Introduction. Read 1Thes2v1to12

This exposition owes a lot to the chapter, 'Helping the baby grow,' in Warren W. Wiersbe's book on 1 and 2 Thessalonians entitled, 'Be ready'. I have to admit that in this series of expositions I am reworking some very old addresses prepared before retirement when I was very busy as a school teacher. This meant I was far more dependent upon just one or two commentators than I have been during the last eleven years. Perhaps the strong influence of Warren Wiersbe will be to the reader's advantage!

Paul's ministry to the Thessalonians can be examined under four headings. HE WAS:

(1) A faithful steward. We speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. v4.

A steward manages his master's affairs and promotes his master's interests. Joseph was Potiphar's steward. He was in charge of his entire estate and household. I was a steward. I was entrusted with the education of children by my employer, Suffolk County Council. I kept faith with my masters notwithstanding the ups and downs that are a teacher's lot. I also fulfilled a responsibility to my subject - teaching it in a way I thought it demanded. My subject, Geography, demanded a certain degree of rigour. It wasn't just a case of making it fun!

Paul was appointed by God to declare the gospel. Paul had to remember to whom he was accountable and also to handle the gospel in an appropriate way.

Paul was faithful in:

(a) The manner of his ministry.

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. v2.

Paul did not give up in the face of setbacks. He had very rough treatment in Philippi. The apostle could have decided to take a holiday in Thessalonica: to lick his wounds and recharge his batteries. But no - he plunged straight into the task of making the gospel known. The apostle's efforts once again aroused ill-will among the Jews who eventually stirred up so much trouble Paul had to leave.

There is no doubt that Paul had great courage. During his ministry he let nothing deter him from declaring the gospel of God. Nobody could shut him up. He endured hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

There have been plenty of other Christians who have followed in the footsteps of Paul. John Wesley and William Booth were two evangelists who were never cowed by opposition. Today Christians are declaring the truth about Jesus in Moslem countries at great risk to themselves.

All of us should be able to say with Paul: I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. Rom1v16.

(b) The message of his ministry. For the appeal we make does not spring from error. v3.

Paul is absolutely convinced that his message is true. He is totally certain that he received it directly from God. He writes this to the Corinthians: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures and that he appeared to Peter ..... and then last of all he appeared to me also .... . 1Cor15v3to8.

Paul taught it was possible for men and women to be forgiven their sin and reconciled to God because God accepted the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross. Men and women who trust in Christ's saving work are accepted into God's family and given new life by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Every Christian will demonstrate their faith in Jesus by serving him. Servants of Jesus will share in his resurrection and be rewarded at his second coming.

It is evident from Paul's epistles that this forms the basis of the gospel he preached. All sorts of people have claimed through the centuries to have received a message from God. Many of them have been deluded. How do we know that Paul was not deluded? We know from the spectacular results that ensue from preaching this gospel. The gospel Paul declared is the only one there is. There are no variants of it. Not only did Paul witness wonderful results from preaching his gospel but so for 2000 years has every other successful evangelist. See exposition on Rom1v8to17.

(c) The motive of his ministry. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives.

Paul eschews three base motives:

  • To become popular. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. v4.

    When Paul preached he did so to please God and not to suck up to his hearers. In this respect Paul was very much like his Master. Jesus could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he had ingratiated himself with the Pharisees and Saducees. Instead he denounced them root and branch.

    One of the things that sickened me as a teacher was the tendency of visiting speakers to tell the children how wonderful they were. The impression they gave was that all the problems in a school were caused by the teachers. There were no problem children only problem teachers. These speakers doubtless realised they would never be popular with the majority of teachers so decided to cultivate the children instead. I hated it!

    I am afraid the same thing happens in Christian circles. Some speakers play to the gallery in a way reminiscent of a Tory leader at his Party Conference cracking jokes at the expense of the Socialists. I have heard fundamentalists preaching to a gathering of the faithful ridiculing Scientists and scoffing at the 'Big Bang' theory for the origin of the universe. The preacher would be better advised warning his hearers against ignorance, arrogance and dishonesty.

  • To get rich. Nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed - God is our witness. v5. 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. v9.

    Paul, unlike some of his contemporaries, was not in it for the money. He was not plying the gospel for material gain. His attitude stood in stark contrast to that of the religious leaders whom Jesus denounced for exploiting rich widows. Jesus told the Pharisees, who loved money, "What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight." Lk16v15.

    Paul doubtless divided his time in Thessalonica between working in leather to support himself financially and preaching the gospel. No wonder he toiled day and night. Very few church leaders follow the example of Paul today. Instead a church employs a full time pastor because elders in secular employment haven't the time to provide what is needed.

  • To be praised of men. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. v6.

