Sunday School Lesson - 1 Thess. 2:1-12 - "AUTHENTIC" WITNESSING
INTRODUCTION: Last week in 1 Thess. 1:12-18, we heard the apostle Paul report an incredible example of what a few committed, Spirit-led Christians can accomplish in just a few weeks. One of the truths we learned from it is this: as 21st Century Christians in the Ozark foothills of Arkansas, because we're equipped with the very same conviction of the Holy Spirit, we have the power to accomplish what these people did if we truly put our minds and hearts into it. We discussed six points of personal application, but I'm going to limit our review to just three of them: (1) A "church" isn't just a building or location. A church can be any group of Christian believers who simply gather together for prayer, worship, and fellowship. The idea behind this is that the people of a church need to get out of their pews and comfort zones in order to go out and share their witness with the lost wherever they live. In Paul's report, the gospel wasn't spread in a building but by people who shared their witness for Jesus Christ by word of mouth. (2) Being an "imitator" of an experienced Christian witness takes practice. To be an effective witness for Christ, you've got to be prepared. You might remember from Act 11:25-26, that Paul and Barnabas trained together for a year in Antioch before they left on their first missionary journey. And like the Thessalonians in relation to Paul's team, we can learn from the example of experienced Christians who serve in our own church. (3) The lost people who populate the area around our church aren't much different than the pagan Gentiles of Paul's time. Like the pagan Greeks, many of them are "spiritually ignorant"-people who've grown up in a secular human culture who know little to nothing about the living God. They've never really attended a church and haven't read the Bible. They worship modern idols like pleasure, entertainment, sports, and material possessions. This is our mission field.
This week, in 1 Thess. 2:1-12, Paul is going to give some us valuable instruction on both the "don'ts and dos" of how to be an authentic witness for Jesus Christ. He did this out of a desire to defend the authenticity of his ministry to these newly-saved Thessalonian believers for two reasons: After he and Silas were forced to leave, the local Jews began conducting a smear campaign against them, claiming (1) that they were just engaged in a scheme to get money from them for their support and (2) that their "religious" authority to talk to them was fake-that they weren't qualified to teach them anything. Let's see what Paul has to say about himself and his team:
Read 1 Thess. 2:1-2 - BOLD PROCLAMATION AMID OPPOSITION
1 For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our reception among you was not in vain, 2 but after we had already suffered and been treated abusively in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.
v. 1: "For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our reception among you was not in vain" - The next two verses start what's known as Paul first defense. Notice that he addresses them as "brothers and sisters," equals, not subordinates. He begins by reminding the Thessalonians of what they already know: That their own positive response to the gospel had resulted in spreading it to Macedonia, Achaia, and beyond (reported in 1:5-10). The verse could be paraphrased to say that: "folks, our visit to you wasn't for nothing because of what you have accomplished since we left."
v. 2: "but after we had already suffered and been treated abusively in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition" - Paul reminds them of his very similar experience in Philippi to let them know that persecution would never prevent him from bringing the gospel message to those who would hear it. Today, the gospel is counter-culture; opposition is inevitable. The culture wants us to stay in our churches and mind our own business-to keep our opinions to ourselves rather than impose our "beliefs" on others.
Read 1 Thess. 2:3-6 - THREE "DO NOTS" OF AUTHENTIC CHRISTIAN WITNESS
3 For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not intending to please people, but to please God, who examines our hearts. 5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed-God is our witness- 6 nor did we seek honor from people, either from you or from others, though we could have asserted our authority as apostles of Christ.
v. 3: "For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit" - Here, Paul asserts his second line of defense, this time against a range of accusations that his opponents had been making about his message:
• The message isn't an "error" - the word for "error" (Gk. plané [plan'-ay]) literally means a mistaken opinion from a wandering mind. Paul affirms that the Thessalonians clearly discerned that the gospel message proclaimed by him didn't come from a mistake based on a deranged mind.
• The message isn't "impure" - this word (Gk. akatharsia [ak-ath-ar-see'-ah] carries the idea of either physical or moral uncleanness. The Thessalonians knew from personal experience that Paul's physical appearance was very ordinary and his moral integrity was beyond reproach.
