The successful Church
Is there such a thing as a 'successful Church'? And if there is, what does this look like and how can we become one? This is our theme for May and June 2019 as we journey through the book of 1 Thessalonians, a Church that was discovering much about God's heart for who they should be.
Who should we be out to please? AM
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Successful Church – Who should we be out to please?
1 Thessalonians 2: 1-12
With the question of who should we be out to please the answer is obviously God… so let’s close in prayer… but do we in reality live like that, or are we ‘people pleasers’ or actually out to hope that we look good?
This chapter looks like Paul is trying to justify what he’s done and what his motive was or wasn’t. There’s been some gossip and slander since his departure, that could’ve proved divisive and destructive. He wants to correct what they’ve heard, to be honest about what he and his team were about and to remind them of what, deep down, they knew already but had just been thrown by recent events.
Their judgment has become clouded. The reality is that Paul has sought to share with people the truth about Jesus, and then has subsequently sought to teach them and build them up. That’s the ongoing purpose of the Church – reaching and teaching, then dealing with the flack as and when things hit the fan! Paul does all of that as he seeks to assure the Church in this loving letter.
Expect a spanner to be thrown into the works
Mistreated In Acts 16 we read about Paul and Silas being seized and dragged into the marketplace before all the rulers (Acts 16: 19). Actually, this was one of the three times when he was beaten with thick rods and then thrown into prison, a Roman form of punishment. There, although he and Silas were thrust into stocks and held immobile, they began to sing praise songs to God. Furthermore, Paul had suffered insult and mockery by being stripped of his clothes in public by order of the magistrates in Philippi. His Roman citizenship had been ignored. Even when he was freed by an earthquake he was ordered out of town by the authorities. Yet he still went on to Thessalonica, knowing that the same thing might happen. It doesn’t go much better in there, as the Jews attack Jason’s house because they were looking for Paul and Silas. Paul says they go “in our God”. That doesn’t mean he never got nervous or felt afraid. When he came into Corinth and began to preach, he did so, in his own words, "with much fear and trembling," (1 Corinthians 2: 3).
There are many reasons we do not witness or share their faith, but no doubt, fear is the underlying issue - fear of failure, fear of ridicule, fear of hostility... Is this because we do it all in our own strength? Christians will face opposition.
Opposition - Christians will experience difficulties simply because of their faith in Jesus. Peter offered the same encouragement to the Christians he wrote to. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:12–14 ESV).
Be wise in correcting what is not true
When we read what Paul says this is far more than him seeking to vindicate his behaviour or what he said. He is setting out a model for how they as a Church should be, and he wants them to follow that model. The purpose in his words comes out in v.12, that they “live lives worthy of God.” This goal is so important that Paul uses three different words to show this purpose. He and his companions ‘exhorted, encouraged, and charged’ them to walk in a manner worthy of God. If we want the Church to be like that, then leaders need to model it. If I want people to speak in a right way even when they are angry, then I need to ensure that I speak in a right way.
There is a constant challenge for anyone in Leadership that the way they live and speak is above reproach and something that others respect as a pattern of behaviour to aspire to. That’s why it’s harder when I feel I let people down… but, in the words of Rag ‘n’ Bone man, “I’m only human after all…”
Be sure of your motives
Motive 1 - “So we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts” (4). Paul is clear. JR said, “Oh it must be so hard trying to please everybody all of the time.” I’m not trying to please anyone.
“Find out what pleases the Lord” (Eph 5: 10).
It is probably true that “he who tries to please everyone, pleases no one.” Whenever our primary aim is to please people, we lose our capacity to please God. Conversely, only when we seek to please God and speak according to His Word in love, do we truly have the capacity to minister effectively to others. Pleasing people stems from wrong motives such as fear of rejection, desire for approval, power, praise, and so on.
Motive 2 - WWJD wristbands? We should not make decisions based on what other people think. We should not live our lives under the fear of the reaction of others. We should live to please God. Why? Because He is the only One we are each accountable to, ultimately. Living a life worthy of God means we will care about what God thinks first.
