A “Community Devotional” based on Titus 1-2

  SCRIPTURES  REFERENCE TO THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY
Titus 1:4Paul shows the same closeness to Titus as he did with Timothy (1 Tim 1:2). They are family and partners together in ministry. Titus provided strategic help to Paul on several occasions (Gal 2:1-5; 2 Cor 7:5-7, 8:6; Titus 3:12-13).
Titus 1:5The apostle imparted great authority to Titus, like he did with Timothy, trusting him not only to lead newly-founded churches, but to appoint leaders to lead them (2 Tim 2:2; 1:5, 2:15). This should be an encouragement to us when we feel apprehension about turning over leadership responsibilities within the small group to others. Identifying a co-leader and appointing value champions is important not only for the group’s survival, but for its continued healthy growth. Ministry isn’t so much of what we ‘do’ to others as it is how we partner together in sharing the transforming love of Jesus Christ.
Titus 1:6-8The leadership characteristics Paul lists apply to small group leaders who are a type of elder/overseer within the Church (see also 1 Tim 3:1-7). Although this list parallels 1 Timothy 3:1-7, it reflects the different situation in which Titus was ministering. The state of Crete where Titus was situated was apparently reprehensible (vv. 12-13a); hence the emphasis on being self-controlled and self-disciplined. The Gospel penetrates the hard ground of unbelieving hearts when His leaders stand out as examples against the prevailing ungodliness within the culture. According to this list, a leader (elder/overseer) ought to be somebody who is a steadfast believer living his or her life out of their relationship with Christ; there is evidence of faith and order/stability in their household; they are cooperative, mild-tempered, and meek; they show self-control privately and publicly; they’re honest, demonstrate a welcoming spirit, love what is good, godly, pursue the Lord in all they do, self-disciplined, faithful to hold true to the Gospel they seek to encourage others with biblically sound instruction and are willing to take a stand against people who are set out to discredit the truth (vv. 13-14). As you read this list, ask the Lord to help you in those things where you don’t feel strong. Don’t let the enemy make you feel discouraged. This list is a model for leadership that God has destined for you to grow into. Be encouraged by the fact that your life and the example you can be to your small group participants (and all those within your sphere of influence) will increasingly look like what you’ve just read as you let yourself be transformed by God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within you (Rom 12:1-2).
Titus 2:1Remember Paul’s encouragements to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2 (also 3:14-17). Implicit in this command is to know what you believe as a small group leader. Understand the essential beliefs of our Christian faith and teach others. The Holy Spirit will use your knowledge of the truth in the bible study and discussion times of your small group. He will help you to recall our fundamental beliefs and articulate them as you facilitate bible study discussion. “Sound doctrine” gives rails for your small group discussions to run on. It is well-worth taking a devotional time this next week to look over our church’s essential beliefs communicated in the first class of the Partnership Series. Don’t hesitate to contact your coach if you need a copy.
Titus 2:2-3We need to be discerning in HOW we teach others taking into consideration their age, specific struggles, and circumstances.
Titus 2:4-5Paul knew that if Titus was successful in coaching the older generation in faith and godliness that they could become effective partners in reaching the younger generation. Paul’s pastoral guidance to Titus is contextualized to the Cretan situation. He was being sensitive to the culture and missionally-strategic. As small group leaders, we should always be on the lookout for those whose partnership can enable us to be more effective at discipleship and evangelism. Prioritizing and targeting our teaching toward people of influence can result in a stronger rooting & spreading of the Gospel. Who are the influencers in your community? How can you partner with them?
Titus 2:7-8Your life is to be an example as a small group leader (elder/overseer) of a group of believers. In everything we do, we’re called to do what is good by living according to God’s Word. This requires that we’re consistent in our words and actions. Our teaching will be more effective if we’re focused and diligent to accurately communicate biblical truth. The Holy Spirit will use your personal bible study to make you more effective in your small group leadership and evangelistic impact.
