1 Thessalonians 2:1-6
July 18, 2016
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Many years ago my brother Andy took me to visit a cemetery outside Florence, Alabama, near the remains of an antebellum mansion called Forks of Cypress. The mansion was built in the 1820s by James Jackson, an early settler of northwest Alabama. Andy and I walked among the ruins of the mansion and then crossed the country road into the dense forest on the other side. After a quarter-mile we found the Jackson family cemetery. There is no sign marking the spot, only a five-foot high stone wall surrounding about 50 graves. Inside we found a tall marker over James Jackson’s grave with a long inscription extolling his virtues.
“A man of unquestioned integrity.”
As I walked along, my eyes fastened on the marker for one of his sons, William Moore Jackson. There was his name, the dates 1824-1891, and this simple five-word epitaph: “A man of unquestioned integrity.”
Five words to sum up an entire life.
I cannot think of a better tribute.
Then the thought came. What will they put on my tombstone?
No Loose Ends
The dictionary uses words such as “whole” and “complete” to describe what integrity means. To borrow a modern expression, a man with integrity has his act together. There are no loose ends that threaten his reputation. Warren Wiersbe offers this definition:
Integrity is to personal or corporate character what health is to the body or 20/20 vision is to the eyes. A person with integrity is not divided (that’s duplicity) or merely pretending (that’s hypocrisy). He or she is “whole”; life is “put together,” and things are working harmoniously. People with integrity have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. Their lives are open books (The Integrity Crisis, p. 21).
We have an integrity crisis today. Americans are not only deeply divided; we don’t know who to trust. How does that apply to the church today? Only a ministry with integrity will stand the test of time. Everything else fades away—fads come and go, glitz will attract people but it won’t hold them, good programs lose their appeal, new buildings grow old, pastors stay for a while and then leave. But integrity never goes out of style.
Integrity never goes out of style
1 Thessalonians 2 has been called “a minister’s manual.” It is that and more. Every pastor would be well-advised to revisit this text at least once a year to measure his ministry by this standard.
Everyone knows there is a shortage of godly leaders.
Everyone knows leadership is difficult.
Everyone knows good leaders are hard to find.
How can we be effective?
How can we change lives?
How can we impact the next generation?
Paul and Silas “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). How did they do it? What was their secret? We find four answers in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-6.
#1: They Preached the Gospel in Spite of Strong Opposition
“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” (vv. 1-2).
Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. often remarked that “the door of opportunity swings on the hinges of opposition.” Paul certainly found that true in Thessalonica. In Philippi he and Silas had been stripped, beaten, and jailed. Only a midnight earthquake had freed them. They left after the city authorities begged them to go, fearing civic unrest and perhaps another act of God (Acts 16). When they arrived in Thessalonica, things weren’t much better. They were forced to leave the city much earlier than they had planned (Acts 17:1-10).
What was Paul’s response to all this? “We dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition” (v. 2). Gospel ministry is rarely popular. For every person who receives us gladly, many more will have nothing to do with us. If we are waiting to win the world by acclamation, it isn’t going to happen. Jesus warned us that “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first” (John 15:18). Sooner or later those words will come true for all the servants of God.
What are we to do in the face of opposition or indifference?
- Refuse to be intimidated.
- Keep on praying.
- Keep on keeping on.
Paul just kept on preaching. If they listened, that was good. If they didn’t, that was too bad. If they opposed him, he didn’t stop. If they attacked him, he kept on going.
Keep on keeping on
Sometimes the best thing you can do is to keep on doing what you are already doing whether anyone pays attention or not. If you keep doing right long enough, sooner or later it will pay off.
Someone has said that the real measure of a person is what it takes to stop you. We all want to be witnesses for Christ. We truly want to make an impact. The people who make a real difference depend so much on God that they aren’t fazed by the opposition.
#2: They Spoke the Truth with Integrity
“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” (vv. 3-4). Notice what Paul says in these verses:
- Our message is true— “not from error.”
- Our message is pure—”not from impure motives.”
- Our message is honest—”not trying to trick you.”
