One of the challenges we have in reading the Bible in English is that we tend to read everything individualistically. In reality a lot of the content of Scripture is written to a corporate “you,” which means our “me-only” mindset can easily misread what was written.
At the start of Paul’s second epistle to the Thessalonians he makes a comment that catches my attention. He begins with “we ought always to thank God for you, brothers, as is right . . .” and then gives two reasons for his gratitude for them.
First, because their “faith is growing abundantly.” The sense here is of a faith that is continually growing greater. Perhaps too often we think of an “in or out” view of faith, but the Bible recognizes that there is a continuum, a growth process.
The term “growing” is interesting. In the book of Acts we read about the word spreading – a dynamic growth of impact. In John 3 the baptizer says that Jesus must become greater as he himself becomes less. So the idea of a process of growth or enlargement is found elsewhere, but here Paul uniquely intensifies the term as he thanks God for their abundantly growing faith.
I suppose it is something of a greenhouse growth that he describes here.
And then, secondly, he is thankful to God for their increasing love for one another. Here he gets slightly awkward in stating that it is “each one of all of you” that is increasing in love. He is pointing to them as individuals in their corporate growth in mutual love and concern.
In his previous letter he had asked that God would make their love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else, and that prayer seems to have been answered.
A community of believers will always have a corporate personality. Visitors tend to pick up on it immediately, while those who constitute the community can get lost in the details of community life and lose sight of it.
The two things Paul mentions here in 2Thess.1:3 are two worthy prayer requests for any community of God’s people. I pray that my family will grow corporately in faith in God, as well as growing each together in mutual self-giving love. We may get caught up in the complexities of family life, relational dynamics and parental discipline, but the personality of the family will hopefully stir gratitude to God from in those who visit.
The same is true in a church. If there were a way to measure our corporate faith, I would love to see that measure increasing greatly as the weeks pass by. At the same time it is the individuals who love each other to make up the “corporate love” meter reading for the community.
Today we start the third year of Cor Deo. It is amazing how quickly the time has flown by. We look back on two groups of people and miss having them in the room – both teams were a privilege to be part of, and each team had its own group personality.
This year we are excited in anticipation of the individuals that God has brought together. There will be nine of us in the group. For twenty weeks we will study together, serve together, grow together. My prayer is that this growth will be greenhouse growth – the kind of abundant growth in faith as a group and the increasing love of each individual toward the others that Paul wrote about.
Please pray for us as we embark on this season of community. Let’s continue to seek the Lord in prayer for our communities – family, church, ministry, etc. It would be a delight if none of these appeared static, but if all were growing increasingly in faith toward God and love toward each other.
It is in the corporate personality of unity and other-centred love that God’s unique unity and self-giving love can be declared to a fractured world of individualism and relational brokenness.