1 Thessalonians 2:1-1227
Main Idea: Authentic Christian leaders will reflect a genuine love for and commitment to the people they have been called to lead.
- A Desire to Go the Distance (2:1-2)
- A Commitment to Honor God (2:4, 6)
- A Willingness to Be Vulnerable (2:7-12)
- A Selfless Love for Others (2:3, 5)
- A Longing for Another Kingdom (2:12b)
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!
Here's a question that every church leader must ask: Are my people getting the real thing from me? When the veneer is stripped away, what do our people really see? Do they see the Wizard of Oz pulling the levers and pushing the buttons of ministry only to discover that all of the activity comes with no reality? Unfortunately, authenticity is a rare trait among leaders.3 And considering that Jesus was the most authentic person who ever lived, it is unthinkable that any person who claims to 28follow Him would live anything but an authentic life. Whether you look at the life of Jesus, or the lives of Paul, Jeremiah, Amos, or a host of other biblical characters, what you see is what you get. They were real. God expects you and me to be real also. Perhaps no greater example of authenticity and vulnerability can be found than what Paul describes in Philippians 2:
Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross. (Phil 2:5-8)
Jesus had no personal ambition except to honor His Father. He was even willing to step out of royal glory and into the spotlight of public scrutiny to fulfill the mission for which He came. Regardless of the cost, His agenda was to please His Father.
Such was also the case for the apostle Paul. His life and his ministry were open for inspection, and he was not ashamed of what that inspection would reveal. This truth leaps off of the page in the present passage. Notice how many times Paul challenges the Thessalonians to recall their firsthand experience of how Paul conducted himself among them: "For you yourselves know" (2:1), "as you know" (2:2), "as you know" (2:5), "God is our witness" (2:5), "for you remember" (2:9), "you are witnesses and so is God" (2:10), "as you know" (2:11).
Sometimes there is a great divide between what we think others think about us and what others really think about us. If you truly want to see how authentic your ministry is, then perhaps you would do well to ask the people to whom you minister. Paul provides a fitting example of what it means to be real before your people. Because he had nothing to hide, he was more than willing to allow the facts to speak for themselves. Hiebert makes this point when he writes,
In refuting these enemy accusations Paul used the method of simply letting the record speak for itself. The facts were still fresh in the memory of the readers. In thus repeatedly asking them to recall what they witnessed, he was letting them judge if the evidence fit in with the charges being made against 29them. It was a masterly defense. It proved that the facts needed for the missionaries' vindication were a matter of common knowledge.... Such a defense is the best proof of the purity of a preacher's life. (Hiebert, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 83)
A Desire to Go the Distance
1 Thessalonians 2:1-2
According to John Stott, this passage reveals more about the heart, soul, and emotions of Paul than perhaps any of his other writings. He thus suggests that those who are engaged in full-time ministry will find Paul's words both challenging and encouraging. Stott writes, "No-one who is engaged in any form of pastoral ministry (ordained or lay) can fail to be touched and challenged by what Paul writes here" (Stott, Gospel and the End, 45). What Stott points to is Paul's authenticity. He was a man who was willing to go the distance for and with the people he served. The Thessalonians knew this about Paul. And you and I can be sure that our people also know how far we are willing to go for them. You will never lead your church to take any risks for Christ if your people do not first see how committed you are to them and to the gospel that you preach. Clearly a key reason the Thessalonian church was willing to follow Christ despite severe hardship was that they had a pastor who led by example. A simple reading of this passage provides a very personal look at Paul's loyalty to his calling, his churches, and his Savior.
In the face of the many challenges Paul encountered in bringing the gospel to Thessalonica, he wanted these young believers to know that his ministry was not "without result" (literally, "empty or ineffective"). On the contrary, the changed lives of the Thessalonians bore witness to the transforming gospel that Paul brought to them (1:2-3). With passion, courage, and tenacity he and his companions fearlessly preached the gospel to the Thessalonians. There was nothing easy about sharing the gospel in Thessalonica. Paul and his companions "suffered," were "treated outrageously," and faced "great opposition." Yet, despite the hostility, they were "emboldened" by God to share the message courageously.
