2010-01-24 (am) 1 Thessalonians 2:1-16 Reasonable Hope
Muscles ripple, well defined, an Adonis, bronzed skin glowing as he rubs oil on his torso. Thankful for the warm weather, this fellow makes his way to the market, orders in hand. People, women especially, admire his handsome figure as he passes. Within minutes, he has reached the town square.
A large crowd has gathered in the market. They shuffle from one stall to another. Platforms are positioned at strategic places. Bronzed, buff, well-built men ascend the platforms. Advertisers for Calvin Klein would have paid a fortune to have just one of these fine specimens appear in an ad.
Stretching, flexing, getting the crowd’s attention, these men get to work. After years of study, after hours spent in the gym, strength training, exercising, eating well, after countless hours learning debate and rhetoric, they vie for the crowd’s attention.
“Fair, free people of Thessalonica, there is no better man for office than my man Gaius. Why just the other day, he thwarted the robbing of 2 businesses! He stands for justice; he defends the innocent! Don’t put up with swine; choose the one who’s tough on crime!”
Two platforms down, you might hear: “Fresh food, choice cuts, crisp vegetables! Don’t waste your time looking at every stall. Don’t go looking ‘round. Save your precious time! Wouldn’t you rather have more time for games? Come to the Real Greek Superstore! One stop shopping! We’ve done the work, so you don’t have to! Get everything you need! We buy in bulk to save you money! Come one, come all, to the greatest stall of all: the Real Greek Superstore!”
As the speakers warm to their work, speaking and flexing, their voices reverberate through the square. But then, what’s this? The crowd’s attention is waning. People are turning; they’re making their way to, to, what is that? A little man, a face only a mother could love, no eloquence, no timbre, and no skill. Who does he think he is? And what are the people doing listening to him?
“People of Thessalonica stop worshipping imaginary gods and lifeless idols! Stop wasting your time in meaningless rituals. Worship the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You’ve heard about the events in Jerusalem, how the Jews persuaded the Romans to crucify a man named Jesus who hailed from Nazareth. I tell you the truth, this man wasn’t just an ordinary man; he is also God!
He is the one promised from the beginning. He is the one who makes all things right! He is the one who brings forgiveness, justice and mercy! The prophets from old talked about him. They described what would happen, where he would be born, where he would live, how he would suffer, how he would die.
But Jesus didn’t stay dead! He rose from the dead on the third day! He appeared to women, his disciples, to over 500 different people before ascending to heaven. Later, he even appeared to me. What I am telling you is the truth!
All you need to do is repent. Stop worshipping false things. Accept Jesus’ atonement on the cross, put your faith in him and you will live. You will have joy in this life! You will have peace and comfort that comes from God himself. Come to Jesus and find total satisfaction.”
That is but an example of life in Thessalonica when Paul preached.
In this section of his letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul is reminding them of what he was like. He reminds them that he wasn’t like other orators of the day. The description I gave of the market place hucksters is true. Just as companies hire people to advertise for them today, that’s what they did back then.
In the marketplace, these body-built hucksters vied for attention, for politicians, stores, anything. Sometimes individuals would hire these people as their own publicity generators.
Into this theatre of attention grabbing, Paul preaches. His method shouldn’t have worked at all. But he came with the power and presence of God! He was passionate and he truly believed what he preached. He was authentic, and people realised it.
Paul is also writing to restore his image among the Thessalonians. Ever since Paul was run out of town, forced to leave the church in a rather fragile state, people have been trying to convince the Thessalonian church that he was just a fraud. They suggested that Paul was a failure. What kind of self-respecting faith would hire a guy like him? He wasn’t even good looking! He didn’t have the strongest voice. He had vision problems, he didn’t make good eye contact!
They said he was just fleecing them; all he wanted was their money. They accused him of being dishonest. They accused him of trying to butter the people up, to tell them what they wanted to hear. They said he was a fake, pretending to be disinterested in money, but really wanting to get as much cash out of them as he could.
They accused Paul of making things up, that he was telling them false things, that he was presenting a false religion. They said Jesus was a fraud. They said that there is no one true God, but that there are many gods. These outsiders were working against the church punishing them, treating them poorly, and causing them to suffer the same things Jesus suffered at the hands of the Jews.
We are facing the same thing the Thessalonian church faced. Our own countrymen accuse us of believing a fairy tale. If you read blogs, or read comments from online articles, you’ll see things like the Thessalonians faced. One article appeared in Saturday’s National Post reporting that Canada Revenue has revoked a church’s charitable status because they were engaged in more than 10% partisan politics.
