1 Thessalonians 2:6-20
A God Honoring Ministry
During our time in 1 Thessalonians over the past few Sunday evening messages, we have been considering the marks of a truly remarkable church and how its ministries can be God honoring as they are carried out. It is my hope and prayer that what we do here as we labor to reach new people and disciple those who gather together with us brings honor and glory to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is my hope and prayer that this will be your desire as well. What we want is to be ministering to people rather than just having church functions. What we want is to make a difference, not just ease our consciences. What we want is to impact our world for Christ, and in so doing bringing honor to God must be one of our supreme aims.
I will preface this message by saying this: the second chapter is dealing primarily with the pastoral leadership of Paul, Silas and Timothy. Every book and commentary and study that I have read has dealt with the chapter as it speaks to pastoral leadership. Every sermon I have read from this chapter during the past few weeks has been to pastors, but I am not preaching to pastors tonight. However, I am preaching to ministers, because every member is a minister, and in that way no member has any less responsibility to do a God honoring work than his or her pastor does. God has given to every member the responsibility to be a minister, a servant, an ambassador for Him in and through this local church, so how do you bring honor to Him as you minister and serve and represent Him? So far, we have said that what you do must be producing results. These results may be in the lives of those you minister to, the results may be reflected in an attitude of excellence as you work around the house of God, and most likely the results will be worked out in your own life as you serve. It has been my experience that no matter what I do for the Lord, if my heart is right and my mind is focused, that I am changed as much or more than those to whom I minister. We have also said that a God honoring ministry will continue in the face of opposition, and lastly it is a ministry that is true to the gospel.
Tonight I will add two more things to this list as we conclude the second chapter, and again I hope and pray that you will be moved to examine your own involvement in our church as your serve the Lord to know whether what you are doing is bringing God honor. If it is not, the answer will not be to quit serving, but to repent and have a change of heart, a change of mind and attitude about your service. So, let me give you two more requirements of a God honoring ministry. The first is that a God honoring ministry makes a personal investment. Second it is a ministry that recognizes the power of the gospel. We won’t get to discuss the second one tonight; we’ll save it for next Sunday. For now, let’s notice that a God honoring ministry…
Is a ministry that makes a personal investment.
I think that it is safe to say we are living in a day when many, probably most believers have adopted a consumer’s idea of the Lord’s work. One pastor writing in the Fall 2002 issue of Leadership Journal says this of the church he pastors,
"I am reluctant to call our worship gatherings a "service," because the word has lost its original meaning. It once meant that people gathered in service to God. Now worshippers consider themselves recipients of a religious service. Sermons and childcare are provided and a fee is appropriate for services rendered…We are all responsible for our church community. We are responsible to give time and energy, dreams and ideas, and money. Putting in time isn’t a substitute for giving money, any more than money is a substitute for participation." (Doug Pagitt, Leadership Journal, Fall 2002, pg. 34)
It is easy for me to look at the big churches and say that people like them because of the anonymity that goes along with them. Members can slip in and slip out and not make a personal investment and no one notices, no one bothers them, but the same is true in our smaller churches as well. Tonight even as I preach this message I preach it to what I consider our core group, because we have a whole segment of the church that would just rather not make the personal investment of getting involved in the Lord’s work. Now, if every member is a minister, and according to Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 where the Lord told us in His Bible that every member has been gifted for ministry, are they making the personal investment that brings God honor?
Well, let’s do this since many of them aren’t here to defend themselves, what about you? God didn’t bring you here just to learn about what is required of all the other members; He wants to know whether you are making the investment. Let’s look at our text and notice four responsibilities of every member as a minister.
Every member has a responsibility to present the gospel.
In verses 6-8, Paul said,
"Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us."
I said in the last message that a God honoring ministry will be true to the gospel. Well brothers, sisters, how can we be true to a gospel unless we are first willing to present it? Paul said that he and the others had no desire to be elevated in the eyes of the Thessalonian believers, they sought glory from no one, nor did they desire to be a burden to them as laborers for Christ. Their heart’s desire is reflected in the statement in verse 7, "…we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherishes her children." He is speaking about a mother’s love for her children.
I can’t think of a greater love on this earth than the natural love a woman has for her children. It is a love that is different from a father’s love. I love my children, but not the same way Kathy has loved them. When my children are playing in the yard and fall or get cut, they cry and show me their "owwie." In my manly kind of father’s love I brush them off and say something tender like, "Yep, go play. Be tough. Get over it." When Kathy is around, they know what I’ll say so they run to her. They show her the same owwie and they get a warm washcloth, some soothing salve and a cartoon band aide. She may even let them come in and stop playing for a while. It is a mother’s tender love for her children.