Titus 2:9-10Paul was no advocate of slavery (1 Tim 1:10). He is teaching this segment of the Christian community to recognize & respect the human authority they’re now under and to show integrity & honesty in order that the message of the Gospel would be furthered (see also Titus 3:1-2). For Paul, EVERYTHING is subjugated to reaching as many as possible with the Good News. Not even slavery placed limitations on sharing the Gospel – He only saw possibilities. If you were to apply this same attitude to your small group, what would change? How can your small group make the teaching of God our Savior attractive to the people within your sphere of influence?
Titus 2:11-14Salvation comes by God’s grace which has been revealed to all humankind. God’s grace actually teaches and empowers us to live according to God’s Word. His grace is sufficient to guide us in how we live and even in how we desire to live. We’re empowered to be self-controlled, upright, and live godly lives. No matter what challenges the present age brings the grace of God brings power to overcome them. His grace brings us instruction & empowerment to live with conquering righteousness until the glorious appearance of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who will complete what He has begun in those with faith. These verses offer a reminder that we’re not responsible for making people (biblical community) grow. Only God can do that by the power of His Word and grace. Rather, we are facilitating for what God wants to do by the power of His Holy Spirit in the hearts and lives of the people in our group. As small group leaders, we are creating the environment where biblical community can grow. An effective way we can do that is to continually point our small group participants to God’s all-sufficient Word and amazing grace.
Titus 2:15The apostle summarizes his instruction to Titus in this verse and concludes by telling him to encourage and correct with all authority. (This echoes his crowning exhortations in 1 Tim 4:11-16.) Our authority is sourced from God and rests upon His Word. The more we live and teach according to His Word, the more authority God gives to our leadership. He will establish us and make us stand firm if we seek to honor and uphold His Word through our leadership (Psalm 1:1-3; John 15:5). Practically speaking, bring the Word of God to your small group! Present its truth and pray for its power to be unleashed on your small group participants. Love for bible study and its application to life are contagious. What you do in this area has direct effect on your godly influence as a small group leader and your evangelistic potential as a small group.

A “Community Devotional” based on 2 Thessalonians 1

 SCRIPTURES REFERENCE TO THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY
2 Th 1:1Silas and Timothy helped the Apostle Paul plant the Thessalonian church. This opening benediction mirrors the one he used in writing his first letter (1 Thessalonians) about six months earlier. Paul spent most of his time during his missionary journeys surrounded by other fellow-workers. His ministry to the new assemblies of believers sprouting up around the Roman Empire flowed out of the community of fellow-workers he was a part of and led. Thus his writings reflect relationship since they were written from community to community. Paul was also sensitive to the fact the existence of this community reposed in and relied upon the community experienced among the three persons of their Triune God (v. 1b). As a small group leader, consider ways you can prepare for each gathering with the company of other group members. When it comes to composing the course and content for upcoming gatherings…be a collaborator versus a conductor. Also, remind group members of how the bulk of the Scriptures originally flowed among bands of believers, not so much individuals. Your small group is part of this succession which, like the early Church, lives and moves and has its being within the community of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (v. 2).
2 Th 1:3As he did in his first letter, Paul uses family language to show his deep-seated connection with those who were enduring persecution (1 Th 1:4). Faith and love are inextricably tied together. A believer cannot grow in faith if he is not loving others. As he is loving others, his faith grows, and as his faith grows, he is empowered to love more. Community, therefore, nourishes love and faith by providing the healthy relationships for both to grow together. It was the faith and love of these believers that enabled them to stand up under the oppressive forces of the persecutions and trials referenced in the next verse. When your small group gathers, an environment is created for the love and faith of your group members to be built up. When people share struggles during your times of prayer, follow Paul’s example and find ways to love into their problems by listening, praying, and offering practical helps.
2 Th 1:4A network existed among the early believers. Churches knew about each other and encouraged one another through times of trial. Our church is itself a community. It is also a part of the worldwide community of local churches. The rise of globalization and networking in our world today is advantageous to the Church’s mission. This new reality will help to expand upon a similar one that existed among the first-century churches. Brag about your small group! That’s right…tell about what God is doing in the lives of people in your group so our church’s leadership can ‘boast’ about it to others. This is done not to show how you’re better than somebody else. It’s done to better others. Paul loved to tell a church what the Lord was doing in the life of another church in order to strengthen it. So share your stories!
