1 Thessalonians 2:1-16 – Practice what you preach

1 Thessalonians 2v1-16.

“PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH!”

INTRODUCTION.

 

One of the greatest challenges to the Christian Church throughout its history has been to put into practice what it preaches. Sadly many terrible things have taken place in the name of Christianity. History is scattered with the debris of Christian malpractice. Not only on a national and organised scale in events like the Crusades but in countless-thousand inter-personal encounters every day.

Happily, there are on the other hand, there are equally thousands of example of Christians giving themselves in self-sacrificing love for the benefit of others.

The challenge that is before us this morning is to look at the example of the apostle Paul and emulate it.

A reminder of Paul’s circumstances, and of those to whom he wrote, will help us to better grasp what the apostle is saying.

BACKGROUND.

Paul and Silas had come to Thessalonica to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. The opposition to their message was intense – it sparked public riot and legal charges were brought and they were forced to make a hasty and humiliating escaped from the city in the middle of the night.

Paul’s opponents, mainly the religious Jews though not exclusively as many pagan Gentiles were also critics, – these tried to take advantage of his flight and discredit him before that new Thessalonian Christians.

In short they started a smear campaign. What did they say? We don’t know exactly but we can hazard a guess by looking at Paul’s defence.

Possible accusations:

  • He ran away so he can’t be sincere
  • His motives are suspect – he is obviously motivated by money, sex, prestige or power like many of the charlatan orators travelling from city to city.
  • He does care about new followers as soon as danger came he took off to save his own skin.

In 2v1-16 Paul defends his conduct while he was in Thessalonica and then in 2v17 – 3v13 that he was forced to leave and has since been prevented from returning in spite of his strong desire to do so.

In this section vv1-16 Paul calls on God and the Thessalonians to be his witnesses that his intentions are honourable, he wasn’t seeking personal gain and he did care for them very deeply.

What are some of the things we can learn from Paul’s model?

We can learn from this passage what Paul’s goals and priorities were – that his life was characterised by openness and integrity and that he had a deep love and commitment to his fellow-believers, especially those to whom he himself had brought the message of Jesus Christ.

We also learn from the end of this section [v14-16] that God is displeased and angry with those who oppose his gospel. [next time]

  1. 1.     Paul’s goals and priorities.

There is much taught these days in books and seminars, both secular and religious, about setting goals and priorities. Whether you are in business or education or the NHS or whatever setting targets and developing strategies, and achievable and measurable goals – these are the buzzwords of the seminar meeting rooms.

However trendy this language may have become it is not new nor is it unimportant. It can be over done especially if there is much talk and little action.

In some ways it is simple – it is knowing the direction to go and making choices that take us in that direction.

ILLUS.: There was a hit song in the 1960’s by a group call “Lovin’ Spoonful” –

Did you ever have to make up your mind?

To pick up on one, and leave the other behind

It’s not often easy, and not often kind,

Did you ever have to make up your mind?

It is about priorities.

One of the hard lessons we have to learn very early on in Life is “If you do this you can’t do that!”

Life is a matter of making choices. What sport will is play? What subjects will I take for my GCSE’s or A-levels? Which universities should I apply to?

Who will I marry? Where should we live? And on and on and on….

We are overwhelmed by choice –

Goals and priorities not only help us to make choices they also provide a yardstick by which to evaluate.

Paul tells that Thessalonians that his purpose was to tell them the gospel [v2].

1 Thessalonians 2:1-2      1 You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. {empty / vain – of purpose not results} 2 {But} We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. (NIV)

Paul is saying that his journey was not aimless in that he just happened to pass by Thessalonica. No! His going to Thessalonica was part of the plan to preach the gospel. Paul’s overriding priority was allegiance to God who had called him to preach the gospel.

Serving God faithfully was clearly Paul’s single most important priority. His purpose in preaching was not to make a name for himself or satisfy his hearers BUT to do only that which pleased God – 1 Thessalonians 2:4 4 On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. (NIV)

You see in the final analysis what we think or what other people think is of little consequences in comparison to what God thinks. It is not that others are unimportant BUT rather that God is so much more important.

