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When Paul wrote a congregation, he often began his letter with an expression of sincere appreciation.

  1. He wrote a letter to the Christians in Rome.
    1. Those Christians had some serious problems.
      1. They seriously misunderstood the way God produces salvation in a person.
      2. They did not understand that God designed the gospel to be the perfect solution for spiritual or moral failure.
      3. They did not understand that God used people's faith and His mercy to save people.
      4. They misunderstood the purpose of obedience.
        1. They did not understand that the purpose of obedience was to show gratitude for salvation.
        2. They were wrongly convinced that the purpose of obedience was to qualify a person for salvation.
    2. Those are basic, critical misunderstandings.
      1. They were serious misunderstandings.
      2. They produced serious problems.
    3. Yet, Paul clearly appreciated these Christians, and he wanted them to know it.
      Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      1. Their knowledge was far from what it should be, but Paul appreciated their faith.
      2. The fact that these people who lived in the capital city of the Roman empire believed in Jesus Christ captured the attention of the world.
      3. And Paul was grateful.

  2. Paul wrote two letters to the Christians in Corinth.
    1. These people had been converted from very ungodly lives and circumstances.
      1. That congregation was filled with complicated problems that had roots in the ungodliness of their past.
      2. Their problems make us shudder.
        1. Division because different groups were in conflict.
        2. Individual Christians fighting each other in pagan courts.
        3. Sexual immorality.
        4. Marriage problems.
        5. Idolatry.
        6. Spiritual rivalries that perverted worship assemblies.
        7. A denial that people were resurrected from the dead.
    2. Even with those problems, Paul sincerely appreciated them, and he wanted them to know it.
      1 Corinthians 1:4-8 I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      1. He was grateful for God's grace which was given to them in Jesus Christ.
      2. He was grateful that God had enriched them.
      3. He was grateful that God had not withheld any spiritual gift from them.
      4. He was grateful that Christ could confirm them and make them blameless.

  3. Paul wrote a letter to the Christians in Philippi.
    1. That congregation had some serious internal problems.
      1. The Christians were not treating each other properly, and some of them had a bad attitude toward each other.
      2. Selfishness was a real problem.
      3. Some of the most dedicated, devout Christians were seriously struggling against each other.
    2. Even with these problems, Paul genuinely appreciated them, and he wanted them to know it.
      Philippians 1:3-6 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      1. "I never pray without thanking God for you."
      2. "It would be impossible for me to forget you."
      3. "You are such a source of joy to me because you have always helped me as I shared the gospel."
      4. "I know that God who began a good work in you will bring it to full maturity."

  4. Paul wrote a letter to the Christians in Colossae.
    1. That congregation had a number of problems, but it had a serious problem that would deeply trouble many of us.
      1. The technical name for that problem is syncretism.
      2. They took some of their pre-Christian beliefs and combined them with some Christian beliefs and created a religion that was part Christianity and part nonchristian philosophy.
      3. We would classify that as being an extremely serious problem.
    2. Paul had never visited this congregation, but there were things that he appreciated about them, and he wanted them to know it.
      Colossians 1:3,4 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      1. He thanked God for their faith in Christ and for their love for other Christians.
      2. He wanted them to know his gratitude included them in his prayers.

  5. Paul wrote two letters to the Christians at Thessalonica.
    1. The evidence in his letters indicates that they were an immature congregation.
      1. Sexual immorality was a problem, as it commonly was in most congregations.
      2. They believed if a Christian died before Jesus returned that he or she would not live with God in heaven.
      3. They were confused about several things regarding Jesus' return.
    2. Again, Paul genuinely appreciated them, and he wanted them to know it.
      1 Thessalonians 1:2-8 We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      1. Paul especially appreciated three things.
        1. They had a faith that worked.
        2. They had a love that worked.
        3. They had a hope that would not be discouraged.
      2. When they became Christians, they committed themselves to imitating the Christians who converted them and imitating Jesus.
      3. When conversion resulted in physical suffering, they became an example to suffering Christians throughout that entire region.
      4. They were so widely known for their faith in Christ that it was unnecessary for Paul to tell other Christians about them.
      5. And Paul deeply appreciated that.
    3. In the second letter, Paul addressed their problems.
      1. They were still confused about the second coming of Jesus.
      2. Some were saying that Jesus would return in the immediate future.
      3. Those who believed that Jesus would come soon quit working, expected others to feed them, and became idle gossips.
      4. Paul still appreciated them and said so.
        2 Thessalonians 1:3,4 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater; therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. "It is fitting for me to be grateful for you."
        2. "Your faith is growing, and your love is growing."
        3. "I do not hesitate to tell other Christians how proud I am of your faith and your commitment as you endure persecutions and afflictions."

  6. Paul's gratitude for the good qualities in imperfect congregations emphasizes two things to me.
    1. First, there were no perfect situations.
    2. Second, we need to appreciate spiritual good where ever it exists.

  7. 1998 has challenged this congregation in a variety of ways.
    1. I want you to know that I love and appreciate this congregation, and I am grateful for many things.
      1. I am grateful for our willingness to think and learn, and grateful that we are growing in that willingness.
      2. I am grateful that so many people are willing to get involved, that so many people serve because they care.
      3. I am grateful for our growing commitment to renewal.
      4. I am grateful for the life that is found in our ministries.
      5. I am grateful for our diversity as we focus our concern on the world, on the community, and on the congregation.
    2. The decision that we made about the Family Life Center has created some special challenges.
      1. Some of you are weary of the congregation being in debt, and you should be.
      2. Some of you are concerned about stewardship issues, and that is a legitimate concern.
      3. Some of you have pragmatic concerns about costs, and those are legitimate.
      4. Different people have different priorities, and each priority is legitimate.
      5. We are concerned about a diversity of needs, and each need is legitimate.
    3. In all this, there are some things that I deeply appreciate.
      1. I appreciate all the earnest work the elders do to be open with you.
      2. I appreciate the congregation's involvement in the process--it has never become a control issue.
      3. Even though we differ on perspectives that reflect deep concerns, our attitude has always been respectful.
      4. Because of this respect, our unity is not threatened.

Thank you! May we all pray that God will work through all of us, all of our hearts, and all of our concerns to accomplish His purposes.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 29 November 1998

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