“For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you,
for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day
that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?”
1 Thessalonians 3:8-10
Reading through this letter to the church at Thessalonica, I am seeing such relationship. The apostle Paul didn’t just go around making converts, adding to some number of “successes” or seeking to benefit in some way – no, his work was about people. “For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, or with a pretext of greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others…But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:5-8). His letters reveal evident affection and joy for the people, as well as a continued sense of responsibility for them.
Paul desired to continue to build up these individuals, increase their understanding, strengthen their faith. Praying most earnestly night and day to see them again and further teach and disciple them in the gospel of Christ.
This man went so many places. He established many churches. But they were never mere numbers to him. These were individuals with names and faces and stories that had become unspeakably dear to him. He prayed for them constantly and longed to see them again – and this is displayed not only for those in Thessalonica, but also for those in the other churches to whom he wrote. Including those in Rome, whom he had never even met.
His zeal to share the gospel wasn’t just about knowing the truth and speaking it. His heart was broken for those who didn’t know Christ. And he didn’t only desire that they would believe initially, but that it would change their lives and draw them ever-closer to Christ so they would fully know the freedom and joy found in Him. That they would continue increasing in knowledge and understanding and faith and power and love. So his heart and his prayers kept expanding to include each of these individuals. Sensing his responsibility to this growing church covering multiple territories, to strengthen and encourage and empower.
This is a picture of what the church of God is to be. This is the body of Christ. We aren’t just numbers or converts, and we aren’t divided across property or denominational or country lines. We are family. All of us. This is about relationship. Sincere brotherly affection. Casting out pride and hindrances, sensing our responsibility to build one another up in faith and encouragement. Speaking truth in love and humility, pouring ourselves out for the sake of those individuals who need Christ, and continuing to build that relationship. Coming alongside one another as we continue to walk with Christ. Iron sharpening iron. Strengthening each other. Building up. Stirring up for love and good works. Challenging with grace, strength, humility, kindness, and pervasive love. Striving to outdo one another in showing honor.
A sense of true relationship can be easily lost today. Time gets away from us and we feel pressured to always be in a hurry. Distractions abound. Fear of rejection might play a part. Whether considering fellow believers or those we encounter in daily life, it’s easier a lot of times to just focus on our own life and go about our business.
But God wants more for us. For all of us.
Because what is life without relationship? How will we be strengthened without others around us? And how will they be strengthened if they’re left on their own? And how will those who don’t know Christ hear and understand and realize the depth of how important and how life-changing He is, if we don’t reach out to connect our lives with theirs?
“Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you” (1 Thessalonians 3:11-12). Love is to be our aim (1 Timothy 1:5). Love is to be how the world knows us (John 13:35). Love. Not pride, not being right, not pressing our own way. But love. Relationship. Kindness and patience and faith and joy and hope. The fruit of the Spirit, exemplified in our relationships and interactions.
So let us reach out and connect. Not allowing divisiveness or infighting or distraction or life pressures to pull us away. Fighting for relationship, for unity, for love, because this is what Christ prayed for us. And this is what will draw the world to Him.