Let's review what we have covered so far in our study of I Thessalonians.
Paul is writing to the young church he has established in Thessalonica. In the opening of his letter he rejoices over the fact that he considers them to be true converts for several reasons. Because he was a true apostle preaching the pure gospel in love and sincerity, they were converted in the right way by people who knew the gospel. He rejoices in his prayer because their response to the gospel was sincere. Their belief was sincere. Their change was real. Their perseverance became an inspiration to others.
In the next two chapters Paul will review his time with them and defend his ministry among them. There is no mention of it directly but by the nature of Paul's response it seems that he had come under attack, being charged with the accusation of acting like a charlatan. At the time there were "wandering preachers and philosophers" who went from place to place teaching and spreading various ideas and philosophies in exchange for money and prestige. Some were saying that Paul was no more than one of these types. And so in the next section Paul will lay down the credentials that all should look for in one who is a true minister of the word – whether he be an Apostle, evangelist or teacher.
Credentials for True Ministers - I Thessalonians 2:1-3:13
1. True Ministers Trust God – 2:1-2
For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our god to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.
- I Thessalonians 2:1-2
Paul's rescue from prison in Philippi; his coming to Macedonia; his trials and opposition by the Jews; all of these events were sustained and accomplished because he trusted in God. When you examine Paul's experiences you see that the only way he could have survived was through the Lord. He trusted God to rescue him from jail when the situation was hopeless. He trusted God for the opportunities to make contacts and preach because he was helpless to make these happen. He trusted God to give him direction for his ministry at a time that he was directionless. He trusted God to save him from his attackers when he was defenseless.
True leaders in ministry are not such simply because they are good speakers, debaters or organizers – they are just qualified to lead in ministry if they can demonstrate their abiding trust in God. Paul demonstrated this trust when he continued preaching and teaching despite the discouragement and opposition he faced in and out of the church. True leaders demonstrate this quality in the same way in today's church
2. True Ministers are Sincere – 2:3-12
Paul compares 2 sets of characteristics for judging ministers, preachers and leaders.
Worldly Characteristics – vs. 3-6
For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed – God is witness – nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.
"Error" – not an honest mistake or misunderstanding, but rather error that comes from an evil mind:
- Impurity – sexual impurity
- Deceit – planned lies, dishonesty
- Popularity – trying to gain approval by telling people what they want to hear
- Flattery – done in order to blind them, not build them up
- False pretenses – any type of covering to hide greed
- Personal glory – try to raise yourself above the others
Paul suggests that these are reasons some go into religious service, or what they hide under the cover of ministry.
Spiritual Characteristics – vs. 7-12
But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection 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 very dear to us.
For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
- Gentle – example of a nursing mother.
- Self-sacrificing – they gave of themselves, not just doctrine. They risked their lives to teach them. Gave their hearts as well as the message.
- Hard-working – they worked night and day among them and took no money which was their right (II Corinthians 11:8-9). They worked for free because the Thessalonians were young and poor.
- Pure – their conduct was above reproach. No hint of evil.
- Fervent – they wanted the Thessalonians to please God and have eternal life with all their hearts and strength. This was their motive in ministry: the good of the church.
Paul reminds them about their experience with himself, Silas and Timothy and he challenges them to judge them not only on what they said and taught but also on their actions. Some say that it's not Christian to judge, but Paul says that the church can and should examine itself and its leaders to see if what they say is from God and if what they do is godly. There's a big difference between criticizing and complaining because things are not like we want them, and making a sober judgment on the accuracy and conduct of our leaders and ourselves.
True ministers of the gospel need to demonstrate good things in order to accomplish good things; if the inside is good it will show itself on the outside.
3. True Ministers Get Results – 2:13-16
For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.
We don't know how big the church was in Thessalonica and that is not always the best rule of measurement. We do know however that despite the opposition, difficult circumstances and short period of teaching there was a radical change among the Thessalonians. This change occurred because godly men preached God's message accurately and in a godly way. We know that growth doesn't always come right away, but if the other elements are in place – it does come! True ministers don't blame the church for lack of growth, they ask God to change them first so their impact can have a positive effect for growth. The church cannot grow beyond its leadership. Jesus said:
It is enough for the disciple that he becomes as his teacher.
- Matthew 10:24
4. True Ministers Love the Church – 2:17-3:13
But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while – in person, not in spirit – were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. For we wanted to come to you – I, Paul, more than once – and yet Satan hindered us. For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.
Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith, so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know. For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain.
But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.
Note Paul's attitude toward the brethren:
- He was eager to see them – vs. 17
- They are his glory and joy – vs. 20
- He needed to know of their conditions – vs. 5
- His emotional life was tied to theirs – vs. 8
- He prayed for them night and day – vs. 10
- He wanted only the best blessings for them – vs. 11-13
Paul loves these brethren because they are the precious fruit of his work in the Lord. It was his love of Christ that motivated him to go to them at first, but now it is his love of them that causes his joy and continued efforts among them. A young man who wanted to go into mission work asked me what he needed in order to succeed in this type of endeavor. Did he need language training, a trade or second income to fall back on, knowledge of different religions, a good support network? I told him that all these things were necessary and basic, but the most important thing he needed was love for the people he was trying to convert.
You see, it's the love for the church that will get you through the difficult moments when they disappoint you, speak against you, even sin and abandon the assembly. Only the sincere love of the souls you are reaching out to will keep you in ministry. Training and support will start you in ministry, but only an abiding love for souls will keep you ministering long after the excitement and newness have worn off.
In this section we have seen Paul defending his ministry among them against the charge that he was a religious fake or an opportunist of some kind. In his defense he describes the characteristics of those who are religious charlatans and alongside of these he lays down four main characteristics to look for in a true minister of God:
- True ministers love and trust God – completely.
- True ministers practice what they preach and it is evident.
- True ministers get results. And they do this because they bring the power of God to get results, which is the gospel (Romans 1:16).
- True ministers love the church. Their love is evident by what they sacrifice to serve it. There are many who at some point think they want to become ministers, teachers or elders. These need to ask themselves what God desires from His ministers: not just degrees, work methods, equipment, money. God wants trust, purity and devotion to the church that His Son died to create. It is these qualities of the heart that give light to the studies, direction to the methods of work and the results for our efforts at preaching and teaching.