2 Th 1:8Those who know God are friends with Him. Obedience comes out of knowing Him and the experience of being in His presence. There is a kind of kinetic energy that is built out of the interplay between our relationship with God and our obedience to Him. Community helps to accelerate this and use it in our own spiritual formation (cf. verses 3-4). Accepting the Good News means assimilating it to our lives, which shows our love for the Lord and everything He has done for us. Biblical commandments are sign-posts showing us the way to grow in intimacy with God. So use relational language when encouraging your small group participants in their spiritual growth. Answer the ‘why’ by sharing how obedience reveals our loving commitment to the Lord versus obligatory compliance to abstract rules.
2 Th 1:9-10The result of being ‘shut out’ from the Lord’s presence is everlasting destruction whereas community is pregnant with life and peace. Inclusion means relationship with God and His people now and for eternity. Our connection with Him is necessary if we are to experience His presence and His glorification in us. In other words, Jesus will receive praise and honor from all believers in us. That’s amazing, isn’t it?! Our relationship with God is actually the basis of Christ’s own magnification that will signal the inauguration of His Kingdom being established on earth. There is a spiritual interconnectivity that exists among all believers and community is how we can tap into its collective power. The community of your small group is itself a sign of the heavenly environment of God’s Kingdom and opening your group can help lost people enter into the Lord’s presence so they won’t be shut out on the day of judgment. Loving community grows out of obedience to the Gospel and displays itself in ways that enable the world to see God (1 Th. 1:3-8; 2 Th 1: 3-4; 1 Jn 4:12). Others will come to experience God’s presence when they see the Gospel expressed in the lives of those who know Him (Jn 13:34-35; Acts 2:42-47). So how can your small group participants proclaim the Good News by living in love? What are some ways your group can extend its kingdom influence to those who have not yet entered into the knowledge of God and obedience to His Word? Consider how the ‘one anothers’ like “be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:32) or “clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5) can be exercised in different social circles and public spaces.
2 Th 1:11Healthy community with God and His people is sustained by prayer. Paul knew this, which is why he and his companions constantly prayed for the believers in Thessalonica. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses.” (Life Together). This truth compelled the apostle and his fellow-workers to love on the Thessalonian church in this way. The web of relationships that existed among the early churches (cf. verse 4) provided a supportive network for God’s will to be accomplished in and through His people. The fact Paul and his apostolic band were praying for every good purpose and every act prompted by their faith shows they really knew the believers in Thessalonica. Community and the prayers springing up out of it empower believers to live out their calling in a way that pleases the Lord and furthers His kingdom purposes. The relationships and ministry partnerships forged in Christian community allow believers to know each other so they can be informed and pray for one another in strategic ways. This verse also explains why our church believes it is important for you to be interconnected with other leaders (small group leaders like you and a coach). Ongoing communication and prayer for one another ensures our spiritual encouragement and effectiveness. This is why there is infrastructure to our church’s small group ministry and monthly communications.

A “Community Devotional” based on 1 Thessalonians 5

  SCRIPTURES    REFERENCE TO THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY
1 Th 5:1Transitioning to a new section, Paul begins his thought referring to the recipients of his letter once again as family. In using the word “brothers” he is conveying a few things: 1) I’m on equal-footing with you  2) We’re family  3) We’re all in this together. Keep these things in mind when you’re sharing with your group participants. When people sense this in your tone, they are more receptive to what you’re communicating – it’s human nature. Paul was a master at rhetorical argument and no doubt knew this.
1 Th 5:4-6The apostle’s reaffirmation of being united with the believers in Thessalonica precedes his encouragement to them about what to expect with the inauguration of the ‘Age to Come’ when Jesus returns. He’s basically telling them to not worry because of whose they are (v. 5). This too gives us a good principle to live by in our group facilitation skills: Look for opportunities to express your ‘togetherness’ (or “oneness”) with group participants prior to sharing encouragements in how we’re to live and grow in our relationship with God (v. 6). This makes you more real to others and promotes open communication within the group.
