Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Model Minister part 1

One of the unique qualities to 1 Thessalonians is the intimate portrait of the Apostle Paul that is portrayed. Paul arrived in Thessalonica under duress. His ministry experienced enormous success in a brief amount of time. Satanic opposition to the gospel once again compelled Paul and his associates to depart, but the young church in Thessalonica continued to thrive. Revealed in both of Paul’s letters to this vibrant church is the apostle’s love for the Thessalonians. In the first chapter he praised them for being a model church and he reminded them of the gospel’s powerful impact. In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 Paul will identify the qualities and characteristics that mark a model minister.

To interpret any passage of scripture one must understand the context of the passage; the context of a particular passage is simply the verses that surround it. The context of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, however; is not Colossians and 1 Timothy; instead, the context is Acts 17:1-10. That passage describes Paul and his associates’ arrival in Thessalonica; their ministry and its effects, and then their departure to Berea.

Let me review Acts 17:1-10 for you. Paul and his companions arrived in Thessalonica from Philippi where Paul and Silas had been unjustly flogged and jailed. In Thessalonica the powerful gospel message was well received by some, but was fervently opposed by many. The gospel’s enemies enlisted the help of some shady characters and a mini-riot ensued. Once again Paul and his cadre were forced out of a city. Acts 17:10 says, “And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea.” They had to slip out the back Jack to get themselves free.

I've reviewed all that because our text is 1 Thessalonians 2:1-6 and from that passage it would seem that Paul’s opponents and critics had used his flight by night as a basis to ferment lies concerning his integrity and sincerity. Those people sought to undermine the new church, and their battle plan was to assault the message, the motives, and the man who had planted the church. Therefore Paul begins the second chapter of 1 Thessalonians with a defense of his ministry. Paul’s decision to respond to those spurious charges was not motivated by self-preservation but out of a deep concern for the truth of the gospel and the future of the church.

The first thing that is evident from the text is that nothing was done in secret. Paul and his companions had nothing to hide. Paul’s life had been totally free from anything deceitful, defiling, or doubtful; everything was out in the open. Moreover Paul repeatedly reminded the Thessalonians that they were eye witnesses of his behavior.

  • V. 1“For yourselves, brethren, know…”
  • V. 2“…as ye know…”
  • V. 5“…as ye know…”
  • V. 9“For ye remember…”
  • V. 10“Ye are witnesses…”
  • V. 11“As ye know…”
Six times in the first eleven verses Paul calls to their attention that nothing was done in secret. The church was well aware of Paul, his message, and his motives. All the facts required for his vindication were common knowledge. He had hidden nothing, and he had nothing to hide.

This is the opposite of our political leaders, isn’t it? They have much to hide, and they expend an abundance of resources attempting to keep their secrets hidden, and the opposing Party expends a like amount trying to expose those secrets. It is also the opposite of many religious leaders. Do we have pastors, missionaries, or leaders in our churches who have something to hide? Do we have church members who have something to hide? Are you honestly able to appeal to God and witnesses as Paul does in this chapter? “Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe” (v. 10).

Along with the fact that Paul had nothing to hide our text uncovers five key qualities of a model minister.

Tenacity – Confident in God’s Power

1 Thessalonians 2:2. The Thessalonians were well aware that Paul and Silas had suffered while in Philippi. "Shamefully entreated" means both to be insulted and to suffer physical abuse, and both things happened in Philippi; they were beaten and jailed. Their treatment was especially disgraceful because they were innocent of any wrong doing and they were Roman citizens. Even though the missionaries suffered and were mistreated in Philippi for proclaiming the gospel, they remained confident in God’s power and in His powerful gospel message. They did not travel to Thessalonica for a sabbatical; they moved there to boldly proclaim the gospel just as they had in Philippi. And just like in Philippi, their bold preaching stirred up trouble because a clear, confident, and bold proclamation of the gospel will not lead to popularity but it may lead to problems.

And there were problems in Thessalonica; they proclaimed “the gospel of God with much contention” which means amid much opposition. I found it interesting that the word translated “contention” is "agon" from which we get the word “agonize”. In the ministry there is always an agonizing struggle, not only against opposition but against the pressure to compromise the gospel message. There is no place for such a compromise, however; and Paul was definitely not one to compromise the gospel. He tenaciously preached the cross, confident in God’s power to preserve him and to save sinners. The confidence was not self-confidence, but God-confidence. Paul’s courage came from God, and in the midst of opposition he remained obedient to the task.

Integrity – Committed to God’s Truth

Paul was confident in God’s power because he was committed to God’s truth; committed in his preaching and in his living. He said, “For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile”. Paul simply spoke the truth. Pilate had asked the age old question, “What is truth?” The supremely sad aspect of his query was that he had addressed the question to the very eternal Word of Truth, but he didn’t know or care. Many people peddle what they refer to as “the truth” but the only truth in this world is Jesus Christ – “the way the truth and the life” – and only by proclaiming Christ will you declare the truth.

That fact, however; has never prevented others from claiming that their way is, if not the way then a way of truth. One commentator I read wrote this:
"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 p produce and amalgam of real piety, high moral principles, crude superstition, and gross license. Oriental mysteries, Greek philosophy, and local gurus competed for favor under the tolerant aegis of Roman indifference. 'Holy Men' of all creeds and countries, popular philosophers, magicians, astrologers, crack-pots, and cranks; the sincere and the spurious, the righteous and the rogue, swindlers and saints, jostled and clamored for…attention."
The message of Paul’s ministry was a true message. It was not his message; he had just said in v. 2b, “We were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God”. Remember, we are the stewards of the message, not its source, but we are to be a sounding board of the message.

