1 Thessalonians 2:11,12, “As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory”
Our Text – (1 Thessalonians 2:1-16)
A believer’s character and conduct support their witnessing efforts.
In our text for this study the apostle Paul faces off with those who were attempting to distort the truth about him. From the very first verse it appears that individuals were saying Paul and his fellow-laborers were scam artists who were unsuccessful in their work. I don’t think Paul was that concerned about what people said about him; however, he felt that these personal attacks needed to be addressed because of their impact on the credibility of his witness. As you read these words you will hear not only a defense of Paul’s ministry. I am certain you will also see some principles that will help us to be faithful in our own witness for the gospel
- Don’t Give Up Because Things Are Hard
(2:1-2, “You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. 2 We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition”)
The ministry of the apostle Paul, Silas, and Timothy in Thessalonica wasn’t a failure. On the contrary, it was quite successful (2:1). These missionaries knew it, the Macedonians and Achaians knew it, and most importantly the Thessalonians knew it. Even though the missionaries had suffered in Philippi before they went to Thessalonica, they were bold in God to preach the gospel (v. 2), and they trusted God to bless their ministry.
The First Principle for being a faithful witness for Christ isn’t giving up just because circumstances are difficult as stated in verse 2. Paul had gone to Philippi because he had a vision of a man calling him to Macedonia. Paul went to Macedonia and began to reach out to the people in Philippi. On day the Spirit used Paul to cast out a demon from a woman. The people who had been exploiting the woman were angry and had Paul and Silas arrested, beaten and thrown in jail. The next morning, city officials escorted them out of town. Their ministry in Thessalonica wasn’t much different. After three Sabbaths in the synagogue, their ministry provoked a riot in the city and the apostles had to sneak out of town.
It’s easy to imagine that some would point to his ministry and say it was a failure. If I were Paul, I would have wondered if the ministry was a failure. When a program, idea, or ministry fails or stalls, we often want to give up and walk away. Have you had time when you set out to do a job and things didn’t go as you expected, such as:
(1) You volunteered to teach a Sunday school class and people stopped attending.
(2) You planned a church program and it flopped.
(3) You tried to share the gospel with someone and became tongue tied and seemed to do more harm than good.
(4) You take a new job believing it is God’s will yet you find yourself more frustrated than you have ever been.
People may not have called you a failure, but you saw the stares and sensed the whispers. More than that, you heard the accusations of Satan in your own heart and mind. This is why these words of the apostle Paul are so instructive to us today. In spite of the numerous circumstances and the whispers of failure, Paul continued to boldly declare the truth of God’s Word. He refused to give up simply because things didn’t go as he expected. I truly believe that Paul understood several things we need to remember in our ministry for Christ, such as:
(1) No one said that following Christ would be easy or always pleasant. Jesus warned us that if people hated Him, some of those same people would hate us. Just because you are experiencing conflict doesn’t mean you have failed.
(2) We don’t see the whole picture. When things don’t go as we expect we need to withhold judgment because God may be doing something different than we can see. God reminds us in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” It’s possible that what we see as failure is really the perfect piece for God’s puzzle. Think of the various prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel who warned of God’s impending judgment but no one listened? Image how many times these men must have felt like failures! However, God’s purpose for these men wasn’t to change the nation … He was using them to inform the nation and to provide a warning to the generations that would follow. God may be doing something different in you or through you than you expected.
(3) We must remember that God’s definition of success and our definition of success are very different. We look for worldly success; we look for financial profit, numerical growth, and the applause of men. God is looking for us to be faithful even when we don’t understand what He is doing.
- Speak the Truth in Love
(2:3-6, “For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed–God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you”)
The Second Principle we can learn from Paul is that a faithful witness speaks the truth in love. Verse 3 may give us some insight as to the charges being made against Paul. It is likely there were those who charged that Paul was working a scam and was simply using the Thessalonians for his own purposes. These individuals couldn’t attack the facts of the gospel, so they attacked the messenger! Verses 5 and 6 tell us that Paul never used flattery. Have you ever had someone come up to you and say, “You are so good at (teaching, building things or speaking? They butter you up and then they make a request that you do something for them. Children are great at this with their parents. Flattery is plain insincere talk designed to manipulate a person to do what you want.
It’s tempting to present the gospel in an attractive way in order to get someone to join our group or to agree with us. Omitting talk of sin and repentance and focusing on man’s great potential rather than his need of a new life and a Savior. Or softening talk about what it means to follow Jesus. People don’t like to hear that a relationship with Jesus involves obedience and often involves sacrifice. However, when we omit this information we are merely tickling the ears of the people and we are presenting a false gospel. Jesus said we should count the cost before coming after Him. Dangling promises of material gain and a problem free life are promises the Bible never makes. This kind of tactic is no different from the child trying to get something from the parent. It’s simply adjusting the truth to get what we want. As believers in Christ, we don’t need to resort to flattery. Our job is to tell the truth. God’ Spirit is the only one that can change a human heart. He does not need our deception to enable Him to change a life or circumstance.
