1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Paul and Silas were in Thessalonica for a short time before they were driven out by persecution. After making their way from Thessalonica to Corinth, Paul and Silas wrote a letter to the Church in Thessalonica to encourage them. The message starts with an expression of thankfulness for the testimony of the Thessalonian believers. Reports of the work of God that occurred in Thessalonica had spread wherever Paul and Silas traveled.
The Apostle Paul makes special mention of the fact that the Thessalonians became imitators, or followers, of Paul and Silas. In 1 Thessalonians 1:6, he says,
And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit... (I Thessalonians 1:6 NKJV)
Paul was especially thankful for this evidence of the work of God in the lives of the Thessalonians.
We call the process of learning to walk as a Christian “discipleship.” Discipleship involves learning to imitate Christ. Learning to imitate Christ starts with following the examples of those who follow Christ. Today we are considering 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12. This passage is about the process of learning to follow, in other words, discipleship.
Discipleship, or learning, is essential to the Christian life. Another name for Christian is Christ-follower. In the gospels, those that followed Christ were called disciples. Jesus singled out twelve of His disciples and called them Apostles. These twelve were entrusted with passing on the teachings of Jesus through the process of discipleship. This process has continued down to the present day. Therefore, we are still called Christians or Christ-followers. Our mission as a church is to make disciples.
Who we learn from and what we learn are crucial. It is essential that we follow sound teachers and teaching. If we follow the wrong leader, we will end up in the wrong place. If we learn the wrong things, we will end up confused, confounded, and deceived.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12, Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers what and who they imitated and reassures them that they have not been deceived or tricked.
In today’s world, it is as important as it was back then for us to be careful of who and what we are imitating. Today, in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12, we are going to see the marks of a good leader or teacher.
The first mark that Paul and Silas modeled is sincerity.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2, Paul writes that the Thessalonians themselves knew that Paul and Silas’ coming to them was not in vain. Vain means empty. Vain can have two meanings in this context. One meaning is that the teaching produced no results. The other is that the teaching had no value or purpose. While the first meaning is undoubtedly true concerning Paul and Silas’ ministry; from what follows, we can see that Paul means the second. Their teaching had purpose. The results produced were not useless or meaningless, but rather the results produced were of eternal value. Paul says their coming to the Thessalonians was not in vain and he begins speaking of the purpose and character of the ministry that he and Silas did in Thessalonica.
One of the first things that can be said about empty or vain ministry is that it lacks sincerity. When a ministry lacks sincerity, it produces vain or meaningless results. A lack of sincerity can also be called hypocrisy and people hate hypocrisy. We even hate hypocrisy when we see it in ourselves.
The sincerity of Paul and Silas’ ministry is first seen in their willingness to suffer for the cause. This is the first proof that Paul points to in telling the Thessalonian believers that their ministry was not in vain. He says, “You yourselves know...” They saw Paul and his companions mistreated and slandered for their faithful proclamation of the truth, and they heard the news and saw the evidence of their mistreatment in Philippi. This demonstration of sincerity is why the saying came into existence: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Paul explains this sincerity by saying:
“For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit. (I Thessalonians 2:3 NKJV)
Having the certainty that what one is teaching is true, being confident one is not working from hidden motives, and knowing that one is not lying are what sincerity is.
Sincerity is the first mark of gospel ministry we must find before we follow. The next mark we need to look for is devotion. What are we and our teachers devoted to?
The Apostle shifts to talking about their devotion to God when he says:
But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. (I Thessalonians 2:4 NKJV)
Their devotion began with the conviction that they were called, or as Paul says, “approved” by God to be entrusted with the gospel. This truth has far-reaching implications for the life and practice of the servant of the Lord.
Paul’s calling was unique. Jesus met Paul on the road between Jerusalem and Damascus. At the time, Paul was a violent persecutor of the Church. Jesus told Paul that he would serve Jesus. This call was unmistakable.
Even though you and I will not meet Jesus on the Damascus road, our calling is just as sure. If you are a believer in Christ, you have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. The gospel is what we believe and confess. If one does not have the gospel, that person is not saved. There is only one name given by which we must be saved. My calling is different from your calling. Each person’s calling and gifting is unique. Some people are gifted in ministering to children. Others are gifted with construction and buildings. Devotion to God shows itself in devotion or faithfulness to the calling that He gives.
Since God gives the calling, it follows that one must work to please God, not men. Working to please men is idolatry and pride. It is devotion to one’s self and not to God. Devotion to God is to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and strength and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. Loving someone does not necessarily mean pleasing them. When it comes to a choice, devotion calls on us to please God, not men.
This is basic Christianity. If we are to follow Jesus, we must live to please His Father.
The Apostle Paul’s devotion also showed itself when he said:
For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness— God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. (I Thessalonians 2:5-6 NKJV)
Covetousness, glory-seeking, and making demands will always signal that a person is devoted to his or her self and not to God.
Devotion grows out of sincerity. Conviction without hypocrisy leads to service without reservation.
This leads us to another mark we must look for before we follow.
Before I name this third mark, I want to point out a truth about God, our Father, the One to whom we are devoted.
Jesus told us:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 NKJV)
It should shock us to think that someone sincerely devoted to God would not share in His affection for the world God so dearly loves.
The third mark we must look for in those we follow is affection - love.
Look at what Paul says about their affection for the Thessalonians.
But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing 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 dear to us. (I Thessalonians 2:7-8 NKJV)
In this text, the Apostle expresses great affection, and then he says that he and his companions were pleased to give even their own lives for these people. Just as God was willing to give His own Son, they were willing to give their lives, which they did.
I understand how people can get disillusioned with church. I have been disillusioned with church at times.
Let me share a story with you. When I was working as a missionary in Japan, I was pastor of a Japanese church. One night I was riding back from an outing with a group of Japanese pastors, and I was asking for advice on helping a couple of people in the church with a couple issues. I made some comment lamenting the fact that churches always seem to have problems. One of the pastors quoted a Proverb to me. I had read it. I had read the Proverbs numerous times. However, I had never really noticed it, but when I heard it in Japanese, it struck me with the force of truth I will always remember. The Proverb is:
Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. (Proverbs 14:4 ESV)
Wherever people gather regularly, there will be messes, but if we stop gathering because of this, we miss out on the harvest, the blessings, and the riches that others bring with them.
Are we willing to impart our lives to our brothers and sisters in Christ?
Every problem is an opportunity to grow and to learn. We are all broken, and broken things can be frustrating. When things do not work as they should, and when things are not done the right way, we tend to get frustrated. What we do with our frustration says a lot about us.
I have a strong tendency to try not to stir things up. Often I do not say things that need to be said. I have been rebuked many times by meditating on Leviticus 19:17. It says:
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. (Leviticus 19:17 ESV)
The Lord is clear. When someone offends us, we are to go to that person and let them know. To not do this is to hate that person and to dismiss them as unworthy of our time. However, there are times when we are on the other side, and we have offended someone. In that case, the Lord is clear. We are to go to the one we have offended and make it right. To not do so is to hate that person and discount their feelings as unimportant.
Ephesians 4:15 tells us to speak the truth in love, and Ephesians 4:29 says:
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29 ESV)
Affection is an essential part of being a Christian. Affection is a mark we must look for in those we follow. Where love is lacking, we must repent.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12, the Apostle Paul teaches us what to look for in those we follow. To be more like Jesus, we need to exhibit these marks in our lives and find those to follow who show these marks in their lives. These marks are:
How are we measuring up?