Courage is a missing ingredient in the lives of many Christians. Because of their fear of personal hardship, they rarely attempt anything bold or risky for Christ. Yet with great risk often comes great reward. 30The biblical text is replete with examples of those who were willing to go the distance in pursuing God's calling.
For example, consider the life of Joshua. Upon his anointing as leader of the Israelites, he immediately faced the formidable challenge of crossing a flooded river, conquering an impenetrable city, and leading thousands of helpless people into an unknown land. On top of all of this, he was following in the footsteps of an inimitable leader in Moses. You can only imagine how daunting such a task must have been for an unseasoned leader. Fear could have easily kept him from stepping into a flooded river, marching around an impenetrable city, or speaking God's Word to a stubborn people. But because God called Joshua to go the distance, He exhorted him to fulfill his calling by being "strong and courageous" (Josh 1:6-9). Joshua was emboldened by these words and by God's promise to be with him.
There is also encouragement in looking at the calling of Jeremiah. God informed him that the kings, the people, and even the priests of the land would "fight against" him (Jer 1:19). These are not exactly the most encouraging words to hear about a new calling and assignment. Thus, perhaps sensing his fear, God charges him with these inspiring words: "Do not be afraid of anyone.... Do not be intimidated by them" (Jer 1:8, 17). This challenge, along with God's promise of ultimate deliverance, gave Jeremiah the desire to go the distance.
Finally, there is the example of the lesser-known prophet Micaiah. When faced with the temptation to compromise God's Word by prophesying only good things concerning Ahab, he fearlessly declared, "As the Lord lives, I will say whatever the Lord says to me" (1 Kgs 22:1-14). Considering that this is the last time we hear from Micaiah in the biblical record, likely those words ultimately sealed his fate (1 Kgs 22:26-28). Micaiah went the distance.
God calls you to have the same kind of commitment to your ministry. To do this you must be willing to accept everything that comes with your calling, including opposition and difficulty. God has not called you to construct half-built towers. He expects you to "calculate the cost" and finish what you start (Luke 14:28). Heed Paul's charge to Timothy: "But as for you, be serious about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2 Tim 4:5; emphasis added).
A Commitment to Honor God
1 Thessalonians 2:4, 631
W. A. Criswell tells the story of a train master who was responsible for the smooth operation of a busy depot in the heart of a crowded city. A passerby commended him for his obvious display of grace and tact as he juggled his many responsibilities, including answering passenger's queries, giving directions, and maintaining the smooth operation of the depot. "How do you do it?" the passerby asked. "With so many hurried people, disgruntled and angry ... how do you maintain your composure?" The train master replied, "Why, it is no big deal. I do not have all these people to please. I only have to please just one man." He pointed to an office and to a window on the second floor, and he said, "My master sits in that office, and it is he alone that I have to please" (Criswell, "The Pattern of the Servant of God").
Nothing is more liberating in ministry than to recognize that God is the only One whom you and I must please. Such a conviction not only frees us from the tyranny of people pleasing, but it also emboldens us to speak God's truth with power and conviction. Beale is on target when he asserts,
In contrast to many today, including some in the church, who gain confidence from the approval ratings of polls, Paul was concerned only about one person's approval—God's. The source of our proclamation should be a heart that is confident before God because God himself knows our heart and that our sole motive is to please him. (Beale, 1-2 Thessalonians, 67)
Paul wanted the Thessalonians to understand the source of his conviction and boldness. We don't speak "to please men," he writes. We speak to please God "who examines our hearts" (2:4). He was not interested in "glory from people" because God was his "witness" (2:5-6). Paul lived his life for an audience of one.
This conviction has the potential to sober you and to set you free. It is sobering because God "examines our hearts." He knows if you are the real thing or a cheap substitute. He knows the motives behind what you do, and He sees through the excuses of why you do not do what you ought to do. According to Paul, God does not entrust you and me with the gospel if we do not first meet His approval (2:4a). The Greek 32verb translated "approved" is in the perfect tense, indicating that God's approval is something that began in the past and continues into the present. Thus Paul could preach boldly and courageously, knowing that God's backing and approval was behind the message he proclaimed.
