Sermon: Excel Still More

 

Excel Still More
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
January 2, 2022

I have been asked many times (most often by visitors), “What is your vision for the church?” I haven’t always known how to answer that question. Sometimes that question implies other things like, “How big do you see the church being in five years? Ten years?” “What programs are you planning to develop?” “What buildings are you going to build in the next five years?”

While there are answers to some of those questions, most of those things are beyond our control: we can’t force people to visit, attend, join, or stay (so the numbers are beyond our control). We can plan for ministry (and we do), but the needs of the body and the community can change rapidly (remember March 2020 and COVID?) and ministry is also dependent on the gifting and availability of the members of the body. And while we can plan for buildings (and we have), the ability to build is dependent on giving (which also can’t be controlled) by people (that we can’t compel to join). So, many of the questions related to “what is your vision of the church?” are really unanswerable.

But there are components of that question that are answerable. Someone asked me recently, “What is mission critical for Grace Bible Church to flourish?” I found that question easy to answer: “Love and care of people — which means biblical instruction and biblical fellowship.” We preach the gospel and then teach and train and equip for ministry and then send people out to care for one another.

Our church moto is, “Shepherding God’s People by God’s Grace for God’s glory.” We care for one another by preaching the gospel and equipping with Scriptures and by the power of God’s Spirit, so that God is seen in what we do. We care well for one another. That’s our vision for GBC.

That has always been the vision for the church of Jesus Christ. In the second century, Tertullian (a theologian based in North Africa, ca. 160-220) envisioned unbelievers saying this of the church: “Look…how they love one another (for they themselves [pagans] hate one another); and how they are ready to die for each other (for they themselves are readier to kill each other).”

And that was the reputation of the church in much of the world at that time. The Greek philosopher Lucian (ca. 120-200) observed the care of believers for one another and said, “It is incredible to see the fervor with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator [Jesus] has put it into their heads that they are brethren.” Indeed He has.

Loving each other was one of the final words of admonition from Jesus to the disciples (Jn. 13:34-35).

As we think about the ministry of Grace Bible Church and where we are heading in 2022 (and beyond), we cannot do better than to be resolute to affirm our commitment to loving care of one another.

In God’s grace, our reputation in this community is that we are a loving body of believers. And that is also the reputation within the body — we don’t do it perfectly (there are still “a few” of us with the flesh — remaining sin — in our lives), but we do it well. We are attentive, sacrificial, and giving. And as the Lord is granting us growth and expanding our ministry influence, in 2022 we want to be sure to attend to the basics and reaffirm the fundamental priorities we have as a church. Our goal this year is to love and care for one another with excellence, more and more — “excel still more,” as Paul says.

Those priorities are articulated for us in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians (4:9-12) —

Believers in Christ cannot love each other too much.

We can love each other incorrectly, but we cannot practice godly, biblical love too much, or too often. No matter how well we are doing in loving each other, there is always ability (and need) to love more. I often think of something I read from John Piper: “[Being loved] is not essential. Loving, not being loved, is essential.” It’s a grace gift to be loved by others, but it’s not necessary; but it is necessary (it is a biblical command) that we love others in the church body.

Consider four aspects of loving care — what is the value, goal, and purpose of caring lovingly for others?

1. A Commendation of Loving Care (vv. 9-10a)
2. An Exhortation for Loving Care (vv. 10b-11)

  • Love even more (v. 10b)
  • Be ambitiously restful (v. 11a)
  • Keep your mind on your tasks (v. 11b)
  • Work hard (v. 11c)

3. A Purpose for Loving Care (v. 12)
4. Loving Care at GBC— what excelling still more looks like

Download the rest of this sermon on 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

The audio will be posted on the GBC website by tomorrow.

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