Paul’s ministry, which is the same as ours, was to proclaim the gospel, the power of God unto salvation. His ministry was free of deceit. He was not trying to get fat off of the Thessalonians. He was not a con-man who attempted to line his pockets with their money and seduce their women. When Paul said their exhortation was free of any “uncleanness”, he used a word that primarily dealt with sexual uncleanness. He was not offering them health, wealth, and happiness like the televangelists of our day. The scars from his Philippi thrashing were still fresh and do no doubt painful. He did not preach to them a lustful god who would gratify all their base desires. The charlatans of old and present seek to ensnare people. The word “guile” literally means to decoy, bait, or trap, and they seek to hook people into religious, mental, and moral slavery. Not Paul; he preached Christ in all his wisdom, love, holiness, and power. He introduced people to One who is mighty to save and able to cleanse, regenerate, and fill people with the Holy Spirit. No religion can rise higher than its source. That is why we do not preach a new message but the gospel message; the message of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s integrity was obvious because he was committed, in his preaching and with his life, to God’s truth. Paul was the opposite of a false teacher; his motives were pure, his methods were honest, and his message was true.

Authority – Commissioned by God’s Will

“But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel” – Paul was confident in God’s power, committed to God’s truth, and he was commissioned by God’s authority. He was “allowed” that is approved by God. He was not ministering on his own authority but he had been entrusted with the gospel. (1 Timothy 1:11-12)

Christ’s churches have been commissioned by God to proclaim the gospel, baptize the converts, and teach them the scriptures with the understanding that the learning is for living. Our authority does not come from ourselves or from national and/or international HQ. Our authority comes from the Lord.

Accountability – Motivated by God’s Knowledge

The fourth feature of a model minister or ministry is accountability motivated by God’s knowledge. Paul said, “even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.” This is the crux motivation of our lives and ministries. It is the accountability that comes from the constant realization that the omniscient Lord knows and examines everything in our heart and lives.

Paul was consumed with pleasing God because only God is able to examine and prove our hearts. Please understand that “our hearts” is not a reference strictly to our emotions; it refers to the inner self, the real person, where thoughts, feelings, will, and motive converge. God scrutinizes all those factors and knows with certainty whether His servants are seeking to please Him or people.

“Not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts” that foundational idea is often transposed into “Not as pleasing God, but men, who don’t know our hearts”. Why? Because the truth is not always a popular message for it convicts us, challenges us, and calls us to repentance. The pulpit must never be intimidated by the pew, and the pulpit must never seek to bully the pew. The truth must be spoken with love; not all truth and no love, but also not all love and no truth. Preaching (whether from the pulpit or in your personal life and witnessing) must be able to stand the test of God’s examination. We can compromise on the color of the walls and the style of the carpet, but we must not compromise the truth! A true ministry of the gospel deals honestly but lovingly with sin and judgment.

Paul did not purposely try to make men hate him, but neither was popularity his goal; therefore he never resorted to flattery – “For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know.” A flatterer does not communicate; he manipulates; and he does so for his own profit and gain. Paul was not a manipulator using flattery to gain and maintain a following. There is a definite difference between sincere and genuine compliments and flattery. This is the only time in the NT that this word for flattery is used and it carries the idea of using insincere words as a policy of manipulation. The Bible flatly condemns flattery – Psalm 12:2; Proverbs 26:28; Jude 16.

Paul never tried to trick or fool the Thessalonians. He never wore the “cloak of covetousness; God is witness.” He was not guilty of wearing a mask of greed. He never pretended to serve while all the time desiring to be served. He never pretended to give while all the time wanting to get. He didn’t treat people as though they were mere things to be exploited.

And that brings us to our final characteristic of a model minister/ministry.

Humility – Dedicated to God’s Glory

“Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.” Paul never sought compliments. As we have mentioned before, he was not out to please men. He not only shunned guile and gain as motivating forces in his life but also another snare of the popular preacher; the desire for glory. Paul was not looking for applause, approval, awards, recognition, or praise from men. Not from the Thessalonians or anyone else. The only glory he sought was eternal glory and that God would be praised and glorified (Ephesians 3:20-21).The six verses supply us with a God-pleasing, God-honoring, God-glorifying model for ministers and ministry.
  • Tenacity – totally confident in the power of God.
  • Integrity – fully committed to the truth of God.
  • Authority – divinely commissioned by the will of God.
  • Accountability – only motivated by the omniscience of God.
  • Humility – completely consumed with the glory of God.
Obviously, there are no perfect pastors or churches, but this is the model that a pastor is called to follow and the model that all of us should emulate.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saturday Morning Commentary

Rep. Joe Wilson shouted "You lie!" during the President's address on health care reform to the joint houses of Congress. I agree this is a serious matter, on many levels, but Nancy Pelosi's look of surprise and outrage was simply hilarious. His outburst was inappropriate, but I wholeheartedly agree with his position. Here are a couple of opinion pieces about that issue:
You may be sick of hearing about the health care debate. I understand, but I also understand that this is important. We need to be paying attention. Here are two articles which are well worth your time.
Finally, I rather enjoyed this op/ed piece from David Brooks. In it he deals with the recent public outbursts of Kanye West, Serena Williams, and Rep. Joe Wilson. It's a thoughtful column.

I encourage you to not only read the above but to post your thoughts as well, and I'm curious as to anything that you've read this week.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Model Church

The Apostle Paul was forced to leave the Greek coastal city of Thessalonica after only three Sabbaths because of intense persecution and violent opposition (Acts 17). In spite of that, a church was born! Timothy had been sent to Thessalonica so that he might check up on the infant church. When Timothy returned to Paul with a glowing report of the church’s growth and stability Paul was exceedingly encouraged (1 Thessalonians 3:6-7). Timothy’s uplifting report prompted Paul to write a most complimentary epistle. According to Paul, the congregation at Thessalonica was an exemplary church (1 Thessalonians 1:7).

