A Christian decided that he was going to take his faith more seriously. He soon discovered the beauty and challenge of putting God first. You see, he was running late for a train, and in his haste he bumped into a young boy who spilled his jigsaw everywhere. The train was about to leave, but the man knew he should stop and help. As the train pulled away, the man and boy were on their knees picking up the pieces. The young boy stared at the man in amazement and asked, ‘Mister, are you Jesus?
As we saw last week, Paul, Silas and Timothy had been in Thessalonica for just under a month when a riot occurred and serious charges were brought against them. The claim was made that Paul and his companions were trouble-makers who were saying that there was another king than Caesar, King Jesus. So they had to leave under the cover of darkness. Paul had wanted to return, but was unable. He sent Timothy to them, to find out how they were getting on. Timothy’s report of their faith was generally positive. However, there were some problems, including the fact that there were trouble-makers who were criticising Paul. ‘He ran away.’ ‘He hasn’t been heard of since.’ ‘He doesn’t care about you.’ ‘He’s insincere.’
So Paul now defends how he conducted his ministry among them. He is doing this because he doesn’t want his critics to end up undermining his message. As we look at Paul’s defence, we can see three motives that spur Paul on in his ministry: his desire to please God, his love for God’s people and his confidence in God’s word.
Motive 1: To please our loving Father (1-6)
Paul explains that he and his companions shared the gospel with the help of God (2). If you find sharing your faith easy, then you might be tempted to think that you can do it in your own strength. But when you find it intimidating, as I do, you have the advantage that you are going to lean heavily on God for courage and wisdom.
He spoke, even though he encountered opposition, because we are not trying to please men, but God, who tests our hearts (4). Now Paul would have been the last person in the world to claim that he was perfect, but he was motivated by the fact that our gracious God takes pleasure in the sin-tainted efforts of his people to please him.
‘But my desire to please him is so weak.’ Yes, but he loves the fact that you desire more desire. ‘But my motives for doing good things are so mixed.’ Yes, and he delights in the fact that you are humble enough to know your motives are mixed, and that your motives aren’t entirely corrupted. Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by the deceitfulness of our hearts that we can’t see what the Holy Spirit is doing in us. John Newton writes, ‘you serve a Master, of whose favour … you cannot be deprived, who will not overlook … the smallest service you attempt for him, who will listen to no insinuations against you ...’
One young leader said to me, ‘I may be hard on everyone else, but you have to realise that I am even harder on myself.’ People with a critical spirit are hardest on themselves, which leaves them miserable. Of all people, they find it most difficult to understand how God would graciously delight in their imperfect lives. God is not as hard on you as you are on yourself. If you can’t see that God graciously delights in your sin-tainted efforts to please him, then you will become disheartened and want to give up.
Motive 2: Our love for God’s people (7-12)
Paul and his companions were motivated by a desire to please God, and they were also motivated by their love for people. We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children (7). Mother-love is filled with affection. A mother endures having the sleep broken at night, endless changing of nappies and responds to the constant need for attention. Of course, Paul was simply following the example of our foot-washing, cross-bearing Saviour. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel but our lives as well (8).
They had a right to be paid for their ministry, but they did not want to be a burden. So, for example, Paul preached the gospel by day and made tents by night. It would seem that they gave Jason money for their board and lodging. What a contrast to the prosperity-teachers on the television who pressure their viewers to give in order to fund their lavish life-styles.
Paul and his companions were not only like mothers to the Thessalonians: we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory (11-12). It is interesting that he says, ‘with each of you.’ They didn’t care just about the movement. They cared about the individuals that made up the movement. This description of fathers should be noted by all of us who have been granted this role. Dads, are we encouraging, comforting and urging our children to live lives worthy of God?
I read the story of a big man with a big personality who loved to hug people. He said, ‘when I first became a Christian, I was so frustrated because I wanted to hug God and didn’t know how. I was so thrilled by what God had done for me in Christ … I wanted to hug God … Over the years, I have learned that the best way to hug God is to love his children …’ John Newton, ‘to administer any comfort to [God’s] children is the greatest honour and pleasure I can receive in this life.’
Motive 3: God’s changes lives (13-16)
Each of us is to be motivated by a desire to please our gracious Father and by our love for all God’s people. We are also to be motivated by the fact that this gospel changes lives.
The Thessalonians had been idol-worshipping pagans who knew nothing of God’s saving love. The gospel told them of how Jesus died for the sins of his people in order that we may have new life. Look at how happy Paul is when people respond to this message. And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe (13).
This is the word that is at work in you who believe. The Greek verb in ‘at work within you’ is that from which we get the word energy. The Bible is a power source for a joyous and godly life. I want you to listen to these sermons and go home and study this letter because through these verses we will see more and more of the face of God and the beauty of his Son. We see mercy and grace, we are shown how to please God, and it changes our lives.
In the eighteenth century, John Wesley was a famous evangelist who was mightily used by God. But like the apostle Paul, he had his critics. One bishop warned everybody that he was ‘a wily and malignant hypocrite.’ The lie was also spread that he had been expelled from Oxford University for grossly immoral behaviour. Wesley’s Methodist preachers also received a hard time. Some of them had glass ground into their eyes and others had their homes burned down. Sometimes this opposition was instigated by their local Church of England clergymen.
Our passage ends by pointing out that like Jesus, God’s people will face opposition. So if following Jesus is going to be difficult, why bother? Why move beyond our comfort zones? Why have people say hurtful things about you, even from within the church? How do we keep going? We need the three strong motivations of this passage: we have a gracious Father who is pleased with every weak and imperfect effort to please him; he has placed a love for his people into our hearts; and he has given a message that turns people’s lives upside down.