“We appealed to you, encouraged you, and pleaded with you to live lives worthy of the God
Who is calling you into His own kingdom and glory.”
I Thessalonians 2:12 (Common English Bible)
Notice the tense of Paul’s writing – it is past tense. Paul is reminding the church in Thessalonica of his previous visit with them. Additionally, he wishes to underscore his teaching while he was with them. Perhaps Paul has heard, as we have, that repetition is the mother of all learning. Here we see the heart of Paul; if we claim to be followers of Jesus Christ our lives must demonstrate evidence. As Paul writes, he has appealed to them, he has encouraged them and has pleaded with them to truly live as persons who belong to God. There is a hint of frustration here.
If we are truthful, we all could do a better job of living lives that bring honor to Jesus Christ. Paul is that honest. In another place, Paul admits that he holds the honor of being the greatest sinner of us all. And in I John, we are told plainly that if we don’t honestly admit that we stumble from time to time, we simply are not being truthful. So there is no argument, we all could do better.
This all begs the question, why these words from Paul? Though we can’t answer with certainty what is in the heart of Paul as he writes these words, there is evidence that Paul is concerned about their effort, or the lack of it. Never does Paul have the illusion that we can be perfect – though he does say in another place that striving for perfection is a worthy goal. Nor does Jesus expect perfection. Jesus simply calls us to be “holy.” Understand that “holy” doesn’t mean “perfect” but to be “set apart.”
If we are to be “holy”, which means in the Bible to be “set apart”, then what is clear is that there is an expectation of “effort.” The question becomes, “Are we even trying to be different from everyone else? Do we still complain when everything doesn’t go our way? Do we still spend more time being critical of people rather than lifting them up and encouraging them? Are we careful about how we behave and the words that we permit to come over our lips? How do we manage our financial resources? Is our giving to the church an appropriate response to God’s work in our lives? It’s not perfection Paul seeks. It’s effort. It seems that the church always has some people who give little effort to living differently from the world.
During my ministry in Texas I had someone tell me that they had been invited to a dinner in the state capital with the governor. Immediately, they became occupied with thoughts of what they would wear and if their table manners were up to what they needed to be. The invitation resulted in “effort.” Paul tells us here that we have been invited into God’s kingdom. Are we asking the right questions of ourselves as we prepare for the occasion?