Monday, February 23, 2015

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 " The Ministry that Produces a God-Centered Church"

As we now consider  the second chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians,   under the general heading, “A  Portrait of a God centered Church“,  I want    us  to remember  that  this  a letter, and not a systematic  theological outline on   “how to  be a  God-  centered church.”  The Bible is in that sense  not a “how-to-book.” The Bible  is a ‘ God- inspired -book ‘ – full of grace and truth. It is meant to be meditated upon , to be pondered, to be prayed over, and as we do so  we receive wisdom and insight  (see Proverbs 2).  So,  as we  read this letter slowly  and  observantly,   we learn    how to  be a biblical  church  by understanding that  we need  to   (i) pray for  Divine enablement (1:2;3:12-13; 5:17-18)  to be the church  and  to (ii)  follow human examples  who are themselves  divinely enabled to lead us  and  to  teach us   (1:6).

And so we note that  this letter   is written to   a  people who  are  collectively  called  “the church of the Thessalonians(1:1). These are  people     who have been touched and affected by God  in a remarkable way. They  are a role model to us  and  they  provide  an example for us in our day  as to what  God centered Christians should  be  like. Here is a quick reminder of  what we learned from  Chapter 1 :

1.     They are in the church  because they are in  God the Father and   in the Lord Jesus Christ (1:1)  and they are in  the Holy Spirit  (1:5,7) 
2.     They   demonstrate  the key  ingredients of  faith, love  and hope  in the Lord Jesus  (1:3)
3.     They   were chosen by God  (1:4)  and this was evidenced  by the fact that  they had received the gospel  in power, and in the Holy Spirit and  with full conviction (1:5). They were not just convinced,  and this in the midst of  much affliction (1:6), but they were truly converted!  It was clear to everybody.
4.     They   became  missionary Christians,  for they  had not only received  the gospel but  they shared the gospel  freely  in Macedonia and Achaia. Their faith became known  everywhere (1:7,8)
5.     They  demonstrated  true repentance by turning  from idols to the Living God (1:9)
6.     They were  waiting for the  return of the Lord Jesus  (1:10).

And now as we  come to the second chapter  the focus shifts  from  the church  to those who under God were instrumental in giving birth to this church, namely  Paul , Silvanus and Timothy  (1:1). Therefore we will now   focus on the kind of  ministry  that  produces God centered Christians. 

Once  again  I want to remind you not to expect  a presentation  on    “An Easy  Guide for Leaders  on how  to produce  a God centered church in 10 easy steps”.   God centered Christian leaders  and God centered churches  are  not  mechanically   produced  by working through  a  workshop manual . While the Bible  gives us  true knowledge , the Bible is not a workshop  manual in that sense. Rather, it is  a  book that inspires confidence in a great God, and which  teaches   His people  to  trust Him as He leads them   in the midst of  a spiritual  wilderness  and  in the midst of a spiritual  war . We  have recently  seen this in our  exposition  in the Revelation  to John.

So then , here  are a few observations  about  what a God centered ministry  that produces God centered churches looks like: 

1.      Expect a  God centered ministry  to face  hostile  accusations and opposition . This  sounds  negative, but this is where   Paul begins. It has always been this way.   You will remember  that  the ministry of  the  prophets  of the OT  was  conducted in the midst of  adversity .  The ministry of the Lord Jesus  happened against the background of constant opposition and criticism  from the religious hierarchy.  The ministry of the  apostles  and of  the early church   was mainly  accomplished   among hostile accusations  and   opposition.  The Church of God is built  in hostile  territory . And so, we do not find it surprising that  the apostle Paul  was dealing with the same thing here.   
In the opening verses  of the 2nd chapter  Paul was appealing to  the Thessalonians,  because there had been people  that were accusing  him  of   error , impurity and deception  (2:3).  He also  reminds them that he    had been shamefully treated[1] at Philippi   (2:2 cf.   Acts 16:11-40). Philippi  was were where  Lydia had been converted. Here a  slave girl  who had  a spirit  of divination was delivered. Here   Paul and Silas subsequently were  charged, badly beaten and put into  prison. It was here  that God  freed them miraculously  and it was here  that the Philippian jailer was miraculously converted.  It was also from here  that    Paul and Silas went on to  Thessalonica  “explaining and proving  that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.“  (Acts 17:3)  In  Thessalonica  a  good number  of people  were converted, but once again  a group of jealous  Jews  formed a mob and made trouble for Paul and his companions there. All this  forms the background to the  frequent mentioning of suffering  and affliction and  conflict  in  the Bible. Here in  2:2 , Paul  says  “we had the boldness in our God to declare  to you the gospel of God  in the midst of much conflict”   (Gr.  agon) [2]. The Christian church   is born in conflict,  and our own church has experienced this!

Conflict  happens  not because this is what we choose, but because this  is  what happens when we  lead people to Christ and helping them grow in Christ. It  is   a spiritual struggle; it is  a spiritual war , and in the process  Satan, the sworn enemy of Christ and His church   uses all the tricks of his trade, persecution , murder  and  slander   and misinformation.  
And so we find that  Paul  and his companions   had been accused  of  deception  (2:3) and flattery  of the crowds that they had preached to in Thessalonica  (2:5) . They were accused  of doing this because of greed and  personal gain and being in this for their own glory.  (2:5,6)

So,  Paul  needed  to correct  all this  by way  of  this pastoral letter.  Here then   is the first thing I call you to observe :  A God centered ministry building God centered churches  must expect opposition  from Satan and his  protagonists!  If this happened  to the prophets , and to John the Baptist, and the Lord  Jesus, and the apostle,s and the early church, then we must not be surprised if this happens  to us , if indeed we   pursue a God centered course in our ministry .

