Week of May 17

How’s Your Root System?

Read: 1 Chronicles 25-27; 1 Thessalonians 4

“Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 4:1-2, ESV


What if Paul were to hold a conference at your church and ask you about its “organic growth?” Let me explain. There has been a proliferation of “how to” sources throughout my four decades of ministry commenting on everything from growing in numbers in one location to transitioning a church from one size and place to mega-status across multiple sites. The Ashlock question is blunt: Are we expecting organizational methods to produce organic growth? Seriously, Paul was planting churches left and right, but he also was creating a common root system to feed them! The well-rooted ones thrived. Let’s use Thessalonica as our case study.

A Biblical Lens

Thessalonica represents “your town.” The city itself had a rich Graeco-Roman history, about 200,000 residents, and was designated as a “free city,” meaning it enjoyed local autonomy. Paul used the Jewish presence in the city as a launch point for the Christian mission and preached the gospel to the Thessalonians on his second missionary journey. A strong church was planted there, and was comprised of Jews, devout Greeks, and some leading women in the city (cf. Acts 17:1-4). Paul and his team were expelled from the city, but the believers that he left behind grew to become dedicated Christ-followers (Acts 17:5-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5). I am curious by nature, so I ask, “How so?”

Paul shows us how to grow our gospel beginnings into a strongly grounded moral life in Christ. He did not simply plant churches; instead, he made disciples. They, in turn, spread the gospel through word and deed wherever they lived and journeyed (1:7-8). These folks influenced their city then region (cf. Acts 1:8). Their municipality remained a major Christian stronghold for several centuries and became known as “The Orthodox City” (Baker). Here’s the key. The “gospel” was not only how to receive Christ but how to abide in Him! (See 4:2, “instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus”; Read John 15:5, 8, “abiding”; 1 Thessalonians 2:11). How do you, personally, and a church grow organically?

Root spreading that led to fruit bearing, not merely church planting and growth, was the primary focus. Paul demonstrates this by calling those believers to live a holy life, then providing several snapshots of what that looked like in their context (4:3, “your sanctification,” 4:9, “brotherly love,” and 4:13, “end-times hope”). Make no mistake, his words were based upon Christ’s authority (See “abiding” above).

He called for sexual purity, which was not a novel moral concept to them (4:3, 8). This lifestyle was taught and modeled throughout Christian culture under Christ’s Lordship (Acts 15:29). Christian behavior in house churches also was widely emphasized (4:6; Ephesians 5:22-6:9; Colossians 3:18-4:1). Christian virtues were instilled into each believer’s character (4:9; Galatians 5:19-23; Colossians 3:15-17). Yep! Doctrinal instruction, as well, was certainly on the discipleship menu (Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Timothy 1:15; Philippians 2:6-11). Every believer was expected to become a mature follower of Christ (Matthew 5:48). The Thessalonians excelled in this regard, and they are remembered to this day.

A Moral Pathway

I “got my VBS on” recently and decided to grow a plant from an avocado seed. I had childhood Vacation Bible School memories where I planted bean seeds into soil that my teachers had placed inside of Styrofoam cups. So, I inserted toothpicks into the seed, suspended it in a water-filled mason jar, set it on a window ledge to receive warmth from sunlight, then waited. . .and waited. . .and waited some more. Weeks passed and no sprouts emerged! I had organized the effort practically but had failed organically. Why? I had haphazardly forgotten to place the essential broad end of the seed into the water.

The moral question is simple: Where is your focus in this current community crisis? I read an advertisement recently for doing church during COVID-19. It checked all of the organizational boxes from text messaging, to online giving, to individual networking, but it did not show an awareness of organic nurturing. Hmm. Regardless of the price, it was already too costly for me. Let’s apply the Bible text to our lives.

For Your Journaling

1. How are you spending your stay-at-home time? The focal passage today encourages us to work on strengthening our roots in Christ. Read 1 Thessalonians 4. Write down ways that you may deepen your roots in Christ and experience growth at this time.

2. Church leaders may need to look more carefully at their “reopening plans” and include nurturing of the root system. How may you help your church members to remain steadfast in this time of transition and beyond?

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock