A couple years ago, Helen and I updated our wills and our trust and related documents … no, not planning for anything particularly, but there were some laws in the state that required we update the way the documents were drawn up. When we undertook the time to update things, our lawyer suggested that if we wanted specific things stipulated in our wills, we could legally do so. As usual, I took the opportunity to heart and began to put in our will the type of memorial service I want, who I’d like to preside as a pastor over it, and even the songs I’d like played at it. Yup, I took part in planning my own memorial service. I hope you all enjoy it … I tried to make it a fun event. 😎
As I reflected in 1 Thessalonians this week (while reading from Colossians 4-5, 1 Thessalonians 1-5, 2 Thessalonians 1-3, and 1 Timothy 1-4), I thought about the admittedly morbid process of defining what my memorial service would be like. When I think about most memorial services, at least for me this is true, what I am usually moved most by is what’s said about the decedent. I wonder if the things that are said about the person were ever said about them before they passed, when it counted most. You’re probably understandably scratching your head. Why in the world would I think about this most morose topic? Well, here’s the deal. In 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10, we read …
And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God. And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment.
This portion of scripture comes when Paul (and Silas and Timothy) are writing to the church at Thessalonica which was a church he’d planted during his second missionary journey through Macedonia. The letter was written for a number of reasons, among them to encourage the Thessalonian believers, to dispel some rumors and false statements about Paul and his motives in not having returned to Thessalonica sooner, as well as correct some doctrinal misunderstandings that had arisen.
As Paul often does, he opens this letter with a word of praise to the believers in the areas where it was warranted. In the case of the Thessalonians, Paul both provides commendation about the way the Thessalonians have withstood the persecution they were undergoing, and in the case of the passage above, regarding the way their faith was blessing those around the area.
The Thessalonian church was known for living out a life that resulted in many others in the area leaving their worship of pagan idols common in that day, and converting to worshipping the one true God. The thing about the church that really rang out was the way they reached others for Christ. It wasn’t that they had a programmatic method of evangelizing others … they didn’t hold tent meetings, worship services dedicated to the unchurched, or seeker-friendly events … they just lived a life and example that drew the attention of others. And … people talked broadly and actively about them as a consequence.
Note that … they talked about them, about their faith, about their influence, about the life they lived that helped save others from worshipping idols to having eternal life through Jesus. They were known throughout the area. Their lives changed other lives. And all this talk happened not at their memorial service, but during the life they were presently living.
It made me wonder. How do people talk about me (us) … today, while we’re living. Let’s face it, by the time we get to our memorial service it’s too late for us to have an impact. Sure, our memory will mark others … for a time. But our passing, like the passing of others, ultimately fades, and its impact along with it. If we want to know what our impact is today, when it matters, it’d be interesting to know what others are saying about us now. Okay, please do NOT go out and start listening in on other peoples’ conversations about you or asking others what they think about you. Not exactly the application from this passage I’m striving for at this point.
Rather what I’m shooting at is this. The Thessalonians’ lives were such a potent example that the only thing they had to do was be themselves and live out their faith day-to-day. Their lives were a direct manifestation of the strong faith they’d built through the teaching of Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, Silas, and others. The Gospel of Jesus Christ had so changed them, and had become such a part of their new personhood, that who they were and how they lived was the subject of talk throughout the region. In fact, Paul says, “We don’t need to tell them about you, they tell us about you!”
I’m not advocating that we get obsessed about what people say or think about us. Not in the least. What I AM saying is that we should only be concerned about what our life says about God. What do people say about us in light of our professed faith in God? Is ours the kind of faith that people will talk about at our memorial service? More importantly … is ours the kind of faith that people will talk about before our memorial service? Is there anything to talk about in the first place?
The Thessalonians’ examples centuries ago provide us a model. First, they turned away from the life they’d previously lived. They formerly worshipped worthless idols and pagan gods. Suffice it to say that might not be literally true of us, but figuratively, I’d say it’s right on. To the degree we worshipped anything other than God first and foremost, we were in no different place than the church in Thessalonica. Second, they lived by faith, even through the difficult times in which they were living, with significant persecution. They lived above their circumstances, they trusted God through their circumstances, they were defined by their faith in God, not their circumstances. Lastly, they lived with a palpable expectation of the return of Jesus, meaning they lived out their faith with not just a passion, but with a sense of urgency for those around them to get to know their Savior too.
Living in a way that causes the right type of talk about us on this side of heaven is a choice. We choose to follow Jesus, and we choose to live like we’ve chosen to follow Jesus. When our lives reflect His love and grace, long before our memorial service, everybody will be talking … in the right way.
Soli Deo gloria!