1 Thessalonians, particularly chapter one, provides instruction as to what God intends and desires every church to be. 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 describe six characteristics which every church should have. (Please note the lack of reference to congregational size, buildings, programs, or the average offering amount; tangible measurements that men use to declare a church successful are clarifyingly absent from God’s list.)

#1 – The Model Church is a Saved Church

That is not something to be taken for granted. According to (Matthew 13:24-30), Satan sows tares among the wheat. Satan has always sought to infiltrate Christianity. Churches are often filled with unregenerate people. Although Baptist churches claim that they insist on a saved membership, there are frequently unsaved church members. It is entirely possible to arrive in hell from a church pew instead of a barstool. A person may walk the aisle, shake hands with the pastor, make a profession of faith in Christ, be baptized, become a church “member”, but never truly be born again.

Paul identifies the Thessalonian’s position as being “in God” (v. 1) and “in Christ” (vv. 1, 3), and “in the Holy Ghost” (v. 5). Paul’s wish for them to fully experience “grace and peace” (v. 1) is only possibly for someone who is saved. In verse 2 Paul is thankful for all of them, another hint that the entire membership of this church was redeemed.

In a practical sense, Paul refers to the Thessalonians as “brethren” and “beloved,” which are titles for saved people (1 Thessalonians 1:3-5). Paul remembered their “work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope”; all of which is clear evidence of their salvation. According to 1 Corinthian 13:13, faith, hope and love are the foremost Christian graces. The Thessalonians had a faith that worked (James 2:18), a love that laboured (1 John 3:17-18), and a hope that endured (Romans 8:25).

The exhortation of 2 Peter 1:10 is to diligently “make your calling and election sure.” In other words, make sure that you are saved. The Thessalonians had heard the Word; had demonstrated the working of the Spirit in their hearts, and therefore Paul knew that their calling and election was sure (vv. 4-5).

This was a saved church.

#2 – The Model Church is a Submissive Church

The church at Thessalonica followed the Lord and they followed their leaders (v.6). The Greek word translated “followers” in verse 6 is "mimetes", and it is from this Greek term that the English language obtains the word “mimic”. A follower is an imitator of his leader. A follower submits and surrenders his own will to that of his leader (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1). Submission is a critical aspect of church life; because, and this is true of any organization, it is necessary for some to lead but most to follow.

The pursuit of each individual Christian should be to imitate Christ, to be like Jesus. And that is the key to church unity and harmony. If all the church’s members were striving to be like Christ, there would be no problem getting along with each other. When church members are not in tune with one another it is usually because they are not following Christ. Unity in the church is not a result of running around and adjusting to everyone else. Rather, unity is a result of everyone becoming like Jesus Christ.

A model church is one that is submissive to Jesus Christ, and to the Christ-like leaders He has set in leadership.

#3 – The Model Church is a Suffering Church

There was “much affliction” at the time when the Thessalonians “received the word” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; Acts 17:5-10). True churches can expect suffering (2 Timothy 3:12); however, they must be careful that their suffering is not because of sin (1 Peter 3:17; 4:15-16). And model churches, like the church at Thessalonica, will experience suffering as a result of fidelity to Jesus Christ, but will also “count it all joy” to “suffer shame for His name” (James 1:2; Acts 5:41). A saved and submissive church is going to antagonize the world. Not because they are annoying jerks, but because of what Christ said in John 15:18, 20.

The small church in Smyrna knew this to be true. Life was not easy for them (Revelation 2:8-11). They were weary from incessant persecution. "Thilpsis" is the Greek word translated “tribulation” in Revelation 2:9, 11. That word literally means, “to be crushed.” That is interesting because the word Smyrna is derived from the word “myrrh,” an ancient and aromatic residue extract from the balsa tree.

Myrrh is frequently connected with the life of Christ; it was present at his birth (Matthew 2:11), at his crucifixion (Mark15:23), and at his burial (John 19:39). Myrrh yields its fragrance by being crushed, and the more it is crushed the sweeter it smells. Like myrrh, the church at Smyrna was being crushed with persecution, and the more it was crushed, the sweeter its fragrance. Smyrna produced a sweet-smelling aroma to God and a precious testimony to the world.

The church of Smyrna lived inside a pressure cooker, and they were given two options: stand firm for their Savior, or surrender to Satan. The believers at Smyrna chose the former, and it cost them; because standing firm for Jesus Christ will always bring worldly persecution on the believer (Philippians 1:29; John 16:33; 1 Peter 4:12). The church that confronts the world is going to suffer. Smyrna was willing to suffer for the One who had suffered for them. How about you and your church?

#4 – The Model Church is a Steadfast Church

The Thessalonian church stood firmly on the Word of God. Paul said, “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit…and ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction” (vv. 5-6). Paul also told them in 2:13, “Ye received the word…not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God.” And he said in 3:7-8, “We were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith: for now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.”

Standing fast in the Lord requires two things: not wavering doctrinally and maintaining a steadfast love. A church can be doctrinally sound but spiritually dry. The church of Ephesus from Revelation 2:1-7 is a perfect example. A church, and therefore the members who make up a church, must be doctrinally pure and also totally passionate about the Lord.

Sometimes I will hear Christians lament a lack of excitement in their life or church. Nothing is more exciting than a steadfast church; a church that is doctrinally pure and committed to love one another!

