Marks of a Godly Minister
Passage: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-7
Good morning! Turn in your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians 2. I hope the last couple of Sunday school lessons were an encouragement to you as we examined this exemplary church at Thessalonica. We talked last week about how they followed Paul’s example until they became examples; and that same theme will continue into this week, except that this week, instead of focusing on the Thessalonians, we will be focusing on Paul, Silas, and Timothy.
The background to this passage lies with the tradition of travelling philosophers in the first century. Remember, Thessalonica is in Macedonia–right next door to Greece! Can you name any famous Greek philosophers? (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle) Those are the big names, but besides them there were hundreds (thousands?) of lesser-known philosophers who came and went. Just to show you how common these guys were, I wanted to show you a list of ancient Greek philosophers from Wikipedia. [Scroll through list.] Now, that list spans many centuries, but still–that’s a lot of names! And I’m sure there were many lesser-known philosophers who didn’t even make this list. So what would these philosophers do? Well, a lot of times, they would travel from city to city teaching their particular system of philosophy (like Stoicism, Epicureanism, Cynicism, etc.), and they would often receive donations in order to support themselves.
Now, these philosophers were supposedly trying to help people. But many of them were criticized for having ulterior motives. Some were said to be in it just for the money. It was an easy way to earn a living without having to work hard. Others were said to be in it for the glory. In some ways, the philosopher was to Greece what the rock star is to America. Some of them became very famous. And especially in an honor-shame society, that’s a big deal. So some of these travelling philosophers got a bad rap for being in it just for themselves and not really caring about the people they were supposedly trying to help.
Do you see where this is going? What does Paul look like when he shows up in Thessalonica? He’s traveling from place to place. He’s teaching some kind of new religious philosophy that’s supposed to help people. So who does he get lumped in with? The travelling philosophers! And not only with the philosophers as a whole, but with the bad philosophers! Think about it–Paul gets in trouble with the government… he’s forced to leave town prematurely… he doesn’t even bother to return and see how the church is doing, etc. Can’t you just hear some of the cynical comments that would have been made?
So Paul is put in a position where he needs to defend himself; but fortunately for him, he’s made himself very easy to defend because of his former conduct among the Thessalonians. So when you read this passage, you don’t at all get the impression that Paul is grasping at straws. In fact, he calls the Thessalonians to witness six times throughout these verses! He says, “You know that we didn’t flatter you; you know we didn’t ask you for money; you know that we were above reproach.”
This passage serves a couple of functions. First, it solidifies the relationship between Paul and the Thessalonians, as well as their confidence in Paul’s message. Second, Paul’s conduct in Thessalonica becomes a pattern for the Thessalonians and all future believers (especially teachers and preachers) to follow.
This is a convicting passage for preachers. Because it highlights all the ways in which we fall short of the ideal. But it’s also a convicting passage for all of us. Because it describes the way in which all of us should behave as we share the gospel and minister to one another. In some ways, not much has changed since the first century. The travelling philosopher has been replaced by religious phonies, self-help gurus, health fad experts, and other salesmen of various stripes. What’s scary is that in our increasingly secular culture, Christians tend to get lumped in more and more with those groups! So how do we set ourselves apart? One possible answer is to be less aggressive evangelistically. But that is not an option that is open to us biblically! So what are we going to do? Here’s the answer in two words. Are you ready for it? Selfless love. That is what 2:1-12 is all about.
So as we study this passage over the next two weeks, I pray that you would examine your own life, to see if these descriptions characterize you.
Our tagline today is going to be “Marks of a Godly Minister.” And again, all of these marks have to do with selfless love.
1. A Godly Minister Continues Preaching Despite Persecution (vv. 1-2).
So Paul is picking up on 1:5, where he said, “You know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.” Now he is going to expound upon that in detail. And he starts out by saying, “Our coming to you was not in vain.” That could be referring to the results of Paul’s ministry as in the powerful conversions we talked about last Sunday. But based on this context and specifically the “but” at the beginning of v. 2, the focus is more likely on the quality of Paul’s ministry–that it was not empty of truth and spiritual value. Paul says, “We were not fakes. We were not phonies. Our message is true and it changes lives.”
