A “Community Devotional” based on 1 Thess 2:1-16

  Scriptures    Reference to the Importance of Community  
1 Th 2:1The believers in Thessalonica knew Paul because of how he lived among them. The following chapter gives us an instruction manual of sorts on how we can be an effective witness among our neighbors. At the outset of his letters and extended blocks of teaching, the apostle uses language that reminds those who will hear his message that they’re family. The Lord uses the role of the small group leader to bring guidance and instruction at times. When you feel led in this way, recall how Paul speaks to his audience. When we use ‘family language’, it reminds our listeners that “we’re all in this together” and that “we’re all on equal ground.” It expresses humility, which opens hearts to hear and receive instruction. Paul knew this and following his example here can strengthen one’s leadership and sense of community within the group.
1 Th 2:3Paul exemplifies transparency in this verse. He discloses the motivations of his heart and explains the intent of his actions. Even though the recipients of Paul’s letter ‘knew’ him (cf. vv. 1-2), the apostle doesn’t hesitate to reaffirm his credibility and sincere love for them. Err toward over-communicating your heart for your group participants. Tell them why you do what you do on a regular basis. This bonds your group and builds trust in your leadership. People need to know your true self and that you’re being real to them. As mentioned in the introduction to this update, this kind of truth-telling is an “indispensable element to effective evangelism.”
1 Th 2:4Like the apostle, we too are people entrusted with the gospel. This means we are to take care in communicating the Good News. When our concern is focused on those receiving the message we’re less concerned about ourselves. Paul was totally for those receiving the Good News. He knew it. They knew it. As a result, communication lines were laid through which the Gospel message could flow freely. People have to know our hearts to trust us. How can your small group know your heart? How can the neighborhood in which your group meets know your heart? Reflect on how you and your group can be transparent with one another. Then discuss together how your group could express this transparency to people who are not yet a part of your group’s gatherings.
1 Th 2:5-6aPaul was without masks and guile. He did what he did for God, not personal profit. The way he lived among them proved this to be true. When our lives and actions are directed away from ourselves with the benefit of others in mind, people stand up and take notice. It requires purity of heart and the sincere expression of one’s faith. This is how the biblical community of the early Christians found favor with God and all people (Acts 2:47a). It is no different today. How can your group practice other-focused ministry within and beyond its gatherings?
1 Th 2:6b-7It is important as believers to do everything in our ability to not be a burden to others. There will inevitably be times in life we will need the help of others to carry our burdens (Galatians 6:2). Small groups provide an ideal means of support in this regard. Believers ought to aim their lifestyle toward the nurture of others, particularly those who have yet to cross the line of faith or who are young in the faith. This was the missional trajectory Paul set his life on. Piggy-backing on Paul’s analogy from this verse, a mother’s care for her little children reflects the selfless love described in 1 Corinthians 13. Paul was trying to capture the ultimate picture of nurturing by referencing the way a mother nurtures her little children. This kind of care was meant to be prescriptive for how believers are to minister to one another and their observing community. Our care for others (as a leader & a group) should express this love. When it does, your group’s actions are truly apostolic, i.e. your group becomes the medium through which people in the community can ‘hear’ the Good News.
1 Th 2:8We demonstrate God’s love when we share our lives with those we’re reaching. Building upon the love a mother shows for her little children (v. 7), Paul expresses his pure delight at sharing the Gospel message and his life with them. His words shared the message and his life showed the message. This is the essence of biblical community. As we pour ourselves out in this way for others the effect is mutually endearing. How could members of your group share their lives with people in their sphere of influence? Think simple & practical: Keep your garage door up, use your front porch / lawn and talk with neighbors passing by, bring a gift for special occasions, etc. See www.serve-others.com for more ideas.
1 Th 2:9Again, Paul identifies with his friends. As he is asking them to recall, he is reminding them of their family ties and his sacrificial service. Genuine gift-giving has no expectation of return. It has no strings attached. The Gospel message needs to be delivered the same way. It reeks when it’s done any other way. The nature of service in Jesus’ Name is that it opens doors to share the Good News. Notice how “preaching the Gospel” was not a ‘one-man show’ for Paul. He did it for a community and he did it through community.
1 Th 2:10When we live according to God’s Word we show we are God’s people. Biblical living establishes our credibility. This takes place over time. The vast majority of the world will look for more than one instance of the kind of living Paul’s mentions here. That’s why community is so important. It allows us to live out the Gospel for the world to see over time. Community encourages perseverance for believers and consistency for unbelievers.
1 Th 2:11-12Paul once again employs parent-child terminology primarily to express his affection and love for the believers in Thessalonica. The kind of leadership Paul displayed to them provides a model for us as small group leaders: Encourage, comfort, and call group participants to put God first in all they do. This of course is not done with a ‘better-than-thou’ attitude – a father wouldn’t interact with his child with that kind of heart – rather as a champion and helper.
1 Th 2:13The Word of God is living and works within those who believe (Hebrews 4:12). Whether or not your group’s defining activity is bible study, it is wisdom to find ways to incorporate it into your gatherings, e.g. do an impromptu devotion by taking a couple minutes to share how a particular verse was meaningful to you the past week or affirmed something you learned through a recent experience. Remember that God’s Word is always at work during your group’s gatherings, especially during times that feel flat.
1 Th 2:14The other communities (churches) of Christians – even those far away – were examples the believers in Thessalonica could follow. The fact they were able to “imitate” suggests there was significant interaction with other believers around the region. Thus, the core of Paul’s missionary strategy involved establishing communities of Christians in overlapping concentric circles that interrelated with one another at many different levels (like intersecting ripples created from individual rain drops on a pond). Small groups need encouragement from other small groups ‘in the trenches’; some of the strongest support comes by example. This is one of many reasons why interconnectedness at the leadership level is so important. The health of your small group is tied directly to that of other groups within our church. You can help to build up the larger community of which you’re a part by sharing the stories of what God is doing in your group with other leaders around you.

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