1 Th 5:6-8Paul tells the believers to direct their attention onto the present. To have an eternal perspective then is to have faith and not worry about the future and to concern ourselves with what’s at hand so we can be effective at making an impact for God in the here-and-now. What sets us apart from the world is how we live. How we live determines how effective we can be as children of the light / day (v. 5 & 8). Notice how the apostle groups himself with the believers as he speaks to them. Also, all of these exhortations are plural in form. Paul always had ‘the community’ in mind in his writings and he saw himself as a part of this same community no matter where he was writing from and to whom he was writing. He was never isolated in his thinking and brought the bigger picture to the community as a fellow participant; he was both a visionary and a realist. In a similar way, we are called to bring clarity and focus on what matters most in our group time. One thing you can do to develop this skill in your group leadership is to take time before your gathering to preview what everyone will be discussing together and ask yourself this question: “What do I believe the Lord wants people to walk away with from our time together?” In other words, what’s the point of the next meeting? What should be different in each person’s life as a result of working through the content of the upcoming study session?
1 Th 5:9-10At all times, believers are ‘living together’ with Jesus. This is at the core of what salvation means: Community with God. Salvation is also community with God’s people on earth and in heaven (we may live together with him” – v. 10). Sin leads a person to live apart from God. It isolates them with their own selfish desires and aims to separate a person from God’s presence and God’s people now and forever. The destruction spoken of in verse 3 culminates in hell if a person never recognizes and receives the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Here we see that life is in community because God Himself is community as Father, Son, and Spirit. Apart from community there is wrath, destruction, and death (v. 9). Thus, biblical community is meant to be a precursor to the community we’ll experience in fullness with God and His people forever in heaven. It is a symbol of salvation and, as Frazee (The Connecting Church) puts it…the life of Christ on earth today. How does the community of your group tell people – inside and outside your group – about salvation? How is the Lord leading your group to grow in experiencing this with one another and extending it to those who have yet to know what community with Christ is like?
1 Th 5:11Believers are called to encourage one another and build each other up. The word picture Paul is using here relates to the construction of a building. In all that we do in our groups we want to foster the kind of environment that expands upon the work God is already doing in people. The most effective encouragement begins with discerning where a person is in the construction process and speaking into that with words given by the Spirit. Sometimes it is helpful as the leader to ask the Lord to reveal to you where a person is at and what their needs are. Then pray for them and be patient as you wait for direction from the Lord. Ask God to create opportunities for you to encourage people in your group in ways that will build them up. If relationship is there, you could ask each person in your group what they feel they need encouragement in over the next season. Taking these steps not only builds up the people in your group…it builds biblical community and is itself worship to God.
1 Th 5:12-13Probably a reference to the eldership / pastoral leadership of the church. There is an order to community that involves authority, which at times speaks into the lives of people in its care. To respect that authority is to respect what God has set in place. If this respect does not exist, there is breakdown in the community. Paul expounds on what this love is to look like: Thinking the best of your church’s leadership and loving them as they serve, which leads to peace within the community. Small groups are meant to be places where this kind of respect is exercised. Consequently, your group will become inoculated from becoming a pocket within which the ailments of gossip, disrespect, discontent, or dissension fester. If any kind of discord with the leadership your church ever arises within your group let the person know immediately that you’d like to talk with them more about their concern AFTER the group meeting. Then if you feel the situation warrants involvement from your small group coach or director, don’t hesitate to let the person know you want to talk openly with other leadership for everyone’s sake. The enemy is always looking for ways to deconstruct people and destroy the kind of community God is building in His Church. Sometimes the only inroad he needs is lack of respect. It’s not a bad thing to be sensitive to this issue and it never hurts to clarify in order to ensure peace in your group and our church.
