Grand Rapids: The Art of a collaborative city. Makes GR and this part of Michigan look pretty good, doesn’t it? So for those of you who are Michigan people and for those of you who are vacationing here, take a couple of moments and write down 4 things that Michigan has that you are grateful for.
Pretty much wherever you live, you find things that you are grateful for. Whether it is sunshine, water, good friends, family, whatever it may be, wherever someone lives they can find things to be grateful for—even in hard times.
We are in this series called, “Living in the City”, it raises the question about how we live in the city that we are a part of. How we touch the city that we are a part of. An important thing when we remember what God says to the people in exile in Jeremiah 29.
“Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because your future depends on its welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7 CEB)
In other words, God doesn’t want us to withdraw from the city, hide from the city, he wants us to be part of the city, engage the city, seek, promote the welfare of the city. The word “welfare” is the word “shalom” in Hebrew. We are to be about seeking the shalom, the wholeness of the city. Or as Eric Jacobson put it,
“Shalom can be translated as ‘peace’, but it means more than the absence of conflict. Shalom involves restored relationship with our Creator, human flourishing, justice, and relational wholeness for everyone. And shalom is unmistakably beautiful.” Eric Jacobson The Space Between
Seeking the welfare, the shalom of the city. The city. Come with me to the City of Thessalonica. It is a city that those who live there find a lot to be grateful for. Let’s check in and see what 4 big 4 things the citizens of this city are grateful for.
Big Thing number one: Prosperity.
The city of Thessalonica had two things going for it. A great harbor and being on an important trade route. These two things equalled prosperity in this city of about 100,000 people. It was a prosperity that one person pointed out that unless somehow geography changed, Thessalonica would stay a very prosperous place.
Big thing number two: A Great Climate:
The city of Thessalonica was a great place to live because it had great weather—weather that made possible farming in the fertile area around the city. So not only is there prosperity, there is food—a big deal in ancient times when food could be scarce.
Big thing number three: Natural resources:
Thessalonica was known for abundant rivers—so you have water, plus they are known for gold, silver, copper, and lead—plus forests for all the wood needs of the city and beyond.
Big thing number four: Political situation:
Thessalonica is what is known as a free city in the Roman empire. This makes it possible for them to rule themselves in ways other cities can’t and gets them out of some taxes. At the same time, this city is extremely proud of its relationship with Rome—a relationship that has brought even more prosperity, safety and stability to to the city. The people of Thessalonica have invested deeply in this relationship with Rome in every part of life. Cicero, the famous Roman statesman said of Thessalonica, “it is a loyal province, friend to the Roman people.”
So if the folks from Thessalonica were here this morning those are some of the things they would be grateful for. It’s into this city that Paul comes: one of the 10 largest cities in the empire, prosperous, powerful, a regional capital, a friend of Rome—and by the way, that worships about 25 different gods. How will Paul be in this city so that he promotes the welfare of this city? Let’s start by hearing what Luke has to say about Paul’s time in Thessalonica in the book of Acts,
Paul and Silas traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, and came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. Paul went there, as he usually did, and for three sabbaths he spoke to them, expounding the scriptures, interpreting and explaining that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and that “this Jesus, that I am announcing to you, is the Messiah.” Some of them were persuaded and threw in their lot with Paul and Silas, including a large crowd of god-fearing Greeks, together with quite a few of the leading women. But the Jews were righteously indignant. They took some villainous men from the marketplace, drew a crowd, and threw the city into an uproar. They besieged Jason’s house and searched for Paul and Silas, to bring them out to the mob. When they couldn’t find them, they dragged Jason and some of the Christians before the town authorities. “These are the people who are turning the world upside down!” they yelled. “Now they’ve come here! Jason has had them in his house! They are all acting against the decrees of Caesar— and they’re saying that there is another king, Jesus!” When they heard these words, the crowd and the authorities were both greatly agitated. They bound Jason and the others over, and then dismissed them. (Acts 17.1-9)
. The Kingdom New Testament
So how does Paul seek the welfare of the city? He goes to the synagogue and proclaims that Jesus in the Messiah, showing from the scriptures how this is true. In other words, he tells all who will listen in that synagogue that a new day has come. It in the new day that the world is desperate for. C.S. Lewis once said,
All we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—is the long terrible story of people trying to find something other than God which will make them happy.
