In the book and movie the DaVinci Code, midway through the book there is a charge that the church has pulled off the greatest hoax in history. The contention in the book, movie (and now a host of copycat books) is that the Emperor Constantine “created” the Christian faith, as we know it. He suppressed any documents of the church he didn’t agree with; He elevated Jesus to the status of God; and he hid the fact that Jesus was really married and had descendants that are living today.
If you do any checking of the facts, you find that all of these things are wrong. The books of the Bible were pretty much recognized by the time of Constantine. Additional “gospels” were not hidden, they were simply rejected as forgeries and as propaganda from a group called the Gnostics. As to the claim for the god-ness of Jesus; Jesus made those claims for himself in the earliest verses of the gospels. Archaeology has unearthed copies of those gospels that predated Constantine by decades. The idea of Jesus being married has no evidence to support it.
We are seeing this trend of “creative truth telling” in many places. Several newspaper writers have been caught fabricating stories. One of Oprah’s book club selections, “A Million Little Pieces” by James Frey was exposed as a largely fraudulent memoir. With the Internet people can plant falsehoods and distortions anytime they want and make it available to the world.
In our text this morning the apostle Paul faces off with those who were attempted to distort the truth about him. From the first verses of 1 Thessalonians 2 it appears that people were saying Paul and his team were scam artists who were unsuccessful in their work.
Personally I don’t think Paul was 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 listen to these words you will hear not only a defense of Paul’s ministry. I am hopeful that you will also see some principles that will help you to be faithful in your own witness for the gospel.
DON’T GIVE UP BECAUSE THINGS ARE HARD
The first principle for being a faithful witness is to not give up just because circumstances are difficult. Paul begins chapter 2 with these words,
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. (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2)
Paul went 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. One 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 was not 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 this ministry and say it was a failure. If I were Paul I know I would have wondered if I was a miserable failure. When a program, idea, or ministry fails or stalls, I often want to give up and just walk away. Like me, you have probably had times when you set out to do a job and things didn’t go as you expected.
You volunteered to teach a class and people stopped attending
You planned a program and it flopped
You tried to share the gospel with someone and became tongue tied and seemed to do more harm than good
You take a new job believing it is God’s will yet you find yourself more frustrated than you have ever been.
You start a business but it ends in bankruptcy
You marry your “soul mate” but your spouse walks out on the marriage
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 Paul are so instructive to us. In spite of the circumstances and the whispers of failure, Paul continued to boldly declare the truth. He refused to give up simply because things didn’t go as he expected. I think Paul understood several things we need to remember.
1. No one said 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 is 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! Imagine how many times these men must have felt like failures! However, God’s purpose for these men was not 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. God’s definition of success and our definition of success are 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.
4. Even if we do fail, failure is a necessary ingredient to growth. We learn best from the mistakes we make in life.
Faithful people continue being faithful in spite of the circumstances.
SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE
The second thing we 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
For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. (v.3)
It is likely there were those who charged that Paul was working a scam and simply using the Thessalonians for his own purposes. These people couldn’t attack the facts of the Christian faith, so they attacked the messenger!
What they didn’t do
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. (vv. 5-6)
Paul never used flattery. Have you ever had someone come up to you and say, “You are so good at (teaching, building, raising money, making music, chairing a committee, speaking and on and on)? They butter you up and then they make a request that you do something for them. Kids are great at this with their parents. Flattery is insincere talk designed to manipulate a person to do what you want.
It is tempting to color the gospel in attractive colors 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 new life and a Savior.
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 . . .promises the Bible never makes.
This kind of tactic is no different from the child trying to get something from the parent. It is adjusting the truth to get what we want. As believers, we don’t need to resort to flattery. Our job is to tell the truth. God’s Spirit is the only one that can change a human heart. He does not need our deception (translate “sin”) to enable Him to change a life or circumstance.
Paul was not motivated by greed. Paul 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. Paul was not one of them.
Greed rears it’s head in many ways: 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. When we take position or a 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.
What They did do
Paul not only refuted the charges of his opponents he points to his true motivation,
As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, 7 but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. [vv. 5-8]
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, 16 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 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
I think the key phrase in this entire passage may be verse 4,
We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. (v.4)
This is a key factor. 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 illusive. It will be almost impossible to be effective in our faith. Who of us has not been frustrated that a person who seemed to be our friend one day, turned against us the next?
Paul gives us a better alternative in 2 Corinthians 5,
So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 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 Cor. 5:9,10]
Paul was not concerned with the court of public opinion; he was concerned with the court of Heaven. Paul focused on the coming a 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). We find ourselves doing what we need to do to fit in (even if it means turning away from God’s truth).
If a person is going to effectively plan for their retirement they cannot constantly “live for the moment”. That person must delay some gratification so he can save for a future day. That’s what a faithful believer does . . .they live today in light of tomorrow.
I hope you will use these verses in 1 Thessalonians 2 in a couple of different ways. First, it is my hope that you will find encouragement in these words. Are you worn out in your Christian life? Are you afraid to reach out or to try something because of the fear of failure? If so, I hope you are encouraged by the reminder that God is looking for faithfulness from His people. He does not weigh faithfulness by the world’s definition of success. Instead, God honors the heart that faithfully serves Him.
I think we are in for big surprises in Heaven. I don’t think the people who will receive the greatest rewards are going to be the people of celebrity status in our society. I think some of the people honored the most may be,
The missionary who gave himself to an unsaved area for years and didn’t think he accomplished a thing.
The person who spent hours each day in private prayer
The student who stood firm in the faith in spite of the painful ridicule of friends
The person who gave generously and quietly to support various ministries
The person who worked faithfully in areas that are unnoticed and under-appreciated.
I urge you to keep going. Don’t give up because the road is difficult. Don’t turn away because things aren’t going the way you 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 is not 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.
Second, use these verses to examine your own heart and your motives as you serve the Lord. Who are you really serving? What values are really driving your activities, your calendar, the checks you write, the people with whom you are friends, and the gospel message you share with others? Are you squandering all you have on present pursuits and worldly mirages, or are you living in light of the day when God will judge your hearts and life?
Let’s face it; 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 faithful in our witness in a hostile world.