Every one of us has had people in our lives that have impacted us. People we point to and say, “This person changed my life” or “I am a better person because of that person’s influence in my life” or “I learned what it means to be a real Christian from them.”
That was the kind of person Jesus was. When people met Jesus they walked away transformed. It appears that this is the kind of person the apostles were as well. From our encounters with the apostle Paul it sure seems that no one was neutral about him. You either embraced him or attacked him.
We are called to impact the 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 fancy 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.
This morning as we turn to 1 Thessalonians 2:9-16 I want you to see some character traits that are evidenced in the lives of the ministry team of Paul, Silas and Timothy, and in the believers in Thessalonica. As we sort through these traits that impacted others it is my prayer that we will discover how we can become people who impact others for the Kingdom of God.
Lessons from the Apostles
9 Surely you remember, brothers, 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.
The first characteristic of the ministry team of Paul, Silas and Timothy was diligence. These men 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. It was that they felt it would be a hindrance to their proclamation.
Paul was willing to do whatever it took to reach the people of Thessalonica with the truth of the gospel message. He understood that those who don’t hear; can’t respond. Those who don’t respond; spend eternity facing the wrath of God. This reality drove the disciples. They had seen the difference that Jesus makes in a 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.
It seems that we live in a day when we want all of our service to the Lord to be convenient. We try to have times of worship that fit into people’s schedules. We agree to serve in areas of ministry when we can squeeze it in around our other pursuits. We talk to people about Christ when we “feel like it” or “have time” or when we “feel qualified”.
I know this is true because I see it in myself. I find myself saying, “Why am I the one that is always having to sacrifice?” When I have a choice between doing something for myself and giving of myself to others, I am drawn like a powerful magnet toward indulgence rather than diligence in my pursuit of the goals of the Kingdom. I’m not proud of these facts; I want to consistently demonstrate my love for the Lord by the way I live my life and through the choices I make.
This last week I was visiting with Pastor Monte Knudson of the Faith Christian Outreach Center in Mt. Pleasant. I asked him where his passion came from. He said, “God asked me a question once”. He said, ‘If your church was gone, would the community miss it?” Monte acknowledged that the people of the church would be sad, but he wasn’t sure if anyone else would notice or care. That thought changed the focus of the church. From that point on the church decided to work to add value and to make a difference in the community.
It’s a haunting question, isn’t it? If the Union Church of La Harpe closed its doors, would this area feel a sense of loss? Would they feel that Christ was a little further away? We can apply this personally. If you were gone, would the people of our community, the people who don’t go to our church, the non-Christian community feel that they had lost a friend, an ambassador, a touch of Heaven?
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.
10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.
Paul says something bold. He 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 evidence that
- They believed the truth they proclaimed
- The power of God was at work in their lives
- They were examples worth following
Consistency is the key to any relationship of trust. Pastor John Maxwell writes,
Solid trust can develop only when people can trust you all the time. If they never know from moment to moment what you’re going to do, the relationship will never deepen to a confident level of trust.
Maxwell goes on to list some other characteristics of what builds trust,
- Employing honest communication. Our life and words should match like music and words must go together to be music.
- Value Transparency…be real. Be honest about your weaknesses.
- Exemplify humility. We should live in constant light of being recipients of an undeserved grace.
- Demonstrate your support of others. We need to cheer for each other rather than feeling threatened by them.
- Carry out your promises. Keep your word.
- Embrace an attitude of service. Give of yourself to others and to ministry
- Include others in your life. Let people get close to you and know you.
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.
The next trait I think is persistence. In the previous section of chapter 2 the Apostle 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 their children. A good father never gives up. A Father continues to love, reach, pray, and work no matter what the circumstances.
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!
A good dad doesn’t use the same tactic all the time. When a child is learning to ride their bicycle a dad will say, “You can do it!” On those times when the child falls, dad is there to help pick the child up. He may hug the child and say, “You’re getting it. You just need to keep trying.” When the child says, “I don’t want to do this anymore” a loving dad may get a little firm and say, “If you give up now, you aren’t going to learn how to ride your bike. Then you won’t be able to play with your friends. You’ll get this . . . you just can’t give up.” A Good dad uses different tactics but is persistent with his child.
