June 28, 2009
1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
This morning I’ll continue in the book of First Thessalonians, so please turn there and we’ll read chapter 2, verses 1 through 12 in a couple of minutes. While you’re turning there, I want to share with you some words of wisdom from Henry Blackaby. Blackaby’s key Scripture this morning is found in Mark chapter 1, verse 22, where God’s Word tells us that They were astonished at His teaching because, unlike the scribes, He was teaching them as one having authority
Jesus was not the first person to teach the Scriptures to a group of disciples. The people in Jesus' day had heard other teachers of the Scriptures. What set Jesus apart was that He taught with authority. To many of the scribes, the Scriptures were meaningless, dry collections of theological speculation, but Jesus taught them as the living words of God. John the Baptist claimed that a man could only receive that which had been given to him by God (John 3:27). When the religious leaders searched the Scriptures, they came away empty-handed. When Jesus read the same Scriptures, the Father gave Him a full measure of His wisdom and His authority.
There is a radical difference between practicing religion and sharing a word directly from the Lord. There is a significant difference between worldly reasoning and counsel that comes straight from the living word of God. Is it possible to teach a message from the Bible but not from the Lord? Yes! The scribes and Pharisees did this regularly and left their listeners spiritually destitute. Is it possible to counsel someone with advice that seems appropriate and reasonable and yet is contrary to God's word? Of course!
Whenever you teach, counsel, or share a word of encouragement, be very careful that the words you share are indeed from the Lord and are not just your own thinking. Otherwise, you could become a false prophet (Deut. 18:20–22). God promises to stand by every word He has ever spoken (Isa. 55:10–11). When you share a word that has come from God, you can do so with utmost confidence!
Now, for those of you who have your Bible open to the book of 1 Thessalonians we’ll read chapter 2, verses 1 through 12: 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. 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. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having thus a fond 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 may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
This text teaches us why boldness is so necessary, and where you get it and what has to happen inside in order to be a bold person. If you have a longing to be an influence for Christ and his kingdom, and if you have a longing to be and authentic person, then the answers to these three needs will ring as relevant for you today as they did 2,000 years ago. Because God has never changed and human nature has not changed. Those three needs, again, are a longing to be an influence for Christ’s kingdom, a longing to be real and authentic, and a longing for boldness – to be bold as our sermon title this morning entreats.
Boldness is necessary because we don't want our lives to be lived in vain. We don't want to come to the end of our lives—our jobs, our ministries, our families—and say, "It's empty. Nothing happened. There was no effect that mattered. It was all in vain." We don't want to feel that or say that. And so boldness is necessary to keep that from happening—so that our lives are not in vain.
I see this in 1 Thessalonians 2:1–2 where Paul describes what happened when he came from Philippi to Thessalonica, and lived and ministered among the Thessalonians:
For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain [why not?], 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.
Paul's life in Thessalonica had not been in vain—even though he stayed a relatively short time. And the reason his life there was not empty and ineffective was because he had boldness in God, and spoke the gospel with courage.
So what we learn is that the reason boldness is needed is that it keeps our lives from being in vain. It makes our lives count. It keeps us from coming to the end and saying, "Nothing happened. There was no significance. I lived in vain."
To make this clear and sure let me point out something remarkable about this text. It starts in verse 1 by referring to what happened to the Thessalonians: "Our coming to you was not in vain." That is, something happened to you, the Thessalonians. I, too, look for change in YOU, so my ministry is not in vain! Something happened to me: I was called, I was directed to preach the Word, I was given boldness by God! Now, something must happen to you so my words are effective. Right? We did not minister without effect, says Paul. You were changed.
Now what I would expect after a statement like that is some illustration of the effect of Paul's ministry in the lives of the Thessalonians. Something like: "You know that our coming to you was not in vain . . . for you turned from idols, and trusted Christ as Lord and Savior, and you stopped lying and stealing and hating, and you started caring about each other and sharing things and loving your enemies and worshiping the true God."
But the amazing thing is that for 10 verses (2–11) there is not one word about the effect of Paul's ministry on the Thessalonians when he came. Instead the whole 10 verses describes Paul's life and ministry. Ten things:
2a—We suffered and were mistreated in Philippi.
2c—We had boldness to speak the gospel to you.
3—Our exhortation doesn't come from error or deceit.
4a—As we have been approved by God so we speak.
4b—We speak to please God not men.
5f—We did not flatter or covet or seek glory from men.
7f—We became gentle as a nurse and shared ourselves.
9—We worked night and day not to burden you.
10—We were devout, upright, and blameless to you.