• The message isn't "deceit" - this word (Gk. dolioó [dol-ee-o'-o]) is the same word used for a fishing lure, a trick used to pull unsuspecting people into something. The Thessalonians clearly saw that Paul didn't have a hidden agenda and wasn't trying to trick them into something to benefit himself.
v. 4a: "but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel" - Before we accept someone's advice, we naturally want to check their credentials to determine whether or not they are trustworthy. Paul declares that his message has been approved (Gk. dokimazo, lit. put to the test) by God Himself. As proof, Paul can honestly testify that God has tested both him and his co-workers through many trials and hardships and found them to be trustworthy. (See Acts 13-28).
v. 4b: so we speak, not intending to please people, but to please God, who examines our hearts - This is at the very core of authentic ministry: Paul's preaching was aimed at pleasing God, not people. Faithful proclamation is always God-centered in the sense that God gave the message to be proclaimed and has assigned the messenger the job of proclaiming it. Faithful proclamation and preaching must never be distracted by popular opinion or contemporary social trends. The message should never cater to people or be tailored to avoid unpopular subjects. Our mission is to save souls, not to win large numbers of people because we're popular. Hear that?
v. 5a-b: "For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed-Here Pauls lists two items his gospel message does not and will never contain:
• "flattering speech" - Flattery (Gk. kolakeia) means saying something a person wants to hear with the object of getting something from them. Paul's message is the opposite: it tells people they are dead in their sins and facing condemnation.
• "a pretext for greed" - Greed (Gk. pleonexia, lit. a hidden desire for more riches and material things). Paul and his colleagues can't be accused of being greedy because the Thessalonians know they asked for absolutely nothing in terms of financial assistance or material support. See, v. 9.
v. 5c: "God is our witness" - Paul's motives had been clear both to God and to the Thessalonians.
v. 6: "nor did we seek honor from people, either from you or from others, though we could have asserted our authority as apostles of Christ" - Paul wasn't seeking status as a public figure. He very rightly could have asserted his authority as an apostle but did not. Paul did assert his apostolic authority in cases where he needed to correct doctrinal error in churches or warn them against false teaching when he was writing them letters from a distance.
Read 1 Thess. 2:7-8 - WE SHARED THE GOSPEL AND OUR LIVES
7 But we proved to be gentle among you. As a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children, 8 in the same way we had a fond affection for you and were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.
v. 7: "But we proved to be gentle among you. As a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children" - In vv. 3-6, Paul emphasized what he and his team are not but now shifts to what they are. In this context, "gentle" meant they were unassuming and acted with kindness and consideration. And like a "nursing mother," they also acted with love and selflessness, demonstrating a strong devotion towards these new converts. When we have the privilege of leading someone to Christ, they are like our spiritual "babies," and we need to lovingly nurture them in their new-found faith.
v. 8: "in the same way we had a fond affection for you and were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us" - Here, Paul shares a very moving picture of his special relationship with the Thessalonians. In addition to sharing the gospel, they strongly bonded-shared their "own lives"-with these people. This is a great example of Christian love. I've had this experience as a Gideon on occasion when I spoke in a church new to me: After being there for a while, I began to feel like I was among good friends.
Read 1 Thess. 2:9-12 - RECALL HOW WE CONDUCTED OURSELVES TOWARDS YOU
9 For you recall, brothers and sisters, our labor and hardship: it was by working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, that we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how devoutly and rightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; 11 just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, 12 so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
v. 9a: "For you recall, brothers and sisters, our labor and hardship" - For the third time, Paul asks the Thessalonians to "recall" that which they already know. In order to refute the false charges that they are hearing from Paul's critics, they only have to call to mind what they saw with their eyes and heard with their ears first-hand while Paul and his team were still there.
v. 9b: "it was by working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, that we proclaimed to you the gospel of God" - Paul's love for these people was shown by the fact that he had undertaken long hours of manual labor (probably in his trade of tent-making) in order to avoid being a financial burden on them. To Greeks, any type of manual labor was seen as a lowly form of work. Also, Paul did this as a preventative measure because he understood that accepting financial support could provide an opening to potential critics. At the same time, Paul was not categorically opposed to receiving financial gifts from believers under certain circumstances as he did from the Philippians while he was imprisoned (Phil. 4:13-19).
v. 10: "You are witnesses, and so is God, of how devoutly and rightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers" - Paul boldly and forthrightly insists that his team had been "devout" (Gk. hosiós [hos-ee-oce'], lit. what is divinely approved by God), "righteous" (Gk. dikaiós [dik-ah'-yoce)], lit. rightly approved by God) and "blameless" (Gk. amemptós [am-emp'-toce]. lit. free from defect) in every single thing they did while among the Thessalonian converts down to the tiniest detail. They weren't perfect, but they came awful close. This takes enormous, continual self-control 24/7.
v. 11: "just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children" - Again, Paul reminds them of what they already know about him and his team. The present participle tense of the verbs used here strongly implies an ongoing process-turning these newly saved Thessalonians into faithful disciples. And notice that Paul is careful to use the plural "we," in order to include Silas and Timothy (who visited them separately) in the defense of their ministry efforts. Paul uses three words that describe the character of their ongoing work to build the faith of the Thessalonians:
• "exhorting...each one of you" - the word used (Gk. parakaleó) means to come alongside, both physically and emotionally to offer comfort and support. And they took the time and made the effort to do this with "each one"-all of them.
