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Authenticity

One evening while having dinner with my family I reached for the pepper grinder only to discover that it was empty. My wife got up from her seat, opened the cabinet and proceeded to refill it. However, instead of using peppercorns she used ground pepper. With a quizzical look on my face I enquired as to the rationale of using ground pepper in a device whose sole reason for existence was to grind pepper. She informed me that her ongoing quest to save money led her to the discovery that peppercorns were much more expensive than ground pepper. She said that she had been refilling the pepper grinder with ground pepper for months and expressed surprise that this was the first time that I had even noticed. You see, I thought that I was getting the real thing, but in reality I was getting a cheap substitute!

1 Thessalonians 2:7-12

Can you think of a more profound way to express your sincere love than by your willingness to share your life with another? One of the greatest joys of my life is getting to share life with my wife and my children. Even on the worst days, I am comforted to know that I am not in this life alone. Whether we laugh together or cry together, we have the joy of getting to experience life together.

Although he had many churches for which he was responsible, Paul treated the Thessalonians as if they were his only church. After 33spending only a few weeks of ministry with them, they had become precious friends to Paul (v. 8). He had developed a profound love for them and they knew it. In fact, they had become so "dear" to him, that he was more concerned about their needs than he was about his own comfort (v. 9). Though he poured his life into them, he did not expect anything in return. All too often, pastors view their calling with a sense of entitlement. As a preacher and apostle, Paul was entitled to earn his living from the gospel (v. 7; 1 Cor 9:14), but he chose to forfeit this right for the sake of the Thessalonians and for the integrity of his ministry in their city. Thus he did not seek what they could do for him but what he could do for them. This explains why he was so willing to share his life with them. You may choose not to share your heart and life with the people you serve because you expect them to do something for you. You share your heart and life with those you serve because you endeavor to make their lives better.

Admittedly, many of us are unwilling to share our lives with our people. Perhaps we have been burned by a past relationship. Or maybe we simply are unwilling to express our vulnerability. But if we desire to connect with those entrusted to our care, then we must be willing to open up and share our lives with them. They need to understand that even their leaders have fears, worries, and struggles. We must never seek to give the impression that we are perfect. One way that we can be real with our people is through the appropriate use of personal illustrations in our preaching and teaching. However, when using personal illustrations you must be careful to share your own shortcomings as well as your victories. It is amazing how people connect with their leaders when they see them as real people who have weaknesses and strengths just as they do. Of course, the life of our Lord is a beautiful example of this vulnerability. The writer of Hebrews explains, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin" (Heb 4:15). The only way that Jesus could fully identify with you and me was to come and live among us.

When you begin a relationship with someone, you must be willing to get your hands dirty. Paul speaks of his relationship with the Thessalonians as that of a "father with his own children" (v. 11). You cannot get much more personal than a relationship between a parent and a child. Sometimes your children need your tender words of comfort and encouragement, but other times they need your firm words of warning and correction (v. 12).

34Deep and meaningful relationships are at the heart of Christianity. There is no surprise then that Satan's attack in the garden was directed at relationships—our relationship with God and our relationships with one another (Gen 3:1-13). If Satan could persuade Adam and Eve to sneak around behind God's back and steal some fruit from a tree, then perhaps he could persuade you to sneak around behind your spouse's back and cheat on your marriage. Or if he could convince Adam to blame Eve for his disobedience, then perhaps he could also convince us that we are not responsible for our own actions. Satan's approach is to keep us from being real with God, real with each other, and real with ourselves.

Paul and his companions paint a very different picture of how they viewed their relationships. They had nothing to hide from God, and they had nothing to hide from the Thessalonians. Paul makes this clear when he writes, "You are witnesses, and so is God, of how devoutly, righteously, and blamelessly we conducted ourselves with you believers" (v. 10; emphasis added). What a powerful statement! In essence Paul is saying, "We have nothing to hide from you and we have nothing to hide from God. Our testimony speaks for itself."

Paul breaks down their lives into three observable areas: devotion, righteousness, and blamelessness.

1 Thessalonians 2:3, 5

A cartoon depicting two little sisters rocking on a rocking horse in the family playroom vividly illustrates how many people live their lives. As the two girls rock away, the older looks back at the younger and exclaims, "If 35one of us would get off this rocking horse, there would be more room for me!" While no one likes a selfish person, all of us are guilty of selfishness at some point in our lives. However, if a relationship with Jesus Christ really does transform people, then one of the first things to go will be our selfishness. What greater display of selfless love can be seen than the sacrifice of Jesus as He died on the cross? Mark captures this selflessness so well when he writes, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45; emphasis added).