- Our message is trustworthy—“entrusted with the gospel.”
We can understand better when we consider the spiritual condition of the ancient world. Leon Morris summed it up with these words:
There has probably never been such a variety of religious cults and philosophic systems as in Paul’s day. East and west had united and intermingled to produce an amalgam of real piety, high moral principles, crude superstition and gross license. Oriental mysteries, Greek philosophy, and local godlings competed for favor under the tolerant aegis of Roman indifference. “Holy men” of all creeds and countries, popular philosophers, magicians, astrologers, crackpots, and cranks; the sincere and the spurious, the righteous and the rogue, swindlers and saints, jostled and clamored for the attention of the credulous and the skeptical.
In light of those conditions, Paul stresses his moral integrity. When he says his message does not come from error, he highlights the truth content of the Christian faith. He is not spreading falsehoods or aimless speculations. When he says his message does not come from impurity, he means that he is not using the gospel as a cover for sexual immorality.
Paul didn’t “bait the hook”
The word for “trickery” comes from the waterfront. It means to “bait the hook.” Paul didn’t use his preaching as a come-on to entice the Thessalonians into following him or giving him money. He was not running some kind of religious shell game like a sideshow huckster at a carnival.
When he says that he has been entrusted with the gospel, he emphasizes the high honor God has given him to preach the gospel. As a sacred trust, it required the highest moral and ethical standards.
America is in trouble. We have lost our way as a nation. The events of the last few days illustrate how lost we are. I believe America is already under God’s judgment. If you doubt my words, read the headlines. We have lost our way morally and spiritually. No wonder our nation is torn into competing factions. No wonder we don’t trust our leaders. No wonder we can’t get along. No wonder we can’t agree on what marriage means or what it means to be male and female. When you turn away from God, you end up with total moral anarchy. We aren’t far from that now. We are seeing Romans 1 come true before our eyes.
America is in trouble
In times like these, it’s not enough to speak the truth. We must back it up with a godly life. Unbelievers understand this. That’s why the cause of Christ is hurt so badly when televangelists fall into sin and pastors turn out to be hypocrites. People expect more from those who claim to represent God. They hold us to a higher standard whether we like it or not.
Paul says that God has “approved” him to preach the gospel. Could God say the same thing about you? Could God place his stamp of approval upon your life? Paul answered yes unequivocally. What about you?
# 3: They Refused All Trickery
“You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness” (v . 5).
In verse 5 Paul discusses the methods he used to reach people. Once again he states it in the negative.
We never used flattery.
We did not put on a mask to cover up greed.
The word “flattery” means to make a favorable impression for a selfish purpose. It touches such areas as insincere compliments, praise given that we do not mean, using emotional manipulation, and insincerity as a matter of policy. By contrast, Paul was a plain-spoken man. He said what he meant and meant what he said. You never had to wonder, “What did he really mean by that?” If he was pleased, he said so. If he wasn’t, he said so. In the vernacular, he was a straight shooter.
You put on a mask to cover up your real intentions. 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 and even magnanimous 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.
Surveys tell us the # 1 complaint the unchurched have about the church is that we are just after money. That’s nothing new. They made the same complaint against Paul 2000 years ago. And the answer is always the same: Check us out.
Watch our lifestyle
Look at the way we live. Watch our lifestyle. Check out our missionaries. They could have made more money by not being a missionary. Yet they go to the ends of the earth, learn a new language, enter a new culture, and live among people who aren’t always happy to see them. They do it gladly and without complaint.
# 4: They Sought Praise from God Alone
“We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else” (v. 6).
This goes to the question of motive. What made them act this way? Paul uses a word that means to eagerly seek. That’s the key. It’s not wrong to receive praise from men, especially for a job well done. Good work ought to be praised. However, it’s wrong to do your work solely—or even mostly—for the praise of men. We don’t need some kind of spiritual PR Department to make us feel better about ourselves. What we want and what we seek is the praise of Almighty God.
