A Model Worth Following

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

September 22, 2002 | Brian Bill

A Mexican bandit liked to cross the Rio Grande from time to time and rob banks in Texas.  Eventually a reward was offered for his capture and a Texas Ranger known for his ability to find criminals, and deliver them dead or alive, decided to go after him.  After a lengthy search he finally tracked the bandit down in a cantina, snuck up behind him, put his trusty six-shooter to his head and said, “You’re under arrest.  Tell me where you hid the loot or I’ll blow your brains out!”

The bandit didn’t answer him because he didn’t speak English and the Ranger didn’t understand Spanish!  Fortunately a bilingual pastor was in the saloon and offered to translate the Ranger’s message.  He went up to the thief and told him what the Ranger had said.  The bandit was terrified and blurted out in Spanish, “The money’s buried under the oak tree in the back of the bar.

The Ranger turned to the pastor and asked, “Well, what did he say?”  To which the pastor answered, “He said you’re a jerk and he doesn’t think you’d dare shoot him!”

As we come to chapter 2 of 1 Thessalonians, we’ll see that Paul and his ministry partners, Silas and Timothy, needed to defend their truthfulness, integrity and conduct.  The infant church had heard some things that were not translated properly and needed to hear the truth about Paul’s motives and manner of ministry.  

Before we jump into our passage today, I’d like to clarify something so that my integrity is not questioned.  Because of the title I gave to this series, “Left Behind,” some of you may wonder when we’re going to get to the stuff about the Rapture and the Second Coming of Jesus.  As I mentioned two weeks ago, every chapter of this book ends with a reference to the return of Christ.  Last week we spent some time learning from 1:10 that those who know Jesus Christ will be rescued from the coming wrath.  Our passage today does not have a direct reference to end time events but certainly comes within the framework of his imminent return.  

Some of you were able to attend Cross Training, our high school ministry, last Sunday night.  If you did, you heard Dave Pikel present the Book of Philippians from memory, as he acted out this fabulous letter.  Many students turned in comment cards after it was over and mentioned that this presentation helped to clarify that this book was really a letter, written by a real person.  As we go through 1 Thessalonians verse-by-verse, I don’t want us to miss the fact that this is also a letter, written by Paul, Silas and Timothy to brand new believers situated in Thessalonica.  Allow me to read part of this life-giving letter to you.  Feel free to follow along in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12.

“You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure.  We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.  For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.  On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.  We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.  You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed-God is our witness.  We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.  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.  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.  Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.  You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.  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.”

Paul and his partners have had their integrity maligned by those who wanted to discredit their ministry in Thessalonica.  Much of what we see in chapter 2 is a defense of their motives and methods.  Using seven different word pictures, this passage will breathe fresh insight into our understanding of both evangelism and discipleship.  Last week we were challenged to follow the model of a mentor.  This morning we’re going to see 7 ways that Paul, Silas and Timothy can serve as ministry models for us today.

1. A Courageous Communicator (1-2). 

In the first two verses, we’re challenged to communicate with courage.  The writers begin by addressing the accusation that their visit to them didn’t amount to much: “You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure.”  The word “failure” refers to something being void of meaning or value.   Since they were in Thessalonica for only a few short weeks, people could question whether they really accomplished anything.   It was obvious, however, that their brief visit was fruitful, and not a failure.  All anyone had to do was observe the life change of these new believers.

Sometimes I struggle with this in my own life as I reflect back upon our three years in Mexico.  I wish that I had been able to speak Spanish better so that I could have been a courageous communicator, or at least translate for a Texas Ranger!  And yet I recognize that God still did his work through the team I was on.  I’m reminded of the truth of Isaiah 55:11: “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”  

We need to break our addiction to acceptance

We need to redefine what “failure” really means.  When we minister courageously, God does His work and accomplishes His purposes.  Paul, Silas and Timothy reminded them in verse 2 that they “dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.”  They were able to speak truth even when they were opposed and ridiculed.  How about you?  Are you daring enough to be a courageous communicator?  If you’re like me, your greatest fear when talking to people about Jesus is not fear of persecution, but of rejection.  The fear of not being accepted or made fun of can paralyze our desire to proclaim what we know is true and can imprison us in silence.  Let’s determine to be courageous communicators, recognizing that the gospel of God changes lives.  We need to break our addiction to acceptance.

