Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, July 31, 2021
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Sharing the Good News

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

What does it take to share the gospel? What kind of character does a gospel proclaimer need? How should it be done? What will lead to success in sharing the gospel? I think Paul has a lot to say about those questions here.

Paul mentions his visit to Thessalonica, so let’s start with that. Paul went there on his second missionary journey, which begins in Acts 16. After traveling through Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, he receives a vision from God telling him to go to Macedonia.

They cross the Aegean Sea and come to Philippi. They have some early success there, but then they meet with opposition. Paul and Silas are arrested, publicly stripped of their clothes, beaten with wooden rods, and thrown in jail. If you know the story, you know that of all things, they share the gospel with the jailer and he comes to faith. The next day, the authorities find out that they have beaten Roman citizens, which Paul and Silas both were, without a trial. Which was kind of a no-no. Nonetheless, they make them leave town.

They go on to Thessalonica. So they are arriving as “people with a police record,” so to say. After meeting such opposition and suffering in Philippi, will they still want to continue this work? Obviously, they do. “God gave us the courage,” Paul says. Only a courageous person will proclaim the gospel. Because, when we do, we will encounter opposition from the world. The gospel message is always going to be a scandal to the world. And Paul tells us that the source of true courage is God. We can’t have the courage to face opposition unless we know that there is a power behind us that is greater than the world.

But again, Paul’s time in Thessalonica was cut short. Again, they met with opposition. This time it was from the leaders of the Jewish synagogue. They left the city and left Macedonia behind. It would have been tempting for Paul to say his visit to Macedonia was a failure. He went to two cities and met opposition in both. His time was cut short. But Paul knows it was not a failure. The gospel was proclaimed and people responded. New churches were founded in both cities. The word of God goes out into the world and it will not return empty. If we have the courage to proclaim the gospel, God will work through that.

But after Paul left, we find out that there were some who accused him of impropriety. We don’t know exactly who these opponents of Paul were. They might have been Jewish leaders, angry that some in the synagogue had joined the church. They might have been Roman authorities, upset that more people were joining up with

this “strange, foreign religion.” They might have been Paul’s opponents within the Church. Paul had frequent problems with the “Judaizers.” These were Jews who became Christians but who insisted that Gentiles had to become fully Jewish in order to follow Christ, an idea the Church at its meeting in Jerusalem in Acts 15 rejected.

There were many different traveling teachers and philosophers in the first century world. Various Greek philosophies, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Neo-Platonism, and eastern religions, Zoroastrianism and the so-called mystery cults, had teachers who would travel about. To many, Paul was just another traveling philosopher. And the same kinds of accusations were made against all of them. We see Paul answering these accusations numerous times in his letters.

But it is so very important that the gospel be proclaimed with good motives. Our goal must be to love people and honor God. And obviously, some have other motives. And when those motives come to light, it reflects poorly on the cause of Christ.

We’ve seen that many times. The first in my memory was evangelist Jim Bakker of The PTL Club. He lived a lavish lifestyle off of money donated to his ministry and resigned after accusations of sexual misconduct. The most recent was Jerry Falwell, Jr., formerly president at Liberty University. He resigned this past summer after posting a photo to Instagram of himself with a young, pregnant woman who was not his wife, both of them with pants unbuttoned, and himself holding what appeared to be booze, on board his private yacht. And some other things came to light after that which were even more scandalous. He may have been the president of a university, but he wasn’t very smart. These things hurt the cause of Christ. Many people see these kinds of things and say, “Those Christians are a bunch of charlatans and hypocrites. They claim to be holier than thou, but they’re just in it for the money.”

Paul was accused of “deceit and trickery.” He was accused of deliberately spreading a message he knew to be false. If the internet has taught us anything, it has taught us that there are many people who will deliberately spread messages they know to be false. It’s roughly half the internet, give or take.

Paul was accused of “impurity.” This has a sexual connotation to it. Many people accused these traveling philosophers and teachers of “trying to seduce women away from their husbands.” And there were some in the first century who saw the Church as something scandalous. When they saw Christians greet each other with “the kiss of peace,” and heard about them celebrating a “love feast,” which was what they called the Lord’s Supper, and heard the rumors of how Christians would “eat the body and drink the blood of Christ,” their minds went to some interesting places.

Paul was accused of being “out to please people and flattery.” These have the implication of seeking financial gain. And this was a frequent problem in the early Church. We actually see it in the Book of Acts. A man named Simon, when he saw the miracles done by the apostles, when he saw the gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, he knew he could get rich with this. So he wanted to buy the power of the apostles. There was an early Christian book called, The Didache, written somewhere around 100 AD. It included these instructions: “If he asks for money, he is a false prophet… If he has a trade, let him work and eat. If he has no trade, provide that he will not live idly among you,” as in, “Give him a job.” “If he will not work, he is an enemy of Christ.” This is still a problem. From time to time I see people attack the Church based on the lavish lifestyles of a few, often “prosperity gospel preachers.”

And finally, Paul was accused of “seeking praise from people.” Some people want, even need, adulation. If they don’t hear, “Wonderful sermon, pastor,” then it was all for nothing. I know someone’s going to say that to me at the end of the service now.

False motives will be found out, if not in this lifetime, then when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

Paul says instead, “We were gentle among you.” Gentleness is a character trait that is not as valued as it should be. A gentle person is considerate, respectful, humble, and willing to learn. Too often, we value pride and the confident assurance that someone already has all the answers. As someone once said, “Better to have questions without answers than answers that can’t be questioned.” Without gentleness, we can’t hope to gain a hearing from many people.

Paul goes on, “We had a right to make some demands of you, but we didn’t.” Paul did receive support from the churches he served. In his letter to the Philippians, he thanked them for the money they sent. But in first century Judaism, rabbis were expected to practice a trade and not just to be supported by their teaching. The early Church, for the most part, kept that ethic.

Paul concludes, “We loved you so much that we shared not only the gospel but our lives as well.” If we want people to receive the message we have, then we need to share ourselves, too. We need to be available to people. We need to give our time to others. Often that’s the hardest thing to give. I know it’s a struggle for me quite often. But people won’t hear the message we have about Jesus unless they can see that our love for them is genuine.

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