“Welcome to Buffet America.” Immigrants to the USA never see such a sign, but our general culture suggests such sentiments would not be misplaced. From dawn to dusk, from billboards to television, residents are educated to believe, “I need this.” The chefs fueling insatiable hunger pains driving consumers to their smorgasbord of products and services are marketing engineeers. Within the restaurant Consumer Is King, the patron quickly learns what matters most are my whims and desires. Feeling in the mood for a particular type of tv program? Surf the delectable offerings on dozens if not hundreds of other channels. Like any restaurant, as long as you keep paying, the food keeps coming.
When a highly-developed consumer stumbles onto authentic Christianity, what will probably happen? His or her first question is likely to be, “What can Jesus do for me?” Starting with freedom from guilt and an eternal inheritance, answers come readily enough. Some such consumers will convert by scouping up a generous serving of Christ for their plate. After all, what could be better than both freedom from the past as well as insuring the future?
Churches can bloat with consumers. So how can a group of disparate individuals whose cultural commonality may be little more than the fact that they are inebriated with consumerism be formed into the community of faith God desires? How can they avoid merely being a collection of stomach-driven individuals? Community goes far beyond self-serving individualism to include such mindsets as shared identity, responsibility toward the group, and the behavior of mutual service.
In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian Christians, his pastoral goal involved supporting the continued formation of community which had begun with their conversion to Christ. Part of the apostle’s efforts to shape them, included:
1) He affirmed God’s action in claiming them as his own./1
2) He also celebrated and thanked God for their progress as the church./2
3) He reminded them that their spiritual history involved making the commitment to turn away from serving what is worthless toward serving the living and true God while they waited for Jesus./3
4) Since the community of Christ is to be shaped by a particular set of ethical instructions, he encouraged them to continue to live worthy of God./4
Let’s personalize these lessons. If you have relied upon Jesus to save you when you were baptized, God has claimed you as one of his people. As a result of your participation in the local community of Christ, what demonstrations of faith, hope, and love do you think an elder or a preacher might celebrate and thank God because of you?
When you became a Christian, you made the commitment to serve God’s will, not just be a consumer satisfying your appetite. Read again 1 Thessalonians 4 as you keep your eye on the goal of living how God wants you to live. May your service to God continue to be produced by faith, may your labor for God continue to be prompted by love, and your endurance continue to be inspired by your hope in our Lord Jesus.
1 1 Thessalonians 1:4
2 1 Thessalonians 1:2-4, 6-8; 2:13,14
3 1 Thessalonians 1:9
4 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 4:1,2
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