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.

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