The apostle Paul wasn’t motivated by greed. He didn’t do what he did because of what he thought he could gain personally. He had one purpose, “to present the truth of the gospel.” In verse 9 Paul reminded them that he didn’t even take up an offering in his meetings. He and his friends worked hard to avoid any appearance that they were trying to fleece the flock. Many, in Paul’s day and ours, try to do that very thing, but Paul wasn’t one of them. Greed rears its ugly head in many ways, such as:
(1) When we are kind to others in order to get them to come to our church, give to our cause, or in some other way enrich us, we are not motivated by our love for the person; we are seeking to enrich ourselves.
(2) When we take a position or job for the purpose of being seen by others; that’s greed. Any time when our primary concern is to get what we want whether it is money, power, or influence we are motivated by greed. Greed is a perversion of the heart of God.
(2:7-8, “Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”)
The apostle Paul not only refutes the charges of his opponents he points to his true motivation as stated in verses 7 and 8. Paul reminded the Thessalonians that his approach was to be gentle with them. He gave up his “rights” in order to address their needs. Paul said he had the heart of a mother. A mother is willing to sacrifice. She gives her all to care for her child. When a mom hears the cry of her child she drops everything and runs to their aid. Parents will sacrifice their comforts in order to provide for their children. This is the attitude we should have toward lost people. Peter gave us the right heart for faithful witness when he said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15-16). The principle is simple: be prepared, be gentle, and be consistent in your own life. If you want to be a faithful witness the message of the gospel people need to see the love of Jesus Christ in us before they will hear the word of God from us. Paul was willing to share not only the gospel, but also his very life with these people. He was vulnerable and loving. He was willing to enduring suffering on their behalf. He had a servant’s heart. If we want to be faithful, that’s what we must do also.
- Work to Please God; Not Men
The Third Principle the apostle Paul is driving home and the key phrase in this entire passage may be found in verse 4, “We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.” As long as we are trying to please other people we are going to be constantly frustrated. The requirements will be ever changing and joy and peace will be elusive. It will be almost impossible to be effective in our faith and ministry. Who of us has not been frustrated that a person who seemed to be our friend one day, turned against us the next? The apostle Paul gives us a better alternative when he said, “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:9-10).
Paul wasn’t concerned with the court of public opinion and we shouldn’t either. He was concerned with the court of Heaven. Paul was focusing on the coming day when the Lord would sit as the judge over all our actions. Think about how difficult a mindset this is to maintain. We love the roar of the crowds. We like to be liked. We hate being the focus of attack. As a result, we are all prone to “play to the crowds”. Instead of serving the Lord we find ourselves serving the world’s definition of success (numbers, money, position and accolades to name a few). We find ourselves doing what we need to do to fit in (even if it means turning away from God’s truth).
- Their Conduct in the Ministry
We have all had individuals come into our lives that we can point to and say, “This person changed my life” or “I’m a better person because of that person’s influence in my life.” That was the kind of person Jesus was. When people met Him they walked away transformed. It also appears that this is the kind of person the apostle was as well. From our encounters in Scripture with the apostle Paul it seems that no one was neutral about him. You either embraced him or attacked him.
As believers in Christ, we are called to be a witness for Christ in world around us. Jesus said we are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are told to love as He loved; to help the hurting; to proclaim forgiveness to the broken and new life to the lost. God calls us to change our world for the good. We do this not so much by elaborate programs (though there is a place for them), or through our times of worship. The impact comes from the reality of Christ living in and through us. In today’s lesson we will see some character traits that were evident in the lives of Paul, Silas and Timothy, and the believers in Thessalonica, and these traits should also be evident in our lives.
- Living a Life that Impacts Others
(2:9, “Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you”)
Diligence is the first characteristic.
Paul, Silas and Timothy worked hard while they were in Thessalonica. They proclaimed the gospel, they taught, they ministered to others, all while they worked at other jobs (tent-making) so they could support their ministry without being a burden on the Thessalonians. It wasn’t that it was wrong for them to get support for their ministry; rather it was that they felt it would be a hindrance to their proclamation. The apostle Paul was willing to do whatever it took to reach the people of Thessalonica with the truth of the gospel message.
