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Witnessing Church

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A Witnessing Congregation

1 Thess 2.1-12

November 9, 2008

What do we know about Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica, a city with 100,000 residents which was the capital of the Macedonian Province in Greece?

What we know is from Acts 17.  We know when Paul arrived in Thessalonica, he went to the synagogue and preached the gospel – or as Acts puts it:  Acts 17:3 (ESV)
(3) 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."

The result?  Some were persuaded, and also a great many of devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.  The Jews, jealous of Paul’s success, took some wicked men of the rabble, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason – where Paul was staying.  When they couldn’t find Paul, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting.

Acts 17:6-7 (ESV)
(6) 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, (7) and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus."

Paul and Silas were wisked away, having been in Thessalonica for a relative short time.

What was the result of his stay?

David dealt with that some weeks ago.  The result is summed up in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 (ESV)
(9) For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, (10) and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

 

As you read the second chapter, it is clear that Paul is defending his ministry with the Thessalonians.  There is no doubt that it set off controversy, and it appears that his opponents were trying subvert this new church by undermining the Paul’s credibility. 

You can see that in verse 3 - Our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive…

Also – verse (5) For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed— God is witness.

You can imagine what they were saying – think about some of the things that were said about Sarah Palin –

Sticks and stones – that I think is straight from the pit.

How does Paul defend himself?  And more importantly what can we learn from his defense?

As always, Paul defends himself by speaking openly, plainly and truthfully.

Further, his testimony also serves as an example and a challenge to us if we want to be a witnessing church – a community which speaks to others about Jesus Christ.  If so, then we need to look carefully at Paul’s words and his conduct in Thessalonica.

The key word in his ministry is, I think, the word boldness. 

1 Thessalonians 2:2 (ESV)
(2) But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.

 

He spoke openly, freely and fearlessly to the Thessalonians about Jesus Christ – as the one who will delivers us from the wrath to come…which he also calls the gospel of God.

Point One:  Paul’s Boldness Resulted in an Effective Witness v 1-2

Paul points out that his coming to the Thessalonians was not in vain.  Why?  Because despite adverse circumstances, Paul presented them the gospel of God. 

The Book of Acts tells us that the apostles, and especially Paul were in hot water all the time.  In his journey to Greece, Paul entered Philippi – the result of that encounter was a trip to jail.  Then to Berea where he was received cordually, but in the end agitators came stirring up the crowds and Paul hurried on his way to Athens.  There, they simply mocked him verbally.  At least he wasn’t thrown into jail.

Nearly everywhere Paul went, there was trouble.  So, if you were looking for a speaker, you might think twice about Paul.  There would be protestors on the front lawn and near the homes of church members – remember Jason – the person who opened his home to Paul and to the others with him in Thessalonica.

Despite the pressure Paul was under; he stuck to his guns.  He declared the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.

Now, to be sure, there were charlatans around.  You may remember that in 1 Timothy some of the elders managed to prosper financially in their ministry, owing to the generosity of the rich widows who were attracted by their message. 

Also 2 John mentions these false teachers, and they were such a problem that before you would host them in your home, you made sure they were preaching the right gospel; otherwise you need to tell them to move on.

Perhaps people were disputing Paul’s integrity – saying that when the pressure was on – he took off.  After all, he had only been in Thessalonica for about a month before he was forced out.  But, the church remembered his courage very well. - his courage in the face of physical threats – as he continued to declare the good news of Christ’s death, resurrection and his coming again.

Fortunately we don’t face physical opposition in our country.  But, there other kinds of pressure that we may well face, if we are willing to put our necks out to speak of Christ to others when appropriate. 

A fear we have is that of being embarrased, or pehaps a fear of being asked a question we don’t know how to answer. 

John Chapman, when he turned 70, said that what was most difficult for him in his ministry as an evangelist was the first 50 years!  We’re always nervous – especially if there were physical ramifications present – as indeed there are in many parts of the world.

