The local church is often overlooked—much like the shorter letters of the New Testament. While we may turn up to a local gathering week after week, it’s rare the church is the primary topic of conversation online. Instead, our focus is on the latest podcast, the upcoming conference, or the newest book. Sadly, the local church is more often treated like a bridesmaid than as the bride.
But at the beginning of the short letter of 2 Thessalonians, we see the apostle Paul’s gratitude for the local church. His example is worth following.
Fledgling but Faithful
Paul’s visit to Thessalonica was a mixed affair. Luke records it for us in Acts 17:1–10. Initially, Paul and Silas spent time in the synagogue, reasoning, explaining, and proving from the Scriptures that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer, die, and rise again. Although scandalous to many, this message persuaded some Jews, Greeks, and prominent women to join Paul and Silas (v. 4). Not everyone appreciated Paul’s preaching and opposition ensued (v. 5). As a result of the volatile situation, Paul and Silas were forced to leave Thessalonica earlier than they would have liked. In their rearview mirror was a fledgling church facing opposition because of the gospel.
Paul demonstrates his concern for the local church by sending Timothy back to Thessalonica to find out how the church is faring. Timothy’s report is good: “Your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing” (2 Thess. 1:3).
Obliged to Boast
Paul’s response is to “boast” about this church to the other churches (2 Thess. 1:4). There’s no other word for what Paul does. Moreover, not only does Paul say he is boasting about the Thessalonians, but he also says that it’s necessary; he’s right to boast in this way (v. 3). The conduct of the Thessalonians is so commendable he is compelled to express gratitude for them and celebrate them in other churches.
Notice the exact reasons for Paul’s boasting. The Thessalonians’ faith was growing abundantly (v. 3), their love for one another was increasing (v. 3), and they were steadfast in persecution (v. 4). Paul is not engaged in some soppy, sentimental suck-up. Neither is he blind to their shortcomings (cf. 1 Thess. 5:12–22; 2 Thess. 3:6–15). Rather, Paul has been told about their commendable conduct in persecution, so he, Silas, and Timothy are gladly boasting about their brothers and sisters!
Not only does Paul say he is boasting about the Thessalonians, but he also says that it’s necessary; he’s right to boast in this way.
When it comes to expressing gratitude, Christians can fall into the danger of either saying too much or too little. We’re prone to either flattery or remaining silent. Some gush with superlatives when giving thanks for the local church. Others allow no words of thanksgiving to escape their mouths. Neither of these options is helpful.
But what if we unashamedly declared our gratitude like Paul did with the Thessalonians? When preaching on 2 Thessalonians 1 recently, I looked out at my brothers and sisters and said,
Antrim Baptist, know this: I thank God for you, and it is right that I do so. As I watch you, I see faith in God growing abundantly. As I watch you, I see your love for one another increasing. As I watch you, I see steadfastness in the midst of great difficulties. We know that the church collectively, and individuals within it, have endured some difficult days—and they may not yet be finished—but your Christian conduct throughout has been commendable. So, I thank God for you, and I boast about you to others. Following Paul’s example, I am telling you about my boasts. Perhaps today you could also tell someone present one thing about them for which you give thanks to God.
Not everyone occupies the pulpit and has an opportunity to express their gratitude for a local church in this way. But there are other ways you can follow Paul’s example.
1. Share your gratitude in after-church conversations.
Resist the temptation to wax eloquent about the latest podcast and instead share about someone or something in your local church for which you’re grateful. Resist promoting the newest book and instead promote the next opportunity to gather with the church community.
2. Avoid complaining about your church.
It doesn’t matter whether your family, neighbors, and work colleagues are believers or not. Resist the temptation to grumble or “get things off your chest.” Instead, talk about the good things you see in your church and intentionally encourage brothers and sisters in Christ from other churches with reports of God’s work in the life of your own. Witness to unbelievers by sharing the ways your church is a city on a hill.
3. Seek out fellow believers for whom you can give thanks.
Tell them they’re sources of gratitude for you. Phone someone while driving to work and encourage him with all the ways he makes you thankful. Avoid scrolling through social media during your tea break and instead write a message to someone you see growing in love or increasing in faith; tell her about the evidence of Christ you see in her.
4. Write a letter to another church.
Is there a church in your town or city that is evidencing the faith and character qualities Paul lists in 2 Thessalonians 1? Why not follow Paul’s example and reach out to them with an encouraging letter or email? Alternatively, look a little further afield. Is there a church in some other part of the world that you’re grateful for that you could encourage with a message?
The local church is Jesus Christ’s bride. Let’s stop acting like the local church is secondary, and gratefully boast in what Christ is doing within her.
The Gospel Coalition