Ministry That Makes a Difference
1 Thessalonians 2:7-12
September 1, 1996
“No one cares how much you know till they know how much you care.”
Yesterday we had a most amazing wedding here at Calvary involving Barry MacNamara and Uli Keyna. I first met Barry several years ago when he started attending our services. We occasionally talked after the services about his desire to use his graduate studies in microbiology for the kingdom of God.
I first met Uli when Barry began bringing her to the services. I knew she was from Germany and I knew she already had her Ph.D. in immunology and I knew that she called herself an agnostic. I soon discovered her friendly spirit and her open heart for spiritual truth. Well, let me qualify that statement a bit. Uli was open to argue about the Christian faith but she herself didn’t believe a word of it. God—if there was a God—played absolutely no part in her thinking. The Bible to her was an ancient book filled with nice stories. She couldn’t understand why we take the Bible so seriously. A good book? Yes. But the Word of God? That simply didn’t make sense to her. To make matters worse, Barry was the only educated Christian she knew. No one else talked about their faith the way Barry did. Either they didn’t have any faith or they managed to keep it well hidden.
How Do You Reach a Person Like Uli?
About eight months ago it became apparent that Barry and Uli had fallen deeply in love and wanted to be married here at Calvary. That presented a problem since we have a rule that we will not perform a ceremony involving a believer and a non-believer because we believe Scripture forbids that kind of unequal yoke (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). To make matters more difficult I had become good friends with both Barry and Uli and I truly felt they would be good for each other.
How do you reach someone like Uli?
As the months passed, the crisis grew greater. At one point, Pastor Bob Boerman (who was handling their premarital counseling) told Uli, “We love you, but hell will freeze over before you get married at Calvary. I don’t necessarily recommend that tactic, but it worked, as you will see.
About that same time we began to see Erwin Lutzer’s fine little book How You Can Be Sure You Will Spend Eternity With God. When I told the congregation about the book, Uli said to Barry, “Lutzer! That’s a good German name. I need to buy that book.”
A few weeks later I happened to see Barry and Uli in the lobby after a service. By that time we were talking openly about their desire to be married and Uli’s search for spiritual truth. Impulsively I put my arms around both of them, looked at Uli and said, “By the end of June you will be a Christian.” I don’t know why I did that because I’ve never done that before in my life. I just blurted it out. But deep in my heart I felt it was true. “I hope you’re right,” Uli replied.
The Language of Love
Let me leave that story for a moment and mention a phone call I received from a friend. This woman had been thinking about Calvary and how God has blessed this church in many ways. What was secret? She called to tell me that an answer had come to her that she believed to be from the Lord. “You speak the language of love,” she said, “That’s the secret.”
What a wonderful thought. Speaking the language of love ought to be the heart and soul of every church. But love has many faces—some soft, some stern. Love doesn’t mean the same thing to every person every time.
But this much is true. Love must be present for any church to prosper. That’s the meaning of the saying, “No one cares how much you know till they know how much you care.”
In our text Paul explains what love looks like in the outworking of human relationships. Sometimes love is a like a mother (verses 7-9)—soft, gentle, kind, hard-working, and sometimes love is like a father (verses 10-12)—challenging, exhorting, setting a good example.
I. Like a Mother (v. 7-9)
A. We Were Gentle
“As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.” (v. 7)
This is a lovely picture of a young mother nursing her newborn. See how carefully she wraps him in her arms. Watch as she lifts him to her breasts. She knows the little one cannot eat on his own, cannot find food, cannot survive without her. She must not only feed him, but the food must come from within her own body. To nourish him she must give of herself. The milk he drinks is her milk, drawn from her own body.
To be an apostle was an awesome responsibility. In the beginning it meant that you had seen Jesus personally and had been trained by him. Our Lord had chosen his own men and imparted to them authority to heal the sick, cast out demons and teach the Word of God (Mark 6:6-13). Ephesians 2:20 tells us that church itself is built on the foundation of the “apostles and the prophets.” They were mighty stones on which Christ would build his church. It is no exaggeration to say that after Jesus’ return to heaven, the apostles were the most powerful men on earth. They had power and authority God had given to no one else.
