Fail-Proof Spiritual Leadership
Leadership is not easy. When a sports team does not win, the owner fires the head coach. When a corporation loses its competitive edge or fails in a major way to live up to expectations, the board of directors often fires the president. When a church does not grow according to people's expectations, the pastor is often forced out.
Those called to be leaders in the church, who preach, teach, and lead God's flock, are entrusted with the unequaled duty of proclaiming the gospel to unbelieving sinners, and bringing those who believe and are baptized into the fellowship of the local church. There the Holy Spirit will sanctify them as they worship God in spirit and truth, submitting to the teaching, and application of Scripture. Church leaders also must intercede for their people through public and private prayer, oversee the administration of the Church, lead in public worship, equip other teachers and workers within the church, superintend and enforce church discipline, and provide biblical counseling to the congregation. All of this spiritual work is to build up the saints to maturity "to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ (Eph.4:13).
Church leaders must be spiritual physicians who can capably apply biblical cures to those vices and heresies that might afflict members of the church. They also must be a tender shepherd who, while feeding the flock, also heals their wounds, calms their fears, protects them from spiritual dangers, and comforts them in their distresses. In short, church leaders are to be champions for biblical truth (2 Tim. 4:2), providers of spiritual resources (1 Peter 5:1-2), guardians and protectors (Acts 20:28-31), and always serve as models of spiritual virtue (1 Tim. 4:12). For all of this, church leaders are directly accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 13:17; James 3:1).
Even the uniquely gifted apostle Paul asked the question, "And who is adequate for these things?" (2 /Cor. 2:16). He realized that no man could effectively discharge the immense obligation of spiritual leadership by human wisdom, effort, and strength alone. He knew that only God could provide the power to be an effective leader.
In spite of the purity of Paul's life and the transforming power of his message, the enemies of the gospel were having some success in convincing the Thessalonians that Paul and his companions were men of wicked intentions, nothing more than self-seeking frauds like so many other "spiritual teachers" of that time. Therefore, as distasteful as it was for Paul to have to defend himself, he answered his detractors directly and concisely for the sake of the truth.
I. PAUL'S OPENING REMINDER*
"For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain," (2:1)
- Paul opened the defense of his spiritual leadership with a general statement about the effectiveness of his ministry
- it was not in vain
- the apostle immediately urged his audience to remember their own experience with him and his companions
- what had occurred was obvious and self-evident
- awareness of how Paul ministered among the Thessalonians did not come from a secondhand report, but from their own firsthand involvement
- "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." (1 Thessalonians 2:9, NASB95)
- vain translates a word which means empty
- but the ministry of Paul, Silas, and Timothy in Thessalonica was not so insipid
- on the contrary, it had a powerful impact because it produced deep and far-reaching effects in the lives of the Thessalonians
- 1st, his confidence in God's power
- 2nd, his commitment to God's truth
- 3rd, his commissioning by God's will
- 4th, his motivation by God's knowledge
- 5th, his dedication to God's glory
II. PAUL'S CONFIDENCE IN GOD'S POWER
"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." (2:2)
- Paul's confidence in the power of God, both to energize his ministry and protect him from harm, gave him boldness, courage, tenacity, and fearlessness in the face of his enemies
- Paul was thinking of those enemies when he reminded the Thessalonians that he and his companions had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi (Acts 16:16-24)
- you remember the story ...
- it happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met them who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling
- she followed after Paul and his companions, and she kept crying out, saying,
- "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation."
- suffering refers primarily to the physical abuse - the beating, the stocks, and prison
- mistreated refers to treat shamefully and insultingly
- they continued to preach the gospel in Thessalonica, where they were falsely accused of treason (Acts 17:7) and unfairly assaulted by a mob (Acts 17:5-6)
- on the contrary, his confidence or boldness was solely in God
- Paul wholeheartedly trusted that God would sustain him
- as he would later write to the Ephesians, he was "strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might" (Eph. 6:10)
III. PAUL'S COMMITMENT TO GOD'S TRUTH
"For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit;" (2:3)
- the apostle Paul knew he could be confident in God's power because he was committed to God's truth, not only in his preaching but also in his living
- enemies of the truth often try to destroy ministers of the gospel by persecution
- but when that does not work, as it did not with Paul, they try to undermine people's trust in the spiritual leader's message or his personal integrity
A. PAUL AFFIRMED HIS UNWAVERING COMMITMENT TO GOD'S TRUTH IN BOTH SPEECH AND CONDUCT
- First he declared, "... our exhortation does not come from error."