2.      Expect a  God centered ministry   to produce  spiritual  fruit : Positively speaking now , a God centered ministry produces  spiritual  fruit.  Though they  are presently  being slandered,  the apostle Paul is able to appeal   to the Thessalonian Christians   on the basis   of  what they  know of Paul and his team. Notice  how  he says  in 2:1   “For  you yourselves know…”  (see  also 1:5; 2:2,5,11; 4:2).  Here’s a wonderful truth : Their personal lives   spoke much louder than  the   vicious accusations  against them.  He even appeals to God as his witness  that he  had not brought the gospel  to the  Thessalonians  with a pretext for greed  (2:5).  
So , yes  there was  evident success  in their work  at Thessalonica, and   so Paul could speak  of the fact , “that our coming to you was not in vain[3]”.  But what was  the  nature of  their success? Not  financial gain, nor  self - glory, but  men and women  who turned from idols  to serve the true and living God  (1:9).     Paul  is  referring  to the success of  their ministry  among the Thessalonians who now glorified God. The evidence of  what we saw in Chapter 1 speaks for itself !  

3.     Expect  a God centered Church to be like a  loving  home  (see vss. 7-12).  Make no mistake!  Paul and his  team  came  with  the apostolic  authority conferred  upon  them by Christ (2:6), “but”,   says Paul , “we did not come as authoritarians!  We did not bully you  with the gospel . Quite  on  the contrary , we came  gently”   (Gr.  epioi) [4].

We came  like a nursing mother [5]taking care[6] of her own children (2:7).  “We came  like   a father with his children, we  exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you  to walk in a manner worthy of God…” (2:11,12).  What  can you expect  from a  God centered ministry?  You can expect mother and father- like behaviour.  The details of motherly and fatherly behaviour  are filled in for us  in the text.   Paul and his team were “affectionately desirous [7] (2:8) of them .  They were  ready to  share  not only the gospel of God , but also  their own selves.   It does not  get better than this.  Many are willing to give out the  Word of God, but few are willing to give themselves .  Notice further  …“because you had become dear[8] to us” – this  highlights the reason.  New  converts are loved  like little children , And this is shown  by the  personal care, protection, and  the nourishing  milk of the Word of God that is given to them. Giving out the gospel and  giving ourselves  to new converts  takes time and requires patience, pain and inconvenience.  We don’t raise children overnight!  

The fatherly aspect of  a   God centered ministry  is that   Paul, Silvanus and Timothy  did not put  financial  burdens on these young converts , but worked   for their own means (2:9). This is not a  general rule in the church , but it is  a wise rule in church planting .  The Bible teaches  that  ministers of the gospel had the right to be supported for their work in preaching and teaching, but Paul had forfeited that right when planting new  churches.  We do not  expect  people to support a work before they become converts and  before they  have  learned the grace of  giving.  Other  fatherly aspects  of the ministry  reveal that of concern and involvement  :
·        being  holy and righteous and blameless (2:10). We cannot  communicate to others what we don’t have ourselves.  
·        Exhorting [9],  encouraging [10], charging [11] each one  of the new converts to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord  (2:12) .   While they  must have taught  them as a group, they also dealt with them as individuals.

The nature of their motherly and fatherly ministry to these believers was God centered – they wanted  their converts to walk in a  manner worthy of God  who calls  you into  his own kingdom and glory .”  (2:12). A God centered  ministry  cannot be self centered. In true  pastoral ministry  there can be  no place  for  our own  reputation, or our own egos .  The goal  of the God centered ministry  that produces God centered Christians  is  the glory of God and the spiritual blessing of others.
Note the phrase, “His own kingdom and glory.” This strongly reminds us that there are other kingdoms and other kinds of glory that are constantly  competing with our work.   Therefore  we need  to  be  aware of  these false influences and  take precautions to guard against their influences.   In the latter part of  chapter 2  and the next, we will take  note  of  Paul’s   deep concern for this very thing.

[1] hubrizo, “to abuse, to treat shamefully.”
[2] 1 Thess.  1:6 ; 2:2,14; 3:2,3,4
[3] keno  - “empty, without content “
[4] Alternative reading :  nepioi -   “ we were like children”  i.e.  a  a non-threatening presence. The sense is really not affected.
[5] Gr. thropos  - nursing mother 
[6] Gr. thalpo - to warm, cherish, nourish. i.e. tender care
[7]  Gr. ishomeiromai  - “to have a kindly feeling, to long for someone.” This is a rare word and refers to a mother’s strong affection for her child.
[8] Gr. agapetos, a verbal adjective which means “beloved.”
[9]  Gr. parakaleo -  has both a prospective appeal, in the sense of “obey, respond,” and a retrospective appeal in the sense of “comfort, encourage.” Children need both encouraging and challenging.
[10]  Gr. paramutheomai, “encourage, cheer up, console.”
[11]  Gr. marturomai from martus, “witness.” It means “summon to witness,” “to bear witness,” and then “to solemnly charge, adjure, beseech.”

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