11f—We exhorted and encouraged as a father.
Now why is this? What is Paul saying? Why does he begin by saying, "You know that our coming to you was not in vain," and then tell the ten things about his ministry rather than its effect on the Thessalonians?
There are at least two reasons I think. One is that Paul is being slandered by his opponents in Thessalonica. We meet them in Acts 17. Turn there with me now and we’ll refresh ourselves on what happened to Paul in Thessalonica. I’m going to read the first eleven verses: Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.
And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,
explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ."
And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.
But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd.
And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, "These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also,
and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus."
And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things.
And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. They were jealous of him and stirred up a mob and took church leaders before the authorities. Paul is still concerned about the persecution the church is experiencing. Turn to 1 Thessalonians, chapter 3, where Paul states his concerns in verses 3 and 4: Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone,
and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith,
that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.
For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.
Evidently Paul's enemies were saying that he was deceitful and that he was only after the praise of men and that he was covetous and wanted their money and that he used flattery to get it. So Paul responds in verses 2–11, our key passage this morning, by reminding the Thessalonians of what they really know about him. Six times he says "as you know" or "you recall" or "you are witnesses" (vv. 1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 11).
But Paul's concern here is not primarily with himself. The real issue is that the discrediting of Paul and his message would also discredit the authenticity of the Thessalonians' faith.
So what Paul is really doing is defending them and their faith. "You know that our coming to you was not in vain," and then for ten verses he talks about the authenticity of his own ministry. What he is saying is, "Our ministry to you was not without effect. You were changed. You turned from idols. You were willing to suffer for Christ with joy. So don't throw away your confidence when your opponents slander my ministry and my life, remember the way it really was when I was there. I was not flattering and covetous. I was bold in God and risked my life to preach the gospel to you. I worked night and day. I loved you like a nurse and like a father. In chapter 3 verse 5, he says: For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.
It was Paul's boldness in evangelizing that kept his life from being in vain. And it will be our boldness that keeps our lives from being bland and tasteless and empty and weak and insignificant in the end.
You can confirm that you are on the right track by comparing what Paul says in 1:5–6.
. . . our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction [in other words, it did not come in vain, as 2:1 says]; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake [namely, boldly preaching in the face of danger; then he says explicitly how his ministry affected them]. You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.
So Paul's boldness produced in them a readiness to endure tribulation with joy in the Holy Spirit. And today, I stand before you praying my preaching will produce in you endurance and joy – that these words will not be in vain.
Why is boldness necessary?) It keeps our lives from being in vain, yours and mine. It makes our lives effective and fruitful and significant. It brings change into people's lives and leads them on toward courage in Christ. And nothing is more significant than leading people toward Christ and his Kingdom. Do you agree? Can you honestly say nothing is more significant than leading the people in your life closer to Jesus? I hope so! That’s why boldness is so necessary!
And where does that boldness come from? Paul's answer is clear: You get boldness from God. Verse 2: "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." We have boldness in our God.
Not only was Paul persecuted in Thessalonica, Paul had suffered in Philippi. He had been publicly dragged into the market of the city and charged with sedition because he cast the demon out of a girl. And then he spent the night in jail. Now in Thessalonica the mob was even more enraged and Paul barely escaped by night to Berea. That was the setting for his ministry. And in that setting he spoke the gospel courageously because he had boldness in his God. We don’t suffer such persecution. We don’t need to flee for our lives when we share what Christ has done for us do we? At the most we may be shunned or mocked or ignored. Statistics prove most people are receptive to spiritual things. And when God prepares their hearts enough for them to ask questions about your faith, not only are they soft – they are ready! Don’t let these opportunities pass you by. Be BOLD!
Paul’s life was given up to God. His life was hidden in God (Colossians 3:3). He trusted God (2 Corinthians 1:9). He hoped in God (Romans 15:13). The glory of God was more attractive to Paul than any earthly comfort: "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18). God was so real, and so powerful, and so wise and so utterly committed to doing all for Paul's good that he knew nothing could separate him from the love of God—not death or life or angels or principalities or things present or things to come or powers or height or depth or anything else in all creation.
And so all his boldness was in God, and not in himself. And that has been the source of all the boldness of all the martyrs. I mentioned to you last week, a book about the persecuted Chinese church – “Safely Home” by Randy Alcorn. If you want to read a good “wake-up call” for how good we have it, read “Safely Home.”
Luther tells the story of two young Christian virgins who went to prison and to death in the middle of the third century. Their names were Agatha and Agnes. Luther says that they were very confident and joyful.