So here’s the question: Do people view us as those who constantly urging but never cheering? Are they worn out by our demands? Do they ever sense that we care? Do they ever feel that we hurt with them? Do they ever feel that we are cheering for them and celebrating with them? Are we persistent or do we make feeble efforts and then simply give up?
The Example of the Thessalonians
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.
I think we can see a couple of additional characteristics of lives that impact others from the Thessalonian church.
Submission to the Word of God (v.13) 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.
Many only read the Bible academically. They gain facts about God. They learn truths about faith. They discover sayings that enlighten. However, they do not view the Bible as coming from God.
Think about this. If the Bible truly is God’s Word then,
- It is telling the truth
- It is the final authority (beyond that of the Supreme Court)
- To ignore or disobey it is the height of foolishness
So the question for many is this: IS the Bible really God’s Word? It’s a fair question. Theologian Norman Geisler has a nifty little way to show why the Bible is to be trusted,
- Science verifies it. This is surprising to many. Before science believed these things the Bible said: the earth is round (Isa. 40:22); the earth is suspended (Job 26:7); the universe had a beginning (Gen. 1:1); it has been expanding (Isa. 42:5); it is running down (Ps. 102:26); human bodies are made of the earth’s elements (Gen. 2:7); water returns to its source (Ecc. 1:7)
- The Scribes or writers claimed the Bible to be God’s Word
- The Scripture contents confirms 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.
- 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.
- 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) for one purpose (the glory of God)
- The Spirit witnesses to our soul. God’s Spirit testifies of the Bible’s trustworthiness. Lots of religions testify to “knowing in the insides” that their faith text it from God. This subjective test is powerful because of the objective tests.
- 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 at uniquely God’s Word. The bottom line: If the Bible is the Word of God, we ought to pay attention to it and build our lives upon it.
14 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, 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out.
Verse 14 on through most of verse 16 is actually one long sentence in the Greek. Usually this means Paul is worked up. 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.
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: a faith that won’t give in to the circumstances of life.
We don’t see that kind of devotion very often. When we do it sticks with us. So here is the question: What are you willing to sacrifice for the Kingdom of God. If we want to make an impact on others, are you willing to stand with God no matter what the world throws at us. Are you willing to trust Him even when you feel outmanned? We’ve said it several times already . . . the world pays close attention to how our faith stands (or falls) in the hard times.
Paul concludes with some strange words
They displease God and are hostile to all men 16 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.
From these words we see what is at stake in the work to become people of influence . . . those who do not respond to the gospel will eventually face the wrath of God. I wish there was a way we could let this sink in.
- If you knew someone was going to get cancer if you didn’t tell them about the salvation that is found in Christ; would you make every effort to tell and show them what Jesus can do?
- If you knew someone would be sent to prison for life if that person didn’t respond to the love of Christ by turning to Christ for forgiveness, what would you sacrifice to get the message out?
- If you knew a community would be destroyed by a natural disaster if it didn’t respond to the message of eternal life in Christ, what effort would you make to warn them?
- If you knew someone you loved would die if they were not shown and presented with the message of the forgiveness and eternal life, how hard would you work to communicate the message of salvation?
These are all horrible things but they are NOTHING compared to the reality of the wrath of God coming upon a person who refuses to believe. Whether or not we live lives that impact others with the message of grace is of utmost importance.
So with this in mind, may I ask a question? Where are you in your relationship with Jesus Christ? Have you ever admitted your rebellion, confessed your sin and run to Jesus for the forgiveness that He alone can give? Have you surrendered your life to the One who loves you so much that He gave His life for you? If not, I hope you will do so today.
Please understand, the secret to making an impact on the lives of others is not in some formula, it comes from becoming more and more the person that God’s Spirit wants you to be. And when that happens, you’ll be able to tell because others will recognize you as a person who bases his/her life on the Scriptures, is diligent in his/her walk with Christ, consistent in the way they live, persistent in their dealing with others, and unshakeable in the trials of life. May God continue to build His life into ours.