    Praise can act a bit like a drug. It is addictive - the more we get the more we want. Some popular preachers feast upon it! I shall never grow fat on the reactions to this website. I think there is a difference between being told how well you preach or write and being thanked for being a help. The latter does provide deep satisfaction without necessarily feeding the ego.

    Paul was a very affectionate man. He didn't like conflict and much preferred to be on good terms with his fellow men. However, he fearlessly preached the gospel of God's grace even though by so doing he made many bitter enemies. Paul did not water down the gospel to make it more palatable to legalistic Jews.

    No preacher should be afraid to declare the truth even if that truth alienates elements in the congregation. My father used to advise me as a young preacher to be as wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove. This is not advice I have followed! But I do not regret forcefully declaring the truth as revealed by Scripture and the Holy Spirit even at the expense of lost preaching engagements.

Paul's aim throughout his dramatic ministry to the Gentiles was TO PLEASE GOD. He was God's faithful steward.

(d) The method of his ministry. Nor are we trying to trick you. v3. ..... You know we never used flattery. v5.

  • Paul did not try to trick or manipulate people into being saved. He wasn't like the double glazing salesman I invited into my house to give me a free quote for replacing my doors and windows. That salesman tried every trick in the book to get me to place an order. I had made it clear I wasn't going to place an order - I just wanted a free quote. But it made no difference - the salesman went through a cunning routine that must have proved successful in the past.

    It is possible to use methods that are unworthy of the gospel. Some evangelists exert tremendous psychological pressure to get a decision. I cannot imagine Paul adopting such disreputable methods.

    Warren Wiersbe writes: Salvation does not lie at the end of a clever argument or subtle presentation. It is the result of God's word and the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • Paul did not use flattery. He didn't tell folk how wonderful they were. Flattery can be very manipulative. The person doing the flattering is deceitfully trying to gain something for himself like influence, popularity, acceptance or a favour.

    Paul did not tell his hearers that God would accept them because they were loveable, winsome, attractive, decent people. He told them that if they repented of their sins and trusted in the saving work of Jesus God would forgive them, accept them into his family and impart new life through the Spirit. Salvation could not be earned or merited. It was God's gift to all who had faith in his Son.

(2) A loving mother. We were gentle amongst you like a mother caring for her little children.

Paul's ministry was like that of a mother in three ways:

(a) Sacrificial.

We have already noted that while Paul was in Thessalonica he endured toil and hardship. A good mother works hard on behalf of her family. My mother had four sons and she toiled away before the arrival of labour saving devices at cleaning, washing, ironing, cooking, sweeping, dusting, making the beds and shopping.

If we are Christians we should work hard on behalf of others in the church. In Paul's greetings to the saints in Rome he commends various individuals for their hard work and practical helpfulness. They are nearly all women! See exposition on Rom16v1to16.

(b) Time consuming. 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. v8.

Paul spent a lot of time with the Thessalonians. He wasn't like those mothers who employ a baby minder or pack their children off to boarding school. The apostle was readily available to the new converts. He enjoyed fellowship with the growing church.

Some Christian leaders are obsessed with sermon preparation. They spend the greater part of their time in the study. Some of these 'super-spiritual' reformed pastors think the more they study and the longer they preach the better God is pleased. I heard of a pious soul this week who preached two sermons on Sunday each of one and three quarters of an hour in length.

It is important for a church leader to socialise with his people. If they are dear to him - he will.

(c) Gentle.

A loving mother will gently and patiently teach her own child how to behave like a civilised human being. She makes allowances for the child's inexperience and for the fact that it is not good by nature! A little child needs many explanations, many corrections and many warnings. The mother must be patient and persevering. It is pointless expecting too much too soon. For a child to thrive during these formative years it must be certain of its mother's love.

Paul followed the example of a loving mother in dealing with babes in Christ. The new converts in Thessalonica were spiritually immature. They needed much careful, easily digestible instruction in the Way of Christ. Paul did not expect the new converts to mature over night. They would make lots of mistakes. The apostle gently and patiently pointed to the example of Jesus as the one to follow.

It is very important that new Christians are treated in the manner Paul treated the Thessalonians. A man or woman may be highly intelligent and be in a high status occupation but on becoming a Christian they start out as babes in Christ. They are no more spiritually mature than a freshly converted teen-age dropout.

It is not easy to be a nurse maid to immature Christians. Moses found this role almost too much for him. After the Children of Israel complained about the lack of meat to eat Moses was troubled ..... "What have I done to displease you (God) that you put the burden of these people on me ..... . Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant ...... the burden is too much for me." Nu11v10.

(3) The conscientious father. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children. v11.

Paul acted like the best of fathers in:

(a) His example. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you. v10.