Gentleness is not a quality often respected today.
So when Paul say, “We could have been a burden,” he meant it quite literally. When an apostle spoke as a representative of the Lord, his word was to be taken seriously and his directives were to be obeyed (as long as they were in line with what the Lord himself had taught).
But Paul says, “We were gentle like a nursing mother.” This is a lovely image that goes against the grain of our mental picture of the Apostle Paul. Of all the words we might use to describe him, somehow the word “gentle” doesn’t come to mind. Strong–yes. Determined–yes. Zealous–yes. Impassioned–yes. But gentle?
Nonetheless there it is. Gentleness is not a quality often respected today. We tend to value tough, strong, assertive leaders. But none of us likes to be bullied. We’d all rather be loved.
Power Under God’s Control
Tonight I did a radio interview with my friend Ron Reed. I was in Oak Park and he was in Rapid City, South Dakota. The program airs in South Dakota and also in central Oregon. As we discussed my book Man of Honor, he asked me about the quality of gentleness as a mark of a true man of God. That’s not the first time I’ve been asked about that. I think many men would not feel complimented if someone called them “gentle.” Yet Ron pointed out that Jesus used that very word to describe himself in Matthew 11:29. It seems to me that if Jesus felt comfortable calling himself “gentle,” we shouldn’t have a big problem with it.
Gentleness is not weakness.
And after all, Jesus was no pushover. The same Jesus who embraced the children also took a whip and cleaned out the temple. Say what you will about it, but don’t call him a sissy. When he confronted sin, he was gentle like a tornado is gentle. But when the moment called for it, he could be tender and forgiving.
Gentleness is not weakness. It is our power under God’s control. It is the ability to give of ourselves to help the hurting while at the same time confronting evil whenever necessary. That’s a tough combination, but our Lord pulled it off without a hitch.
B. We Loved You
“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” (v. 8)
I’ve always been partial to this verse. When I first started in the ministry I often preached on this passage and commented that it takes more than the gospel to save people. It takes the gospel plus us. People will listen to our message when they know we care about them.
This is a much needed word in this day when the emphasis is on programs, power, position, and prestige. People today want a ministry, a title and public recognition. Few there are who will work quietly behind the scenes with no thought of reward.
Whenever I read these verses I always think of Tony Bennett singing, “I left my heart in San Francisco.” Paul could say the same thing: “I left my heart in Thessalonica.”
Ministry that changes the world costs everything you have. If you want to make a difference, you’ve got to do more than preach the gospel. You’ve got to lay down your own life also. You’ve got to give something you’ll never get back–your own life!
C. We Worked Hard
“Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship.” (v. 9a)
Every mother knows how difficult it is to take care of young babies. You never get enough sleep, you always feel tired, no matter where you go you never fully relax because part of you is listening to make sure your baby is okay. That’s how Paul felt about the Thessalonians. He exerted all his energy ensuring that their spiritual needs were well cared for.
D. We Were Not a Burden
“We worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.” (v. 9b)
You may not know that Paul was a tentmaker by trade. Everywhere he went, he found part-time work making tents, which meant that he worked during part of the day and preached the rest of the time. That one fact tells us that despite his high level of education, Paul wasn’t afraid of manual labor nor embarrassed to get his hands dirty, so to speak. He did it so as not to be a burden to the churches and so that no one could accuse him of being in it just for the money.
If you read 1 Corinthians 9, he makes it clear in that passage that he doesn’t consider it wrong for a man to live off the preaching of the gospel. And in 1 Timothy 5 he says that an elder who both rules and teaches is worthy of “double honor,” which presumes that elders would in fact be paid for their work. But he himself apparently worked in secular jobs wherever he went so that he would be free of any accusations about his motives.
II. Like a Father (v. 10-12)
In the last three verses of our passage Paul changes the image from a mother to a father. He points out four ways in which he was like a father to the Thessalonians.
A. We Set a Good Example
“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.” (v. 10)
The word “holy” speaks of his life in the sight of God; the word “righteous” of his life in the sight of man; the word “blameless” as the result of being holy and righteous. He means to say that no one could make an accusation against him and make it stick.