They felt, as they also said aloud, as if they were going to a wedding. Truly my dear people, if going to prison and being beheaded is like going to a dance, you must in truth have a heart, mind and courage different from those of the world . . . Such courage assuredly is the work of the Holy Spirit alone. (What Luther Says, I, p. 349)
Their courage was in God, not man. They lived for God. God was better than life.
Another example of what it means to have your boldness in God is the Scots Covenanter Hugh Mackail. He was a Presbyterian in Scotland in a bloody decade (1660s) when that was viewed as seditious. He was tortured with what they called the boot to force him to reveal other members of his band. His leg was inserted into an iron case and then a wedge of iron was inserted between his knee and the case snugly. When he refused to answer, the executioner struck the wedge with a mallet. Eleven times the mallet was struck until Mackail's leg was shattered.
He said, "I protest solemnly in the sight of God, I can say no more, though all the joints in my body were in as great anguish as my leg." The leg would not be much use to him anyway. He was sentenced to be executed. His final words were famous and became the cry of some of the later martyrs. Here's what he said.
Now I leave off to speak any more to creatures, and turn my speech to Thee, O Lord. Now I begin my intercourse with God, which shall never be broken off. Farewell, father and mother, friends and relations! Farewell, the world and all delights! Farewell, meat and drink! Farewell, sun, moon, and stars! Welcome, God and Father! Welcome, sweet Lord Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant! Welcome, blessed Spirit of grace, God of all consolation! Welcome, glory! Welcome, eternal life! Welcome, death! (Men of the Covenant, pp. 150) And what these words illustrate is what Paul meant by having his boldness in God.
Hugh Mackail's life was not lived in vain. His death was not in vain. Because he had boldness in his God. O may the Lord reveal himself to us with such power and beauty that we depend on him more than on anything else, and have boldness in our God.
The final question this morning’s text answers is: "What has to happen inside for us to be bold persons?"
Let me just mention two things that Paul emphasizes here. Perhaps the two greatest obstacles to boldness are the love of human acceptance and praise, and the love of the comforts and securities that money can buy. What has to happen inside is for the power of these two loves to be broken?
This had happened in Paul's life, and that is why he is so bold. Verse 4b: "we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who examines our hearts." Verse 6: "nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others." And since he is free from the need to please men and to seek glory and praise from friend and foe alike, he is also free from the need to flatter and the need to deceive. Verse 5: "We never came with flattering speech, as you know."
The addiction to acceptance and recognition and praise that lames so many of us had been broken in Paul's life. He was free and therefore he was bold.
But he was also free from the love of money and the securities and comforts it can buy. Verse 5 again: "We never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness." He was not after their money. It was of no interest to him, and therefore he could speak with boldness without measuring his words so as to make the most wealthy friends. In fact verse 9 shows how Paul vigilantly guarded his financial freedom: "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."
He worked for a living so as to keep his hand clean of anyone's money. He meant to be free and to be bold in his speech, and he knew placating people, for praise or for money, would hamper his boldness.
So at least these two things have to happen inside if we are to be bold: we have to get free from the need of human acceptance and praise, and we have to get free from the need for the comforts and securities that money can buy. If we are free, we will be bold.
And the way to freedom is get your acceptance from God and get your praise from God, and get your comforts from God and get your security from God. Verse 4 points to the key: "Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God."
Paul had his approval from God. He did not need human approval. He had his future in God. So no human threats could stop his courage.
We need boldness because without it our lives will be lived in vain. And our boldness comes from God because only his approval can break the power of craving for human approval, and only his security and comfort can break the fear of losing human security and comfort.
May the Lord make us like Hugh Mackail!
Farewell, father and mother, friends and relations! Farewell, world and all delights! Farewell, meat and drink! Farewell, sun, moon, and stars!
Welcome, God and Father! Welcome, sweet Lord Jesus! Welcome, blessed Spirit of grace! Welcome, glory! Welcome, eternal life! Welcome, death!
And, we’ll close with this:
I knelt to pray but not for tong, I had too much to do.
I had to hurry and get to work For bills would soon be due.
So I knelt and said a hurried prayer, And jumped up off my knees. My Christian duty was now done My soul could rest at ease.... All day long I had no time To spread a word of cheer
No time to speak of Christ to friends, They'd laugh at me I'd fear. No time, no time, too much to do, That was my constant cry, No time to give to souls in need But at last the time, the time to die
I went before the Lord,
I came, I stood with downcast eyes. For in his hands God! held a book;
It was the book of life.
God looked into his book and said 'Your name I cannot find
I once was going to write it down... But never found the time'
Now do you have the Time, pass it on?