“How do we know that, Paul?” “Well, number one, Silas and I continued preaching, even after being brutally beaten and humiliated in Philippi!” People who are out for their own interests don’t normally do that (v. 2)!
Do you remember what happened to Paul and Silas at Philippi? In Acts 16, we read that they were dragged into the public marketplace before the magistrates, making a big scene; they were falsely accused, given no chance to defend themselves; they were stripped of their clothing right there in the open; they were beaten mercilessly with rods; they were thrown into the deepest, darkest prison; and the prison keeper was told to watch them carefully, as if they were troublemakers–all of which was in clear violation of their rights as Roman citizens! Of course, the rest of the story is that there was an earthquake in the prison and God delivered them, but it was not a pleasant experience for Paul and Silas! And yet what did they do? They got up, they went to Thessalonica, and they kept on preaching the gospel! And not only did they preach, but they preached boldly–with courage. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that Paul, Silas, and Timothy were different from you and me and that this was easy for them. Because Paul says that they preached in much “conflict.” That’s the same word that describes agonizing at an Olympic event. Preaching the gospel courageously under threat of persecution was hard for them!
To me, this is one of Paul’s strongest arguments. (I think that’s why he puts it first.) But notice that Paul doesn’t take all the glory for himself. How does he say they were bold? It was “in our God.” God gave them the strength to be courageous! You know what that means? It means He can give you the strength, too. The next time you are with family or friends who don’t know the gospel, you can be bold and share with them your faith. When the Holy Spirit puts that mom on your kid’s soccer team on your heart, you can invite her to get coffee and offer to do an evangelistic Bible study. Because the power didn’t come from Paul; it came from God. And Paul’s God is your God. So you can be bold, too.
2. A Godly Minister Preaches with Integrity (v. 3).
In this context, the Greek word for “exhortation” means “to call” or “to summon”; and it has to do with an appeal not only to the intellect, but also to the emotions. In other words, Paul was preaching! Just like Pastor Kit does, Paul was leveling arguments and telling stories, employing metaphors and appealing to evidence–in order to make his point. And then in the end, he was calling on people to repent and trust Christ as Savior. Now, he may not have had a pulpit like this; but whether individually, or in small groups, or perhaps in larger settings, that was what he was doing.
However, there is a right and a wrong way to preach, isn’t there? Rhetoric is a powerful tool for good, but it can also be misused. So notice three “preaching pitfalls” Paul avoids. First, he didn’t exhort “from error.” Do you think it’s important that the preacher is accurate in what he says? It’s vital, isn’t it! Why is that so important? Because our faith is built on a foundation of doctrine. So if you get the doctrine wrong, the whole building is liable to crumble! That’s why pastors go to seminary. That’s why they spend hours every week studying and scripting out what we are going to say–because they want to get it just right!
There are a lot of people out there who say they’ve been sent by God, but they’re teaching error. That’s why it’s so important for us to be discerning and to make sure that what we say is the truth.
So Paul avoided the pitfall of preaching from error. He also avoided the pitfall of preaching “from uncleanness.” In his other letters, Paul always uses this word to refer to sexual immorality. However, in this context, he seems to be referring more generally to sin in general, and specifically to the sin of preaching with false motives. He will elaborate more on this in the next verse.
Finally, Paul avoided the pitfall of preaching “in (or ‘with’) deceit.” This is a reference to Paul’s rhetorical methods. Have you ever experienced a preacher who uses emotional manipulation or maybe even bait and switch tactics in order to get you to do something? We expect this kind of thing from telemarketers and used car salesmen–not from preachers of the gospel of Christ! I’ve heard preachers do this using invitations. “If you need to get saved, raise your hand so that I can pray for you. Now, if your hand is up, I want you to look right up here at me. Look me in the eye. I want you to stand up right now. Just stand up. Now, if you’re standing up, I want you to walk down this aisle so that you can pray to get saved.”