#5 – The Model Church is a Soulwinning Church

The Lord Jesus Christ came, “To seek and to save that which is lost” Luke 19:10. The Head of the church has given His churches a commission to “Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” Mark 16:15. The Lord of the church was a Soulwinner, and His churches should be soulwinning churches.
Christ’s churches and Christ’s people are to be witnesses. Not everyone is called to be a missionary with a capital “M”, but everyone has been called to be a witness with a capital “W”! An effective witness has a twofold ministry.

What the World Sees - WORKS

The first way a model church spreads the gospel is by living exemplary lives. This is the testimony of a changed life, and the Thessalonians had this (vv. 7, 9); having turned from serving dead idols to serving the living God. It is not programs, organization, or creativity that gives a church a powerful testimony. It is the corporate example of each member’s Christlikeness.

What the World Hears - WORDS

The gospel must be declared by works and by words. According to (v. 8), the “word of the Lord” was being “sounded out” in Thessalonica, in Macedonia, in Achaia, and in “everyplace.” The Greek word for “sounded out” is "execheo", from which the English word “echo” is derived. A Christian’s personal testimony and a Church’s corporate testimony should never be independent of God’s Word, but simply an echo of His truth. Churches are not called to reinvent the gospel, but to faithfully and boldly echo the “faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).

Every model church will follow the soulwinning pattern that Christ delivered to that first congregation in Jerusalem (Acts 1:8), and will only proclaim the inerrant truth of God’s Word.

#6 – The Model Church is a Second Coming Church

Jesus Christ promised (John 14:1-3) that He would come back and gather His people to be with Him forever. Therefore, a model church eagerly anticipates the Second Coming of Christ. This is a major theme in both Thessalonian epistles. However, there are those who scoff at the Second Coming. Peter describes them in 2 Peter 3:3-4. But every congregation that desires to be a model church will be aware of and awaiting the return of Jesus Christ. The last recorded words of Christ in scripture are “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be,” Revelation 22:12. Anticipation of the future motivates Christians to live Godly lives in the present.

Believing that Jesus is coming again and coming soon does two things for the Christian; it generates a sense of urgency in evangelism, and it increases the commitment to the work of the Lord. A church that does not look for the Second Coming of Christ has no sense of urgency to lead the lost to Christ. The Lord wants His churches to live and function in anticipation of His imminent return.

The characteristics of a model church cannot be measured solely on the basis of average attendance, average offering, the number of missionaries supported, the number and the credentials of the paid staff, the size and beauty of the buildings, or the innovative and contemporary programming. Unless a church is comprised of saved, submissive, suffering, steadfast, soulwinning, Second Coming people; then that “church” is nothing but an religious organization.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Gospel's Impact

What should we expect to take place when the gospel is proclaimed? Indeed, just what is the gospel and how should it be proclaimed? Does the gospel have any impact on the world today? Those are questions for which churches and Christians must have answers that are Biblically sound, and our text of 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10 will provide us with the answers.

The Bible makes it very clear that all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Not only are all men sinners, but the wages of sin is death; not only a physical death but an eternal and spiritual death separated from God in a place of punishment. No man can earn, work, or pay his way out of this mess. Perfection is the standard for salvation. Sin is all that we can do; therefore it would seem that Hell awaits us all.

That is where the good news, the gospel, enters in and proclaims that God has made a way of salvation for sinners! The gospel is the good news that God has chosen to “deliver us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Paul also wrote in Romans 5:8 that, “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” And in one of the greatest verses in all of Scripture, 2 Corinthians 5:21 we read, “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”

Who is the “us” to whom God has commended His love, made righteous in Jesus, and chosen to deliver from the coming wrath? Everybody’s favorite verse answers that question! John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The “us” are those who will believe the gospel, repent of their sins and follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The impact of the gospel is that dead sinners may become living saints through the Lord Jesus Christ. That is good news; the best news, that God graciously and mercifully offers salvation through His Son Jesus Christ and Him alone!!

Not only has God chosen to provide salvation to men, but He has chosen the means by which men are saved. People must hear the gospel and believe it in order to be saved. That is why the institution of the Church has been ordained by Christ to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

In 1 Thessalonians 1:5 Paul says that the gospel came to the Thessalonians in a certain way. Notice the first phrase of that sentence: “For our gospel came not unto you in word only.” Now he did not say WITHOUT words. He simply said “not only with words.” There had been plenty of words (Acts 17:2-3). For three Sabbaths Paul, from the scriptures, had reasoned, explained, proved, and proclaimed that Christ was the Messiah, the Savior. The gospel is a message from heaven for man, and it deals with facts; revealing the truth about God and the truth about man. The gospel must be told, which means the gospel is in word, but it is not in word only. And here we have Paul acknowledging that the gospel didn’t just come with words.

Here is why this is important. When true preaching takes places it is not just words from a man’s lips. When the Spirit of God takes up the lips of His servant proclaiming His gospel, it is not just words. Paul had not endured a thrashing in Philippi, and then walked with a bleeding back the 100 plus miles to Thessalonica just to talk! Anyone can talk. Many people are good public speakers. Engaging conversationalists are not unique to Christianity. Theological truth can be understood and transmitted by just about anybody. A good communicator can cause people to follow his line of reasoning, but without the empowering of God’s Spirit, all of it is only words! With the Holy Spirit, however, it is much more than mere words. John MacArthur says in his commentary,
“Regardless of the erudition, the compelling logic, the soaring rhetoric, or the clever and interesting communication style, if the truth spoken is not accompanied by the power of God, it accomplishes nothing. But when empowered by God as it enters the prepared soul, the gospel truth saves.”
Until people understand this they will say things like,
“Why should I come to church and listen to someone talk? After all, aren’t sermons outdated? This is the age of communication, and we can communicate in so many interesting and new modes. Why on earth should I burn a Sunday, or any other day, just to hear someone talk?”
Of course the answer is: no reason at all! I could not agree more, because I have little interest in going somewhere just to hear someone talk. But when the Spirit of God takes up the lips of the preacher, then you are not merely listening to someone talk.

