Monday, January 23, 2017

Recipe for the Good Life: Part 3

         WHAT comes to mind when you hear “The Good Life”? Is it a yacht on the Riviera, a vacation home, world travel? Or is it no sorrow, sickness, poverty, or pain?
           The last two weeks we’ve been looking at what The Bible, specifically Paul has to say about having the first Good Life in the letter he wrote to the church in Thessalonica. He gave them some guidelines to adhere to if they want to live a brotherly and orderly life. Today, we’ll be going through the first part of his long list that we find in chapter 5.
            If you haven’t read this section, off the top of your head, what do you think he’d mention as the first thing on the list? Hint: It isn’t self-focused. And that seems to be the underlying message throughout the list. Being other, rather than self-focused.

           That’s a tough one because that’s one of the first things that usually goes through someone’s head: What’s in it for me? What am I going to get out of it? How will I get my share, how will it protect me, further my goals, advance my success?

   But Paul starts out by saying in verse 11: “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” Before he commends them for doing it, Paul instructs them to focus on one another’s needs, their comforts. He tells them to instruct one another and challenge and improve each other morally, intellectually, and spiritually. Expect the best for one another, in every area, and help each other achieve the best! It’s like setting individual achievement bars that continually gets raised higher and higher as we all strive for the next level. Of course, each person’s bar may be set at a different height, but the end goal is still the same, regardless of how fast you improve. You don’t give Olympic caliber goals to a neophyte. You set a bar they can reach and teach and help them to get there so they can reset it.

            So the first thing we’re to be ready, willing and able to do is comfort and edify. Some people are better at these than others of us, but we all need to work at doing them and doing them well.

            Then Paul gives a list of exhortations, and he starts with our attitudes toward the brethren who are laboring in the trenches for our spiritual health. Those teaching and guiding us. Why do you think he starts there? I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that many people, if not most people are gossipers, backbiters, complainers, whiners, and know-it-alls who think everything should be done their way. Real control freaks. And they make life miserable for these pastors, elders, deacons and teachers. Instead of lifting them up in prayer (for their work is exhausting physically, mentally, and spiritually), we complain about them and make life difficult for them. Teaching and shepherding is a grave responsibility; we need to make the labor as enjoyable as possible for them. Support, encourage, acknowledge their authority (oh, there’s that distasteful “authority” word many bristle over).
            Send them letters of encouragement instead of nasty notes and messages about how the music didn’t fit the service, the sound was off, the air conditioning was too cold, blah, blah, blah. We had a member of one of the church’s we attended take notes on the music every Sunday, which he tramped into the worship pastor’s office with on Monday morning. Maybe he felt as though he had a right to do that, being an elder and all, but it certainly didn’t make the worship pastor’s work any easier; and the pastor came to dread Monday mornings. This man should have been less critical and more supportive and encouraging. He didn’t know it all, even though he obviously thought he had the pulse of the congregation.

            In this verse, Paul also points out that these leaders also admonish us, which means they warn, advise, urge us earnestly, or warn or reprimand us firmly. And they have a right to do it if they believe we are living a life contrary to God’s truth. Nowadays we call it “tough love.”
            We are to esteem these leaders very highly in love for their work’s sake. Esteem and love. Make their work more joyful. Let them know we appreciate their labors. And then Paul adds: “Be at peace among yourselves.” With the way things are headed in so many churches today, we need to really pay attention to that one. “Be at peace among yourselves.” This word has a different meaning than the word peace (shalom) we were studying, which can mean rest, happiness, favor, or prosperity.

            But the peace Paul speaks of is being a peacemaker, someone who is peaceable or makes peace. In other words, stop all of the infighting! Most of the discord has self-centered roots. If you feel like complaining, check your motives. You may be surprised what you find lurking in your heart.

            Next, Paul says, “Warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.” Here again, his teaching is other-focused, not self-focused. Unruly is defined as: “disorderly and disruptive and not amenable to discipline or control.” In a nutshell, you need to continue loving these rebel rousers, but you may have to boot them out of the congregation if they’re causing unrest. (Loving does not mean letting someone do whatever the heck he wants. Boundaries need to be drawn.) Tell them they can return when they’re willing to listen, and be sober, humble and loving toward the rest of the people—their brothers and sisters in Christ. Give them fair warning and then follow through with the discipline. (I think more parents need to follow this rule!)

            In the same verse Paul also tells us to comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.
            A fainthearted person is someone prone to timidity, someone lacking courage—like the wobbly-kneed Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. These people need an extra measure of encouragement, prayers for strength and discipline of their thinking. The King James Version of the Bible uses the term feebleminded, which is defined as little-spirited. So to bring them comfort would be to encourage them and bolster their spirit.
            Upholding or supporting the weak means to support those who are feeble, incapable of fending for themselves, sick, without strength, physically weak. It could be children, the elderly, the infirm, the mentally weak or ill. The disabled. Do not disregard them, do not pass them by, do not dismiss them, do not marginalize them. At every opportunity, we need to come alongside them to carry whatever burden of theirs we can and encourage them spiritually, physically, and emotionally.

            Well, the first section of this exhortation list certainly focuses a lot on comforting, edifying, loving and living in peace, and living patiently. Being peacemakers. It’s a lot to pray about and chew on this week, jot down some notes on how we’re doing in each of these important areas. The whole list sounds other-focused. And that’s a good thing.
            Have you ever noticed how focusing one someone else and their problems make yours look kind of puny and irrelevant?

            Make it a great week of living the Good Life—loving, encouraging and lifting others up! And join me next week for the rest of Good Life list.


May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).