Years later Paul used the phrase “above reproach” in 1 Timothy 3:2 to describe the quality of life demanded of an elder in the local church. The Greek word describes a garment without any folds. When applied to personal character, it means that leader must be free from any secret or hidden pockets of sins. Said another way, it means that a godly leader is one whose life is such that there is nothing a detractor can “grab hold of.” The Living Bible uses the phrase “a good man whose life cannot be spoken against.” Knox says “one with whom no fault can be found.” It means that no charge could be brought against such a person that would withstand impartial examination. Leaders are often attacked, their motives questioned, their actions criticized. While such things do happen, a leader who is truly above reproach will weather the storm because there is nothing about him which a person could say, “Aha! I gotcha.” This means no questionable conduct, no secret sins, no deliberately unresolved conflicts.
B. We Encouraged You
“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging … you.” (v. 12a)
The word “encourage’ means to come alongside someone who is struggling and to help them out. It has the idea of seeing a runner begin to stumble as they round the last turn and head toward the finish line. Instead of simply letting them fall and finishing the race on your own, you slow down, put your arm around them, and carry them to the finish line, even it means you personally lose the race. It has the idea of putting aside your own comfort for the good of another.
C. We Comforted You
“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting … you.” (v. 12b)
The Cotton Patch version says that Paul was constantly “sharing his insights.” This is a most positive statement. It reminds of the little book The One-Minute Manager, which exhorts bosses to “Catch Them Doing Something Right.” Most bosses are excellent at finding fault, the truly great ones love to catch their employees doing something right. Paul was like a spiritual cheerleader who thrilled over every spiritual victory and consoled his new believers when they were defeated.
Good fathers know how to cheer their kids to victory.
Good fathers know how to cheer their kids to victory. Although 30 years have passed, I still remember my father coming home from the hospital late in the evening where he had been visiting his patients. If he found me studying, he would usually stop, say a word of encouragement, and then give me a quarter. Something about that simple gesture stays in the mind across all these years.
D. We Challenged You
“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” (v. 12c)
Here is the ultimate goal of the Christian life: To live a life worthy of God.
When I was a member of the Russellville High School Marching 100 band, we traveled across the South, playing at the Cotton Bowl, the Gator Bowl, and performing three times at the famous Cotton Carnival in Memphis. Over and over the director, Curtis Ikard, reminded us that the uniform meant something special. Above all, we must not do anything that would embarrass our family, our hometown, our friends or our school.
Believer, you must not embarrass your God! He has called you to a glorious destiny. You have a ticket to eternity paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ. Now live up to that high calling. Let every word you say and every action you take, let the things you and the things you refuse to do all reflect well on your God.
Dr. Pritchard’s Son
When I was a child, I heard it over and over again, “You’re Dr. Pritchard’s son.” That meant something special in the small town where I grew up. Now I understand that as a child of God, I have an even larger responsibility to live in such a way that I enhance his reputation in the world.
Our great challenge is to live worthy of our great calling.
The last phrase of verse 12 brings before us the privilege and challenge of working for Christ. We are privileged to be part of God’s kingdom as it unfolds on this earth. More than that, we will discover in days to come how great this really is when Jesus returns to overthrow all human kingdoms and to establish his kingdom by reigning on David’s throne in Jerusalem. Whatever little glory we have seen now will pale by comparison with the glory that will be revealed in those days.
Our great challenge is to live worthy of that great calling. We are called to be kingdom people living in a foreign land, representing the King himself in a world that thought it best to crucify him. In his long absence we are called to stand in his place, taking care of his interests, spreading his Word, and inviting others to join his cause. This is a high and noble calling: Let us live so that no one will be surprised to discover who it is we represent.
Application: Remember, what you are is more important than what you say.
That raises one final question. What does it cost to have this kind of ministry? The answer is: It costs everything.
Let me go to the story of Barry and Uli. During the wedding ceremony yesterday I read a letter from Uli that tells what happened in her life. Here’s part of what she wrote:
Dear Pastor Ray,
Barry and I met as co-workers. I realized soon that he was a nice guy, a very nice guy, but that was about it at that time. Then one evening at one of our scientific conferences he pulled me away from a chatting crowd, sat me on a sofa, and asked me, “Do you believe in God?” I said, “Of course not!”, and that is where our journey began.