Point Two:  Their Witness was Prompted by Pure Motives verses 3-4

 

1 Thessalonians 2:3-4 (ESV)
(3) For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, (4) but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.

I take that his opponents were saying that Paul was just out for money, or that he was simply trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

But the key here is that Paul was interested in pleasing God and not man.

There is an interesting passage in 2 Timothy 4:3 (ESV)
(3) For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,

 

Now I bascially believe in a market economy.  But it does have limits, especially when marketing techniques are used by churches.  This is a real problem today.  What do people want to hear; or better, what makes them feel good about themselves? 

I believe the gospel IS relevant, since it is God’s word to his people.  We change; our circumstances change; but God’s word doesn’t.  It must be applied to new circumstances, but we must never be afraid to declare the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection for our salvation

I’m sure his opponents suggested that what moved Paul was anything but pure. 

But Paul insists that he and other evangelists (we in verse 4) had been approved by God – and therefore they sought to please God and not people.  What else could account for all his troubles? 

However, there were and are people who are ready to fleece the flock.  Then as in 2 Peter…

2 Peter 2:14 (ESV)
[14] They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!

2 Peter 2:18-19 (ESV)
[18] For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. [19] They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

And now.

But Paul sought to please God who tests our hearts. V 4b  The word for approval and tests is the same.  God’s approval was by means of testing.  And Paul’s testing was continuous.  I think the testing that is continuous has to do with asking the question – is this pleasing to God?  Or not?  That question is key.  When we cease to ask that question, then God’s testing is absent.

God delights in us when we remain loyal to him – especially in difficult circumstances – such as the Thessalonians were facing. 

Mark 7:6 (ESV)
(6) And he said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, " 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;

Point Three:  There Witness was Grounded in Love 5-12

Look at verse 2.7, and then 2.11

1 Thessalonians 2:7 (ESV)
[7] But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.

1 Thessalonians 2:11 (ESV)
[11] For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted ach one of you and ecnouraged you…

In Paul’s day, religious charlatans were in abundance.  Their goal was to deceive people in order to obtain selfish advantages such as money, sexual favor or self-glory.

The problem was so prevelant that a 2nd century satirist, Lucian, wrote an entire work about thos who “went about the country practising quakery, and sorcery, and ‘trimming the fatheads’ for so they style the public in the traditional patter of magicians.’

Is it any different today? 

The antidote here is to love the people with whom you are ministering. 

Paul reminds them of his time in Thessalonica.  He uses two images – that of a nursing mother with her child and father with his children to remind them of his love and affection for the Christians in Thessalonica. 

Look at verse 5 – no flatter nor greed.  How tempting it is to flatter people and thus curry their favor.  Much better to love them which means that you speak to them freely and openly. 

Paul says he shared not only a message, but the missionaries share their lives.

Paul’s bold ministry was expressed in his tender care. 

Further as he says in verse 9, rathe than take a salary from the Thessalonians which he had every right to do; he gained his living by working, so as not to burden those of this newly minted church in Thessalonica. 

And within that congregation there was encouragement and exhoration – that their lives would would reflect the holiness of the God who had brought them into his fellowship through Christ.

A little story called the gospel blimp.  A man wants to reach his next door neighbor with the gospel so – he has a great idea: why not use a blimp to proclaim the Christian message to the unchurched citizens of his town? The group incorporates, buys a used blimp, hires a pilot, then commences to evangelize their hometown by towing Bible-verse banners, 'firebombing' folks below with gospel tracts, and broadcasting Christian music and programs over loudspeakers.

It doesn’t work and his neighbor never hears the message.

Summary:

A witnessing Church needs to demonstrate boldness and in proclaiming the gospel:  We must do it for the right reason – it is pleasing to God, and like everything else we do, it should be in love.

Notice the result in verse 13 – they received the word, not just as a word of men, but as the Word of God which is at work in those who hear and believe it.

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