, it is of men (such as the Thessalonians), yet in God and in the Lord organically. Such an organic union in the divine life and nature is the vital base for the believers to live a holy life for the church life, which is the theme of the two Epistles.
In his opening word to the Thessalonians Paul speaks in a plain manner. He does not say, as in Romans 1:1, that he is "a slave of Christ Jesus, a called apostle, separated to the gospel of God"; neither does he say, as in Ephesians 1:1, that he is an "apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God." The opening of Romans and Ephesians is more complicated than that of 1 Thessalonians. Because this Epistle was written to young believers, in 1:1 Paul simply says, "Paul and Silvanus and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians."
It is a particular characteristic of Paul's writing to emphasize the organic union of the believers with the Triune God. In fact, the emphasis on the organic union with Christ is an outstanding feature of Paul's writings. In his Epistles Paul again and again speaks of being in Christ, in the Triune God. Although 1:1 is written in a simple way, it nevertheless includes Paul's characteristic reference to the organic union. In this verse Paul speaks of the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The preposition "in" here is very important; it indicates that the church is in the Triune God. The church is composed of human beings, but they, the believers, are in the Triune God. On the one hand, the church in Thessalonica was of the Thessalonians; on the other hand, this church was in God the Father.
A LIFE RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD THE FATHER
Paul does not merely say that the church is in God; he says that the church is in God the Father. Unless God is our Father, we cannot be in Him. We were not created in God; however, we were regenerated, born again, in Him. We were created outside of God. This means that in creation we did not have any organic union with God or any life relationship with Him. Instead, there was only the relationship between the creature and the Creator. As a result of creation, we are God's creatures, and He is our Creator. Hence, there is a relationship of creation, but no relationship in life. God's life was not created into our natural being. As God's creatures, we did not have the life of God. We had only our created life, our natural human life.
When we were regenerated, born of God, our life relationship with God began. This rebirth brought us into the organic union with the Triune God. At the time of our regeneration, our rebirth, we obtained God's life. Now God is not merely our Creator, our God; He is our Father, the One who has begotten us. God is no longer merely our Creator—He is also our Begetter, for He has begotten us with His life. Therefore, He is God our Father.
Through regeneration the Thessalonian believers had become sons of God. According to the book of Romans, the church is a composition of sons of God. It is impossible for sinners to be components of the church. Sinners can be members of a secular organization, but they cannot be components of the church of the living God. Such a church is composed only of sons of God.
We have been predestinated by the Father to be His sons. As Ephesians 1:5 says, we have been predestinated unto sonship. At a certain time, God called us and moved us inwardly. Then we repented, believed in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and received Him. By receiving Christ, we were reborn and became sons of God. Now that we are sons of God, we are the components of the church, the Body of Christ. Because we, as sons of God, are the members of Christ, 1:1 says not only that the church is in God the Father, but also that the church is in the Lord Jesus Christ.
CALLING ON THE LORD JESUS
It is very significant that in 1:1 Paul inserts the title Father after God and the title Lord before Jesus Christ. It is not sufficient to speak either of God or of Jesus Christ. Rather, we need to say that God is our Father and that Jesus Christ is our Lord. If Jesus Christ is not our Lord, then we have nothing to do with Him in a practical way. But when Jesus Christ becomes our Lord, this means that we are in Him, organically united to Him.
When we call on the name of the Lord Jesus, we should not just say "Jesus"; we should say, "Lord Jesus." To call on Him only by saying "Jesus" is to call somewhat ignorantly. The Lord, however, is merciful, and He sympathizes with us. He still responds when we call "Jesus" instead of "Lord Jesus," for He realizes that actually we are calling on Him as Lord. Nevertheless, we need the proper knowledge of calling on the Lord. Instead of saying, "Jesus, I love You," it is better to say, "Lord Jesus, I love You." How sweet it is to call on the Lord in this way!
Some Christians like to say, "Praise God!" But in the New Testament the emphasis is on praising God the Father. We need to realize that for us today God is our Father and Jesus is our Lord. According to 1 Corinthians 12:3, when we say, "Lord Jesus," we are in the Spirit. This indicates that the Spirit honors the proper calling on the Lord Jesus. Many of us can testify that when we call, "Lord Jesus," we sense the anointing of the Spirit within. The same is true of saying, "Abba, Father." If we merely call on God, Elohim, we do not have much anointing. But when we cry, "Abba, Father," we experience the anointing. This is not a matter of terminology; it is a reality in our experience.
THE CHURCH IN GOD THE FATHER
AND THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
We need to be impressed with the fact that the church is in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. To say "the Lord Jesus Christ" implies a great deal. First, it implies that Jesus Christ is our Lord. Second, it implies that He is our Savior, for the name Jesus means Jehovah the Savior. Third, it implies that Christ, God's anointed One, is bringing us into the riches of God and is accomplishing everything with us for God. Therefore, to say "the Lord Jesus Christ" is to utter something all-inclusive.
When Paul says that the church is in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, he indicates that we have been born of God and have been brought into the organic union with Christ. What is the church? The church is a group of human beings who have been born of God and who have been brought into the organic union with Christ.