24 March 2007

1st Thessalonians 2:1-4--The reason for Paul's success

We've started looking into the first letter Paul wrote to any of the churches he planted. We saw how Thessalonica was almost literally torn in two by Paul’s preaching Christ. Then we looked at those who believed in Christ, and how their lives were changed. We saw how they were motivated to work by their faith; they were driven to labour by their love; and their patience was brought about by their hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. Well, after commending these people on their faith, their love, and their hope, Paul then goes on to tell them what he thought of his trip to their city. We are in chapter 2 of 1st Thessalonians. Paul reflects on four aspects of his visit.

Verse 1

For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain.

Not in vain? Remember what happened in Acts 17:5-6--But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too."
To summarize, a group of unbelieving Jews rounded up a bunch of thugs, went looking for Paul and Silas and Timothy. When they couldn’t find them, they dragged poor old Jason out of his house because they thought that they were staying there. Our three friends had to sneak out of town under cover of night. Most people would say, “Man, you guys blew it big time!! What a disaster!!” Yet Paul says "It was not in vain. Our trip was not a waste."

You want to know what a waste is, look at the look at the lottery. You spend a bunch of money, and you get nothing back. You might scratch off a $10 winner…that you spend $50 to win. Now, that’s a waste. But, preaching the gospel is never a waste of time. If you tell it to 50 people and one believes, is that a waste? ABSOLUTELY NOT!! If you TELL IT, you’ll succeed. People today think if you try to talk to someone and they don’t listen, that you’ve failed. The only time we fail is when we fail to act. That’s what Paul was telling the people of Thessalonica. “Yeah, we know a lot of people tried to kill us. But Jesus said that would happen. So we preached His name, and you believed. That means our mission was a success.”

Verse 2.

But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict.

Suffered and were spitefully treated.” Jesus told His apostles Luke 21:12-19“…they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony…You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience you shall possess your souls.” When GOD calls us to a purpose, we have it in His word that things will not be easy. 2nd Timothy 3:12--Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

Ever read "Voice of the Martyrs?" In some countries you will be arrested, killed or worse. Ask the saints in China, Sudan, Philippines, and Middle East who have suffered, and have been tortured for the name of Christ if it was worth it. They’ll tell you YES. When we go out preaching the gospel, will we get doors shut in our face? YES. Will we have people use words that would make a sailor blush? YES. Will we have people tell us where to go, and what to do with our Bibles? YES. Will it be in vain? ABSOLUTELY NOT!! Because will we find people who want to know the LORD? YES!! And if we find one out of a thousand, it will be worth it. That’s the work that we are called to do, to go and tell, knowing that we may even lose friends over it.Listen to the words of the song “Stand”, by John P. Kee:

I decided to make a stand
Not ever knowing I’d lose all of my friends
But I’d rather live right
Than in Hell to lift up my eyes

Paul suffered, and was spitefully treated. Yet he was strong in the power of the LORD, and was bold in preaching the gospel. HE WAS SUCCESSFUL IN HIS MISSION. HE WAS STEADFAST IN HIS FAITH.

Verse 3.

For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit.

In other words, there were no hidden motives. That word “exhortation” means “to encourage someone to do good things.” The gospel that Paul preached was the absolute truth. The gospel cannot be preached using half-truths. It’s impossible. Because there's no such thing as a "half-truth." If it’s not the WHOLE truth, it’s not the truth AT ALL. Second, GOD does not WANT us to preach the gospel using lies. Remember, the gospel goes out in word, in power, in the Holy Spirit, and in assurance. If we lie, we use our own words, which have no power. We do not speak in the power of the Holy Spirit, because GOD cannot lie.
Titus 1:2--...in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began...
Hebrews 6:18--...by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie...

And how are people assured by lies? Think about it. If we try to win people using false promises, how long until they return to their old ways?

You know, TV preachers have become my favorite whipping boys. At worst they make the gospel sound like a “get-rich-quick” thing. “Christ died so’s you could drive a Benz!!” “He suffered and died so’s you could wear a Rolex!! Hallelujah!!” Excuse me while I hurl. But if you notice, it’s these preachers that wind up driving the Benzes and wearing the Rolex. They brag about all these people they “lead to Christ.” Thing is, what happens when these people they “lead to Christ” as a way out of their financial situation, are still stuck in their situation six months, a year later? What do these people do once those riches don’t start falling down like “latter rain?” They feel lied to, cheated, and they don’t want anything more to do with church. At the very least they make it sound like a way for “good people” to become “better.”

But, you see, before we come to know the Lord Jesus Christ, we are not good people. The gospel is not about making “good people” better. It is about sinners who are enemies of GOD, redeeming them by the blood of Jesus Christ, making them righteous in the eyes of GOD, that we may know how to worship GOD, and in this life glorify GOD—oh and by the way, we get to spend eternity with Him—THAT IS THE GOSPEL THAT PAUL PREACHED. He showed the Thessalonians where they fell short; he showed them the way to be made righteous in the eyes of GOD. Not by their good deeds, not by their works, but by faith in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and His righteousness deposited in our account. That is the gospel that Paul preached. That is the gospel that we need to preach.

Verse 4.

But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.

“GOD trusted us.” Listen to 2nd Timothy 2:15—Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. We read how GOD loves us. We tell people that He loves us and wants to save us. How many times do we stop to consider that GOD TRUSTS us? That’s kinda scary when you think about it. GOD trusts us with His word. I gotta tell ya. Sometimes when I see that clock ticking, and the songs are winding up, my brain starts going over what I’m about to say again and again. I start to think, “I’m about to be teaching out of the word of GOD.” And it ain't like this is “book of the month.” But that’s when we decide of we are going to trust our own wisdom, our own judgment, or if we are going to trust GOD, and wait and listen to what He has to tell us.

GOD trusts us with His word. And with His words. There is a difference between using our own words and using words that GOD gives us. There’s a trap that many churches fall into. They preach a message that they think people WANT to hear. They speak to please people. Is there anything wrong with that? Well, no…and yes. A message that reassures people of GOD’s love certainly has its place. But more often than not we need to hear a message that makes us humble. We need to hear a message about how small we are. We need to hear a message about how awesome GOD really is. We need to hear a message about how we NEED the cross. GOD knows our motives. The Bible says it here.
It says it again in Hebrews 4:13—And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. It says it again in 1st Samuel 16:7—Man looks on the outward appearance, but GOD tests the heart.

Think back to the armor of GOD. We put the breastplate over top of our hearts. And if you think about it, we need to put what GOD wants over—and ahead of—what WE want. We need to please HIM rather than to please people We need to speak like Paul spoke. With sincerity, with steadfastness, remembering we have been selected by GOD. If we do, we will succeed.

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