God is the ultimate giver. Among many other things, He gives wisdom (1 Kgs 4:29), good gifts (Jas 1:17; Matt 7:11), knowledge (Dan 1:17), gifted leaders to the church (Eph 4:11), and, of course, His greatest gift—Jesus Christ (John 3:16). Children are a reflection of their parents. For that reason, God's children should reflect their Father through their selfless acts of giving.

Paul came to Thessalonica not for what he could get but for what he could give. His motives were pure and his love was selfless. He did not come to Thessalonica to bolster his ego, pad his pockets, or enlist a personal following. He came to bring the free gift of the gospel to the Thessalonians. Yet the city of Thessalonica was full of cult leaders and false teachers who had a very different agenda. Because Paul's message was so countercultural to the spiritual climate of the city, he found himself on the receiving end of slanderous attacks and false accusations. With their empty promises and persuasive speech, the Thessalonian cult leaders and false teachers dangled their bait before the people hoping that they would bite (Matt 7:15; 2 John 1:7; 2 Thess 2:1-3). Their message promised much but delivered little. Many of the people of Thessalonica saw through their religions chicanery and thus knew that these men were in it for the money and not for the people.

As Paul's message began to gain momentum, his critics began to escalate their attacks. Those who opposed his message knew that if they could discredit the messenger, then they could also discredit the message. Though we cannot be certain who these critics were, we do know that they were aggressively seeking to undermine his credibility. Leon Morris suggests that Paul's critics sought to discredit his message by claiming that Paul was just like the rest of the impure, greedy, and unjust false teachers in town (Morris, Epistles of Paul, 44).

Paul could not allow such accusations to go unanswered. He replied by denying any intention to "deceive" anyone into receiving his message. 36Neither his motives nor the gospel were impure in any way. His goal was not to talk anyone into becoming a follower of Christ. "For we are not like the many who market God's message for profit," he would later tell the Corinthians. "On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God" (2 Cor 2:17). He wanted the Thessalonians to know that the gospel was not something to be bartered or bought. It was a gift to be received. Paul's concern was not for his own self interest, but the Thessalonians' best interests.

1 Thessalonians 2:12b

In 1836 Thomas R. Taylor penned these profound words:

His words echo the writer of Hebrews when he wrote,

This great host of Old Testament saints reveals a most significant truth about the life of faith—this world is not our home. The person who understands this truth leads a very different kind of life. Paul closes this passage by disclosing his desire for the Thessalonians. Above all, he wanted them to "walk worthy of God." God does not have one standard for us on earth and another standard for those in heaven. His standard is for those who belong to Him to walk in holiness. "So you must be holy because I am holy," declares the Lord (Lev 11:45; cf. 1 Pet 1:15-16). Although we live in an earthly kingdom, we serve a heavenly King. The 37day is coming when we will enter our heavenly kingdom, behold the glory of our heavenly King, and enjoy living in His presence forever. Until that day arrives, may there be nothing that hinders us from walking in a manner worthy of that wonderful promise. What is the chief end of man? "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever" (The Westminster Shorter Catechism, 1647).

In his book Empowered Leaders: Ten Principles of Christian Leadership, Hans Finzel makes the following statement:

The Thessalonian Christians knew that Paul was no self-serving leader. He shared his heart with them and rolled up his sleeves and served alongside them. He doubtlessly laughed with them, cried with them, corrected them, and comforted them. He was a pastor to his people, and they knew it. That is why they loved him so dearly (3:6). What a powerful reminder to all who have been called to serve as pastor to God's people. You cannot love your people if you do not spend time with your people. And your people will never fully embrace your leadership if they suspect that you have no desire to spend time with them. To be sure, with authenticity comes vulnerability. But why would any pastor who has nothing to hide be reluctant to share his heart and his life with his people? John Stott is on target when he writes,

In sum, to serve and lead with authenticity requires you to guard diligently two areas of your life: your relationship with God and your 38motive for ministry. Regardless of what others may say about you, what matters most is what God knows about you. You will only be as authentic with your people in public as you are in your relationship with God in private. No pastor or leader can confidently lead his people if he is uncertain that God is leading him. When the inevitable bullets of criticism begin to fly, may you find your refuge in the certainty of your calling and the assurance that God knows the integrity of your heart (2:5).

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