Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God. (1 Thessalonians 4:1, N.K.J.V.)
As you read this passage from the apostle Paul, take special note of the phrase “abound more and more.” Paul’s point is that, generally speaking, a Christian’s service to the Lord should increase over the course of life as there is a noticeable progression in that Christian’s service. At 20, that Christian should do more for Christ than he or she did at 15. At 25, he or she should do more than at 20. At 30, he or she should do more than at 25. On and on it should go like that.
Of course, we understand that at some point the physical limitations of getting older will stop a Christian from performing certain acts of service. Even in old age, however, a person can shift focus to different kinds of service. For example, the elderly preacher can no longer hold down a pastorate, but that just gives him more time for prayer. The retired school teacher can no longer be “salt and light” in the school system, but she can do more visiting. Even the Christian in the nursing home can be an effective witness for Christ. The goal is to always abound more and more in service.
I was in my early 20s when I gave myself fully to Christ. Since I had been out of church for some time, my first order of business was to start attending Sunday morning worship services. That led to my faithful attendance in Sunday School. That led to me getting serious about having a daily prayer life. That led to my faithful attendance for Sunday night services. That led to my faithful attendance for Wednesday night services. All of that church attendance led to me getting serious about Bible study. That led to me teaching a Youth Sunday School class. That led to me hearing God’s call to preach and accepting it. That led to me becoming a pastor.
You see, my progression in service started with me taking the baby step of attending Sunday morning worship services. I took that step, stayed at that level for a little while, and then felt God push me to take another step. Then I took that step, stayed at that level for a little while, and then felt Him push me to take another step. Then I took that step, stayed at that level for a little while, and then felt Him push me to take another step. The process has been a slow walk, not a long jump.
The New Testament uses the words “bishop,” “elder,” and “pastor” interchangeably to describe the role that I am currently fulfilling in church. Each of these three words speaks to a different aspect of the role. “Bishop” carries the idea of overseeing. “Elder” carries the idea of leading with wisdom. “Pastor” carries the idea of shepherding the sheep.
In 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Paul gives a God-inspired list of the qualifications of a pastor. Interestingly, in verse 6, he says that a pastor shouldn’t be a “novice.” Why did he say that? He said it because the young Christian who has been rushed into the ministry hasn’t had the necessary time to get his roots sunk deep. He hasn’t been able to sit under enough teaching, and he doesn’t have adequate experience where the rubber of Christianity meets the road of life. This explains why many young preachers flame out like shooting stars. Much of that could be avoided if each potential preacher was made to work through the careful process of abounding more and more in service to Christ.
I don’t mean to imply that the end of every Christian’s road of service will be the ministry. It won’t be. I’m saying, Christian, that your life should show progression in service. If you aren’t currently doing any more for Christ than you did last year, you are wasting valuable time. You need to get off dead-center and take another step in service to Him. There is another level, one just above you, that you need to reach. You’ve got to keep moving on up in regards to your service.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson was a great basketball player who had incredible natural talent. To his credit, though, he also had a strong work ethic. As evidence of that, each off-season he would diligently work to add another dimension to his game. One off-season he worked on his free-throw shooting and became an excellent free-throw shooter. Another off-season he worked on his long-range shooting and became an excellent long-range shooter. He was never satisfied with where he was as a player. He was always working to get better.
What Magic Johnson did as a basketball player, each Christian should do as a servant of Christ. Christian, when you get your church attendance where it needs to be, start working on your prayer life. When you get that in order, go to work on your Bible study. Once you get a good handle on that, hone in on specific acts of Christian service. Once those have become part of your routine, start working on your evangelism. Etc. Etc. Etc. You get the idea.
While it’s true that God wants to start with you right where you are, it’s equally true that He doesn’t want to leave you there. At the close of our text verse, Paul doesn’t talk about “how you ought to stand and to please God,” Instead, he talks about “how you ought to walk and to please God.” And there is a big difference between standing and walking, isn’t there? Walking implies movement and progression and goes right along with “abounding more and more.”
So, Christian, take a look at where you are in your service to Christ right now and dedicate yourself to abounding more and more for Him. I don’t know where God’s road of individualized service will ultimately lead you, but I do know that it will get you busier for Him than you’ve ever been. You don’t have to try to become the apostle Paul in a week, but you do need to get busy at the next level of service on your own ladder. Putting it another way, you need to stop standing and start walking. That, after all, is how the abounding begins.