A few days after the conference was over, he gave me his phone number and asked me to call him, whenever I would feel like it. Being a bold person, I took him by his word and called a few days later, much to his surprise. We talked for awhile and decided to have dinner together. He invited me over to his place and served me a wonderful home cooked meal. It was a perfect first date. He said grace before the meal, which was very unusual for me, because nobody in my family ever did that. I found it peculiar, but I went along with it.
After the first date we discovered we had a lot of things in common: our love for nature, travel, good food and good conversation. One thing that kept us apart was this: he had Jesus in his life, I didn’t. Subtly he reminded me of this fact and tried to bring the gospel to me. I listened to him, but forgot about it later in the day. It was too convenient not to have to respond to a higher power. But I realized that Barry was so strong and sincere in his faith, that there was no way around it. We could not just avoid this topic.
Over the months, we became closer and he kept reminding me that I have to believe if I wanted to be saved. He slowly dismantled the brick wall around my heart and made me more susceptible to what he had to say about Jesus Christ. Of course, this deconstruction of the wall did not always go smoothly. It rumbled and rolled at times and many a conversation about God and the Bible ended in a fight. But with his enormous amount of grace and patience, God always made us come back together again.
Finally, we decided to get married. Barry was still reluctant because he knew I was still not there in my faith, where he wanted me to be. So he pushed a little harder. I was at the point where I wanted to become a Christian and just didn’t know how. The concept was not clear to me, that I would just ask Jesus to accept me, and I accept him, and then we would start a personal relationship. One night while driving home from work on the Eisenhower Freeway, I heard a very clear voice in my head: “Uli, God is calling you.” I don’t know where it was my own voice or “someone elses.” I went home that evening and finished Pastor Lutzer’s book. There is a little prayer at the end and I just decided, okay, let’s try it. I read that prayer, read it again, said it in my own words. The very next evening, for no other reason than a little chat, Lynette Hoy (a friend from church) called me and I told her what I had done. She said, “Wow! You’re a Christian now.” “Hold it,” I replied, “That seems a little easy, doesn’t it?” “You just wait and see,” Lynette told me.
Barry was completely oblivious at that point because he was out of town. The very last chapter in my book of becoming a Christian was when Pastor Bob Boerman told me that he would not marry us at Calvary until hell freezes over. Boy, was I angry! I was so angry that I went home and cried. Barry cried too. We were a miserable bunch. But when the tears dried, I gave in and decided for God for good. I will always be grateful to Pastor Bob that he shook me out of my lazy behavior and made me do something about my faith.
Barry was the happiest person in the world. Now we would be together forever! I become a different person in my outlook on life. The most obvious thing that changed in our relationship was that there was no more questioning, no more fights, no more endless discussions about Bible verses. Truly amazing.
I prayed this one little prayer that night and I haven’t stopped since. I think about Jesus and talk to him in my own ways. I realize that I still have to grow and to learn and to do some research. But the important step is done. I’m free.
Barry and I will grow together in our faith and our marriage. We will talk a lot and I still have many questions, but now it is more fun, because we are on the same side. We will raise our children in the same way and I pray that God gives us a family with Jesus Christ in our midst and as our counselor and guide.
There are no hopeless cases with God.
In thinking about Uli’s story, two comments come to mind. First, there are no hopeless cases with God. For some people it may take many months or years for the walls of unbelief to come tumbling down. But God can reach the down and out, the up and in, the outcasts and the high and mighty. When God gets ready to save a person, he saves them! Uli’s story ought to give us confidence to keep on praying and sharing Christ with others.
Second, there is no power on earth greater than the power of love. It’s was God’s grace and Barry’s love that won Uli to Jesus Christ. She could not explain this life and she could not withstand his persistent love for her. God used the love of a good man to bring Uli into his family.
“No one cares how much you know till they know how much you care.” Uli is living proof of that statement. She’s also a living testimony to the contemporary power of Jesus Christ to change lives today. And she is not alone. There are millions like her who are ready to listen if someone will begin to care about them.