1 Th 5:14-15Paul, speaking along with the leadership of the church, urges the believers in Thessalonica to do four things: 1) Warn the idle  2) Encourage the timid  3) Help the weak  4) Be patient with everyone. Biblical community grows when all of these are exercised. A group that lives by them shows itself to be caring, gracious, and supportive. Most people are not accustomed to these ‘acts of kindness’ in their day-to-day living so when they see them in action…they catch their attention. Just in case Paul’s audience didn’t hear him, he makes his point abundantly clear by telling them to be sure to always try and be kind to each other and to everyone else for that matter; additionally, to entrust all judgment to God. He shares these exhortations not only for the benefit of this community of believers but for the community surrounding these believers as well. If possible, communicate Paul’s exhortations as expectations for your group from its outset or at the beginning of a new season of life together. This will create conditions that will encourage the growth of people in your group and make your community more effective on mission together.
1 Th 5:16-18What Paul is calling the believers to do here is not humanly possible in their own strength. We need the Spirit of God within us to enable us to be joyful always, pray continually and to give thanks in all circumstances. When we do these things we are doing God’s will. When we do God’s will we worship Him and His power is unleashed in and through our lives. As you lead people, acknowledge how you need God’s help to do what He has called you to do. Remind people of their need for Him by expressing your own dependency on Him. As you do you’ll open doors for God’s power to flow into your group’s life together.
1 Th 5:19-22Another string of exhortations are given in these verses. When somebody is moved emotionally in your group, ask the Lord how He would have you respond (or not respond). If somebody shares something they feel God has impressed them with, imagine holding it gently in the palms of your hands until God brings confirmation. Thank them for having the faith to share something they believe God has given them and take a moment right then and there to pray about it. You don’t have to affirm or decide its validity during the group time. Be careful with people who let it be known God has touched them. If the same person repeatedly expresses within the group how they are moved in their spirit and it (A) doesn’t resonate with your spirit and (B) disrupts the group – then speak with them in private and ask that they share these things with you more personally outside of group time, preferably in a written form. When somebody writes out their spiritual impressions it disciplines how they express them. There is no reason why the writing of one’s inspiration should be seen as a lesser form of expression – the Bible is one case in point. This keeps things in check within the person and the group and it allows your group to refer back to words that affirm what the Lord is in fact doing. Ultimately, the Bible is the standard by which we test everything. God would never contradict what He has communicated in His Word (Psalm 12:6; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). With God’s Word and the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit we can hold on to the good and avoid every kind of evil.
1 Th 5:25Once again, Paul addresses his listeners as family (cf. verses 1, 4, 12, & 14). Clearly, that’s the impression he wanted to leave with them as he conveyed his final instructions. First he demonstrates something we should do as leaders in our groups: Ask for people to pray for us. Sometimes we forget to include ourselves in prayer requests. This is important not only for our personal needs, but also because it communicates how we’re equally dependent upon God and in need of the support of a community of compassionate friends. By taking the lead in this way, it helps others to share their own need for prayer. Also, this can help some to take their first big step in praying aloud in a group format.
1 Th 5:26A normal greeting in Paul’s day was a kiss (Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20b; 2 Cor 13:12). It still is in some cultures today. America isn’t one of them. But notice how Paul recasts what is common into something that is holy. He invites the believers to give each other a holy greeting. What do you think a holy greeting looks like? Maybe it’s shaking somebody’s hand, looking them in the eye, and blessing them with your words. Use every interaction to encourage and build up another. Think about it and do it. More is caught than taught. Every interaction matters when it comes to growing biblical community.
1 Th 5:27-28The apostle stresses the communication of everything he has written to all the brothers. He wanted everybody to receive his instruction together. This ensured it would be heard and lived out as a community. Community was the engine for the bringing one’s learning and faith to life. It is very important to have personal devotional times, but it is equally important to have corporate times where we learn the truth together, pray together, and worship God together. The communal nature of the large gathering reinforces the personal application of God’s Word to our lives. Small groups are the keystone (i.e. “the wedge-shaped piece at the summit of an arch, regarded as holding the other pieces in place”) between the private lives of believers and their public expression as a local church. In other words, small groups enable the public and private expressions of faith to support and reinforce each other. At the same time, the personal devotional life of each member and their involvement in our church’s corporate gatherings enrich the small group. All three (personal, group, corporate) are vital and each influences the other. This triadic expression of faith and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ are the heartbeat to the organic growth of biblical community. Think of it as an equation: Triadic Community (personal + group + corporate) = Biblical Community.