The comments after the article suggested that no churches or charities deserve charitable status, that churches are profit machines, businesses that ought to be treated as any other business. Some of the commentators said that churches are all about disinformation, lies, corruption etc. Even if churches are able to do any good, even if they are able to help people, that isn’t a good enough reason to give them such special privileges. That doesn’t justify allowing them to be a tax burden on society.
What this reveals, congregation, is an increasing suspicion of all things religious. Atheism is growing. People are becoming intolerant of all religion. The church will not be able to assume that certain freedoms and protections will always exist. This might be a warning, one of many that have happened since Christians have been taken to court and human rights tribunals simply for defending God’s truth.
For the church, this is nothing new and it is certainly nothing to lose sleep over. Let the worst come. We’ll adjust. The truth of Christ is far more important than tax exemptions and charitable status. Sure, it will be awful if money, which could have gone to helping charities, has to go toward property taxes and the like. But we will find other ways around it.
Anyway, it is a waste of time speculating on what might or might happen. It is concerning, but until it happens, we will concentrate on faithfully serving our Saviour and Lord.
This is how. We respond as the apostle Paul did. We encourage one another. Our faith is reasonable. God’s word isn’t a fairy tale; it is truth. It gives the most logical, rational explanation for the way the world really is.
Fact: the world exists. There must be an explanation for it. By definition, matter can’t come from nothing. There must be a cause. The only logical explanation of that cause is an eternally existent creator: God.
There is evil. People fight, steal, hate and kill. There is good. People love, share, care and help. People all over the world have this sense. There might be minor differences among different cultures, but every human being is a moral creature in a way that no other creatures on earth are. Morality is not derived from matter. There’s no explanation for morality from a purely materialistic worldview.
Religions try to explain the existence of morality, the sense of right from wrong. The most logical explanation for morality is Christianity.
What we do as servants of God, is engage the world just as Paul did. We proceed even when we face strong opposition. We share the reasonable hope we have because God has given us pure motives. We want people to know the truth! We want them to be able to see the world as it really is, as God shows it to be in his Word. We seek to please God, not men. We want people to be saved from the consequence of sin. We want people to receive the joy and the hope that we have. The joy and the hope that says, yeah, wicked things happen, tragedies strike, but we can continue! We can carry on! We face tomorrow because Jesus lives. And because Jesus lives, we know we will live eternally.
Paul reminds the Thessalonians that as an apostle, he could have made all kinds of financial requirements of them. He could have demanded a place to stay, financial payment, travelling expenses. He had done so in other places, he had the right to it, as an apostle. But because the Holy Spirit warned him of the opposition he and the church would face, because the support from other churches, he worked night and day to provide for his needs and the needs of others.
Paul, Silas and Timothy didn’t come in banging heads. They came with gentleness. He says, literally, we were like infants among you: how dangerous are little babies? We were like nursing mothers: they were completely and totally focussed on providing true spiritual food, just as a new mother is completely focused on providing for her newborn child’s needs. They were so full of love for these Thessalonians, that they shared their greatest treasure: the gospel and their very lives, working alongside them to teach them and demonstrate the truth to them.
They were cognisant of their appearance before men. They took pains to be holy, righteous and blameless. They did everything they could to avoid charges of hypocrisy. They didn’t say one thing and do another. Instead, they were like fathers who encourage, comfort and urge the very best out of their children.
For they were making the Thessalonians know that they were now God’s children! God adopted them, God not only places expectations on them, he also empowers them to follow through. Jesus said to his disciples, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father, I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other” (Jn. 15:15-17).
As Christ’s friends, we go out inviting others to be friends of Christ also. We ask questions about people’s faith. Just the other day, a waitress commented when she saw us praying before our meal. Later, I asked why she commented. She replied that she was a spiritual person. If there had been opportunity, I would have asked her what she means by being ‘spiritual’. I would have followed up by asking for more and more clarification.
The goal, in asking questions, is to put a stone in their shoe, to encourage them to think about the hope they have, is their hope reasonable or not? Then to present them with the reasonable hope you have with Jesus Christ. All the while being as threatening as an infant, as caring as a mother, as patient and encouraging as a father dealing with his own children.
God will give you opportunities. He might call us into the marketplace where we will have to vie for attention. He might call us to post probing comments on Facebook. He might call us to challenge a person’s presuppositions about the world, about religion, about faith.
Always, all the time, we have opportunities to tell people of the reason for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Know what you believe and why you believe it! Then go tell the world! Amen.