We don’t serve for the praise of man
In verse 4 Paul spoke of not pleasing man but God. Let’s set up a comparison of those two ideas for just a moment:
Man-Pleaser: Refuses to speak hard truth
God-Pleaser: Willing to speak hard truth
Man-Pleaser: Says what people want to hear
God-Pleaser: Says what people need to hear
Man-Pleaser: Flip-flops on crucial issues
God-Pleaser: Consistent at all times
Man-Pleaser: Obedient when convenient
God-Pleaser: Obedient even when it hurts
Man-Pleaser: Tells the truth most of the time
God-Pleaser: Tells the truth all the time
Let us suppose you have been feeling sick lately. When you go to the doctor, he administers a test. The results are not good. The outlook is grim, but the disease is treatable if you get started now. What do you want the doctor to do? If he tells you the truth, you’ll be devastated. If he doesn’t, you’ll be dead. Would you rather have him sugar-coat the truth or even lie to you? Or do you want to know the whole truth about your condition? I know my answer. When I go to the doctor, I want to know the whole truth even if it hurts.
Doctor, please tell me the truth!
When life and death issues are at stake, only the truth will do. When it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Christians must be people who hold to the highest possible standards of truth and integrity.
Hard Times Ahead
Let me close by reminding you that hard times are upon us. Christians around the world are under attack for their faith. For a long time, we thought the troubles would be “over there,” on the other side of the ocean. But as things have changed in the West, the culture has gotten more hostile to the Christian faith.
Jesus said this would happen
We shouldn’t be surprised because Jesus said this would happen. We are sent out every day like sheep among wolves (Matthew 10:16). Given today’s spiritual climate, many people think it’s better to keep your head down and say nothing about your faith. But we don’t have that option as Christians. Sooner or later we’re all going to have to take a stand. Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Paul’s defense of his ministry is what he didn’t say. After suffering so much persecution, he doesn’t say, “I’m going to change my message to be more effective. I need to understand the felt needs of the Thessalonians better. I’ve got to stop telling them that idol worship is bad. People will think I’m just a negative troublemaker.”
He stood his ground.
He didn’t back down.
He kept on preaching the gospel.
Don’t back down!
God help us to do the same.
Let me go back for a moment to that forgotten tombstone and those five simple words: “A man of unquestioned integrity.” You could say that about the Apostle Paul.
He preached the gospel in spite of strong opposition.
He spoke the truth with integrity.
He refused all trickery.
He sought praise from God alone.
What a terrific testimony. It’s a worthy goal for all of us. A familiar hymn sums up his approach to ministry:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
(From “Be Thou My Vision” by Eleanor Hull)
No wonder they said of Paul and Silas, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also” (Acts 17:6).
That’s why we’re still talking about Paul’s ministry 2000 years later.
Lincoln and His Critics
But how can I say that Paul was a man of unquestioned integrity when his opponents questioned everything he did? The answer is, people can say whatever they want. We can’t stop others from lying about us. If we stand for Christ in these troubled times, we are bound to be criticized by someone. Paul nowhere tried to silence his critics. He simply said, “Look at my life. That’s all the answer you need.” Integrity means living with nothing hidden because you have nothing to hide.
We can’t stop our critics
Let people say what they will. We can’t stop our critics, but we can make sure what they say won’t stick to us.
Don’t worry about your critics.
Focus on pleasing the Lord.
Do the right thing.
Do the right thing!
Abraham Lincoln said it this way:
“If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how – the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what’s said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten thousand angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”
If we live to please the Lord, in the end it won’t matter what our critics say about us. Earlier I passed over one little comment that may in fact be the key. Paul said, “We were bold in our God” (v. 2 KJV). When you have a firm grip on God and he has a firm grip on you, you can be bold. Why be afraid when God is on your side? Get to know the Lord. Rest in him. Don’t build your ministry and then add God. Build on the rock called God, and let your ministry rest on that divine foundation.
When you start with God, no one will have to tell you to be bold. You’ll be bold and the world will wonder where your courage comes from.
Lord Jesus, help us to live the truth and not just to speak it. Give us the boldness that comes from knowing you. Help us to turn our world upside down with the Good News of Jesus. Amen.