Its that compassionate, tender kind of love that Paul had for the people to whom he ministered and that we should have for those in our ministries as well. Remember what Jesus said from a heart filled and moved by the same love in Matthew 23:37,
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!"
How often Jesus pleaded with people and was broken hearted over their constant refusal to accept Him as the Messiah, the Savior. He came to seek and to save that which was lost, and yet they refused. If you are going to honor God in your ministry, then your heart will break too at the lost condition of those you are trying to reach and you will make the personal investment of presenting the gospel to them on every possible occasion. You’ll teach it to them. You’ll ask them about it. You’ll pray for them in it. You’ll surround them with it and if it were possible you’d walk them down the aisle to get them saved.
Now let me ask you something. When was the last time you even thought about the salvation of those in your classes? When was the last time you presented the gospel to anyone? When was the last time you even thought about the salvation of those you know? Oh, I don’t teach, I just go to church here. Brother Kevin, I’ve been teaching for years and I know all my people are saved. I’m safe. Is that our attitude? Until we become personally bothered by the lostness of those who God brings across our paths and make a personal investment in presenting the gospel to them, I wonder how pleased He can be with our labors.
Every member has a responsibility to share his or her life.
Verse eight said that not only did Paul share the gospel, he shared his life. Getting people saved isn’t enough. After we lead them to Christ we have just as much a responsibility to teach them how to live for Christ. I think the principle is this: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Paul could have easily walked into Thessalonica and said, "Look all you lost heathen, God loves you and so do I, but except you repent you’ll not see the kingdom of heaven. You need to be saved. I’ll be in town for three weeks. If you want to be saved come see me. I’ll be down at the local synagogue. You come." After three weeks have passed and a handful of people have come out of curiosity, Paul packs up and heads out for Berea and no one is bothered by his arrival or departure and he says to himself, "Those people just don’t love God. They’re lost and I guess they like it that way."
No, it was much different than that. He didn’t do it the way we so often do. Well we’ll advertise on the sign and in the paper and we’ll wear t-shirts and put bumper stickers on the car and we’ll hold services and provide nice seating and clean buildings and lots of youth classes and have sermons and if somebody wants to get saved they know where we are. If we want to start seeing more people saved and more people coming to church and see our ministries really making an impact, then we’ll have to make a personal investment.
Let me illustrate it this way, and I think you’ll understand what I’m saying. If you look around you, most of the people in the room tonight are people with whom previous pastors or I have taken a personal interest in. That means you are people that I, or Brother Kevin, or Brother Bob or maybe even another pastor has personally influenced in a positive way. For the most part, you are the people I hang out with away from church. You are the ones I call and eat with. Some of you more than others, and others hardly any at all, but some other pastor has. Now, those who do not come are generally those with whom we pastors have made very little personal contact. Why? You’ll find this to be true in every church you ever go to. This is important because it is a helpful answer for those who like to say, "Well, our pastor has his favorites." This may or may not be true.
Have you ever noticed that most churches with one pastor and no additional staff hardly ever grow to be over 100 in regular Sunday morning attendance, and about 30-50 in the other services? And we all know that 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work? That means there are 20 people doing the work and the other 80 just come. No pastor can effectively personally influence more than about 20 or 30 people. He just can’t do it and keep up with his studying. If he is spending all his time out in people’s homes, then he is not studying and staying fresh.
In larger churches, the pastor still only makes a personal investment in about 20 or 30 people. Those 20 or 30 are usually the church staff, deacons and ministry leaders. Who is making the personal investment beyond those 20 or 30? Those 20 or 30!
In case someone wants to criticize that model, they’ll have to criticize two things. First they’ll have to criticize our natural make up. You just can’t handle the load beyond that. At least I can’t. Second, they’ll have to criticize our Lord. Look at how He chose to grow the kingdom of heaven. He chose 12 men in whom He made a personal investment, and in turn told them to make personal investments of their own, and so forth. He preached to the multitudes. He healed the sick and raised the dead to life, but He made a personal investment to the 12.