When Paul preached, he was straightforward. There was no fine print, no bait and switch, and no hocus pocus. He told you the truth and he spoke from his heart. He appealed to the emotions, but he avoided emotional manipulation. He called for a response, but he didn’t force it upon you. He preached with integrity.
A Godly Minister Preaches to an Audience of One (v. 4).
Here, Paul deals with what may very well have been one of the major accusations against him, and that was that he did it for the glory. Fame is a powerful motivator. One book I was reading this week on this passage pointed out that praise is addicting. What does that mean? Sometimes, people who start out with godly motives but receive a lot of notoriety, end up seeking to please men because they get addicted to that fame. And remember, the travelling philosophers were all about fame. They were rock stars and they knew it. They wanted people to tell them how smart they were and that they had changed their lives. They wanted to read their names in the paper.
But Paul categorically denies the charge of being in it for the glory! He says, “We don’t speak to please men; we speak to please God.” Some time ago, I heard this illustration that we should minister for an audience of one. Many times, even in ministry, we are torn with the thought, “What does that person think of me? Now, what does that other person think of me? And how can I make them both happy with me at the same time?” You can’t. So just stop trying. Next time you’re serving, just imagine that you’re standing in front of an auditorium, but it’s empty–except for one seat. But that one lonely seat is occupied by God, and He’s taking notes on your ministry. And when you’re finished, you and He are going to talk about how you did. That is the Christian life.
Now, that’s not to say that pleasing people has no place! Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:33, “I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” So wo don’t have permission to be rude and obnoxious! If we want to win people to Christ, we will seek to be winsome. When I’m preaching, I’m going to think about where you’re coming from, and I’ll avoid unnecessary offense–I’ll even try to make you laugh or share stories to help you as the listener bond with me as the speaker. On one level, I care a lot that you like me! But on another level, I couldn’t care less if you like me, as long as I know God is pleased.
That’s easy to say… but very hard to do. So I want you to see the truth that helped Paul to maintain this mindset (v. 4). Who approved Paul and Silas and entrusted them with the gospel? God! Now this is very interesting, because the church at Antioch commissioned them. It’s kind of like in our churches, who chooses the pastor–or even the deacons, for that matter? You voted on Pastor Kit! But at the same time, we know that when you voted, God spoke, so that it was ultimately God’s hand that selected our pastor. That truth should be tremendously encouraging to Pastor Kit, because he knows, “God sent me here. Therefore I report to God.” Now, he reports to you, too; but ultimately, he reports to God. Paul says, “Just as it was God who ultimately approved us, it is God whom we ultimately seek to please.”
Paul says in v. 6 that he didn’t seek glory from the Thessalonian believers or from “others.” Who were these “others”? I think it’s very likely that they were believers in other churches. Eventually, Paul was going to go back home and give a report of his ministry. It could be very tempting for him to serve for the praise of the apostles or the elders in Jerusalem or Antioch. There are lots of Christian workers would never dream of seeking honors from the world, but they would have a hard time parting with the honors that they receive from other pastors, or from seminaries, or from various other Christian organizations. Paul says, “That’s not why I do what I do.”
Now, some of the things Paul says about himself and Silas and Timothy in this passage are empirical, observable facts. You can’t argue with the fact that Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into jail in Philippi, but that they still preached in Thessalonica. You can’t argue with the fact that they didn’t ask for money. But someone could call into question their motives. So this is where Paul appeals to the only one who can vindicate him. He refers to God in v. 3 as the one “who tests our hearts.” Paul says, “God knows my heart.”
Before we move on, I need to ask about where your heart is at. Who are you seeking to please? Hopefully not me! I might not even notice what you’re doing! Hopefully I will, but I might not. Hopefully you’re not trying to please Pastor Kit, or the parents of the kids whom you teach, or the kids themselves(!), or other people in the church, who say, “Wow, what a servant so-and-so is! Look at how hard he works setting up chairs!” If you’re serving for a pat on the back, you are going to get very burnt out. So serve for God’s pleasure.