A “Community Devotional” based on 1 Thessalonians 4

  Scriptures    Reference to the Importance of Community  
1 Th 4:6Sin hurts the sinner, his or her circle of relationships, and the Lord (4:8). This same concept is communicated through Paul’s use of the body metaphor for the Church…God’s people (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 6:15-17, 12:12-13, 26-27). The health of the whole body is affected when one part of it is sick or injured by sin; the same is true in the natural. It was not only for the sake of the community listening to the apostle’s message that he was exhorting them to live to please God (4:1)…it was also for the sake of those in relationship with them. Our remembrance of those our sin affects can help us overcome the pull of the sinful nature. Sometimes it takes seeing things through the lens of community to conquer it. In his weakness, a man cares less about harming himself through the pursuit of temptation than he does when he thinks of the harm it can inflict on his brothers and sisters in Christ; particularly his wife (present or future). Encourage your small group participants to remember one another when they are feeling weak. Invite them to think of their natural and spiritual family when they feel like they are being dragged away and enticed by evil desire (James 1:14). The community of many can conquer the temptation of one. Biblical community – in act and remembrance – empowers us to resist and ultimately reject evil.
1 Th 4:9Paul’s call to holy living naturally leads into the paramount ‘one another’ command in the New Testament: Love one another. The apostle doesn’t feel the need to elaborate because it should be self-evident from God’s teaching to them. This verse serves as a good encouragement in the obvious (“to love each other”), but it also provides sound instruction to us as group leaders to not take on more responsibility than what God is calling you to with regard to the spiritual well-being of those in your group. Believers are responsible for taking initiative for their own spiritual growth. When they’re obedient to respond to what the Spirit of the Lord is doing in their hearts then others can be effective in joining with them to encourage their growth in the Lord. Remember this as a small group leader so you don’t weigh yourself down with burdens the Lord isn’t calling you to carry. This is an important part of your own self-care as a small group leader.
1 Th 4:10Not only were the believers loving each other…they were loving all of God’s people throughout Macedonia. In fact, the believers in Thessalonica were a model for believers throughout the expansive region (1:7-8). Still, Paul implores them to love more. We want to show extravagant love to believers in our church family and the larger family of God. Do you know of small groups from other Christ-focused churches who would be blessed by an expression of love from your group? For example, you could share encouragements, ideas, resources like this update, or help them network. Where there are believers loving one another there you have biblical community. The love of Christ is meant to be broadcast and biblical community is a powerful way of doing that.
1 Th 4:11-12The second of these two verses reveals Paul’s motivation underlying the string of exhortations on how to live to please God: Winning the respect of outsiders and being dependent only upon God. The apostle was a great example of the kind of life he is passionately prescribing (1:5b-6a, 2:6; 2 Thes 3:6-7). He knew that if the believers lived respectable lives then onlookers – even critical ones – would be won over to the Gospel. These two verses taken together almost seem to contradict one another. Here’s a brief explanation: Our daily lives are the message. Witnessing isn’t so much an outspoken event as it is a series of quiet encounters over time. A respectable life – a life that’s worthy of being modeled – is critical to a believer being an effective representative of our all-powerful God. The way we live our lives is meant to point people to Jesus Christ. Evangelism is a lifestyle. This comes by living an admirable life within the sphere of people alongside of whom we live and work each day. Credibility in the community takes time to grow. We need the morale (not monetary) support of other believers so our daily life will lead people to Jesus. Your credibility for Christ in your own community is amplified through the ways your group members love one another. The Good News is heard through the language of love.
