Excel Still More
We request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as
to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel
still more. (1 Thessalonians 4:1 - NASB)
Back in my very idealistic youth when I was just graduating from college, I had a plan, shared with one of my best friends, to start a church together and to edit a monthly magazine about Christian concerns and issues. We were both living in Maine at the time and had somewhat settled on the area where we were going to move in order to start this church. We targeted the town of Springvale in southern Maine, not far from the New Hampshire border. I don’t remember the criteria we used to identify this spot as the one that needed and could benefit from such an undertaking.
The magazine we were going to publish was to be distributed to the Christian community in the state of Maine. The primary focus of the articles would be on the Christian faith and what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Other topics covered would seek to apply this message to the church and culture of northern New England. Now this was before printing technology had advanced much but we had purchased a second-hand mimeograph machine we intended to use to make copies of our monthly newsletter. We also had selected a name for our magazine and had even written a few of the first articles. The name was to be “Excel.” It was based on the Scripture passage from 1 Thessalonians 4:1. Our preferred Bible translation then was the New American Standard Bible (NASB). It was the only version that used the word “excel” in the text.
The irony of what we were planning did not register with us at the time. The church plant was conceived because we believed that the churches we grew up in, the ones that dotted the landscape of every community across the state, were all pretty much dead. Nothing significant happened in them of a serious spiritual nature. They could not be revived but instead had to be replaced. Of course we had the depth of wisdom to both make this assessment and to create a new vibrant community of faith. This we were confident we could do at the age of twenty-two.
We also not only believed that we could establish a dynamic church in Springvale, but that the Christians in those existing “dead” church around the state would want to be “exhorted” and “instructed” in how to live an “excelling” Christian life by the two of us. In looking back I am amazed at the egotistical confidence we had as college seniors. It probably need not be stated but we never moved to Springvale, never even tried to start a church, never printed a single issue of the magazine, and eventually took the mimeograph machine to the town dump.
Nevertheless, the words of the Apostle Paul written to the church in Thessalonica still contain an important exhortation to me and to the churches of our day. We do need to do better at what we are doing as followers of Jesus. We are supposed to be in this life changing process of becoming like Jesus in our character, our behavior and our thinking. The message of 1 Thessalonians is that Jesus can change us from the inside out until we become models and examples of what a true Christian should be. This should become evident in the way we conduct ourselves morally in an immoral world. It should find expression relationally as we truly practice a love for each other that cannot be explained aside from the presence of Jesus empowering us. This Christian faith should produce in us a quietness in our personal affairs that does not demand that others comply with our lifestyle, but instead attracts them to it with our generous and thoughtful sharing of what God has given us. This kind of Christian faith can only be described as one that “excels,” one that makes even the word “holy” sound practical and possible.
I must confess that my own efforts at living and demonstrating this kind of faith has evidenced a good number of bumps and failures along the road. Indeed I am still trying to live up to what I have been given by God. Yet even with the passing of my youthful idealism of 1975 I still have the responsibility to speak and apply these words to both my life and to ours as the Amber Church family. Jesus did instruct us to live the faith in such a way that others are attracted to him. So even with these old set-in-their-way bones we can display an ever vibrant reality of relationship with Jesus. With that in mind I conclude this article with that same passage from 1 Thessalonians but this time in a different, more contemporary translation. Let’s let these words bring to us a new energy to dance with the King.
We ask you – urge is more like it – that you keep on doing what we told you to do to
please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance. (1 Thessalonians
4:1 – The Message)
See you in Worship.