I want to challenge you to do something. Think about the ministries you are involved in and the people who make them up. You may have a class of 10, a choir of 20, a group of men you hang out with, a group of ladies or kids or whatever. Who are those in that group that really want to do something for the Lord? You start with them. Who are those who have the potential to do something for the Lord? You work on those and try to bring them in. Who are those who just want to show up and be consumers? You give them what you can and make a personal investment in those who are willing to be used of God. They may be on fire for God or they may be diamonds in the rough, but it is your life and the personal touch you give that is going to open them up to the gospel and the teachings of the Bible as they see not only what you know, but how you care.
Every member has a responsibility to set the example.
Verses 10-12 say,
"Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe: as ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory."
When Paul presented the gospel and shared his life, he didn’t do like the Pharisees and many people in church today who just want to point out how others are living wrong and tell them how to get their act cleaned up when they themselves won’t do the same. He said they behaved themselves holily, justly and unblameably. In other words, they walked with integrity and character. They were the same in public that they were in private. They were the same in the light that they were in the dark. As they did this, they challenged the others to do the same, "walk worthy of God, who has called you…"
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul said,
"I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love: endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
Paul said in another place, "Follow me as I follow Christ." I used to have a real problem with that statement. I thought for a long time that Paul was being too egotistical or proud when he told others to follow him as he followed Christ, but I don’t think so any more. Maybe the problem I was having was with my own unwillingness to have someone follow me because I wasn’t always so faithful to follow the Lord and set the example. I think I feared that if they followed me they would quickly discover that I didn’t really follow the Lord.
We are to make a personal investment in the lives of others by setting the example for them, by showing them how to live for Christ, by first walking worthy of God ourselves. Certainly that means cleaning up our language. I have a problem with people who want to lead but won’t set the example for those they influence. If we want people to be faithful to church, then we ought to be here every time the doors are open. If we want people to give then we ought to give. You see, setting the example does two things. First it gives them someone to look at and know how they are to live. Young believers learn how to love and forgive and not hate and be peaceable and be soldiers, be servants, be disciples and so forth from our example.
Second, it is a relationship of accountability. As your pastor, I know that I lead by example. I know that with my title comes a relationship of "follow me as I follow the Lord." There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about how I am relating to Christ, because when I am down you are down. When I am excited you are excited. If I walk holily and justly and unblameably then you see the example, and when I choose to live in sin, I can destroy this church.
What kind of example are you setting for those you minister to? Are you having a problem getting your people to be faithful? Are you faithful? Are you having a problem getting people to be excited about the Lord? Are you excited about the Lord? Do you ever wonder why people won’t take a stand for Christ? Are they seeing you take one? A God honoring ministry will set the example. You need to set the example in your sphere of influence in several ways, among them being prayer, Bible study, giving, serving, promoting, witnessing, church attendance and encouraging. If you will model a life that sets the example in those ways, people will notice it, and they will follow.
There are a couple of sayings I want to share with you as we prepare to close tonight. The first goes like this: "A leader is someone with followers. If you look around and no one is following, then you’re not leading, you’re just taking a walk." I like that. In my estimation of the teaching of the Bible, every member of this church, every one of you in this room tonight is a minister, and so far as I can tell, every minister is a leader. Every leader needs to lead by example.
The second says this: "Everything rises and falls on leadership." I believe that. This church will rise or fall on leadership, and to a large degree my leadership, and I can let that either scare me and cause me to retreat and do nothing or take risks and try to allow it to motivate me to do something for the Lord. I hope that in my own ministry here at Woodlawn, I am being faithful to present the gospel to those I meet. I know that I have not been as faithful as God would have me to be, and that will change. I hope as well that I am sharing my life with you the way God would have me to. There are some I would like to become more personally involved with, and I have determined to begin trying to do that without seeming to be fake or insincere in doing so. I have also questioned the example I set before you, and in the future I hope to set an even better and more challenging example to you as a pastor and leader and friend.
Now, setting aside the many who may hear my preaching and teaching, all of that is good and fine for me and the few I will personally touch with my life. But what about the rest who need to be reached? What about the many who have not made a personal connection to our church or to Christ? Who will be that person in their life who makes the difference? Who will be that one who will influence them for Christ? Will it be you?
You are a minister. Every member is, and as such, make the commitment to God tonight to honor Him by being more faithful to present the gospel, share your life, and set the example. Will you be the one to do that tonight? Will you be the man or woman God uses to make a difference in the life of another? Or would you rather be a consumer tonight? Do you prefer to sit and take and use and benefit without making a personal investment? Are you committed to being the kind of member who comes in, speaks your mind about what needs to be done, maybe teach, eat, talk and leave without getting personally involved?