But God not only "approved" you to proclaim the gospel, He also "examines" you as you proclaim the gospel. At the end of verse 4 Paul uses the word "examines" in the present tense to emphasize the ongoing evaluation of God. Stated plainly, God is always looking at your heart. There is not a moment when His eye is not on you (2 Chr 16:9; Prov 15:3; Heb 4:13). Nothing should be more sobering for those entrusted with the gospel than to know that God sees everything. The godly woman Hannah understood this well when she said from her anguished heart, "Do not boast so proudly, or let arrogant words come out of your mouth, for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and actions are weighed by Him" (1 Sam 2:3; emphasis added). God does not entrust His gospel to the one whom He does not approve.
That God carefully observes all that we do is not only a cause for reflection, it is also a reason for liberation. Stott drives this home when he says,
God is a more knowledgeable, impartial and merciful judge that any human being or ecclesiastical court or committee. To be accountable to him is to be delivered from the tyranny of human criticism. (Stott, Gospel and the End, 50-51)
How comforting to know that God knows our hearts. Ultimately, what matters most is not what others think about you, but what God knows about you.
A Willingness to Be Vulnerable
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.
- They lived "devoutly." That is, they walked with God in such a way that His name, His will, and His kingdom were their first priority (Matt 6:9-10). This commitment is the essence of holiness.
- They lived "righteously." Righteousness points to their conduct. That is, they lived their lives with honesty and integrity, and thus they avoided any appearance of evil.
- They lived "blamelessly." They did not claim to be sinless; they claimed to be blameless. Because they knew that they were targets for their critics, they sought to live their lives above reproach (1 Tim 3:2).
A Selfless Love for Others
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.
A Longing for Another Kingdom
1 Thessalonians 2:12b
In 1836 Thomas R. Taylor penned these profound words:
I'm but a stranger here, Heaven is my home;
Earth is a desert drear, Heaven is my home;
Danger and sorrow stand Round me on every hand;
Heaven is my fatherland, Heaven is my home. (Taylor, "I'm But a Stranger Here," The Lutheran Hymnal)
His words echo the writer of Hebrews when he wrote,
These all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (Heb 11:13-16; emphasis added)
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:
Servant leaders must be willing to live with submission on many levels: submission to authority, submission to God the Father, submission to one's spouse, submission to the principles of wise living, and submission to one's obligations. Though conventional wisdom says everyone should submit to their leaders, the real truth is that leaders, to be effective, must learn to submit. (Finzel, Empowered Leaders, 40-41)
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,
Happy are those Christian leaders today, who hate hypocrisy and love integrity, who have nothing to conceal or be ashamed of, who are well known for who and what they are, and who are able to appeal without fear to God and the public as their witnesses! (Stott, Gospel and the End, 47)
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).
Reflect and Discuss
- Why do many people view Christians as phony or fake?
- How did Paul challenge the Thessalonians to examine the integrity of his life? What did they discover?
- Do people in your church or small group see you as a leader who is willing to go the distance for Christ? How does your life reflect this kind of commitment?
- How did Paul go the distance for the Thessalonians?
- Are you honestly motivated by a desire to please people or to please God? What keeps you from a life of total obedience?
- Do you share your life with people in your church? What can you do to get to know others better? What can you do to let others get to know you better?
- What does it mean when Paul says that God "examines" our hearts?
- How is it liberating to know that God knows everything about your life?
- What are some ways that pastors can be real in the presence of their people?
- How did Paul's critics seek to discredit his message?
A simple web search on "authentic Christianity" will reveal thousands of websites and hundreds of books and articles. It's not limited to Christianity. You'll find information about authentic relationships, authentic marriages, and authentic happiness. Yet, while everyone is talking about authenticity, trying to nail down a universal definition is nearly impossible. It seems as if everyone has his or her own definition. Perhaps even better than a definition is a living example, and Paul's life is just one among many in Scripture.