The godly minister continues preaching despite persecution, preaches with integrity, preaches for an audience of one, and–number four–he refuses flattery and greed.
A Godly Minister Refuses Flattery and Greed (v. 5).
How would you define flattery? One dictionary defined “flattery” this way: “excessive and insincere praise, especially that given to further one's own interests.” Flattery was a big deal in the ancient world; it was both common and despised. In fact, the Greek author, Plutarch, who lived during this time period, wrote a treatise on the subject entitled, “How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend.”
Why do people flatter? In order to get what they want. Someone said it this way: “Flattery is always a cover-up for some ulterior motive.” What ulterior motive was Paul presumably being accused of, according to v. 5? Greed! Again, in an honor-shame society, flattery is powerful! So you would have travelling philosophers who would cozy up to wealthy people in the city in order to obtain financial support. It’s a pretty simple arrangement: you tell me how great I am, and I pay for your dinner.
Could Paul have played that game? Could he have flattered people in order to make some cash? Sure! There were wealthy people in the church at Thessalonica! Acts 17:4 says that “not a few of the leading women joined Paul and Silas.” So Paul could have flattered these wealthy women. And it wasn’t like he didn’t need the money! He could have just slipped in some compliments here and there. Avoided preaching against particular sins those women were guilty of. Put on the charm at opportune times. But Paul, Silas, and Timothy refused to use flattery. Paul even backs it up with the phrase “as you know.” He was confident that he never even gave the impression of flattery. And he also calls God to witness.
There are some preachers today whose message can only be described as mass flattery. They tell people exactly what they want to hear. Watch out! Stay away! Preachers like that sometimes make a lot of money, but they are not pleasing to God, and they will not help you grow to be more like Jesus.
A Godly Ministers Doesn’t Throw His Weight Around (vv. 6-7).
The phrase, “When we might have made demands as apostles of Christ” is difficult to translate. It literally reads, “Although we are able to be in weight as apostles of Christ.” It’s actually very close to the English colloquialism of throwing one’s weight around. Paul says, “We could have acted like the big, bad apostles that we are. We could have demanded that offerings be taken to support us. We could have played our authority card often. But instead,” he says, “We were gentle among you. Just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.”
Now, we’ll talk more about the nursing mom metaphor next week, but for now; I want you to see that godly ministers don’t boss people around, even if they have the right to do so. Why? Because if you’re rough with the sheep, you risk hurting them.
Many pastors have failed because they over-played their authority card. I know of pastors who have pushed agenda items through business meetings when they never should have done that. We will tell men, if you’re constantly having to say, “I’m the husband; do what I say,” then you’re not a good leader. In the same way, if a pastor is having to constantly having to say, “I’m the pastor; do what I say,” then he’s not a good leader.
Paul and Silas were apostles! (By the way, that raises an interesting side-topic about how Silas could be considered an apostle and whether Timothy was one, as well. In short, the New Testament doesn’t always use the word “apostle” as narrowly as we usually do, so here, Paul could refer to Silas as an apostle. It is unlikely, however, that Paul considered Timothy to be an apostle, since he refers to himself as an apostle and Timothy as a brother in two of his other letters. If that evaluation is correct, then the difference would probably be that Silas saw Jesus, whereas Timothy did not.) But all that aside, Paul and Silas were apostles! You would think that it would have been appropriate for them to throw their weight around. But they didn’t do it. They were more concerned about the well-being of the Thessalonian Christians than they were about getting things done.
As we conclude today, I want to bring you back to that question I asked at the beginning. How are we as Christians going to avoid being lumped in with the religious phonies, self-help gurus, health fad experts, and used car salesmen as we aggressively pursue people with the gospel? The answer is not to be less aggressive. The answer is to hold ourselves to a much higher moral standard. And that standard is all about demonstrating selfless love.