Paul understood and so should we that those who don’t hear the gospel can’t respond and those who don’t respond have no hope of eternal life. This reality drove the disciples as they had seen the difference that Jesus makes in a person’s life. They had personally experienced His transforming power and they were compelled to share this message of new life with others regardless of the cost. If we are going to make a difference we need to be willing to work diligently. We must have a passion for the work of the Kingdom that is stronger than our commitment to the things of the world. We must be willing to be inconvenienced, to sacrifice, to re-arrange our preferences, to give up our toys, and to do it all for the Kingdom of God.
Consistency is the second characteristic.
(2: 10, “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed”)
Earlier the apostle Paul had called on God and the Thessalonians to testify to his, Silas’s, and Timothy’s sincere motives in preaching the gospel (v. 5). Here the apostle Paul states the people were witnesses of the consistency of their lives. Their profession matched their living. How many of us would dare to say such a thing? These men were the same in church as they were on the street. This consistency was very evident in that:
(1) They believed the truth they proclaimed;
(2) The power of God was at work in their lives;
(3) They were examples worth following.
Not only did Paul and his co-workers carry out the tasks that God wanted them to do, but they did them with sincerity and devotion. These were men of integrity and met the standards God expected them to meet consistently. No one could find fault in the missionaries. They were by no means perfect, but their outward actions and attitudes were blameless.
Persistence is the third characteristic.
(2:11., “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory”)
In the previous verses of chapter 2 Paul likened himself to a mother willing to sacrifice and give for his children. Now he compares himself to a father. Each of the things mentioned, diligence, consistency and now persistence applies to the relationship between a Father and his children. A good father never gives up. A Father continues to love, reach, pray, and work no matter what the circumstances.
Here the apostle Paul uses three words; encouraging, comforting, and urging. All of these things are necessary in helping others grow in discipleship. Sometimes people need us to cheer for them; sometimes they need us to help them get up after a disappointment; sometimes people need a kick in the pants. They need someone to urge them to live a life worthy of God. Not only do we need to be willing to be persistent with those we want to impact, we need people who will encourage, comfort, and urge us also!
Paul devoted time to the new believers in Thessalonica. Certainly the apostle met with them as a group, but the words “everyone” in verse 11 seem to indicate he also had a personal time with each of the new believers. What a testimony of his love for them! And what a model for believers today! To walk worthy of God was the missionaries’ goal for the Thessalonians. Paul used the word “walk” to refer to behavior. “Walk” could denote either good or bad behavior, so Paul qualified it with “worthily of God,” which meant that the readers were to live or behave directly in relationship to God and His character.
Their behavior was to correspond to or be in agreement with God’s Word and will. What a high standard! That standard holds true for believers today. Paul was concerned about the behavior of the converts in Thessalonica. It wasn’t enough for them to believe the gospel message: They needed to behave the gospel message. Their conduct needed to reflect their new relationship to God. When it did, it would bring glory to Him.
- The Example of the Thessalonians
Submission to the Word of God
The apostle Paul said these people received the Word of God and accepted it as the Word of God. They didn’t debate it. They didn’t try to negotiate it. They believed they were hearing from God himself and submitted to the Scriptures.
(2:13, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe”)
Many people today only read the Bible academically. They only gain facts about God. They learn truths about faith and discover sayings that enlighten. However, they don’t view the Bible as coming from God. When the Thessalonians heard the missionaries preach they received the message as students receive teaching from a teacher, but not as a message from men. They recognized that the message that Paul and others taught had come from God, that it was more than just human words. And, upon recognizing it, those who believed welcomed it into their lives and turned from idols to God. Today, many people want to know if the Bible really is God’s Word. Here are some ways to show these people why the Bible is God’s Word and why it is to be trusted:
(1) Science verifies it which is surprising to many. Before science believed these things the Bible had already said (a) the earth is round and is suspended (Isaiah 40:33; Job 26:7); (b) the universe had a beginning, has been expanding and is running down(Genesis 1:1); Isaiah 42:5 Psalm 102:26); (c) human bodies are made of the earth’s elements (Genesis 2:7); and (d) water returns to its source (Ecclesiastes 1:7).
(2) The Scribes or writers claimed the Bible to be God’s Word and the Scripture contents confirm it as the Word of God. There are hundreds of prophecies that have been 100% fulfilled. The Savior Testified to it. Jesus claimed to be God, He was confirmed as God by the acts of God, and He said the Bible is the Word of God.
(3) The Stones Verify the Bible. Archaeology has found nothing that has ever refuted the Bible and thousands of finds that have verified things written in the bible.
(4) The Structure of the Bible. It is a book of great diversity but a supernatural unity. It was written over thousands of years by around 40 writers who all describe one problem (sin), one cure (salvation), through one person (Jesus Christ) for one purpose (the glory of God).
