Love Jesus, Love His Church (1 Thessalonians 2:17–20)

Do you ever miss church?

By miss, I do not mean “to fail to be at or present for.” Every Christian misses church in this sense now and again. Rather, by miss, I mean “to notice the absence or loss of.” According to 1 Thessalonians 2:17–20, Paul, Silas, and Timothy missed the Thessalonian church in this second sense.

But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

Being “orphaned” expresses the experience of absence or loss in a powerful way. As orphaned children have an “intense longing” to be reunited with their dead parents, so the missionaries desired to be present against with the Thessalonians. And as an obstacle (death) stands in the way of orphans realizing their desire, so an obstacle (Satan) stood in the way of the missionaries realizing theirs. What a poignant image of unfulfilled desire!

The missionaries also employ a startling set of words to describe their relationship to the Thessalonians: hope, joy, crown, and glory. This set is startling because you would think it described how the missionaries felt about Christ himself. Isn’t he the Christian’s hope (1 Tim. 1:1), joy (Phil. 4:4), and glory (2 Cor. 4:4)? Doesn’t he give us the crown (2 Tim. 4:8)?

But glory is a reflected property. If Christ is glorious, then so are those in him. If we glory in him, then we glory in them…and hope and rejoice.

Two points of application immediately suggest themselves:

First, you cannot love Christ without loving the church. This goes against the grain of much of contemporary culture, which claims to love Jesus but hate Christians. This hatred is understandable. Christians can be an uptight, self-righteous, hypocritical, and judgmental lot: “miserable sinners,” in the words of Thomas Cranmer. But isn’t it uptight, self-righteous, hypocritical, and judgmental to hate uptight, self-righteous, hypocritical, and judgmental people—as if to say, “I’m OK, but they’re seriously messed up”? And didn’t Jesus love miserable sinners and give his life for them (Gal. 2:20)? If you love Jesus, you’ll love whom he loves, and he loves the church.

Second, if you love the church, you’ll notice its absence or loss. You’ll hope for, rejoice in, and glory at the love, acceptance, and forgiveness that are present whenever two or three are gathered in Christ’s name. Alternatively, you’ll rail against the satanic obstacles that keep the church from experiencing and sharing Christ’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness. Either way, you’ll long for a better way of living with people in Christ’s kingdom.

So, do you miss church?

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