Our priorities and goals should therefore in keeping with God’s agenda if we are to please him – after all he is the one to whom we are ultimately accountable – – he is the one who tests our hearts.

When our goal is to please God and be accountable to him we are able to place both the praise and criticism of men at his feet.

As a Christian my goal / priority is Christ – the name Christian implies one who follows Jesus. I therefore have to evaluate my life’s purpose and direction.

Questions I need to ask myself?

  • What do I really want to do with my life?
  • What AM I doing with my life?
  • What is it that I really value in life?
  • Is serving Jesus and living in accordance with his word really the most important thing for me?
  • OR am I simply accumulating a big enough nest egg so I can retire and pursue my own interests?
  • Am I [maybe unconsciously] trying to serve two masters?
  • What do my activities say about my goals and priorities?

These are the hard questions I must ask myself!!

  1. 2.     Paul’s openness and integrity.

In the ancient world of Paul’s day there were many travelling orators, alleged miracle workers, con artists etc. Many were smooth talkers with the gift of the gab. Some covered their activities with a religious veneer. Often public speaking was characterised by fraud, flattery, impure motives and trickery.

It was precisely because of these fly-by-night charlatans that Paul and the other apostles sought to conduct themselves with openness and integrity. He didn’t want to be stereotyped as a fraudster NOT did he want the truthfulness of the gospel to be undermined.

How did he do this?

  • He sought to proclaim the truth of the gospel truthfully. In his own words from 2 Corinthians 4:2 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. (NIV)
  • He was extremely careful in his behaviour, esp. financial matters — 2 Corinthians 2:17 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. …..

Instead he often work very hard [ day and night] to support himself so as not to take any money — 1 Thessalonians 2:9 9 Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.

1 Thessalonians 2:3 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. (NIV)

He is saying our message is true, our motives are pure and our methods are open and honest.

This is the way all Christians should live BUT esp. those who have been entrusted with the leadership of the Church as those who set examples.

When the messenger lacks integrity then the message is compromised.

ILLUS.: Fortunately we are not plagued with as many Tele-evangelists as in the USA. Over the years we have seen SOME of the preachers exposed for relationships with prostitutes – racking in funds for person profit – claiming to have messages from about people in the congregation when in actual fact he is receiving message from a radio control room etc… [these activities are not just limited to the USA!! – we have had our fair share of churchmen in scandal]

What is common to all these examples is that they lack integrity – they have preached one thing and practised another.

The negative consequences of such behaviour does untold damage to the gospel of Christ.

This is not, of course, just limited to public figures – there are many in churches up and down the land who don’t live by the principles they claim to believe.

NOW before we climb on our ‘moral high-horses’ let’s remember that none of us in above sin! At best we are all sinners saved by grace. And when a brother or sister in Christ falls, it is not our task to sit is judgement or point fingers. That does not men that we have to approve of behaviour that is contrary to scripture.

One thing I do know – God in infinitely more understanding and merciful that I will ever be.

While we are familiar with the fall-out because of disgraced Christian leader we must also remember the goodwill and high-esteem earned by those who have worked hard at living with integrity for the sake of the gospel.

ILLUS.: Think of people like Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, former US President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn who have work hard for ‘Habitat for Humanity’ providing homes for the poor …..

What we need to note is that Billy Graham has work hard at integrity – it did not happen by accident. When he started his ministry half a century ago he an his team established firm guideline (like he would never be alone in a room with a woman except his wife).

Stephen Carter in his book Integrity writes this [from NIV Application Commentary on 1Thessalonians – Michael Holmes] “Integrity, .. requires three steps: (1) discerning what is right and what is wrong (2) acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and (3) saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right from wrong. [Italics his]

Thus integrity is not something that happens by accident – it involves the hard work of discerning what is right and the living it out consistently. It is not only a matter of ethical insight / or of knowing what the Bible says but it is also a matter of discipline.

Without a disciplined life, integrity will not be achieved – another reason why we often struggle so with integrity is that w struggle with discipline. We lack the discipline to do what we say.