Paul claims to be:

  • Holy. This means he carried out the duty for which he was set apart. He accepted and carried out his responsibility as the apostle to the Gentiles. Just as a father would have a responsibility to ALL his children - not just the obedient and loveable ones - so Paul fulfilled his responsibility to all. During my many years as a teacher I didn't just teach those who wanted to be taught. I expended most effort on those who were reluctant to co-operate. I nearly always had someone in lunchtime detention to finish or repeat homework. It would have been a lot easier to have written them off! We shouldn't write off immature Christians who are difficult to discipline; we should father them.

  • Righteous. This means he conformed to a moral code. In Paul's case he conformed to the Kingdom principles that Jesus advocated during his ministry. This does not mean that Paul was perfect. It is always as well to remember when reading Paul's letters that he, unlike his Master, had weaknesses. But it does mean Paul was a man of integrity. His life matched his words. His public face matched his private life. There are many fathers of whom this cannot be said. The philosopher, Betrand Russell professed a deep love of humanity but was devastatingly cruel to his children.

    I think one of the most effective weapons in Satan's armoury is the inconsistency of Christians. Many young and immature Christians are horribly disillusioned to discover that their spiritual leaders do not practice what they preach. I had two uncles who were very idealistic youthful followers of Jesus. They expected all Christians to be as dedicated as they were. When this did not turn out to be the case both were shaken to the core. One abandoned Christianity altogether and the other just managed to stand firm although he left the Baptist Ministry.

  • Blameless. This means Paul's life could stand up to careful scrutiny. His was more than a superficial goodness. A pious veneer did not mask a flawed character.

    During my many years of playing cricket, every Good Friday morning I would join with team-mates to redecorate our changing rooms. There was no sanding or rubbing down. We just whitewashed over what was there: rotting wood, scuff marks, peeling paint and mould. Our effort was just for show - it wouldn't stand up to inspection.

    The Pharisees had lives like that. Jesus called them whited sepulchres - fine on the outside but full of dead men's bones.

    Paul was not like that. He set a blameless example to the new Christian converts in Thessalonica. Our lives too should be able to stand the tests of time and tribulation.

(b) His words. Encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

Paul's words were:

  • Encouraging. The great thing about words of encouragement is that they positively reinforce good behaviour. Children need the approval of their fathers.

    I found as a schoolteacher that it was very important to find something encouraging to say about a pupil's work. If a poor student is fed a diet of negative comments it will just reinforce a negative attitude.

    It is difficult to break the cycle of antisocial behaviour leading to blame and more antisocial behaviour in delinquent children. They must be directed somehow into an activity which allows them to receive positive feedback.

    So Paul said much to encourage the young Christians in Thessalonica. He didn't just criticise them for their failures but praised them for the progress they made.

    Some Christians are much better at pointing out our failures and weaknesses than they are at giving praise where praise is due. They lack a generous spirit.

  • Comforting. Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Comforter. He is one who stands alongside believers to help them in all aspects of the Christian life. The Spirit helps us in distress, perplexity, weakness and serving.

    While Paul was in Thessalonica he helped the new converts with all the problems that arose from their conversion to Christianity. He stood alongside them - their inspiration and guide.

    Lots of Christians seem obsessed by their own needs. It is all about their own spiritual development and well being. The Bible teaches that we should put the interests of OTHERS before our own. We should be intent on nurturing and sustaining others. If I put my own interests first I would have left the small declining fellowship I attend long ago. I remain for the sake of elderly Christians who would be lost without the church they have attended all their lives.

  • Challenging. Paul challenged the Thessalonians to live lives worthy of God. He could hardly have set a higher challenge. Do we live lives worthy of God in our integrity, our compassion, our usefulness and our faithfulness?

    One of the traps teachers fall into is having low expectations. If you don't expect much from your pupils you will not get much. It is important to keep challenging students to reach higher and higher standards.

    Jesus does not have low expectations of his disciples otherwise he would never have preached the Sermon on the Mount.

(4) An honest advocate.

In his commentary on 1 Thessalonians William Barclay considers the passage we are studying was written to refute the slanderous criticisms of Paul's opponents in Thessalonica. The apostle's opponents accused him among other things of manipulation, flattery, preaching for gain and glory and behaving in a dictatorial fashion.

Some would argue that Paul should just have ignored those who slandered him out of spite, malice and jealousy. However, it was in the interest of the Thessalonian church to accept Paul for what he was: A man approved of God to be entrusted with the gospel. If Paul's reputation was undermined and his ministry devalued this would have a devastating effect on the Church in Thessalonica. This was also the case in Corinth and explains why Paul spent so much time defending himself in his second letter to the church there.

It is sometimes necessary for teachers or parents to defend themselves in order to maintain their authority. It may also be in the best interest of a local church if a pastor or elder defends himself against misrepresentation and calumny. There are times to go on the attack to protect the church against wolves dressed up as lambs.

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