Focus on what you know
Paul had been with the Thessalonians only for a short time. His enemies had accused him of being a self-seeking peddler of this new message of the Gospel, but he could appeal to their personal knowledge of the character of his ministry. In fact, six times he appealed to their knowledge of his life (1: 5; 2: 1, 2, 5, 11; 4: 2). His ministry in its manner of life, motives, and methods were above reproach so much so that he could even appeal to the witness of God (2: 5). This forces us to ask ourselves two questions. First, if we ‘hear’ things about another, before jumping to conclusions we ought to ask, “What do I know of this person?” Second, are our own motives pure? What are the motives, methods, and the means we employ as we seek to serve God here? "God tests the heart." Blameless.
Let the evidence speak for itself
Paul genuinely cared for these people. He shared his whole self with them, all that he was. Being a Christian is about having relationships with each other and genuinely caring for each other. We do not easily open up to others, especially men. We put our walls up and do not let people in, especially if we have previously been hurt. But that is not walking worthy of God if we are to follow Paul’s example of this. That implies that we can’t just say, “Well that’s not me, I’m not made that way.” Rather, we need to be willing to learn what it means to ‘share our whole lives’ with our brothers and sisters. If we don’t, we are the ones who will miss out – maybe even being disobedient.
In just 3 weeks with them, Paul could say that they knew that he cared for them because he shared his life with them, which one commentator expressed as "the giving of something by which the giver retains a part and the receiver has a part so that they both share in the matter." Not months or years. He immediately opened up to them and shared both the Gospel and his own life. We can be willing to give out our opinions on the Word, but we aren’t willing to give of ourselves. To give the Gospel without the willingness to give of ourselves to others as we are able is a contradiction because central to the Gospel is a message about the giving of God’s Son and, willingly, His giving of His own life… for us (1 John 4). Mother & Father What God is telling us to do is live is a way that shows that you understand what God has done. Live your life in a way that shows who you are. Live your life in a way that reflects what you have been called Kingdom & Glory
- In chapter 1 we saw a model Church and now in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 we have seen a model for ministry on all levels whether Elders, Deacons, Kids workers, leaders of small groups, or whatever. These verses highlight the follow up needed to see believers grow and become stable productive Christians. In this regard, we each need to be faithful stewards, loving mothers, and concerned and involved fathers. At the heart of this is our faithfulness to God and His precious Word, our training manual.
Mistreated - Paul reminds these Christians how he and his companions had been mistreated in Philippi. “Mistreated” is hubrizo, “to abuse, to treat shamefully.” “The word expresses insulting and outrageous treatment and especially treatment which is calculated publicly to insult and openly to humiliate…”
Opposition - “Opposition” is agon from which we get our word agony. Agon suggests “intense effort and strenuous exertion in the face of hostility and conflict.” Undoubtedly, by the use of this word, the Apostle had in mind both inward and outward conflict that believers often face in ministry if they are faithful to God’s calling and purpose.
Motive 1 - Paul says that he does not speak from error, impurity, or attempting to deceive. He did not come to them with words of flattery or a pretext for greed. He did not seek glory from people or make demands as apostles of Jesus, as if they should get special treatment. The point Paul makes is that walking worthy of God means having pure hearts and pure motives. This is what Paul displayed to these Christians. As well as our being discerning of the motives of others we need to know our own motives.
Motive 2 - So is it positive or negative if someone says, “I don’t care what people think.” Depends on the attitude behind it. If the attitude behind it is arrogance and they are going to say and do what they want, then that means trouble. If they don’t care what people think because they’re so focused on only pleasing God, then that’s to be respected and applauded.
Blameless - Paul was blameless in his own eyes. In the Bible this never means ‘sinlessness’. Paul did not think of himself as sinless. What he means is: He is honest and has dealt with his sin. Aware of it, he does something about it. He does not cover it over because he knows, as he puts it, "God tests the heart." God knows what is going on inside so Paul is strictly honest with himself, does not deceive himself, but confesses his wrong and so is blameless.
Mother & Father - Paul showed his care for them, “like a nursing mother cares for her children” (2: 7). This is again quite a challenge for those in Leadership. Listen to the next picture he gives in verse He was like father with his children. This may conjure up a variety of images for us depending on our own experience of course, but Paul is referring to the way he sought to teach and pass on his knowledge. That culturally was the role of the father figure in the home. Fathers today are too often weak and leave this to the mother in the home.
Kingdom & Glory - Kingdom & Finally, note the phrase, “His own kingdom and glory.” This strongly reminds us that there are other kingdoms and other kinds of glory that are competing for our allegiance. It is also a picture of living in the light of eternity. That should be our motivation. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8: 18 ESV).