(5) The Saved. Believers testify of the change the Bible has made in their lives.
All of these add up to the Bible being a unique book that deserves to be recognized as God’s Word. The bottom line is that we need to pay attention to God’s Word and build our lives upon it rather than upon what the world dictates.
(2:14-15, “For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews,)
The apostle Paul commends these people because they were willing to endure hardship for the sake of Christ. They were following in the footsteps of those who had gone before them. They gave evidence of the transforming power of God by the way they stood firm in the time of persecution. Can the same be said for us today? We have all been touched and changed by people who have remarkable faith. They endure hardship, disease, attack, disappointment and even death with a strong faith.
This is the kind of faith that makes an impact on individuals. A faith that won’t give in to the circumstances of life. What are we willing to sacrifice for the Kingdom of God? If we want to make an impact on others, are we willing to stand with God no matter what the world throws at us? Are we willing to trust Him even when we feel outnumbered? Will we be willing to endure hardships for the sake of Christ as the Thessalonians did?
(2:15-16, “who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men. “They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last”)
Paul concludes this part of his letter by describing the activities of Jews who had persecuted and even killed God’s messengers (vv. 15-16). They killed Jesus and their prophets, and they severely persecuted Paul, Silas, and Timothy and tried to keep them from speaking to the Gentiles about the gospel. The Jews adamantly opposed Jesus and later the apostles because they didn’t want to lose the Law and the long list of traditions that they added to it. As a result of their opposition and killing of Christ and Christians, God’s wrath had come upon them. Things haven’t changed much since then. What we do need in today’s perverse and wicked world is:
(1) More faithful pastors, missionaries and believers who preach, teach and speak the whole counsel of God’s Word.
(2) To keep sharing the gospel of His truth and message of salvation without compromise.
(3) Continue to be faithful and steadfast in our service and witness for Christ.
(4) To love and serve others with the heart of a servant as Jesus did while on earth.
The eloquent English evangelist George Whitefield (1714-1770) once preached on Matthew 25:1-13, and particularly verse 10, And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage; and the door was shut.” A man in the audience was overheard saying to another, “So what? Another door will open.” But as Whitefield continued preaching, he said, “There may be someone here who is careless and self-satisfied, and who thinks, ‘What does it matter if the door is shut? Another will open.’ Yes, it will, the door to the bottomless pit, the door to hell!” When time runs out, and God shuts the door of salvation, the door to doom, darkness, and despair will open.
Two young men had been friends from childhood. One was a believer in Christ, the other wasn’t. The unbeliever man was about to embark on a long ocean voyage, and the believer felt the urge to speak to him about Christ before he left. “I’ll do it on the way to the dock,” he promised himself. But when they reached the dock, he still hadn’t done so. He went on board to say goodbye, and thought, “When we bring the baggage to his room, I’ll speak to him.” But the porter took the trunks and suitcases, so they didn’t visit the stateroom. Finally, he said to himself, “I’ll be sure to witness to him in some quiet place before the ship departs.” However, suddenly there came the announcement that all visitors must leave the ship.
Two months later word came that the man had died overseas. Matthew 7:14 tell us, “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Jesus was talking about the path that we take when we put our faith in Him. He was talking about the road to heaven. We need to apply the words of Jesus and spread the Gospel of His love, grace, mercy and salvation that only He can give to a lost soul. Don’t put it off like the believer in the story! Tell someone today about Jesus Christ!
The apostle Paul was faithful and steadfast in his ministry and he didn’t give up even during the most difficult times. If Paul was here this morning, I believe he would tell us not to give up because the road is difficult and especially for us to “Stay Between the Lines.” Don’t turn away because things aren’t going the way we planned. Trust His plan. Trust His heart of love for you. Trust His wisdom. Trust His grace. Keep reaching out. Keep sharing the truth. Continue to be faithful. The real test of faith isn’t whether or not you celebrate God in good times. That is easy to do. The real test is to continue to trust Him when things are hard. That is true faith.
We need to use these eight verses to examine our own heart and our motives as we serve the Lord where ever we may be. Who are we really serving? What values are really driving our activities, our calendar, the checks we write, the people with whom we are friends, and the gospel message we share with others? Are we squandering all we have on present pursuits and worldly mirages, or are we living in light of the day when God will judge our hearts and life? We must realize that the world will continue to attack the cause of Christ. If we belong to Him, they will attack us also. If we are going to continue to stand, we must resolve to tell the truth without compromise, to love and serve others with the heart of Jesus, and to do what is right even when it doesn’t seem to be paying off. It won’t be easy, but it is the only way to remain a faithful witness in a hostile world.
What we do with Christ now will determine what He will do with us later.