13 November, 2014 Steve Palframan
I wonder what your expectations are of the Christian life; both yours and the life of Christians around you? The impatience you see in yourself; that worldliness you see in church members; what do you expect to happen to that over time? Get worse? Become more entrenched, perhaps? Maybe over time it will feel more normal, so that you expect your patience to wear thin quickly and you are less surprised to discover feelings of anger rising quickly in your heart.
I have recently been pondering Paul’s words to the Thessalonian church, when he says the rather intriguing sentence: “the Word of God which is at work in you believers” (1 Thess 2v7). Now of course, as good Partnership Churches, we’re signed up to the power of God’s Word; that goes with the territory - it’s a key distinctive that we not only believe God’s Word to be true and central, but that it is also our best tool for ministry. But on pondering the verse some more, I realise that Paul’s point wasn’t so much to tip his hat to evangelical orthodoxy but rather to make a point about the progress he saw - and expected to see - in the Thessalonian church. He says the “Word works” to make them more mature, more godly, more Christlike - so he expects to see, and testifies that he has already seen, massive life changes in the Thessalonians.
Now, as tantalising as I think that vision is for many Christians, our experience falls short of it. So we hear a good sermon, or go to an inspiring conference, and come back enthused and excited - but quickly we find the Bible irrelevant and difficult. It turns out to say rather little about how to become more patient; it carries few tips on how to be a better dad and, besides, guys are killing each other all the time in the OT. So, frustrated, we give up until the next good sermon or inspiring conference.
Coming back to Thessalonians for a moment, we discover something that might help us. It turns out that the mark of growth for these Thessalonian Christians was a distinct decline in self-interest. They started to imitate other churches; they were concerned to walk worthy of God and were keen to emphasise the divine origin of Paul’s message; it belonged to God, not them. Gloriously, they discovered that the irrelevance of the Bible is what makes it relevant. They found that God was rather more concerned that they understood His holiness from the descriptions of the tabernacle, and that they dwelt on His commitment to His promises in the sword of David, than that they would receive three tips to better parenting.
Maybe it’s obvious and maybe it’s just me that forgets, but I need to remember that the Bible is not a lifehack for easy Christian living in the 21st Century. Rather it is an ancient yet Holy Spirit-inspired and empowered book, which takes me out of myself and turns my eyes away from my circumstances. In so doing, the Bible transforms and keeps transforming me. So may it give me more irrelevance: that I might learn that this world is not about me and that I learn to be patient when it doesn’t run to my agenda.