A MODEL MINISTRY (A Study of 2 Thessalonians)

June 24, 2011

A Study of: 2 Thessalonians  (2:1-12)   A MODEL MINISTRY

Theme:    "A little example can have a big influence."

What makes a model ministry? How can we be the church that God wants us to be? [Think about these questions for just a moment.]  We have four strategies: learn the Word, live the life, love the body, and lead the world. We believe these four strategies are what God has called us to fulfill. We have come a long way in this endeavour but we still have even further to go. Interestingly, these strategies are addressed rather nicely in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12. In this passage, we will learn from Paul and his coworkers how to work toward a model ministry. We will see that a model ministry is dependent upon each and every individual doing his or her part. Paul tells us that this can happen when we serve Christ with pure and parental hearts. In these verses, Paul says, "A little example can have a big influence."

1. Serve Christ with a pure heart (2:1-6).

In this section, we will see that Christian ministry can be fruitful when it is carried out with a pure heart that desires to please God. In 2:1-2, Paul explains that God blessed his ministry because of his willingness to preach Christ amidst persecution. He writes, "Foryou yourselvesknow,brethren,that our comingto you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreatedin Philippi, as you know, we had the boldnessin our God to speak to you the gospel ofGodamid much opposition." The word "for" that begins 2:1indicates that the material in this chapter is the basis for the preceding material in chapter 1.The main point of chapter 1 was Paul's thanksgiving for the Thessalonians' faith and dynamic witness. The ironic climax of 1:6-10 was that Paul and his coworkers did not need to preach Christ as much in the areas where the Thessalonians faith had spread (1:8).Consequently, his visit was "not in vain." On the contrary, it was quite fruitful! Verse 2, then, gives the reason (not a contrast)for Paul's claim in 2:1. Paul's coworkers were fruitful because they proclaimed the gospel even in the face of persecution. In 2:2, Paul states that they had "suffered and been mistreated" in Philippi. That is a bit of an understatement. In Philippi Paul and Silas had been stripped, beaten, thrown into prison, and their feet fastened in stocks. It had not only been an extremely painful experience but humiliating as well, since they were flogged naked in public, without trial, and in spite of their Roman citizenship. After this, most of us would have taken a vacation or found an excuse not to minister ever again. But Paul and his coworkers headed to Thessalonica where they met up with more strong opposition.Yet, they did not say, "We better pull the punch in our preaching so that we do not offend anyone." Instead, they preached the Word with no-holds-barred! These guys were animals! But before we get too excited about Paul and his men, we must note that Paul declares they had boldness "in our God." It was not their own boldness-it was "in God." He gave them their boldness.

It is also worth noting that the term "opposition" is the Greek word agon-from which we derive our English word agony. Agon is an athletic term that suggests intense effort and strenuous exertion in the face of hostility and conflict.This reminds us that ministry to others, the work of leading people to Christ and helping them grow in Christ, is a contest, a spiritual struggle.It is not an easy job-it is physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually demanding and draining.Nevertheless, it has been said, "The door of opportunity swings on the hinges of opposition." So what are we to do in the face of opposition or indifference? (1) Refuse to be intimidated. One of the reasons Christianity is so ineffective in our culture is that we are easily intimidated. In other words, we are more scared of people than we are Jesus. Today, will you pray for "holy boldness?" Will you ask the Lord to help you to boldly proclaim at work or school this week? (2) Rely on prayer. Persevere in prayer despite discouraging circumstances. Will you write down two names this week-one unsaved and one saved-and then begin praying for these two people? (3) Stay the course. Do not stop sharing Christ and living the Christian life because people reject you. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to keep on doing what you are already doing, whether anyone pays attention or not. If you keep serving with a pure heart long enough, sooner or later it will pay off. Our Christian lives and ministry are all about perseverance.
"A little example can have a big influence".

In 2:3-6, Paul details how to serve with a pure heart. Since Paul was being grouped in with religious charlatans and hucksters he responds to personal attacks against his own ministry. Interestingly, these attacks have continued to be levied against Christianity for the last 2,000 years....sometimes legitimately and other times illegitimately. He writes, "For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit" (2:3).In this verse, Paul debunks three accusations surrounding his ministry. First, Paul's ministry did not come from error; rather, it was grounded in God's Word. This is how you can judge a ministry: is it grounded in the truth of God's Word? An effective ministry is not based upon preferences, opinions, or musings...it is based on God's truth. The one great advantage that Christians have is that our holy book is accurate. Even though people attempt to find contradictions and errors in the Bible, their attempts are always foiled. In fact, many of Christianity's greatest detractors have become believers during their quest to disprove Christ or His resurrection.