1 Th 4:18God gave us His words to point us to Jesus. We see Paul doing this very thing as he speaks of Jesus’ return and the rapture, reminding the believers in Thessalonica of their hope, which is certain in Christ. He gives us an example of how we’re to encourage one another with the truth of God’s Word and then tells us to follow his example. Paul shows how we, as leaders, can encourage others in our group: 1) He personalizes the message by using ‘we’ throughout – he’s not speaking at them…he’s speaking as one of them  2) he uses an encouraging tone  3) he directs them to the truth in what Jesus has done for us and who He is. We can strengthen our own skills in facilitating Bible study and discussion by doing the same.

A “Community Devotional” based on 1 Thess 2:17-3

  SCRIPTURES    REFERENCE TO THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY
1 Th 2:17This verse leaves no room for doubting Paul’s love for the believers in Thessalonica. The phrase “torn away” is translated as “orphaned,” recalling the apostle’s parent-child metaphor (see v. 7, 11). Even though there was an undesired parting, Paul assures them they’ve been in his thoughts and shares how he continues to have a heart-felt, earnest longing to see them again. Paul goes through great lengths to maintain community even at a distance. He understood the importance of connection and knew a key way to maintain that was to honestly express his deep affections for them. There are many ways we can build community as small group leaders. Prayerfully consider e-mailing a message to your whole group this week that shows your love for them collectively.
1 Th 2:18Building on the previous verse, Paul explains he not only wanted to connect with them, but he tried repeatedly – only to be prevented by the enemy. Not only does this show the apostle’s devotion to them, it reveals how community among God’s people is something the enemy despises and will work tirelessly to prevent and deconstruct (3:5b). It’s a reminder for us to be aware and wise to Satan’s tactics (2 Cor 2:11b; Eph 6:10-12). Over the course of this month, remember to pray for your group and also to pray against the enemy’s efforts to throw apart the biblical community being built in your group and our church.
1 Th 2:19-20Paul expresses how the community of believers in Thessalonica embody that which brings him hope, pure elation and honor from a well-earned victory (cf. Php 4:1). He frames his feelings in light of Jesus’ coming, pointing them toward a future full of hope and comfort. His passion for this community is magnified by the fact his present feelings will continue into eternity. Community is present AND future. The future we’ll share together in heaven can actually intensify the community we enjoy now. Sharing a kingdom perspective on the biblical community being built can inspire your group. Paul repeatedly casts this ‘eschatological vision’ to the recipients of his letters so they’ll be encouraged to persevere and prevail as missionaries in their respective communities (Php 3:13-14, 20-21, 4:5; also Heb 12:1-3). When you express your appreciation for community in your group, remember to share how every joy that comes from your community will be perfected, amplified, and experienced together in heaven together for eternity.
1 Th 3:1-3Paul longed for community and the support of his friends. He recalls not wanting to be left alone Athens – a city so steeped in idolatry it rendered him distressed (Acts 17:16). But because of his great love for the believers in Thessalonica, Paul gave up his greatest source of personal encouragement for them: God’s (and his!) fellow worker, Timothy (v. 2). It was more important to him he shared the community that strengthened and encouraged him in his faith with these believers who were being persecuted (1:6b, 2:14b, 3:4). The apostle repeatedly demonstrates a sacrificial love in the face of adversity for the churches under his care (v. 5). Likewise, there will be times when God calls us, as group leaders, to give up things that benefit us personally for the sake of the larger community. Paul knew Timothy’s presence would strengthen and encourage the believers in the thick of their trials. As a result, everyone was blessed – including Paul – because of his sacrifice (vv. 6-8). The apostle provides us with a good model here for when we face things that challenge our ‘small group preferences’. Preferences that have developed as a result of the relational dynamic we’ve become accustomed to. Preferences that make us fearful of anything that could change the dynamic which becomes so dear. As a result, we resist anything that could change by addition (an open group that could attract newcomers) or subtraction (releasing a co-leader or other group participants to ‘plant’ a new group). These verses also reveal how relationship with other believers directly impacts our faith. It goes far beyond ‘feeling better’. Community feeds our faith making it stronger and emboldened with divine possibilities.
