Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is the oldest surviving piece of Christian literature. We believe it was written around 50 A.D., just 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul’s letter is probably the first time the Good News of Jesus was written down; it was written 20 years before Mark’s Gospel. Paul is writing to a church that he personally started and he writes to tell them how proud he is of their continued faithfulness. He writes to encourage these new believers to live the life Christ has called them to and to remind them that this life is one of faith, love, and hope. It is an important reminder to us as well.
As we look around at the believers of the 21st Century, I think we continue to see people in need of encouragement; people who need to be built up on a regular basis. Being a believer in our culture is not easy. We all need encouragement to continue to be faithful to the life that Jesus has called us to – a life of faith, love, and hope. So, where do we get this encouragement? How do we keep going in the face of so much opposition?
I believe that John Wesley gave us a wonderful “formula,” if you will, when he outlined The Means of Grace. Wesley maintained that God’s grace could not be earned, but we are not supposed to sit around waiting to experience grace. Rather, we are called to engage in the means of grace. The means of grace are ways God works invisibly in disciples, hastening, strengthening and confirming faith so that God’s grace pervades in and through us as disciples.
As we look at the means of grace today, they can be divided into works of piety and the works of mercy.
Works of Piety
Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study
Works of Mercy
Individual Practices – doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
Communal Practices – seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor [i]
It seems to me that these are all aspects of the local church community. This is where we encourage one another and where we engage in the means of grace. This is where we encounter God and God’s people. This is where we each contribute our particular gifts and talents to aid the mission of Jesus Christ in the world. When we are together we have the opportunity to encourage one another and build each other up. When we are apart, we remember the encouragement we have received. In God’s grace, let encourage each other as often as we can.
Seeking God’s grace,