I’m reminded of my college roommate, Bruce.  One day he very boldly told me that he didn’t think I was a Christian.  I couldn’t believe that he would challenge my beliefs like this so I went off on him.  I swore at him and told him that he had no business deciding whether I was a Christian or not.  Then, instead of backing off, he looked at me and said, “Well, I don’t think you are!”  I called him some more names but couldn’t shake the possibility that he might be right.  This led me on a spiritual search, which eventually culminated in my conversion on October 3, 1979.

It’s important to remember that sharing the gospel is rarely easy or popular.  For every person who receives you gladly, many more will have nothing to do with you.  Paul kept preaching.  If they listened, that was good.  If they didn’t, that was too bad.  If they opposed him, he didn’t stop.  I’m glad my roommate was a courageous communicator.  Will you do the same for someone in your life?

2. A Surrendered Steward (3-6).

If you struggle with being bold for Christ like I do, then strive to live as a surrendered steward.  Verse 3 states that Paul, Silas, and Timothy were not making up the message: “For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.” The word “trick” was originally a fishing term that was used to entice fish to bite on a hook.  They did not use a “bait and switch” methodology on people just to get what they wanted.

Verse 4 puts it succinctly: “We speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.  We are not trying to please men, but God, who tests our hearts.”  Friends, we have had the gospel entrusted to us.  We are stewards, or managers, of that which we have been given.  A steward was one who owned nothing, but possessed and used everything that belonged to the master.  Luke 16 tells us that one day every one of us will have to give an account of our stewardship.  The question for us is this: will we live as surrendered stewards when it comes to sharing the gospel message with others?  The good news is a treasure that we must not bury, but instead it should “echo” into the lives of those around us.  

As stewards we belong to the Savior and we have been entrusted with the life-changing power of the gospel.  As such, our focus must be on pleasing God, not man.  The real issue is faithfulness.  1 Corinthians 4:2: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”  If we’re too wrapped up in trying to make people happy, we won’t want to share the gospel.  In verse 5 Paul discusses the methods he used to reach people.  Once again he states it in the negative: “You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed-God is our witness.”

The word “flattery” means to make a favorable impression for a selfish purpose.  It touches such areas as insincere compliments, giving praise when we don’t really mean it, and using emotional manipulation.  Proverbs 26:28: “A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.

By contrast, Paul was a plainspoken man, a straight shooter.  Like an actor wearing a mask, many people appear to be one thing while in fact they are something else entirely.  They say and do things that appear to be generous when the only real purpose is to gain a personal advantage—a paycheck, a bonus, a pat on the back, an award, a new contract, a big sale, a new account, a better office, or a new job. 

By the way, greed almost always is hidden behind a mask.  Often we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are not greedy when in fact we are.  Paul is saying, “I didn’t use flattery because I say what I mean and I didn’t put on a mask to cover up greed because I had nothing to hide.”  In verse 6, we’re reminded that because we’re stewards, we must look for the approval of God, not from those around us: “We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.”  Some of us are seeking our own recognition and as a result we cave instead of having the courage to communicate Christ.  I blew an opportunity this week because I was more concerned about what the individual would think of me than with the truth he needed to hear.  Proverbs 25:27: “It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to seek one’s own honor.”

I talked to someone this week about the importance of fully surrendering to Christ.  He told me that he’s not ready.  When I probed a bit further, he told me that he still wants to do the “me” thing for a while.  While I appreciate his honesty, the only way to be used by God, and experience the abundant life, is to be fully and completely sold out to God.  Are you doing the “me” thing right now?  If so, it’s time to wave the white flag and do the “He” thing

3. The Mindset of a Mother (7). 

The emphasis of the steward is surrendered faithfulness; the mindset of a mother is gentleness: “But we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.” The word “care” here means, “to warm.” I love watching Beth gently caress one of our girls when they’re afraid or have been hurt.  What a wonderful picture of ministry in action.  Here we have Paul, who was personally commissioned by Christ.  He could have called on his apostolic authority when he ministered in Thessalonica.  In fact, my image of him is that of a strong, courageous, and stern kind of guy.  At the climax of his impassioned defense, he reveals warmth and gentleness for these baby believers.  