Paul is seeking the welfare of the city by bringing Jesus Christ to this city, by bring Jesus as the new king that they desperately need. He is announcing that Jesus is the Messiah, the one sent by God has come and with him comes being adopted as children of the great king, loved by the king, accepted by the king and called by the king to be on the king’s mission in the world. It’s a message that if they grab it transform their lives and impact those around you, impact the city around you. If they grab hold of this message they are going to adjust their entire lives around being adopted children of the great king.
Pause here for a moment. We want to be ever so careful as we talk about being adopted children of God who have to adjust our entire lives to live the ways of the king not to see this as a terrible burden, not to somehow believe that we are going to have to give up the good life for this struggle to live the ways of the king where we feel forever beaten down, unable to measure up. Too many people see following God as a burden, living in the ways of the king as something that robs us of joy. But the ways of the king are not to be that. Our Father and our King, God, gives his ways that we may have life and have it to the full. Living his ways may be challenging at times, it even carries with it sacrifice, but it is always a way that leads to a life where we know that we are investing in what is truly life. After Moses gives the law to the pep of Israel this is what he says,
“choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land” (Deuteronomy 30:19–20 NIV11)
Choosing life is rooted in believing in the goodness of our Father, the king, paraphrasing 16th century reformer John Calvin,
When people sense that they owe everything to God, that they’re cherished by his fatherly care, that he is the author of their every good, so they have nothing apart from him, they bow to him in willing reference. They fix their happiness in him, and devote themselves wholly, truly, and sincerely to him.
We devote ourselves to the way of the king because we know the king is good, that he is our amazing father who wants the best for his world and for us. To follow the ways of the king, even when it is hard, is the life we were meant for, it is the only way we truly live.
But when Paul brings this message to the city of Thessalonica a lot of people see it for what it is, he is changing up their lives, he is turning the world upside down, he is proclaiming another king—who isn’t Caesar. This in a town where people are all about the relationship to Rome and all the good that it brings to them. They don’t want a new king—even though it will bring them the welfare that they truly need.
At least some don’t want a new king, others however hear the message and they decide to live in this new day. Enough of them that it causes jealousy and rioting in Thessalonica. All from Paul speaking for 3 Sabbath days in the synagogue.
Or is it? Is speaking, reasoning in the synagogue the way that he promoted the welfare of the city? Well yes, but there was another way as well, one that we might argue was more important than being at the synagogue. The other way? This is what we read in 1 Thessalonians 2,
My dear family, you will recall our hard toil, our labor. We worked night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you while we announced to you the gospel of God. 1 Thessalonians 2.9
The Kingdom New Testament
Here’s bit of surprise, the main place that Paul promotes the welfare of the city is not in the synagogue, but in the market place. He may be at the synagogue on Saturday, but the other six days of the week he is in the marketplace. He is doing his work as a leatherworker who makes and repairs tents and all kind of other leather goods that people in the city needed. And you get the sense that he does his work well because in 2 Thessalonians he holds out that he work is an example to be followed, that others should be working and doing that work well even as he did. We get that sense not only from 2 Thessalonians but also from the fact that Paul tells the church in Corinth that when they worked they were working for God himself. If you are working for God, you have a deep desire out of gratitude for what he has done for us, to do that work well.
So here is Paul bringing good to the city by the work he does with his hands. Neil Hudson in his book Imagine Church writes,
God has called us outside the walls of the church building. It is here that some of us write the laws of our land and invent new technologies to serve humanity. It is here that some of us rear children and educate them while others of us work in corporations, government, and health care systems. It is outside the walls of the church building that we build roads and homes, produce movies and TV shows. It is in those places that we endeavor to practice our faith.
And we would add, it is in those places that we work to promote the welfare of the city to which we have been called.