- the word exhortation means an urgent cry, appeal, or call, with an emphasis on judgment
- the Apostle Paul did not stray from the truth or operate apart from the standard of divine revelation
- Paul assured them there was no false teaching or error in his ministry
- doctrinal truth matters!
- "If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing. Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called "knowledge" which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith." (1 Tim. 6:34, 20)
- "Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you." (2 /Timothy 1:13-14, NASB95)
- "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." (2 /Tim. 2:15)
- Paul makes it clear that his message did not originate from impurity
- although the word could refer to social uncleanness—some kind of social stigma—it primarily referred to sexual uncleanness
- ILLUS. In Paul's day many of the mystery religions and Greek cults practiced and even exalted sexual perversion. Those religions were very popular because in most of them the primary religious experience centered on the cult adherents having sex with a ritual temple prostitute or the cult leader. Temple orgies were not uncommon. Sexual intercourse had such a central role in those pagan religions because the members believed that when one had sex with a male leader or female prostitute they were supposedly achieved some sort of mystical or metaphysical union with the gods. Thus wicked, unscrupulous leaders would seek converts for the purpose of having a sexual encounter with them.
- Paul absolutely denies these charges and tells the Thessalonians; "Look at the lives we lived. You know that we were totally above board in all our associations."
- the apostle and his companions had no impure ulterior motives, nor were they sexually immoral spiritual leaders
- they spoke the truth out of pure lives
IV. PAUL'S COMMISSIONING BY GOD'S WILL
" ... but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel,... " (2:4a)
- a third and essential element in Paul's powerful impact was that his ministry was approved by God
- with this point, the discussion moved from the apostle's commitment to the truth to his commission from God
- the perfect tense of the verb have been approved means Paul was tested and found valid
- he was given a lasting approval
- God had validated and continued to approve Paul's ministry
- the Apostle Paul did not minister by his own authority
- shortly after Paul's conversion, the Lord said to Ananias concerning Paul: "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel" (Acts 9:15)
- Paul reminds his reader of this truth a number of times in his other epistles:
- "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me." (1 Cor. 15:10)
- "To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ." (Eph. /3:8)
- "According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted. I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service." (1 Tim. 1:11 12)
- "But at the proper time manifested, even His word, in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our Savior." (Titus 1:3)
V. PAUL'S MOTIVATION BY GOD'S KNOWLEDGE
" ... 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" (2:4b-5)
- while he rejoiced in the privilege of his high calling, a strong sense of accountability to God balanced Paul's authority to preach the Word
- that accountability - Paul's motivation for ministry - came from the constant realization that the omniscient Lord knew and examined everything in his heart and life
- Paul was keenly aware that he was not merely accountable to men
- he assured the Thessalonians that when he spoke God's Word, he did so not as pleasing men
- nowhere did he make that more clear than when he responded to the allegation "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ." (Gal. 1:10)
- The apostle Paul was consumed with pleasing God because he knew that only God truly examines the hearts of those who serve Him
- Church Leaders must Periodically Check Their Motives for Serving the Lord
- "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God." (1 Corinthians 4:1-5, NASB95)
VI. PAUL'S DEDICATION TO GOD'S GLORY
" ... 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." (2:6)
- unlike typical spiritual deceivers, Paul did not seek glory esteem, honor, or praise-from men
- the verb nor did we seek indicates that Paul did not habitually seek accolades, applause, awards, recognition, and prestige either from the Thessalonians or from others
- the only glory Paul ever sought was eternal
- "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen" (Eph. 3:20-21)
- even though as apostles of Christ Paul and his associates might have asserted their divinely delegated authority and thereby gained some prestige, they were preoccupied with giving all the glory to God
- "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36)
This passage sets forth five key qualities of fail-proof spiritual leadership: tenacity, because the leader trusts totally in the power of God; integrity, because the leader is fully committed to the truth of God; authority, because the leader is commissioned by the will of God; accountability, because the leader knows the omniscient God examines his heart; and humility, because the leader is consumed with the glory of God. If he has these qualities, he will be well on his way to exercising fail-proof spiritual leadership.