When we deal with people, whether they are believers or unbelievers, God desires for us to be gentle with them.  Do you treat people with gentleness or do you let people grate on you and then explode with anger or gossip?  People today are looking for someone who will treat them with gentle kindness.  Look around.  There are enough beat up people in this room who would give anything to receive a gentle word or a kind smile.  Will you be a mother to those who are in need of some nurturing?  Effective ministry always flows over the bridge of warm redemptive relationships.  

A couple of years ago the cartoon strip, “For Better or Worse,” showed the dad coming into the room where his teenage daughter was sitting on the couch watching TV and eating popcorn.  He decided to sit down next to her and help himself to the popcorn.  As he was sitting there, he thinks to himself, “I remember when she was so young.  I held her in my arms and loved her.  It was wonderful.  Now look at her.  She’s all grown up and so beautiful.  I wonder what she would think if I held like I used to and told her that I love her?”  He concludes that she would be very uncomfortable if he did that.  The next frame shows the daughter as she thinks to herself: “I wonder why dad never hugs me anymore?”

Now I’m not suggesting that we go around hugging everyone but maybe we should start doing it more often.  After all, that’s how God treats us.  Isaiah 40:11: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

4. A Transparent Teacher (8). 

One way their gentleness became evident was in their transparency and authentic love.  These guys were real.  People saw them for who they were.  When they messed up, like I did with someone on Friday, the Thessalonians saw that they were just like they were.  They hung out with people.  They weren’t just teachers who came in, did their stuff, and then moved on to the next town.  Look at verse 8: “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.”  

Now, this is unusual for men.  These three guys had no problem expressing their love for others!  Because of their love they were willing to share two treasures with the Thessalonians – the gospel and their lives.  My brother-in-law put it this way in a sermon on this passage: “I was willing to share the gospel with you, but I was also willing to invest my life into yours.  When God sent His love to us, He didn’t use a gospel-a-gram.  He didn’t put a tract in everyone’s mailbox, He didn’t put up a big poster with the words John 3:16.  He sent His son.”

Sometimes believers are content to live in Christian cocoons, removed from the reality of life.  These three guys did life with those they ministered to.  They hung out with heathens.  They loved the lost.  They had supper with seekers.  Are you sharing your life with people?  The gospel will make more sense to people if we are transparent with them.  When we’re real, we can teach them about Christ, and they will listen.  Our willingness to give ourselves to others may be the missing link in evangelism.

5. A Worshipful Worker (9). 

Let me read verse 9 in the Living Bible: “Don’t you remember, dear brothers, how hard we worked among you?  Night and day we toiled and sweated to earn enough to live on so that our expenses would not be a burden to anyone there, as we preached God’s Good News among you.”  Every Jewish boy had to learn a trade, and Paul’s was tent making.  Craftsmen in Paul’s day worked from sunrise to sunset.  They did not want to burden these believers with their financial support, so they worked in an attitude of worship.  They were also able to carry out some missionary activities while they did their jobs. 

When we lived in Mexico, our missionary team followed this methodology.  Two of the men had their PhDs and were able to teach in a prestigious university where they used the classroom and hallways to build relationships with people.  Another man on our team was an attorney and worked for a law firm and used his position there to impact co-workers and clients with the gospel.  I taught English (with a Wisconsin accent) to executives at Coca Cola and to the management team at a multinational computer company.  Each of us understood that our work was worship and that it was a platform for ministry.  Jack and Jay were missionaries disguised as professors.  Mike was a minister camouflaged as an attorney.  I was a missionary masquerading as a teacher

It strikes me that this is the right way to look at whatever job you are working right now.  Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”  

  • You are not just a farmer.  You are a Christ follower disguised as a farmer.  
  • You are not just a correctional officer.  You are a witness disguised as someone who works at the prison.  
  • You are not just a secretary.  You are a minister camouflaged as an office worker.  
  • You are not just a homemaker.  You are a shepherd disguised as a mother.  
  • You are not just an engineer.  You are an evangelist who looks like an engineer.  
  • You are not just a laborer.  You labor out of love so that you can lead lost people to the Lord.  
  • You are not just a student.  You are a campus missionary disguised as someone who carries a backpack. 