Openness and integrity is not something that is instantly acquired – if we are not prepared for the long haul we are unlikely to achieve the kind of integrity Paul is talking about. This is fundamentally important for all of us who have been entrusted with the gospel of Jesus Christ. If the messenger isn’t credible the message is unlikely to be believed.

  1. 3.     Paul’s love and commitment.

Paul uses two metaphors to describe to the Thessalonians the depth of his love and commitment.

1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 7 .. we were gentle among you, like a [nursing] mother caring for her little children. 8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, ….

11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God….

Unlike the travelling charlatans of his day who used their audiences illicit gain Paul and his fellow-workers gave themselves to the people – they didn’t simply dump the gospel message on them but gave them their lives.

Their dealing with the Thessalonians were characterised by the kind of love that a nursing mother has for her infant.

A mother’s love is gentle and self-sacrificing.

He also likes himself to their father – far from being a burden to them [v9] he takes on responsibility for them – as a good father should be responsible for his family – he was there to support them, encourage them, train them and urge them to live for the glory of God – no doubt a discipline role as well.

Paul’s life and ministry amongst them was for their good and God’s glory. [v12]

One of the subtlest pitfalls we face in ministering to others is the temptation to meet our own needs, or to do things for people to win their approval, or to get them to like us.

We will gladly serve others as long as somehow we benefit or the strain on our time energy and money is not too great!

We admire people like Mother Theresa but somehow we skilfully manage to avoid following her example – at least I do!!

Is it any wonder the bible describes the human heart and ‘deceitful above all things’ [Jer.17:9]

We all know about ‘fair-weather friends’ and let’s face it we have probably all been one!

We live in an age of self-centredness – while true love is sacrificial – this is the essence of the gospel.

Paul’s example of committed costly love for others runs counter to our ‘self’ culture.

In how to spend his time he didn’t think first of his own needs or rights, but those of the Thessalonians. He could have been enjoying the popular tourist attraction of Thessalonica while staying and the ‘Salonica Ritz’ rather than bedding down on the living-room floor at Jason house.

But for their sakes and because of his love for them and for God he willingly endured ‘toil and hardship’ [v9] and to share with them not only the gospel but his life [v8].

In doing this he was simply following the example of Jesus who came to give NOT get, to serve NOT be served.

The thing is though that in serving others and giving of himself Paul found happiness and satisfaction.

It is evident from v8 that a strong bond of love developed between Paul and the Thessalonian Church 1 Thessalonians 2:8 8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. (NIV)

It seems he received back more than he imagined. Paul proved in his life the truth of Jesus words Luke 9:24 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. (NIV)

If we miss this principle of turning away from self – of meeting the needs of others – of putting others first – then we will never be really happy. A selfish person is never happy, at least not for very long.

Even some modern therapist have recognised this principle.

ILLUS.: from NIV Application Commentary on 1Thessalonians – Michael Holmes – Karl Menninger, a psychiatrist, is reported to have said in answering a question about advice for a person suffering from depression, “Lock up your house, go across the railway tracks, find a person in need and do something to help that person.”

Conclusion.

  • Do I have a clear idea of where I am going – goals and priorites?
  • Am I prepared to be disciplined in doing what is right even at personal cost? –integrity
  • Am I willing to put the needs of others before my own – in short to show unconditional love?

“PRACTISE WHAT YOU PREACH!”

1 Thessalonians 2v1-12.

  • Paul’s goals and priorities.

Questions I need to ask myself?

  • What do I really want to do with my life?
  • What AM I doing with my life?
  • What is it that I really value in life?
  • Is serving Jesus and living in accordance with his word really the most important thing for me?
    • OR am I simply accumulating a big enough nest egg so I can retire and pursue my own interests?
    • Am I (maybe unconsciously) trying to serve two masters?
    • What do my activities say about my goals and priorities?
  • Paul’s openness and integrity.
    • our message is true
    • our motives are pure
    • our methods are open and honest

 

  • Paul’s love and commitment.
  • like a mother  – gentle, caring and loving
  • like a father – encouraging, comforting and urging you to

live lives worthy of God….

Jesus said: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Luke 9:24

 “[Jesus] did not come to be served, but to serve..”  Matthew 20:28

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