Proclamation of the gospel, whether from a pulpit or from across your kitchen table, is never supposed to be a monologue only; instead it is a dialogue between God and the hearer. How is this possible? The text answers the question.

The Gospel’s Power

The Gospel came in Power

“For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power.” There is no reason to talk and no reason to listen unless this is true. The power of God is present in the clear preaching of the gospel! 1 Corinthians 1:18 tells us so. The message of the cross is the power of God! Therefore, when this message which is foolishness to the world but the wisdom and power of God, when this message is proclaimed, whether from the pulpit or across a coffee table or across a booth in a restaurant or in the break room at your workplace, it’s not just talk…it’s not just words…it’s POWER!

The power is inherent in the message, not in the presentation. Power – the Greek word is "dynamis" from which the English word “dynamite” is derived. The gospel came not simply with words but with dynamite! When the message of the cross, came to Thessalonica there was dynamite in the message, and according to 1 Thessalonians 1:9 there was enough dynamite to shatter the false Gods that the Thessalonians had followed and served, because the message is unequaled and miraculous power.

Paul arrived in Thessalonica fully expecting this to happen. He expected that through the proclamation of the powerful gospel message people would be saved and a church would be planted. He expected that the enemies of the gospel would become angry and that his work would be opposed. He expected the city of Thessalonica to be stirred up by highly explosive gospel message. He wasn’t hoping for that; he expected it!

I cannot emphasize this enough; the gospel is inherently powerful in and of itself! The power is not in the presentation (Romans 1:16). And that is why I have a problem with trying to entertain people into the kingdom. We can make people feel good. We can entertain and encourage them. We can make them laugh and make them weep…but it’s all just words. Only in the gospel itself is there spiritual dynamite.

The Gospel came with the Holy Spirit

Paul said the gospel came with power and the Holy Spirit. Of course, the two go together; truly, you cannot have one without the other. In the scriptures you will find that power and the Holy Spirit are always interwoven. Between Passover and Pentecost the early church was hidden in a room. Why? Because they were waiting for something. Jesus came to them and said, “Ye shall receive power” that’s "dynamis". When would they receive this power? “After the Holy Ghost is come upon you”. Power and the Lord’s Spirit are always linked. Of course, the church would receive this power for the purpose of being a witness, a herald of the gospel message. I’ll again quote MacArthur who wrote,
“Genuine soul-transforming power accompanying gospel preaching is the work of the Spirit energizing both the preacher and the hearer.”
This power is not innate to your personality. This is not about being an extrovert, a type “A” personality, a motivated communicator, or anything of that ilk. The power is from and through the Holy Spirit to extroverts and introverts alike; to both smooth communicators and to stuttering, stammering lips.

This power was not intrinsic to Paul or his companions; it was Holy Spirit power! Paul understood this very well; later in life he would write to the church in Rome, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost…through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God…I have fully preached the gospel of Christ,” Romans 15:13, 19.

Commentator John Phillips writes,
“Paul…did not rely on his…knowledge…education…his eloquence, or his powerful personality. It was not his outlines, his illustrations, or his sincerity that produced such spectacular results…it was the Holy Spirit. From start to finish everything about Christianity is supernatural”
The Thessalonians had not simply become religious. They had not turned over a new leaf. They were not merely attending a church service. They had been transformed, and that transformation was so complete it was literally a new birth! And it was all brought about by the plan of the Father, the work of the Son, and the application by the Holy Spirit.

Incidentally, why do you think Paul says “our gospel” instead of “God’s gospel” or “the gospel”? Do multiple gospels exist? Not at all! Paul was affirming that he had personally experienced the salvation through the powerful gospel. It was the gospel that had changed Paul’s life. It was the gospel that had transformed Saul the zealous Pharisee who hated Christ and His churches, to Paul the zealous apostle of Christ and church planter!

The gospel came not simply with words, but with Holy Spirit power and with “much assurance.”

The Gospel came with Much Assurance

Paul’s deep conviction was that when the gospel was faithfully proclaimed the Holy Spirit would empower the proclaimer and enable the hearer. Why? Because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. We can be assured that the word of God will not return void (Isaiah 55:11), and we are called to be faithful witnesses of that powerful message. Assurance is not some human device whereby men persuade themselves. Rather it is the result of the activity of the Holy Spirit working within believers.

The Gospel’s Impact

The gospel’s impact on the Thessalonians (and on all who believe) was fourfold.

New Foundation

(Matthew 7:24-27) – Instead of shifting sands, all those who believe the gospel have their foundation on Christ the solid rock. In this life there are many unsettling things, but for the believer one thing is not in doubt: our lives have been radically changed and no longer do we live on a flimsy footing. We have been placed by God’s grace on the solid rock. “He brought me up out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings” Psalm 40:2.

New Family

(1 Thessalonians 1:4) – “brethren beloved” – As the Gaither's wrote and we sing:
“I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God; I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood! Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod; for I’m part of the family, the family of God”

New Focus

(1 Thessalonians 1:9) Until their conversion their lives had been consumed with idols, but now their focus was on the one, true, living God. The gospel truth had seized their hearts, minds, and wills with great power, and had given them a new focus. Becoming a Christian involves a very definite break from all non-Christian habits. It isn’t just adding the “Jesus package” to a lifestyle of our own choosing. It is a whole new God-ward focus.