1 Th 3:6-8Timothy serves as an encouraging link between communities. (This is what you are with others who are a part of our small group leadership community.) The love and faith expressed from the believers in Thessalonica strengthened and encouraged Paul through his distress and persecution. Notice how the very thing he intended for these believers came back upon him (v. 2). The blessing that comes from selfless acts of love always outweighs the sacrifice. Paul always had the bigger picture in mind for God and His kingdom. A mutual longing for one another’s fellowship existed because they knew the love the apostle had for them. Your love for people in your group builds biblical community. People know when they’re loved. When you express your love and faith for your small group the result is life-giving community (v. 8). Ask the Lord to expand your love for your small group and help you to express your faith so the experience of community will be strengthened, encouraged, and enlivened for everyone involved.
1 Th 3:9Community strengthens and encourages our faith. Paul has also shared how the love and faith of others in Christ breathes life into us emotionally and spiritually. Now he describes another effect of community: Joy. Community lifts our spirits (emotions) and it lifts our spirit before God. Here we see the apostle expressing his thanks to God and his thanks to these believers. The very memory of his relationship with them has brought him much more than momentary joy…his relationship serves as a wellspring of joy even at a distance. Paul had such great influence on so many new communities of believers because of his ability to express his affection for God and people together in a seamless strand of communication; words that touched the hearts and minds of his hearers. Words that expressed theological truth coupled with the truth of his emotions. As you share with your people in your small group, aim for this three-dimensional (3-D) communication: Words that express height (relationship with God), width (relationship with people), and depth (the intersection of the two in community). 3-D communication makes your words come alive in people’s hearts and fortifies the bond of community.
1 Th 3:10Satan is not only the enemy of our souls, he is the enemy of any gathering of God’s called-out ones (2:18, 3:5b, 11). An important role of a small group leader is to contend for community. Pray with sincerity and seriousness for your group on both the individual level and communal level. Here is yet another verse that shows the apostle’s devoted love for the believers in Thessalonica and his persistent partnership in building up that community. One of his primary motivations for wanting to be with them in person is to help to solidify their faith for their sake and for the sake of those who had not yet come to Christ.
1 Th 3:11Paul proceeds to put his prayer on parchment after sharing about his dedication to them in unceasing prayer. One of the ways the enemy seeks to throw apart the community of believers is to throw up barriers to our coming together. There is strength in numbers and Satan knows this (Mt 18:19-20). It is one of countless reasons why he hates the Church. There are two take-aways from this verse: 1) Be spontaneous in praying for the community you’re a part of – do this privately and publicly  2) Remember to pray that God would clear the way of anything that would inhibit the growth of biblical community.
1 Th 3:12-13Let’s enumerate what Paul prays for in these verses…he asks the Lord to: 1) Make their love increase and overflow for one another  2) Make their love increase and overflow for everyone else around them  3) Strengthen their hearts so they would be blameless and holy until the end of time as we know it (cf. 2:10). His prayer shows the desire of his heart is for a deluge of devotion to suffuse their fellowship and spill over into the city of Thessalonica. The result is a missional community. When the members of a Christian community have an exuberance of love for one another but it’s not touching everyone else around them, the experience and impact of that community is severely lacking. How can your community foster symmetry of love for one another and love for everyone else? There is relational breakdown when the inward flow of love that nurtures community is not counterbalanced with the outward flow of love that makes a community missional. When there is symmetry, the community becomes one that is truly transformed and transformational – a living sacrifice in corporate form, that gives God joy in a similar way the believers brought so much joy to Paul (Rom 12:1; cf. 3:9). True community is true worship (Jn 4:24). During your next gathering, ask the Lord to make your love increase and overflow for one another and everyone else. Invite your group participants to join with you in seeking to understand what this symmetry of love looks like for your group. Discuss how this leads to true community, which is itself a living act of worship that strengthens our hearts and pleases the heart of God (Eph 1:4, 5:27).