Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, September 21, 2018
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A Recipe For Disciple Making

1st Thessalonians 2:1-8

 One of the things you’ll hear me say from time to time is that “context is key.”  If you want to understand many passages of Scripture, you just have to know what’s happening around that passage.  Our lesson today is one of those times.  Paul is recalling his visit to the cities of Philippi and Thessalonica, and if we want to know why he’s saying the things he’s saying; we need to know about that visit.

 Fortunately for us, it is recorded in Scripture.  Acts, chapters 16 and 17 tell us about those two visits.  It begins with Paul receiving a vision from God instructing him to go from the province of Asia, Turkey today, to the region of Macedonia.  Macedonia is immediately north of Greece.  Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke obey the vision and go.

 Their first stop is Philippi, and they have early success there.  They were making converts to Christ, but then a controversy arose.  There was a certain slave girl who was possessed by a demonic spirit.  Her owners used her to make money as a fortune teller.  Paul cast the spirit out of her, and her owners, suddenly deprived of their income, were very angry and formed a mob against Paul and Silas.  They accused them of preaching a message of disloyalty to Rome, and the city council orders Paul and Silas to be beaten and imprisoned without trial.  In a way, it worked out for the best because that is also the story of how the Philippian jailer came to Christ.  The next day, the authorities discovered that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, and it was against Roman law to beat or imprison a citizen without trial.  So they were released, but the authorities told them to leave the region immediately.

 They went down to Thessalonica and continued their work of evangelism.  Would we?  I mean, that takes courage.  It would take courage not just to continue the same thing that got you beaten physically, but also to continue to work after the embarrassment of imprisonment.  A lot of people won’t give you a chance if they find out you’ve been in trouble with the law, but Paul wasn’t about to let that stop him from doing God’s will.

 Once again, they had early success in Thessalonica.  But again, opposition soon arose.  This time it came from the Jewish synagogue leaders who formed a mob and tried to find Paul.  When they couldn’t find him, they went after the converts to Christ that Paul had already reached.  And once again, after a short while, Paul was forced to leave town.

 Again, he went down the road to Berea and tried again.  But before long, the troublemakers in Thessalonica came after him and stirred up the same opposition.  So, it was “three strikes and you’re out” and Paul left the region of Macedonia and went to Greece.  Sounds like a strikeout to me.

 And yet, Paul wrote, “our visit to you was not a failure!”  How could he say such a thing?  He said it because “God gave him the courage to declare the good news in spite of great opposition.”  And at least some heard and responded to the good news!

 From there Paul went on to defend his ministry, which is something that we see Paul do over and again in his letters.  Now it was a defense for him, but I see something different for us.  I see in Paul’s defense of his disciple-making work a recipe for success for us as disciple-makers!  And I think most of the things that Paul did as an evangelist are timeless.  They apply equally in every time and place.

 First, we must have pure motives.  

What is our motive when we try to make disciples of Christ?  Are we trying to please God and be a blessing to others?  Or are we trying to benefit ourselves in some way?  

Paul and other early Christian apostles and evangelists were often accused of wrong motives.  Some said they were out to deceive or trick people.  And surely there are some people who “get a kick” out of deceiving people into believing lies.  I think it explains some of the strange cults out there in the world.  

Or they were accused of having “impure motives,” which was a nice way of saying sexual motives.  One of the interesting facts of history is that the Romans, who were not known for good sexual ethics, often thought there was something sexually deviant going on in the early Church.  For example, early Christians celebrated communion together as part of a meal called a love feast.  And when the Romans heard of Christians celebrating a “love feast,” well their minds went into the gutter, so to say.  

Also, it seems that the early Church attracted more women than men.  Funny how it seems that has been the case to this very day.  But some people thought that the Christians were “seducing” women away from their husbands to be “brides of Christ,” which again was thought of as something unseemly.  

Nor was Paul there with a desire to benefit himself financially, by taking advantage of others.  Now I do affirm the idea of a “professional clergy,” that is, a paid, professional group of folks who work full time for the Church.  I’d better affirm that since that’s what I do.  It’d be funny if I disapproved.  And I think the Scriptures make it clear that those who labor full time for the Kingdom should be supported financially.  Paul affirms it right here in this passage when he talks about the right of an apostle to be supported by the Church, though he himself often asked not to be supported.  

But I will also admit that religion can be used for financial gain, and that has happened far too many times.  Again, it’s something that often happens in cults.  But it also happens in the Church.  Just recently, there was a story about a priest in the Pittsburgh area who had been living very well at the expense of his church.  Not too long ago we had a pastor thrown out of our conference for some type of embezzlement.  And of course there are the high profile cases of televangelists and pastors of mega-churches who have been living a little too well.  

By the way, I think the temptation for financial gain can afflict the church as a whole, as well.  More than once I’ve heard church members say, “We need to get some more people in here so we have enough money.”  I don’t think that should be our motive in making disciples!

Our only motive should be to honor God with our obedience to his command to make disciples and to be a blessing to others by sharing the good news.

Second, we should be gentle and caring, seeking to meet the needs of others.  

In this passage, Paul compares himself to a mother, using that as a picture of gentleness.  I hesitate even to mention that or even use the word “gentle” because in a way, I think we’ve become too “gentle” as Christians.  We’ve become too passive, too submissive, not at all willing to put our faith out there for people to see.  

I think there is a place for gentleness in the Christian life as long as we understand that gentleness is not weakness.  I don’t believe the Christian life should ever be thought of as a “weak” life.  We should be strong, but have strength under control.

I think a better way to think of gentleness is to think of it as the opposite of harshness.  We are not going to make disciples if we act harshly.  We won’t make

disciples if we belittle and slander other people’s opinions.  We won’t make disciples if we make a brash or rude presentation of the gospel.  “If you don’t believe in Jesus, you’re going to hell!”  Theologically accurate?  Yes.  Helpful?  No.  

Instead, we should meet people where they are.  We should find out what they believe and try to affirm what we can.  We should talk about our own story and our beliefs and be able to explain why we believe as we do.  

And along the way, we should seek to meet the needs of others.  The phrase in vogue among many church growth people today is “need-based evangelism,” a fancy way of saying that we share the gospel as we to meet people’s needs.  People need more than just to know the love of Jesus.  They need to have their basic needs met.  They need to have dignity and purpose in life.  They need to be set free from the addictions and prisons that hold them.  And we should be about those things and share the gospel as we do them.  If we just try to meet non-spiritual needs, then we become just another social service agency.  And if we just talk about Jesus, then our voice is often not heard.  But if we do both together, if we meet the needs of the body and the spirit, we find our true potential as the Church.

And finally, as Paul says, love people enough that you share not just the gospel, but your life as well.  Share your whole being with others.  Don’t just share what you believe, but also share your time, your abilities, your physical presence, your possessions.  That neighbor that you’ve tried talking about Jesus with?  Don’t just talk about Jesus.  Invite them over.  Help them out when they need it.  Loan them something they need.  Be supportive of them when they’re having a hard time.  Don’t just share the gospel, share everything.

How can we expect people to want to come among us and become one of us if there is no door into our lives?  We are called as Christians to be the presence of Christ in every place we are:  In our homes, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, the organizations we belong to, and so on.

I think those are timeless principles for making disciples.  If we have ulterior motives, people will see them.  If we are harsh, we turn people off.  If we don’t try to meet the needs of people, our message rings hollow.  And if we try to share our beliefs without opening our whole lives up to people, they don’t have a reason to want to believe what we do.

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