Second, Paul's ministry did not come from impurity for he was a man of purity. In this context, the word "impurity" is broader than sexual immorality (cf. 4:7). The NIV is probably right to render the word "impure motives," alluding to such evils as "ambition, pride, greed, and popularity."Paul is saying, "I am ‘above reproach' in every area of my life and ministry." We can measure the impact of God's Word upon any group of people by the spiritual caliber of the spokesman. Water flows through pipes. If the pipe is rusty, the water may flow but there will be discoloration and sediment in the water. It will taste of the pipe. Often God's Word will not taste right if the messenger is unclean.

Third, Paul's ministry did not come from deceit for he was an honest man. The word "deceit" was originally used of a fisherman who deceives a fish with a bait. Secular Greek literature also used "deceit" for a tavern keeper of the ancient world who would water down the wine of an intoxicated person. There are those who also water down the Word. Paul did not use trickery or slick salesmanship to sell the gospel, assuring people of things that the gospel never promises. Sometimes, in an effort to get people to receive Christ, we tell them how Christ will solve all their problems, but we do not tell them the hardships and cost of following Christ. So they come to Christ under false pretenses. When their problems do not go away, or grow even worse, they grow bitter and fall away.

Paul's words in 2:4 mark a stark contrast: "butjust as we have been approvedby God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men,but God who examinesourhearts."Paul and his coworkers have been "approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel." Therefore, they are responsible to proclaim Christ to anyone and everyone who will listen, regardless of what others think or say. The contrast Paul makes is between pleasing men and pleasing God, who examines the heart. In making this claim, Paul is not saying that he did not care how he lived in front of people or what they thought about his way of life, but that he just answered to God. Sometimes you hear men say, "I do not have to answer to people; I just answer to God" as an excuse for not being accountable. That is not what Paul meant. In fact, he repeatedly appeals to their knowledge of his blameless life.  He simply argues that the dominant goal in his life and preaching is pleasing God above all else.

Let us suppose that you have been feeling sick lately. When you go to the doctor, he administers a test. The results are not good. The outlook is grim, but the disease is treatable if you get started now. What do you want the doctor to do? If he tells you truth, you will be devastated. If he does not, you will be dead. Would you rather have him sugarcoat the truth or even lie to you? Or do you want to know the whole truth about your condition? I know the answer for me. When I go to the doctor I want to know the whole truth, even if it hurts. But what if he says, "I want to spare you pain?" I would tell him, "Doc, tell that to my wife and children at my funeral." When life and death issues are at stake only the truth will do. When it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the stakes could not be higher. Therefore, Christians must be people who hold to the highest possible standards of truth and integrity. "A little example can have a big influence".
When you and I live for Christ with our lives and our lips, the world can be changed.

In 2:5, Paul continues to detail how to serve with a pure heart. He writes, "For we never came with flatteringspeech." Dale Carnegie once said, "Flattery is telling the other person precisely what he thinks about himself." In preaching and ministry many leaders want to tell people what they want to hear. It is easy to say, "You are a victor, a child of the king, and God wants you healthy, wealthy, and wise."  That is a popular message and one that many people want to hear. But it is flattery and it is not the gospel. Recently, I was talking to a nurse at the Hospital and noticed that she had a gorgeous 2-carat wedding ring. I complimented her on her beautiful ring. I then had the audacity to ask her if it was real. She acknowledged that it was not. It was a cubic zirconium. Cubic zirconium is a mineral that is hard, optically flawless, and cheap. It resembles a diamond so closely that sometimes only a trained eye can tell the difference. But it is not a diamond-and that is the point. A similar comparison exists between true compliments and flattering words. They may look alike, but one is sincere and precious; the other is insincere and cheap. We must ensure that we tell the truth when we minister in God's name.

Paul also says in 2:5 that he never came with "pretext for greed-God is witness." Always remember, if the apostle Paul was accused of greed we must expect that we will be as well. When I was working at Target as an 18-year-old, I boldly shared my faith with my coworkers. These words were spoken to shut us up, but they only riled me up. I do not want a couple of fallen greedy pastors representing my faith.