• "encouraging..." - the word used here (Gk. paramutheomai [par-am-oo-theh'-om-ahee]) has the sense of consoling someone with sympathy and calming words. He is no doubt speaking of those who were distressed over the sins that had characterized their former lives.
• "emploring..." - the word (marturomai [mar-too'-rom-ahee]) means to bring forward, and support.
These three words, taken together, paint a picture of Paul's ministry team using every positive means of persuasion at their disposal. Their approach, "as a father would his own children," paints a picture of a caring parent who is trying to shepherd his or her children on the right path by gently nudging them in the right direction. This is a strong affirmation for making disciples of the newly saved. When God saves a sinners, it's our job-the church-to make him or her into a new disciple.
v. 12a: "so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God" - As Christians, we already know that the term "walk" is a metaphor for our day-to-day lifestyle and the outward image it projects to those around us. By saving us, God has raised us to a new, exalted status as His children, heirs to His heavenly kingdom. To walk in a manner "worthy" of this status involves a life-long process of sanctification-becoming more and more Christ-like. In terms of discipleship, new believers need a lot of support, encouragement, and sometimes loving correction as they are learning to walk in a manner worthy of their new status. This is our job as a church. This is why our teaching ministry to children, youth, men, women, and adults of all ages are so vital.
v. 12b: "who calls you into His own kingdom and glory" - As Christians, every single one of us is called to serve God with our time, talents, and resources. God has also given us a place-the church-where we can learn, plan, and do the work he puts in front of us. Our purpose is to simply do His work and give Him the glory for it.
APPLICATION-How to be an authentic witness for Jesus Christ
1. Opposition to the gospel message is inevitable. Like the world in Paul's time, proclaiming the gospel message today is counter-culture. The secular human culture we live in today sees our efforts to share our Christian faith outside the doors of our church as a "politically incorrect" imposition upon others. In other words, we should confine ourselves to our churches and mind our own business. This is totally contrary to Jesus' command to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation" (Mark 16:15). Amen?
2. The gospel message in not intended to please people. The gospel message is designed to please God. Faithful proclamation of the gospel is always God-centered because God Himself gave to the message we are to proclaim. Faithful proclamation of God's message has absolutely nothing to do with popular opinion or changes in contemporary social trends and should never be must never be tailored to avoid unpopular subjects.
3. An authentic gospel is never flattering. Flattery is the art of telling people what they want to hear with the motive of gaining something from them. The gospel is the opposite: it tells people that they are dead in their sins, powerless to help themselves, and facing eternal damnation. But it also tells people that there is an alternative: forgiveness of their sin and salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ as their Lord.
4. When we share the gospel, we develop a unique relationship with those are saved through our faithful witness to them. Metaphorically speaking, they are our "spiritual" babies and need to be lovingly and gently nurtured in their new faith.
5. When God saves a sinner, it's our job-as a church-to make him or her into a disciple. Making disciples involves a continuing process of teaching Christians how to walk in a manner worthy of God. New believers need a lot of support, encouragement, and sometimes loving correction as they are learning to walk in a manner worthy of their new status. This is why our teaching ministry to children, youth, men, women, and adults of all ages is so vital.
PRAYER: God, Our Father in heaven, we come into Your presence this morning with humble and grateful hearts. As Your people, Lord, we especially thank You today for the good fellowship we enjoy as a body of believers in this good church. Although we've been through many up and downs in the life of this church, You, by Your mighty power, have preserved us and sustained us up to this very day. And now we have Brother Mike as a very strong pastor and leader who is ready to take us in a new direction. Paul's message this morning should excite every one of us about the possibilities and going out and being witnesses for Jesus Christ. So I ask, Dear God that You would use Your Holy Spirit to convict me and everyone else here this morning to be more effective witnesses for Jesus Christ and do the work that needs to be done right here in this church. And I ask these things in the powerful name of Jesus, our wonderful Savior and Redeemer, AMEN.