The Assembly and the Gospel – 1 Thessalonians 17 min read
The Gospel! We love that word, don’t we? It reminds us of missionaries giving their lives because of a firm conviction that the Lord Jesus saves. It reminds us of pioneers who sought to see assemblies established across vast regions, whose work we benefit from and revere unto this day. It reminds us of tents and tracts and door-to-door work, the effects of which we cannot measure. All these things have something in common: they are done in the context of local assemblies. Acts would make this concept quite clear. Why does this matter to us? Because it not only tells us that each one of us has part in God’s grand work of the gospel, but it reminds us of the foundation of assembly testimony. Without the gospel we have nothing. But when we have the gospel we have everything!
The Gospel at Work in Forming an Assembly
“Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.” This is how Paul starts his beginning section on the gospel in the assembly. He begins with the work of God that no man can understand nor thwart, a work that God alone can do in His great and eternal power. Election is not something to fear, nor is it something that negates human responsibility in the gospel. Nor is it something preached to the unsaved. But looking back at an assembly’s history, one cannot deny its reality: only God could gather out wicked people unto His name! To see an assembly formed must be God’s work from beginning to end.
But obviously that does not and cannot lessen the importance nor the necessity of gospel preaching. On the contrary; gospel preaching is the foundation of every assembly. “How shall they hear without a preacher?” says Romans 10. This tells us that the gospel laborer is absolutely vital in regard to local assemblies. In verse 5 we see four characteristics of a true evangelist that God uses to form assemblies: God’s power with him, the assurance of the gospel, transparency in testimony, and obvious concern for souls. If great emphasis is not placed on the laborer and the type of labor he does, then the gospel is not given priority. Yes, it is in the power and sovereignty of God that His purposes are accomplished, but how undignified to pretend the gospel preacher has no obligation to reflect the very thing He represents! God demands laborers that take their role and calling seriously.
Then, when God blesses the effects of a laborer, an assembly can be formed. That is what verse 6 describes: “You became followers of us [that is, the apostle’s doctrine] and of the Lord [they bowed to His authority], having received the word in much affliction, with joy in the Holy Spirit.” Isn’t this similar to what we see in Acts 2? “They that gladly received his word were baptized, and the same day were added unto them 3,000 souls. And they continued in the apostles doctrine…” Wonderful thing to see new Christians responding to the Word! This is exactly the basis for the formation of an assembly.
The Assembly at Work in Spreading the Gospel
When an assembly does become formed, the responsibility then falls on it to spread the word of the gospel in its surrounding areas. We should be quick to take lessons from Thessalonica since verse 7 says “You were examples to all that believe.” Why were they so exemplary? Verse 8 says “For from you the word of the Lord sounded forth… in every place your faith toward God is spread abroad so that we need not speak anything.” This tells us that an assembly should be marked by two things in spreading the gospel: preaching and testimony. The message was “sounded forth.” This can’t be done through anything but verbal communication. Obviously they held preaching in high regard, and we will look at this soon. But on the flip side of the same coin, a solid testimony is vital to the assembly and its gospel work. If we are known for dead formalism, as the Pharisees were, this will never produce a good reputation. However, if we are known for liberal teaching to make the world feel comfortable, as the Sadducees were in a way, we may have a reputation, but not one that God would want. We need solid truth accompanied with genuine and obvious care for people. This should ideally result in both direct communication about our message as well as indirect communication of it from the general reputation we have in our community. Let’s be sure to delineate our sphere of outreach and be diligent to fill it with, well, just that – outreach.
Why? What is our motivation? Because we understand the sincere joy of turning from idols to the living God to wait for His Son from Heaven. We have immense hope! And it is this very hope we hold out for others to view and consider so that they too might flee from the wrath to come. May our surrounding communities be touched by the uniqueness of what we have. Let our converts baffle the minds of their peers that they may wonder “How could such change come over a man?” We may think that in a semi-religious culture, this change will be harder to see; but this simply isn’t true. We have just lowered our view on a Christian’s distinction from the world and on what true commitment to Christ looks like. What, then, should the world see? They should see a turning from idols, not just a modification to how we view them. The world has many idols – Hollywood, politics, sexual sin and themes, vain philosophy, alcohol, etc. Christian testimony will not be true if these things are just modified slightly. We are fully believers and are fully identified with the one true God. This is totally different than anything in the world. Not only here, though, do we find distinction, but in the future. We find a deep longing for God’s Son from Heaven, a firm belief in the resurrection, and a thankfulness for deliverance from wrath. Does the world see hope, depth, and gratitude in our faith? These things must associate with the gospel. And these are the things that motivate us to spread what we have to others. Let’s both sound out the Word and live it!
The Primacy and Pattern of Preaching
While 1 Thessalonians 1 doesn’t emphasize this per se, comparing it with 1 Corinthians 1-3 we do see that verbal, public preaching of the Word is an absolute must in the assembly’s outreach. To the Corinthians Paul says, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” This is not just a preference, but a very purposeful command of God that public heralding of the gospel is His design. His purpose is this: to confound the wisdom of man. Man has his marketing tactics and means of persuasion, but God has His own means of spreading the gospel – through a public herald without man-made attractions, such as persuasive visuals, moving music, drama, altar calls, etc. To add these things implies that the omniscient God wasn’t thoughtful enough in His plans. Obviously, we know this isn’t true. “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews [the religious] require a sign, and the Greeks [the secular] seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified.” Interestingly, the two false ways of “evangelism” in this verse are highly mimicked today. On the one hand, we have those that require a “sign” – something that “wows” them, invoking an emotional, superficial response. On the other hand, we have those that concede to “wisdom,” whether by taking away the intolerant parts of Scripture in their messages or by adding false cliches that, while they make sense to the hearer, are simply untrue. So then, will we be Greeks, Jews, or Christians in our preaching? A preacher, a Bible, and an audience with the full influence of the Spirit – this is what an assembly gospel outreach looks like.