New Future

(1 Thessalonians 1:10) They were patiently and confidently awaiting their Lord’s return. Not that they were loitering about and being idle. No, the prospect of their Lord’s imminent return spurred them on to holy living and a passionate zeal for the lost. May it also be true of us.

After being changed by the impact of the gospel, the Thessalonians became channels of the gospel message. Verse 6 says that they had become imitators of Paul and of Christ, and then verse 7 shows that they had become imitated by all the churches in Greece. They were a model for others to follow, and they were a sounding board, a channel, through which the gospel message was trumpeted.

The sounding board picture is a good one because a sounding board does not create sound, it reflects sound. It is not the source of the sound, but it amplifies the sound for others to hear. The church in Thessalonica was a sounding board of the powerful gospel message, in Thessalonica and all of Greece. May our churches be and /or become sounding boards of the gospel!

We need to be reminded of the gospel’s impact, and the centrality of the gospel message to the church’s purpose. We must recommit ourselves to this gospel focus in this age when so many other facets of church life are being emphasized and the gospel is minimized and/or neglected. Pray that we will have a deep conviction that the gospel is the word of the Lord, and since it is, we can and we must present it without apology and without amendment. Pray that whenever the gospel is proclaimed, whether it is from this pulpit or in your conversations with others that it will come not simply with words, but with Holy Spirit power and with much assurance.

Some who read this post may be lost. May I tell you plainly that it is a very serious thing to hear the word of God proclaimed, to find within your heart the stirring of God’s Spirit, and then to turn away on the assumption that you will feel again the way you now feel? You may never again have that prompting of the Spirit to trust Christ. You may never hear God’s voice in this way again. That is why we read in the scriptures, “To day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95:7-11; Hebrews 3:15).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The President and My Kids

As you already know, this morning the President addressed the nation's schools, with the speech directly piped into the classroom. You also know that the event created an uproar in certain sectors. Some parents were convinced that the speech was nothing less than the socialistic indoctrination of America's children. They were adamant that their progeny not be subjected to the President of the United States. Some people are convinced that no matter what the President says and no matter the setting, they are duty bound to shield their children (and themselves) from it like they would pornography. This is, of course, assuming that (most) people still shield their children (and themselves) from pornography.

My kids have not viewed the President's address. Not because I've forbidden them from it, but because our school has not yet shown it. This notification from Greencastle Middle School principal Shawn Gobert arrived home today. GMS did not show the speech live; not because GMS is a bastion of conservative activism, but because the administration wanted to review the speech's content before airing it to the students. I appreciate their cautious approach. I also appreciate the prior notification, and the provision of an "opt out" if I so desire. I believe this is the proper course of action for a principal to take. I do wish for my children to watch the President's speech, so I won't be signing and returning the form.

I'm not a fan of the President. I did not support his candidacy, and I do not support his presidency insofar as cash for clunkers, government owned car companies, bank bailouts, Obamacare, etc. I would object and most likely would have forbidden my boys from participating in any of the previously released D.O.E lesson plans that evidently were about about "follow your leader" than "stay in and do well in school." According to this blog post the lesson plans were only changed after the controversy erupted, and they suggested that:
"Teachers can extend learning by having students write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals.” (italics added)
Helping the President achieve his goals is a far cry from encouraging students achieve personal goals. The administration was rightly ridiculed for such a move.

Greencastle Middle School will not be using those materials. I'm looking forward to using this experience as a springboard for discussion with my boys about the issues surrounding our government. We already have these conversations, but this presents just another prime opportunity to start a conversation.

As a Christian father I must protect what is set before the eyes and ears of my children. I don't think letting my children hear their President say this puts me at risk of being negligent.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Saturday Morning Commentary

Not as light as the 'Saturday Morning Cartoons' series, but well worth your time just the same. Most, if not all, of these opinion columns are listed on my Google Reader. The ones listed here are judged by this blogger to be good reading that provokes thinking. I welcome your opinions and recommendations.

I hate provisos, but sometimes I feel they are necessary. As my side bar states, just because I link a column doesn't mean I agree with any or all of the column, and it certainly doesn't mean that I'm a "fan" or a "supporter" of the writer. Jim Rome has clones. Rush has ditto heads. I'm neither. You won't find writers from too wide a spectrum linked here, but it won't only be far right types.

Here are two excellent columns from Cal Thomas, one of my favorite commentators. The first revolves around his friendship with the late Senator Kennedy. The second is a solid lesson on the difference between showing good judgment and being judgmental. Thomas has a nice website, too. You'll find it by clicking here.

Mark Steyn is another columnist I enjoy. My first exposure to Steyn was through his book America Alone. It's a good read. Since then I've regularly read his Saturday column for National Review online. His most recent contribution deals with the President's plan to address all the schoolkids of the nation during school through a satellite feed. As usual, Steyn writes a well reasoned and witty column.

Next are a couple of thought provoking columns by George Will. Mr. Will is a conservative columnist who suggests here and here that the American military should pull out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Don't argue against his point until you've read his argument. I think he makes a lot of sense. Something to think about anyway.

Here are the last two. First, Levi Johnston just won't go away. I wish he would! Here is a fairly solid piece from NYT op-ed columnist Gail Collins onthe subject.

