When we spread the good news of the Gospel, we can expect to face opposition. The apostle Paul was no exception. He boldly preached the Gospel to the Thessalonians in spite of suffering and mistreatment. First Thessalonians 2:1-8 is a model for all Christians to follow, especially when they are called to spread the Good News of the Gospel. In particular, we are to pay attention to the example Paul set for us. His bold preaching was direct and to the point. He did not use words that would please his audience. He did not resort to manipulation. He did not try to “tickle the ears” of his listeners. He did not try to use his ministry for financial gain. Unlike some preachers. Paul was honest, and honesty is refreshingly simple. No ulterior motives or hidden meanings. No need to manipulate people. No matter how much opposition he encountered, he never took his eyes off of his calling to bring people to Jesus.
If we want to build the Christian community, we must proclaim the Gospel boldly. In the words of Dr. Michael Youssef, who is the president of Leading the Way Ministries, we must “passionately proclaim the uncompromising truth.” We must be fearless when we speak out against things such as social injustice, lax morals or the abuse of power within the Christian community.
Paul was entrusted by God to speak not to please man, but to please God. Paul was entrusted with the Gospel, just like God entrusts all of his people with the Gospel. The Gospel has been safeguarded throughout the nations. It is the responsibility of each generation to safeguard the Gospel for generations to come.
Paul and his fellow missionaries could have made demands as apostles. In particular, they could have asked to be paid for their preaching, but they didn’t. Paul made his living as a tentmaker everywhere he went to preach. This supported the claim that the motives of Paul and his colleagues were pure. Lay ministers such as me do not get paid for leading worship services unless they take services in a parish other than their home parish. In my case, I was paid for leading worship services at the United Churches in Liverpool and Bridgewater this past summer. The love of God speaks to the insecurity and the need that is at the center of greed and as we focus on God’s gift of grace, and we remember that in Jesus we have been given abundant, eternal life, there becomes less and less we have to have, less and less we want.
The Christian church does have some ministers with large egos who have to put their pictures on all their books, parade their degrees after their names, or have the best parking places and the nicest offices. They are no better than the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. True preachers can’t separate their preaching from their daily lives. They must literally “practice what they preach.” If only all preachers-indeed-if only all Christians-served one another as Paul served his fellow Christians. He served his fellow Christians in the following ways:
1. He served with boldness, truth, and honesty, seeking to please God and not men.
2. He served without flattery, covetousness, or seeking glory from men.
3. He served with labor night and day, seeking to be devout, just, and blameless.
4. He served with the gentleness and affection of a nursing mother and the guidance and encouragement of a caring father.
Paul was an effective witness because of what he did. He lived out his faith in his relationship with God. The only way we can be effective witnesses is to live our faith in our relationship with God and with each other.
Those of us who provide spiritual leadership have to provide tender loving care to our flocks. We have to provide the spiritual nourishment that people need just like a mother cherishes and nurses her children.
Those of us who preach the Gospel must have courage. Courage is often associated with bravery, but courage can take many different forms. Courage is related to confidence, but in this case, confidence is less about being right than it is about being comfortable. It means remaining non-defensive when we are challenged, to listen respectfully to others recognizing that God may be speaking to us through them. While we must have the courage to share the Gospel, we must also be vulnerable. We must share what we know and how we strive to live what we know and how we have failed and doubted along our Christian journey.
Evangelism must always be focused on leading people to Christ because it is a matter of their spiritual life and death. Evangelism must be done with a sense of urgency. We must not allow our daily routines to distract us from our Christian duty. We must preach the truth boldly without using tricks or manipulation. We must please God regardless of whether or not there is any growth in the number of Christian followers.
Paul was successful because of he, like most good ministers, took the time to cultivate relationships with people. He cared for them by getting involved in their lives. As the old saying goes, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. He shared himself with them by getting involved in their lives.
Paul was bold and direct in his preaching, but he was also a warm and gentle man. That is why he used the image of a nursing mother in 1 Thessalonians 2:7. Paul and his colleagues were eager to give themselves to others just like a mother gives herself to her family and just like Christ gave himself for us. Paul also got involved emotionally in their lives. He loved the people he met, and he treated them as people of value. When we love others, we must also treat them as people of value instead of a means to an end. When we talk to others, we must talk about our affections, and that includes the gestures of love and kindness such as hugs, handshakes (like those we use when we pass the peace.
We must lead lives that are stirring enough to start a movement for God. We must have a burning desire to change the world. That must be our passion in life. We must serve others with the tender loving care that Jesus showed. We must encourage each other in our spiritual journey. Even when things look dark and dismal in our broken, human world, God will prevail. God will triumph over evil. God is at work in the world, and he will work through people of faith. God can’t be limited. Even God’s enemies are used by God to do his work in the world.
God also works through the church. We are his agents of change. We are entrusted with the Good News of unconditional love, never-ending grace, and ultimate peace. This means that there is something for each and every one of us to do. There are lots of things we can do in the church such as teaching Sunday school, volunteering with the ACW or the Altar Guild or serving on a committee, church council or parish council, or even serving as a lay minister. There are things we can do in our everyday lives such as being godly parents or children or community members.
We are to be focused on the mission. The only way we can accomplish this mission is to live our lives with integrity. Living a life of integrity means genuinely caring for the people and churches we serve. We must have a passion for making God look good each and every day.
Dr. Haddon Robinson, who is regarded as one of the leading teachers of the art of preaching, once told the story of a writer for a newspaper in Toronto who undertook an investigation into the ethical practices of auto repair shops in his city. He took a spark plug wire off of his engine, making the car run unevenly. He took the car into different shops and asked them to fix it. Time after time people sold him unnecessary repairs or charged him for repairs that were not done.
Finally, he went to a small garage. A fellow named Fred came out, popped open the hood, and said, “Let me listen to that thing.” After a few seconds, he told the reporter, “I think I know what’s wrong.” He reached down and grabbed the wire, announcing, “Your spark plug wire came off.” And he put it back on.
The reporter asked, “What do I owe you?”
“I’m not going to charge you anything,” Fred replied. “I didn’t have to fix anything; I just reattached the wire.”
The writer then told Fred what he was doing and that he had been charged all kinds of money by mechanics looking at that same wire. He asked Fred, “Why didn’t you charge me anything?” Fred said, “Are you sure you want to know? I happen to be a Christian and believe that everything we do should be done to glorify God. I’m not a preacher and I’m not a missionary, but I am a mechanic and so I do it honestly. I do it skillfully and I do it to the glory of God.”
The next day in the newspaper was a headline that read, “Christian Mechanic, Honest to the Glory of God.”
Regardless of what we do for God, we must not tone down his message. Even when our message is challenged, we must not back down. We are to be good shepherds, servant leaders whose job description includes leading others to God. God empowers us as leaders and as followers to build up, to influence and to persuade others. We build and strengthen our community of believers so that we may reach out to serve.