Paul’s promotes the welfare of the city as he does his work as a leatherworker. And as he does work with his hands he announces the gospel of God. When we read the words from 1 Thessalonians 2 carefully we find that it not that Paul works in the marketplace and then goes and proclaims the gospel, no, it is that while he works in the marketplace he is announcing the gospel of God and as we find in 1 Thessalonians 2.11, he strengthens new believers who come by to learn more about this new way of life they are now a part of. Here’s what is says in 1 Thessalonians 2.11-12,
You know how, like a father to his own children, we encouraged each of you, and strengthened you, and made it clear to you that you should behave in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. 1 Thessalonians 2.11-12 The Kingdom New Testament
The main work, the main place that Paul promotes the welfare of the city through the work of his hands and the words of his mouth is the marketplace. Now it is helpful for us to understand that this had a connection to the culture of the day. The workshop was the place where people had conversations about important matters and where they were instructed. Professor Jeff Wiema notes that a century after Paul, an opponent of Christianity complains how children in Christian families are not being taught at home like they should be
…but are going to the wool-dresser’s shop, or the cobblers or the washer-woman’s shop to be instructed in the faith there.
It is in the marketplace that people work with their hands, announce the gospel of God, and are built up in being passionate followers of Jesus, those who know how to live as adopted children of the king, those who promote the welfare of the city by what they do and by what they teach.
So I’ve just lost some of you. Lost some of you because you can’t imagine that this is actually something that being in the marketplace is all about. Lost others of you because, as you’ve told me, the place you are in the marketplace or the nonprofit world frowns on and maybe even has rules against being a person who actively promotes your faith at work. I understand all of that—but here is the reality we don’t want to miss: for many of us our frontline of living as adopted children of the king is the marketplace. It is the place we spend 40, 50, 60 hours a week. For others of us our frontline is school or neighborhood. Wherever we are spending the bulk of our time is typically our frontline and what we need to do is learn how to live as children of the king on that frontline—even if there are restrictions, blocks, difficulties.
It’s a learning that begins with this important reality: we accept responsibility in our frontline place to live as mission agents of the kingdom of God. When we are at our frontline place we know we are there as mission agents of the kingdom of God, those who are there to promote the welfare of the city and to promote the welfare of the people of the city. Who are doing this so that God’s name and renown are spread into the world.
So here is the first question for each of us:
When I look at the frontline that God has given me have I accepted the responsibility to live in that place as a mission agent of the kingdom?
“Given the frontline that God has given me how do I live out being an agent of the kingdom in what I do and in what I say?”
Do you live out being an agent of the kingdom by seeing the image of God in each person and treating them with the dignity that image bearers deserve? Do you live out being an agent of the kingdom by helping your company and the people there become all they are capable of being. Do you live out being an agent of the kingdom by praying for each of your co-workers every day? Do you live out being an agent of the kingdom by being with people, seeing a call to help people grow and not seeing them as something to get what you need? Do you live out being an agent of the kingdom by doing your work with excellence? Do you live out being an agent of the kingdom by assuring that there is justice in your work place? Tim Keller reminds us in his book Every Good Endeavor,
The gospel is the true story that God made a good world that was marred by sin and evil, but through Jesus Christ he redeemed it at infinite cost to himself, so that someday he will return to renew all creation; end all suffering and death; and restore absolute peace, justice, and joy in the world forever. The vast implications of this gospel worldview…affect everything, and especially our work.
How will God use this frontline to shape me into a more passionate follower of Jesus?
Paul taught believers at his place of work, helped them understand what it meant to go deeper in being a passionate follower of Jesus, to live as a playful, joyful child of the king. God wants to do the same thing with you, whatever your frontline is, he wants to use it to shape you into a more passionate follower of Jesus. To have that happen means a change for a lot of us. The change is to ask how God is using our frontline, the people there, the tasks there, the struggles there to mold us into more passionate followers of Jesus. Here’s a possible way to imagine that change:
|The way I usually do things||The way God can shape me|
|Why is this happening?||How can I respond to what’s happening?|
|Where is God?||What is God doing?|
|When will this end?||What do I need so I don’t miss an opportunity to grow?|
|Who can support me so I can get through this?||Who can support me so I can be fruitful in this situation?|
|How do I get back to normal so I can move on?||Who will help me integrate what’s happened so I can become a more passionate follower of Jesus?|
And in all of this, being an agent of the kingdom, responding to struggles on the frontline, who is walking with you as you figure out how to live on the frontline God has given you. This is not a DYI project, this is done in community. So who is walking with you seek to promote the welfare of the city by what you do, by what you teach, by how you are taught?
Living in the city, promoting the welfare of the city—so much of it happens on the frontline from marketplace to neighborhood. What is the next step for you to live the best on the frontline, to live as a mission agent of the kingdom?