Because football season is here, the final commentary that I'll link is from Ted Kluck's open letter to Tim Tebow fans.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Birth of a Church

Last year my family vacationed for a week on the beaches of Hilton Head, SC. During the middle of the week I took the family to nearby downtown Savannah, GA; an interesting city that is perfect for a walking tour because of the many city squares and the beautiful architecture that you find throughout the downtown area. I loved the history of the place, and I loved walking the city streets and enjoying the sights. My boys and their nieces, on the other hand, were bored stiff and hated every minute of Savannah. They didn’t care for architecture. They weren’t impressed with the city squares, and they most definitely did not like walking around in the hot Georgia sun on an August afternoon. “Let’s get out of here, dad, and get back to some real fun!” That’s what I heard most of the afternoon.

Many folks feel about the Bible the way my boys felt about Savannah. It doesn’t seem real to them and they are not interested. They think they are in a religious museum, looking at ancient artifacts that have no meaning for life in today’s modern and scientific world. But they are wrong. No book is more relevant and meaningful for our lives than the Bible. This book is not, and will never be out of date or out of touch.

1 Thessalonians is a letter that was originally written in 51 A.D., but its message is just as true, just as important, and just as relevant in 2009 A.D. It was written by a real man to real people who constituted a real church which was experiencing real problems as the ministered in the real world which was real unfriendly to their Christian faith. If you are a believer and a member of your local church you will be able too easily identify with these people because you live in a similar world and face many of the same problems, which you will see as we make our way through 1 Thessalonians together. Once you understand the context, the concerns, and the consideration of this letter, you will see how up-to-date and practical it is.

The Context

To begin a study in Thessalonians the natural place to begin is…in Acts 16:9! Why start in Acts if you’re going to study Thessalonians? Because Acts is the history book of the original church and the churches that she spawned. It is the “minute book”, if you like, of those early churches; describing when, how, and under what circumstances the gospel was spread throughout the Roman Empire. We also discover who the missionary was that God used to plant those churches, and it is almost exclusively Paul; who got by with a little help from his friends.

In Acts 16:9 Paul and his friends Silas and Timothy have reached an impasse. They are in the initial stages of what we now call Paul’s 2nd missionary journey. The plan had been to revisit the churches which were planted on the 1st journey, and then move on to the south or north, but the Holy Spirit forbade them from going in any of those directions (Acts 16:6-7). They have just come from the east; now they are prohibited from going north or south, so they head west to the port city of Troas situated on what is today the NW coast of Turkey (Aegean Sea). While in Troas Paul receives the “Macedonian call”(Acts 16:9-10). In this passage there is a change from the third person pronoun to the first person, indicating that Luke had now joined the missionary team.)

Paul and his companions were in no doubt as to where they were going – into Macedonia, and as to why they were going – “the Lord had called us…to preach the gospel unto them.” That is the exact same task set before each church today. There is no doubt as to where we are to minister – in Greencastle and Putnam county in my case - and we know what we are to do – “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

We are not to be a political action committee. We are not the behavior police. We have not been given the task of fighting social injustice and inequality. Instead, “the Lord has called us to preach the gospel unto them”! We cannot reach the world via political, behavioral, or social methods. We must be “determined not to know anything among [them], save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2), and once the powerful gospel has transformed a sinner into a new creature then the political, behavioral, and social stuff will fall into place, but not before.

Paul was obedient to God’s word, and the establishment of the church in Thessalonica, as well as so many other churches throughout the western empire was a direct result of Paul’s unflinching, unwavering obedience to the word of the Lord. How is your church doing? You know where you are. Do not be confused or distracted as to why you are there and what you are to do.

Paul and his team left Turkey and came to Philippi, a Roman colony located in Greece. Paul followed a S.O.P. (standard operating procedure) on his missionary journeys: he always worked in large cities (not because he had no burden for the small-towns, but ministered in the large cities and then that church would reach out into the smaller towns nearby) and he always began his ministry in the Jewish synagogue. There was no synagogue in Philippi, however, an indication of the small Jewish population in the city. Nevertheless, Paul boldly proclaimed the gospel, which not only led to the salvation of souls but it also sparked a riot. Paul and Silas were seized, stripped, beaten, and placed in stocks at the city lock-up – Acts 16:22-24. I can just imagine that had I been Paul’s companion instead of Silas, I may have said, “Paul, are you sure that you got the right vision? There are several provinces which begin with “M”. This doesn’t seem right. Are you sure we’re supposed to be in Macedonia?”

But no such whimpering comes from Silas or Paul. Instead, they are praying and singing praises, and what followed their impromptu worship service was the first ever “Jailhouse rock”. Then came the real miracle of the story: the jailer’s conversion and that of his household.

In the morning the magistrates were horrified to learn that they had beaten Roman citizens without benefit of a trial, and they begged Paul and Silas to leave the city. In what had to have been an extremely painful journey the missionary team (sans Luke because the third person pronouns have resumed) the battered preachers and Timothy made the 100-mile trek to Thessalonica. We read about that in Acts 17:1-4.

Let’s examine the words Luke used to describe Paul’s synagogue ministry.

  • “Reasoned” – Acts 17:2 – means “to discourse using questions and answers.” Dialogue would be a good synonym. Effective Christian witness includes being able to answer questions about the faith; 1 Peter 3:15, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear”
  • “Opening and Alleging” – Acts 17:3a – simply means “explaining” and “to place beside.” Paul would read a portion of the Old Testament Scriptures and explain their meaning with reference to Jesus Christ and the Gospel. He proved how the OT was fulfilled in and through Christ.
  • “Preach” – Acts 17:3b – means “to proclaim, to announce.” Paul did not simply teach the Scriptures; he proclaimed Christ and urged his listeners to receive Him by faith.
We can learn much from Paul’s approach. He used the Word of God, and he declared the Son of God. He started where the people were and led them into the truth of the Gospel, and so must we.