Paul concludes this section in 2:6 with these powerful words: "nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostlesof Christ we might have asserted our authority." For the second time in three verses, Paul brings up pleasing men. Here he says we did not "seek glory from men." Some years ago, I was really tested in this area. Once, I was asked to deliver a word of prayer, exhortation to edify and confer blessings to all the graduation candidates at my nephew's US Naval Officers graduation banquet. I was placed a couple of seats away next to the US President Bush at his table. We were greeted by the vice president and Naval Academic Dean - there were other heads of state from other foreign countries. And then, fear of all fears, when they approached me and announced my name then introduced me as the Arch-dean to the International Council for Clergy from London, U.K.  Honestly, I was nervous. I also felt incredible pressure to impress these high ranking dignitaries, faculty and administration and the over 3000 people I did not know. I have not felt that nervous in a long time. This forced me to ask myself the question, "Len, who are you preaching for? Are you preaching to impress others and please yourself? Or are you preaching for God's glory and pleasure?" Our aim must always be to glorify God and please Him. If people are pleased in this process, praise God! But this is not a criterion by which we are to judge our ministry (cf. Gal. 1:10).

[Paul's exhortation has been serving Christ with a pure heart. Why is this so important? Because only when we please God will we see lasting results.]
 "A little example can have a big influence".

[... In our next section verses 7 to12 we will see Paul explainswhat an effective ministry is.]

2. Serve Christ with a parental heart (2:7-12).

Inthis second section Paul explainswhat an effective ministry is. To draw this out, he uses paternal metaphors. This is important because some believers have lost family relationships for believing in Christ. In this light, Paul's extensive use of parental and family images is significant. Through the use of such language he essentially portrays the congregation as a new family, whose relationships substitute for those that have been broken or lost.In 2:7, he compares his pastoral work to that of a nursing mother. Paul writes, "But we proved to be gentleamong you, as a nursing mothertenderly caresfor her own children." One of the distinguishing characteristics of mothers is that they are gentle. This is a lovely image that goes against the grain of our mental picture of the apostle Paul. Of all the words we might use to describe him, somehow the word "gentle" does not come to mind. Strong, determined, zealous, and impassioned-yes. But gentle? Nonetheless, there it is. Gentleness is not a quality often respected today. We tend to value tough, strong, assertive leaders. But none of us likes to be bullied; we would all rather be loved. Thus, Paul illustrates his relationship with the Thessalonians by describing the bond between a nursing mother and her child. Just as a mother nourishes her child through her own body, so Paul as a spiritual parent nourishes his children in the faith with the Word of God.

In 2:8 Paul writes, "Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives,because you had become very dearto us." The word "affection" (homeiromai) is only used herein the New Testament; however, in Greek literature it was a strong term of affection related to parents longing for children who have passed away. We need to have a heart of compassion and tenderness for others. It takes the gospel, plus us. People will listen to our message when they know we care about them. As I mentioned before in my previous teaching - (1 Thess. Chapter 1); In my pastoral experience, I have discovered that most people will not respond to a pastor's public invitation. For most people to believe in Christ for the first time, the personal touch is required.  I can recall several times when people have told me that one of our regular attendees has believed the gospel. Consequently, I have been asked why this person did not believe in Christ through my gospel invitations. The answer is simple: Most people require a personal invitation in a one-on-one context. This is the responsibility of the church. We all bear the privilege and responsibility to share Christ with others. We then share a responsibility to share our lives with new Christians. 

In 2:9 Paul writes, "For you recall, brethren, our labour and hardship,how working night and day so as not to be a burdento any of you,we proclaimed to you the gospel of God." If you read 1 Corinthians 9, Paul makes it clear in that passage that he does not consider it wrong for a man to live off the preaching of the gospel. And in 1 Timothy 5 he says that an elder who both rules and teaches is worthy of "double honour," which presumes that elders would in fact be paid for their work. But he himself apparently worked in secular jobs wherever he went so that he would be free of any accusations about his motives. His work ethic was exemplary. Tragically, many Christians give Christianity a black-eye because of their poor work performance. This is a crying shame, since work is an expression of worship and it also serves as a powerful witness. This week, will you go to your cubicle or your classroom or home and work as unto the Lord? As you work your daily grind for the glory of God the mundane and monotonous nature of your work can become extraordinary in its kingdom impact.
" A little example can have a big influence".

In 2:10 Paul writes, "You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutlyand uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers."  The word "devoutly" speaks of inward affections toward both God and man; the word "uprightly" refers to their outward behaviour toward God and man; and the word "blamelessly" is the overarching result of being holy and righteous. Paul means to say that no one could make an accusation against him and make it stick. No one could say, "Aha! I gotcha!" To be "blameless" means to live in such a way that no one can successfully make a serious charge against you. It means living in such a way that anyone who finds fault with you would have to tell a lie to do it!

