Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, August 20, 2018
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Qualifications for God's Messengers

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

 Of course, we remember him as the Apostle Paul, one of the most revered figures in Christian history.  But in the first century, Paul was just a traveling preacher, a job that did not have a high status.  He was not in good company.  There were many traveling philosophers and teachers in the first century world, and they did not have a good reputation.  And we can see that reputation in the charges leveled against Paul in Thessalonica.  

 He had been accused of deceit and trickery.  Some said that he was out to deceive people and lead them into believing nonsense.

 He had been accused of “impure motives.”  Impurity could refer to sexual impurity.  Some “eastern religions” were accused of impurity for leading wives away from the religions of their husbands.  And certainly there have been cults that have had sexual abuse.  And there were some instances in the first century of wives becoming Christians without their husbands, so no doubt, the accusation was made.

 Paul had been accused of flattery.  A flatterer tries to become all things to all people.  When they talk to this group, they try to sound as if they belong to that group.  And when they talk to another group, one with a different set of values and beliefs, they try to sounds like one of them.  We often accuse politicians of this, and I think with good reason.  But it can happen in the Church, too.  I know it can because I’ve seen it.  

 A flatterer will change the message to suit the tastes of the audience.  As Christians, we need to be able to change the method to suit the listener.  Certainly, we can’t talk about the gospel in the same language with a child as with an adult.  And we can’t use the same words when we talk with a person who has never read the Bible as we can with someone who was raised in the Church.  We can change the method, but not the message.  The message has to stay true to God’s Word, or we become flatterers.

 Paul had been accused of greed, the lust for money.  The gospel, or any religion, can be a path to monetary gain and social influence.  I haven’t figured out how yet, but certainly some have.  All you have to do is look at the televangelists with tens of thousands of followers, earning millions of dollars, and living in mansions to see that it can be.  

 Paul had been accused of seeking praise, the approval of others, trying to please people rather than please God.

 Paul was used to answering these kinds of accusations.  We see his responses to them all through his letters.  

 He starts out by saying, “Our visit to you was not a failure.”  That was probably another accusation made against Paul in Thessalonica, since his visit there had been so brief.  He was only there for three Sabbaths, less than a month.  Then the Jewish leaders who opposed him, stirred up a mob and went looking for him.  When they couldn’t find him, they seized the man who had received Paul and Silas into his home and dragged him before the authorities.  They accused Paul and Silas of “turning the world upside down,” upsetting the order of society, and treason against the Empire.  Paul and his companions had to leave town under the cover of night.  The story is recounted in Acts 17.  But in spite of all this, it was not a failure.  Some heard and believed; both Jews and God-fearing Greeks.  

 Even for Paul and his companions to minister in Thessalonica required courage after their experience in Philippi, the first city they visited in Macedonia.  There Paul and Silas were arrested, beaten, and imprisoned without trial.  No doubt some used that episode as another charge against Paul.  Why should anyone listen to a person who had been imprisoned?  Obviously, they must be a bad character, otherwise they wouldn’t have been imprisoned.  Well, if we follow that logic, then we are never going to hear from Nelson Mandela, or Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mahatma Gandhi, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  And I’m pretty sure each of them has something worth hearing!  The world will always resist people who speak the truth, because the truth will always challenge the evil systems of the world.  

 Just because a person has spent time in jail doesn’t mean they have nothing to teach others.  When Sharon and I were in seminary, one of our classmates was a former felon.  He had served time for bank fraud.  But it was in prison that he came back to faith in Christ.  After prison, he felt called into ministry.  But he could not find a denomination, including United Methodist, that would ordain him to ministry because of his criminal record.  He is still in ministry today, but not ordained, his calling to ministry has never been recognized by a church.

 It takes courage to continue serving God after being rejected and mistreated.  And certainly such actions demonstrated the purity of Paul’s motives.  If he was just out for money or praise or status, then being beaten and imprisoned would have put an end to his ministry!  He was seeking God’s approval, not that of human beings.  

 Only God knows our motives, and certainly people preach the gospel for many different motives.  That was one of the things we talked about in our “Introduction to Ministry” class in seminary.  We have to be self-aware of our own motives and recognize that sometimes we do have mixed motives.  As long as we know it, then we can watch out for our ulterior motives at work.

 Paul goes on, “I was not looking or praise or money.  I didn’t make demands of you.”  Paul had that right as an apostle.  He could ask the churches to support him financially for his work.  But Paul chose not to exercise that right.  He kept his day job, making tents, so as not to be a burden.  

 He concludes, “You are our witnesses, as is God, that we were pure and honest and faultless toward you.”  Others could make accusations, but Paul hoped it was obvious to all who observed his work that he was doing it for the right motives.  

 What can we learn from Paul’s example and his words about sharing the gospel with others?  

 I think the lesson is that the message will be lost if the messenger is not trusted.  You can proclaim the absolute truth, and proclaim it well, but if other people don’t trust you, they won’t receive your message.  Human beings don’t just listen to the words; they also look at who is speaking them.  

 So how can we be trusted?  

 First, our walk must be worthy of God.  In verse 12, Paul says, literally in the Greek, that he wants his readers to “walk worthy of God.”  In the Greek language, as often in English, a person’s walk is their lifestyle.  We say, “You have to walk the talk.”  

 If the message we proclaim is at odds with the way we live, then other people will only believe one of them.  And as the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”  If we proclaim trust in God, but we are always worrying about things, then people won’t believe it.  If we proclaim self-control, but people see us flying off the

handle all the time, they won’t believe it.  If we proclaim love for neighbor, but we ignore the needs of others and only look out for ourselves, people won’t believe it.  

 Second, our goal must be to build others up.  Paul uses the imagery of mother and father in this passage.  In every culture, the primary responsibility of mothers and fathers is to nurture, teach, encourage, and challenge children to reach their full potential.  Likewise, it is the job of every Christian to do these things in the lives of others.  We are to help each other learn a Christian way of living in the world and grow toward maturity in faith.  If our goal is self-centered or selfish, then people will figure that out, and they won’t trust us.  And unfortunately, too often in the American Church, that’s how we think of our faith; a matter of self-interest only.

 Finally, along with that, we must share our lives as well.  Paul says in verse 8, “We loved you so much we gave you not only God’s good news but our own lives, as well.”  More than just a message, we need to share ourselves.  We need to be available to other people and for other people.  When someone is in need, we have to be ready to help.  And we must build relationships with other people.  It’s very unusual for a person to come into a relationship with God without first coming into meaningful relationships with godly people.  

 And all of this is important because if people don’t hear the gospel and see the gospel in the lives of God’s people, then they are not likely to hear it or see it at all.  As has been pointed out, “You are the gospel that some people will ever see.”  Are they seeing the gospel in you?  

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