Not long into his Thessalonian ministry the non-believing Jews became jealous and resentful of Paul’s success at winning people to Christ. They gathered a group of thugs and assaulted Jason’s house, probably hoping to find Paul and his compatriots there. They settled for Jason since they couldn’t find Paul, and they hauled him before the city’s rulers. Please notice the charge that they laid on Paul in Acts 17:6, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also”.

How had they turned the world upside down? By preaching the gospel: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures…was buried…and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4); by reasoning with them out of the scriptures. Those who would turn the world upside down must use the Word of God as the lever!

Once the riot was finally quelled, the young church snuck Paul and Silas out of town during the night. The team traveled 50 miles south to Berea where again they experienced the blessing of the Lord, and again the bomber boys chased them out of town (Acts 17:10-15). This marks the third consecutive city from which Paul was forcibly removed. Silas and Timothy are able to stay behind in Berea while Paul is forced to go it alone to Athens. That city was so wholly given to idolatry that Paul’s spirit was “stirred” – Acts 17:16 – means provoked and exasperated by what he saw. In Athens Paul preached his famous Mars’ Hill sermon, and while that did yield some fruit he mostly received ridicule and rejection.

From Athens to Corinth is Paul’s next move, and once again he is alone: “After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth” Acts 18:1. The opposition in that city was fierce. In fact, God spoke to Paul by a vision to encourage him in continuing the work (Acts 18:9). And here is why I have you in Acts 18, even though we are beginning a study in 1 Thessalonians, because of Acts 18:5.

You see, Paul is human, not superhuman, and he is in need of some encouragement! From the time that he obeyed the Lord’s call to Macedonia he had been beaten, locked up, ran out of one city after another, dismissed as a “babbler” (ACts 17:18), and then faced with intense persecution in Corinth. Yes, there were blessings along the way, but Paul needed some encouragement. He needed to know that somewhere something was going right. And at that time here came Silas and Timothy from Macedonia. Now Silas was probably in either Berea or Philippi, but Timothy had been in Thessalonica, and he brought to Paul a glowing report of that young church’s growth and development. It was just the thing that Paul needed.

We know this because of what Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2; 6-8. Here is what all of this background teaches us. First, God uses people. God did not send angels to evangelize Thessalonica; He sent a converted Jewish rabbi and his friends, including a young man who was part Jew, part Gentile. God still uses people; dedicated people who will obey His leading and share His message and encourage their brethren.

Secondly, the Gospel is still “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). It did not require years to set up a church in Thessalonica. God’s power was effective in changing lives, and a church was founded in less than a month. Our mandate is still the same: we are to evangelize the world not sanitize it, and we do that only by preaching the gospel. Remember, those who would turn the world upside down must use the Word of God as the lever.

Third, Satan still opposes the Gospel and persecutes God’s people, but persecution can be a means of growth. We have seen that already by following Paul from Turkey into Greece, and as we study 1 Thessalonians, we will see that God’s Spirit strengthens and encourages suffering saints as they go through the difficulties of Christian life.

The Concerns

What concerns prompted Paul to write this letter? While the overall news from Timothy about this young church was encouraging, there were some serious concerns. For starters, the persecution that forced Paul and his team out of Thessalonica had not abated. Persecution is always accompanied by the temptation to compromise and yield to discouragement. Paul wanted to encourage this sapling of a church to stand strong in the faith. He was also concerned about their doctrinal purity, and he wanted to ground them in the doctrines of the Christian faith; with particular reference to Christ’s return.

There were also enemies of the truth in Thessalonica who were slandering Paul and spreading lies; basically accusing him of being a greedy televangelist who just preached religion in order to make money. Paul assured his readers of his love for them and his honesty in ministering to them.

He also wrote to encourage them to live holy lives; a concept that needs to be emphasized in our churches too. And, in this letter, Paul sought to correct some church weaknesses. There were members who did not respect and honor their spiritual leaders. Others were refusing to work, arguing that the soon-coming of the Lord made work pointless, and there was some confusion and disorderly conduct in their public services that needed to be corrected.

We’ve seen the context and the concerns that motivated Paul to write this letter. Let’s finish by considering this letter’s contemplation, and discover what it means to us.

The Consideration

Each New Testament letter has a specific message that is uniquely its own for us to consider. In Romans the emphasis is on the righteousness of God, showing that God is righteous in His dealings with sinners. 1 Corinthians focuses on the wisdom of God, and 2 Corinthians on the comfort of God. Galatians is the freedom letter and Philippians is all about joy. In Ephesians we learn of the riches that we have in Christ Jesus.

The special message of 1 Thessalonians that we are to consider is the message of Christ’s second coming. Every chapter contains at least one reference to the second coming (1 Thessalonians 1:3, 10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:23).

I realize that godly men differ in their interpretations of prophecy, particularly the matter of the church escaping or entering the time of Tribulation. My own position is that the rapture will occur before the Tribulation, and then we will return to the earth with the Lord to bring the Tribulation to a close (Revelation 19:11-21). My own conviction is that we shall be delivered from “the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9-10). I believe the Lord wants us to live in the constant expectation of His coming. I respect the men who hold a different view, but I must lovingly disagree with them.

Paul did not write this letter to stir up a debate. His desire was that it would bless our lives and our church. The doctrine of the Lord’s return is not a toy to play with, or a weapon to fight with, but a tool to build with. Believers may disagree on some of the fine points of Bible prophecy, but we all believe that Jesus Christ is coming again to reward believers and judge the lost. We must all live in the light of His coming.

As we study this letter you should receive assurance for the future, encouragement in witnessing and walking with the Lord in the present, comfort in the loss of Christian loved ones, and stability in a world that is very unsure of itself.