Paul, Silas and Timothy worshipped and witnessed while they worked, and they labored out of love in order to support the work of the church.  That’s the right way to view your job.  It’s the difference between seeing what you do as a calling or a career. I said it this way in a Labor Day sermon last year: “If you want to find worth in your work, view your job as a calling, not just a career.  A career can become the altar on which we sacrifice our lives in the pursuit of money and possessions.  A calling involves recognizing that we are co-workers with God in accomplishing His purposes by being content, by working in order to have…and by working in order to give so that God can meet the needs of others through us.” 

Are you a worshipful worker?  Look at your job as a platform to courageously communicate Christ and as a way to live among those who are watching to see if you have anything they might want.

6. A Blameless Believer (10). 

People may question what we may say, but they can’t take away how we live because it sticks in their hearts

Paul is saying that they worked in an attitude of worship and now in verse 10 he points out that they walked their talk: “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.”  

Paul and his missionary team set a high example.  They didn’t say one thing and do another.  They lived the Christ life in front of them, providing both a model and motivation for the Thessalonians to do the same.  People may question what we may say, but they can’t take away how we live because it sticks in their hearts.

They were “holy,” which means that they were set apart for ministry.  They were “righteous,” meaning that their character and behavior was upright.  And they were “blameless,” which is literally translated, “not able to find fault in.”  No one could find anything that would stick should they try to accuse these missionaries.  They lived out the truth of Philippians 2:14-15: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.”

Friend, when you open your mouth and speak, does you lifestyle back up what you are saying?  Never forget that we preach through our words and our walk.

7. A Flourishing Father (11-12).

In this final word picture, Paul employs a second parental metaphor, this time that of a father: “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.” The phrase “each of you,” is emphatic, meaning that they had a personal relationship with each one of these baby believers.  As a father deals with each of his children, they focused on three things:

  • Encouraging.  The Greek word here means, “to come alongside with instruction and insight.”  We all need someone to encourage us, to come close and cheer us on, don’t we?
  • Comforting.  This word is nearly synonymous and means to come alongside with sympathy and concern.  When we’re doing all right we need encouragement.  When we’re falling apart, we need comfort.  In both instances we need someone to come close to us.
  • Urging.  This phrase is more authoritative in tone.  It can refer to a rebuke or discipline.  To be a follower of Christ is always costly and we need someone who will challenge us to go to the next level.  Do you have someone like that in your life?  Are you doing that with someone else?

We must have the mindset of a mother and gently shepherd young believers.  We must also flourish as a father and provide correction in a spirit of comfort and encouragement.  The goal is to have each of us live lives worthy of God.  We must not settle for half-hearted Christianity.  To live “worthy of God” means to live consistently with His commands and character.  The goal is Christlikeness as we strive to walk in ways worthy of His love for us.

We can be grateful that Paul and his companions felt like they had to defend themselves and put it in writing.  These seven word pictures are profound statements of evangelism and discipleship.  Do they represent your life?  Which one do you need some work in?

  • Are you a courageous communicator of Christ?
  • Have you surrendered your stewardship of the gospel?
  • Do you have the mindset of a mother when you deal with people?
  • Are you a transparent teacher as you “do life” with others?
  • Are you a worshipful worker?
  • Would people say that you are a blameless believer?
  • Are you calling people to holiness like a flourishing father?

A young preacher thrilled his congregation with his first sermon in which he challenged the church to live lives worthy of God.  To their dismay, he preached the exact same message the following Sunday.  When he confronted them with the same stinging sermon on the third Sunday, his flock felt like something must be done.  They appointed a spokesman who came up to the pastor and asked, “Don’t you have more than just one sermon?”  The pastor smiled and said quietly, “Oh yes, I have quite a number.  But you haven’t done anything about the first one!”

I can say with honesty this morning that this church is filled with people who have surrendered to Christ and are serving Him faithfully.  I’m glad I don’t have to preach the same sermon each week – and so are you!  And yet, each of us needs to be reminded over and over that we must be sold-out completely for Christ.  That message doesn’t change.  And we can’t do it unless we have some models to follow.  And others can’t do it unless they follow people just like you.  

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?