Paul continues his train of thought in 2:11 where he writes, "just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of youas a fatherwould his own children."  Paul says that he behaved with the Thessalonians as a father with his children. "Exhorting" speaks of pressing upon God's people the need to live a life of godliness. Often, this takes the form of a rebuke. "Encouraging" points to progress where a spiritual father might say, "I see your growth. I am watching your steps of faith beyond your comfort zone. You are moving toward your potential. I believe in you. I am proud of you."

"Imploring" is the strongest of the three since it suggests the idea of insisting or requiring that a certain course of action be adopted. This is where we challenge people to cross the line of faith or press on in the faith. We urge people to make a decision once they have been exhorted and encouraged.

Not long ago, I read an interesting statement about the difference between mothers and fathers. Mothers tend to worry about their children's safety and security; fathers focus on their children's success. A mother frets over things like tender loving care while fathers push their children hard because they know we live in a world where failure is easy and success difficult. Both are absolutely necessary-in raising children and in serving the Lord.

The purpose of this entire section comes to a crescendo in 2:12b:"so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the Godwho calls you into His own kingdom and glory" (cf. 4:1). Paul exhorts the church to walk in a worthy manner. Spiritually speaking, this is putting one foot in front of the other and taking steps of forward progress. For this, Paul does not give them a list of rules, rituals, and regulations. Instead, he urges them to become like Jesus in their character and conduct. This is simply responding to God's call upon our lives. Paul refers to "His own kingdom." We must temper and tune our lives to this calling. We adjust ourselves to God; He does not adapt Himself to us. We could accept a call to many kingdoms. Those kingdoms would compete for our commitment and these false allegiances will lure us away from our ultimate purpose. Many philosophies will pander to our baser motives. God designed us for the highest calling. The chief end of Paul's ministry is a church that is obeying God. Fascinatingly, the word translated "glory" (doxa) here is used in 2:6. In this way, the theme is repeated. If I know that it is God's kingdom of glory I am being called into, then I will not be so worried about the praise of men. It is the eternal kingdom of the glory of God that I am being called to, and therefore I want to live a life worthy of Him. This type of life is not a means of earning God's favour. On the contrary, it is clearly a response to God who calls us to Himself. Paul's prayer is that we would express our gratitude to God for who He is and all He has done, in the form of a thank you card.

Spiritually, you may be nursing, crawling, walking, or running. The important thing is that you are moving forward in your maturity. If you are growing, God is pleased. He wants the best for you. He yearns for you to be conformed to the image of Jesus. He will not stop until He accomplishes this in you.

Today, will you respond to Him? Will you take small steps that will help you grow as a spouse, a parent, a worker, a church member?  You can be used by God to make an eternal difference in your home, work, and church.   "A little example can have a big influence".
AMEN.

 

Scripture References

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12;                Acts 16:19-24;                   Philippians 1:27-30;

Galatians 1:10;                            John 5:41, 44;                   2 Timothy 2:24-26;

1 Corinthians 9:1-27.

 

 

Study Questions

1. How would I have defined a fruitful ministry before studying this passage? In what ways has my understanding changed since working through this passage? What roles do boldness and perseverance play in my new understanding of a fruitful ministry? How can I see these qualities intensify and grow in my own life and ministry?

2. In his book, Leading from Within, Parker Palmer writes, "Leadership and spirituality are probably two of the vaguest words you can find in our language, and when you put them together you get something even more vague" (p. 201). Do I agree with this quote? Why or why not? How would I define the individual terms "leadership" and "spirituality?" How would I define the phrase "spiritual leadership?" To what degree do I live out my understanding of these definitions? Read Luke 22:24-27. How does this passage help me define these terms?

3. Are there any legitimate accusations that the world or church could bring against my character (2:3-4)? Am I a man or woman who is above reproach in every area of my life? How do I measure up to the character lists in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 2? What specific area(s) do I need the most work in? Is there someone I look up to as an example who can help me grow spiritually? Will I contact this person today?

4. Am I a God-pleaser or a man-pleaser? How would someone who knows me well characterize my life? What would be included in my obituary? In what areas do I find it most difficult to strive to please God? Why are these areas so difficult? What am I afraid of? Read Matthew 10:24-32 (especially 10:28) for encouragement. How should this passage change my thoughts and actions?

5. Am I a good father or mother (2:7, 11)? What would my children say? In what areas do I excel as a parent? How can I apply my paternal instincts and convictions in raising up mature believers? To what degree do I long to see my fellow believers grow in Christ (2:12)? Have I become busy and selfish with my time and energy? If so, how can I correct this trend? What will I do this week to help another believer grow in Christ?

 

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