30 March 2007

Paul's humility (1st Thessalonians 2:4-12)

Many times these days, when a church grows farther than anyone could have predicted, they tend to give the pastor the credit. “Wow, pastor! This is some church you’ve built!” and too many times those men are more than happy to accept that credit. If I were to ever pastor a church that grew like that and someone came up and said that. Talk about uncomfortable. People mean well when they say it. A lot of times when someone hears that it’s easy to forget where the credit goes. With the apostle Paul, all the great things that GOD did through him, he could have been very proud of himself. “I've planted a church at Ephesus, and I planted one there in this city and that city. I am a great man of GOD.” But you never hear him talk like that.

Listen to some of the things he has written:
Galatians 6:14—But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Philippians 3:8—If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as dung, that I may gain Christ.

He could have been one of the proudest men on Earth. Yet at one point he refers to himself as the chief of sinners. Today I’d like to look a little deeper into this humility that Paul possessed, and how we can develop it and use it in our own lives and in dealing with others.

First, we see that Paul’s humility was TRUTHFUL.
Verses 4-5.
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. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness.

Notice how he ends verse 5—GOD is witness. Someone preaching the gospel could make you all kinds of promises, tell you all kinds of things that would sound good, and convince you that they have all the answers. They could puff themselves up to seem like they are more than what they are. But at the end of the day, who would they have to answer to? Whenever someone from our church goes out to lead a Bible study, sure there are people in the room listening. But there’s someone else there, watching, listening, to everything that goes on. That someone is GOD.

And when I preach, GOD is watching, listening to every word I say. And if I don’t remember that, I could wind up in a whole lot of trouble. That’s why we need to keep ourselves humble, and not puff our chest and lift up our nose and think that we are better than anyone else. Because we’re not. Look at verse 4. GOD trusts us and GOD tests us. Paul never forgot these two things. He used that knowledge to keep himself humble in his preaching.

Listen to these verses:
2nd Corinthians 12:9-10—…most gladly I will…boast in my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in calamities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
Acts 20:18-21—You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials…how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed…to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

That is how the people from our church come to the people GOD sends us to. Not as some great leader that can solve every problem. But as servants. Servants of GOD. Servants of Christ. Servants of all. That leads to the next point.

Paul’s humility was TENDER.
Verses 6-7.
Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.

When many unbelievers think about a bad experience they had at church, they think of some fire-and-brimstone preacher that condemned everybody to Hell. Or, they think of cliques, and rude people. I'll be honest with you. When I heard that First Baptist Powell was a Southern Baptist church, everything I had ever heard about the SBC came to mind. You know what? I couldn’t have been more wrong. You see, the central message in every sermon Pastor Phil preaches is the Cross of Christ. Because that is the height of GOD’s love toward us. Romans 5:8--But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Now, does that mean we don’t preach about Hell? Of course not. As Ray Comfort says, “You can't know how good the Good News is until you know how bad the bad news is." And the bad news is, we were all headed to an eternity separated from GOD. But the good news is, that He sent His Son to pay for the sins of all who would believe in Him.

But there has to be a balance. When preachers speak on Hell as a way to scare people into believing, it often does more harm than good. When we talk about Hell, it shouldn’t be as a way for US to condemn anyone because we can't! It should be like Paul says here, as a nursing mother cherishing her young. When Paul preached, the central point of his message was always the Cross. One great preacher, Charles Spurgeon, once said, "I take my text anywhere in the Bible, and I make a beeline for the cross." Speaking of the cross, let’s look at some words from our Lord Jesus Christ:
Matthew 23:37—“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”
Luke 23:34—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

This is also the tenderness of Paul’s heart.
Romans 9:2-3—I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were separated from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen…

Paul’s love and humility was truthful, it was tender, it was TOTAL.
Verses 8-9.
So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.

When you see a word used many times in the Bible, it usually means that that is an important word to remember. But on the other hand, when you see a word used one time, that means something too. And this is the only time in his letters that Paul uses the term “affectionately longing.” It’s a word that we could use for the people of we minister to in the Western Heights housing project here in Knoxville. We don’t go there as a way to pass the time on a Sunday afternoon. We’re not here just to have something to do. This isn't some experiment we’re doing to see if it’ll work. We labor and toil to impart the Word so that these people may know the love of GOD which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. So that one day, when we are walking in His kingdom, we can look and say, “Hey! How ya doin’! Glad to see ya!”

Our goal is to glorify GOD. “Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” That is how we are supposed to begin our prayers. And that is to be the goal of our ministry. What are the greatest commandments? Luke 10:27—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” Notice He says “AND, not “OR”. It’s not a choice. We can’t give Him and His kingdom part of ourselves. He’s got to have our heart, our soul, our mind, AND our strength. AND we HAVE TO love our neighbor as ourself. He said we need to forgive others when they wrong us. What if we don’t? Then GOD won't forgive our sins. “Well, yeah, but…” UH-UH. It’s an “if-then” statement. IF you don’t forgive, THEN GOD won't forgive you. There’s no “yeah but” about it. And just so you know that Paul wasn’t too good to forgive, 2nd Timothy 4:16—At my first defence I had no one at my side, but all deserted me. May it not be laid to their charge. Paul preached with a humility that was truthful, tender, total.

And finally, it was TRUTWORTHY.
Verses 10-12.
You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.

Let me go over a couple of words here, because I think it would it would help give a better picture. That word "exhortation" means "encouragement." "Charge"—that kinda means they appealed to the people to live a holy life. "Devout"—pious, religious toward GOD. "Just"—means honest among men. "Blameless"—of a pure motive. If you took this passage and drew a chart—and I’m not going to share the whole thing because I’d probably bore you to tears—this is what you would see:

• Their encouragement was religious toward GOD, it was honest among men and it was of a pure motive.
• The comfort they gave was religious toward GOD, and honest among men, and of a pure motive.
• Their appeal to the people to live a holy life was religious toward GOD, it was honest among men, and it was of a pure motive.

Now, look at the end of verse 11. Father. In verse 7, he is saying that they were gentle like a nursing mother and here he’s saying they were encouraging and comforting and appealing to the people as a father. That's not a contradiction. It's much like what Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:16--to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Here, Paul tells us to be as gentle as mothers, and as firm as fathers. Why? So people will know how to walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. Do you see that? GOD calls us. All those years I ignored Him, He wasn’t just sitting there thinking, “Man, I wish this guy would get his act together.” He was calling me. Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.” Eventually I figured out “Hey, my Shepherd’s calling me. I need to follow Him.” And I knew I needed to walk worthy of Him who called me. What does humility look like? Do you know you can be proud of your humility? [looking skyward] “Yes, I know. I’m...very...humble.” True humility is truthful, it is tender, it is total, and it is trustworthy.

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